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  • Writer's pictureKaren Stintz

New Year for Breaking Down Barriers

little girl sits by the pool in front of her walker, laughing

The Globe and Mail is currently exploring the emotional debate about how inclusive the classroom setting can be for students with complex needs and disabilities in its article about a boy called Grayson and his family.

This article caught my attention for many reasons, not least of which is because my work at Variety - the Children’s Charity of Ontario and Variety Village exposes me to the issue on a daily basis. Variety Village is a 168,000 square foot facility that was built 70 years ago to educate boys with a disability who could not be accommodated in the mainstream school system. Now the facility and the charity provide sport and recreational programming for children with a disability and their families and the facility is truly inclusive. About 50% of those who attend the facility have a disability and the rest are more typically developing. 

Variety Village is a magical place.  It is located in Scarborough but the reach is wider than the local community. Within the facility, there are no barriers for individuals. Children of all ages and abilities attend the facility and participate in the programs. Many parents who have a child with a disability and an able-bodied sibling often choose Variety Village for their children because it is one of the few places that can accommodate complex needs in an integrated and safe environment.

Families are often amazed at what their children can accomplish at Variety Village. So often, families who have children with a disability are told that their child cannot be included or cannot participate but at Variety’s facility, children play, swim, dance, paint and learn dramatic arts. Our instructors are skilled in dealing with children with complex needs so they know how to help them reach new skill levels. We often get feedback from families who cannot believe their son or daughter living with autism learned to swim or jump off a diving board. Parents are amazed at what their children achieve and also how it leads to better outcomes at school.

We know that not all families can come to Variety Village so we are bringing our programs to communities across Ontario through partnerships. This year, we are offering our inclusive programs in Peel, Vaughan, Beeton, London and Markham. 

Although we have many successes every day, we also see children who are extremely complex and difficult to reach and families who are completely stressed out. Without support, their lives become just managing everyday life between incidents. Parents who start out advocating for their child can turn desperate in managing the constant barriers that exist for children with disabilities. While we remove barriers at Variety Village, we are only one small piece of a much bigger and more complicated system. It is our mission to help impact that system in a positive way so I am personally committed to sharing our stories throughout the year in the hopes of increasing general awareness of these complex issues and, in so doing, breaking down more barriers throughout the system.

girl sitting in wheelchair dribbles basketball in front of a basketball net

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