International Day of Persons with Disabilities – 2015

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Please join me in celebrating International Day for Persons with Disabilities!

I am hoping to raise awareness for people with disabilities. This year International Day for Persons with Disabilities will be all about inclusion and empowerment. I think it is very important for people with disabilities to be included. It is important to be included because it helps people with disabilities, like me, learn important skills. I was included in many schools, in classes, social activities, and the school communities. Being included help me learn lots of new things and make friends. I have also been included in all my workplaces. At all my jobs my coworkers helped me and taught me new skills. I believe the world needs to be accessible for people with disabilities so they can do and have the things they want and need. If the world was more accessible for people with disabilities it would be a lot easier for them to go about their lives.

I want everyone to join me in celebrating International Day for Persons with Disabilities so we can raise awareness and help change the world to be more accessible. We must be aware of what people with disabilities need to empower them and help them.

My Experience at the Canadian Down Syndrome Conference in Edmonton

paulspeakingGreetings dear blog readers,

This is Paul Sawka. Sorry I have not blogged in a long time – I’ve been very busy at work! But I’d like to tell you about the Canadian Down Syndrome Conference.

A few weeks ago my coworkers and I were in Edmonton attending the Canadian Down Syndrome Conference at the Delta Edmonton South Hotel. We all enjoyed it together!

The conference began with a fun Welcome Reception on Friday. Then on Saturday at the Opening Ceremony we got a warm welcome from Kevin Macbeth. He introduced the Board of Directors along with Kirk Crowther, who then gave the Opening Speech. I was very excited to speak but I had to wait until Sunday. After his Opening Speech, Kirk introduced the Keynote Speaker, Spencer West.

Spencer’s speech was so powerful and I was very touched. It made me happy. Despite having lived his life without the luxury of legs, Spencer has many accomplishments and has inspired me and many others with disabilities.    

After Spencer, I went to a session done by Tara Brinston. She was talking about relationships and the speech was very good. Her speech was in two parts. The first part was about healthy relationships the second part was about unhealthy relationships Tara opened my eyes to improve my own personal relationships.

paul-and-taraAfter refreshments, the next speaker I saw was Tara McCallan! She was talking about her life about her daughter Pip. I have met Tara before – she is from the Happy Soul Project. It was nice to see her again and I liked her presentation very much.

After all the speeches, we had a dinner to celebrate the retirement of four of VATTA members which just finish their ten year service from CDSS, along with the boss at CDSS. We had pizza by candlelight, like how the original VATTA members first met when they started.

Spiderman-Pic-for-Pauls-BlogLater, VATTA and I went back to our rooms and got ready to party! We had a Red Carpet night and we had a lot of fun. I was Spiderman at the party and I got my picture taken on the red carpet by paparazzi and I was interviewed by my coworker Carlee. We then saw a film called Where Hope Grows and we all had fun.

On Sunday morning I was up bright eyed and bushy tailed to enjoy another day at the conference. I went to a talk given by Tanya Ponich with her sister Michelle called Soul Sisters. Each of them gave their side of their life story. They had a website together and it was called Life Rewards Action.

Then after that talk we went to another talk and it was called Something More by Sheena Smith. She shared her story with the Conference. She was a very good speaker.

After her speech I went to the CDSS Annual General Meeting. This meeting we discussed what CDSS has been doing.

Last but not least, we had the Closing Ceremony. Tara McCallan spoke again and she was very good. Then we celebrated 10 years of VATTA. We watched their new video, Picture the Possibilities. It was very good. It will be on their website soon.

IMG_8276editedAfter, Kirk introduced me to give my speech. I thanked the people in Edmonton for their time for the Conference and told everyone to come to the banquet later to party hearty with me!

The Conference ended with the CDSS banquet. We had Dinner first and I had mac and cheese, it was very good.

We at CDSS are very happy and proud to be a big part of our Conference this year. The dancing and music was very grand and CDSS danced the big night away!

The CDSS team was exhausted the next day at the office but we still had to work and unpack when we got back.

In short, it was all very touching and the weekend was a big success!IMG_8363edited

Happy National Down Syndrome Awareness Week!

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For those of you who don’t know, National Down Syndrome Awareness Week (NDSAW) is starting tomorrow! It will be taking place from November 1st through November 7th.

You might see a billboard advertising NDSAW, with the help of our very cute friend Pip and her brother Noal. Their mother Tara is also on the billboard and she is the blogger at Happy Soul Project!

NDSAW is important for all of us to be able to say see the ability, across Canada. People will benefit from understanding that we all have the ability to do a lot of great things. We can share our lives with many people and make a very big difference in their lives as a result. Through this week, more people can understand what we are capable of, from having jobs, to being independent.

CDSS will be posting a new story from the parents of children with Down syndrome each day of National Down syndrome Awareness Week. Please visit our NDSAW website here to see those stories.

I think that having NDSAW is great and wonderful because it shows people around Canada and the world what we are capable of.

What Prenatal Testing Means To Me – a video by VATTA

I recently watched a very meaningful video that talked about prenatal testing. It was made by my friends on VATTA.

There is a blood test that can tell you if an unborn baby has Down syndrome or not, and it is almost 100% accurate. This means that if a parent does not want to keep their baby, they can choose to end their pregnancy. This video shows my peers talking about their feelings about prenatal testing, and talking about why it is important for people with disabilities to be accepted in society. I think this movie will help people understand that we have a place in this world too.

Thank you VATTA for getting the message out. It is very important for all of Canada to know.

You can watch the trailer below. The full video will be posted this summer on The VATTA Blog.

My interview with Kevin Whyte, CDSS Board Chair

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Kevin in Vancouver in 2010

Kevin Whyte is the Board Chair on the Board of Directors of CDSS. He is a good man who we at CDSS care about. I had this interview with Kevin because he is finished his term on the Board this year. I wanted to talk to him about his past with CDSS.

I had a good interview with Kevin Whyte and I will miss him along with CDSS work crew.

Paul: Why are you leaving the Board of Directors?

Kevin: I am sadly leaving the Board of Directors because I have reached the ten year limit to serve on the Board. A few years ago we changed the rules for Board membership and put a maximum of 5 – two year terms for Board members to ensure we were always having new people with different backgrounds and ideas join the Board and keep it fresh.

P: How Did you start working for the CDSS Board of Directors?

K:  My family and I joined CDSS when our son Kyle was born. We were so welcomed and felt right at home immediately and since that time have attended almost every National Conference. Through this connection, I had the chance to meet many of the Board and staff over the years. I was approached and asked to consider joining the Board a couple of times while I was Chair of the Halton Down Syndrome Association (HDSA). Near the end of my time on HDSA local Board, Sue Fletcher who was Chair of CDSS at the time sat me down and inspired me to put my name forward and join the CDSS Board back in 2004.

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Kevin and the Board of CDSS with Kirk and Janet

P: Why did you join the Board of Directors?

K: I joined the Board for a number of reasons. First off I have spent the last 20 years (10 years on the local Halton Board) and then CDSS Board because I wanted to give back to my community and the organizations that had such a positive impact on me and my family. I also wanted to join the Board to carry on the inspiring work from the dedicated people who came before me driving the Vision and Mission of CDSS. Many of these people had become my friends and mentors and I wanted to be part of this great organization.

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Kevin and Lauren Potter

P: How many years have you been working and be on the CDSS Board of Directors? What did you do on the Board?

K: I have been on the CDSS Board for 10 years as I mentioned earlier. During that time I spent the first few years putting my energy into many of the committees at CDSS helping with fund development, finances, nominations, and communication projects. I then joined the Executive Committee and spent a couple of years as then Treasurer and then a couple more as the Vice-Chair before taking on the role of Chair.

P: What are you planning to do after you leave the Board of Directors?

K: The role of Board member is a volunteer position and the Board members dedicate hundreds of hours a year to help direct and support CDSS. After 20 years non stop on the HDSA and CDSS I think I will take a little break and spend some extra time with my family and friends. I have always been involved in a number of other charities including Special Olympics, United Way, and others and I will probably do some more work with those charities and maybe even join another charity board in the future.

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Us having fun at the banquet in Winnipeg.

P: Do you have some memories of you on the Board of Directors of CDSS? What are some of your fondest memories?

K: I don’t only have some memories of my time on the Board but have thousands of memories. This experience has been without question one of the best things to happen in my life and I have made life long friendships with the Board, staff, and members. I could list a full blog of fondest memories but a couple that stand out would be attending the National Conferences meeting and supporting the membership, for sure the annual dinner dance and all night dance parties that would break out!, and the Board & VATTA meetings throughout the years where we would get together and work on where to take CDSS in the future.

Without question I think the most important memories are about a very special and emotional Board meeting when we talked about wanting to “Be the change we want to see”. Through that impassioned discussion we began to build the plans for a group of self-advocates who would become part of the fabric and the heartbeat of CDSS. That process was the birth of the VATTA group and from the first meeting of the VATTA group in a blackout eating pizza at the Waterloo conference in 2005, to every single time I have had the privilege of working with and learning from that group of inspiring women and men, is hands down the most special memory I will have.

tsx-kevinP: Who will take your place on the Board of Directors of our Canadian Down Syndrome Society?

K: Every year there are elections at the Annual General Meeting of the CDSS at our national conference. This year a number of returning Board members and new members will be elected to the Board for the next 2 years. After the meeting, the new and returning members of the Board will get together and will nominate and elect a new Board Chair who will take my spot. We have an incredible group of Board members and any one of them would make a great Chair. I feel very confident in future of CDSS knowing it is led by the dedicated Board members, incredible staff, and inspiring self advocates involved with CDSS on VATTA, the Board and of course you Paul. Thanks for letting me part of your Blog!!

Thanks for the great interview, Kevin. Thanks to Kevin and his family for everything they did for us at CDSS.