Meet John. He has Muscular Dystrophy but when you ask him about it, he shrugs and changes the topic. Itís not that he doesnít want to talk about it but there are simply better things to talk about. The warmth of the sun. Working out at his local YMCA. The more than 100 hours of volunteer work he does every year. Or, his service dog. John is also legally blind.
John has struggled throughout his life to fit into a system that didnít know what to do with him. In the eighties schools werenít accessible and teachers and administrators werenít equipped with the right tools to help him be successful. The answer was to move him from school to school until eventually, John dropped out. Now, almost 25 years later, John is registered with the Hadley School for the Blind, a distance education school. With the help of assistive technology he is able to pursue the education that previously eluded him.
At thirty, he received his first guide dog, Bliss. This was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of Johnís life. Traveling alone to Ontario for three weeks to be evaluated and learn how to work with a guide dog was frightening and exhausting. There was a point when John didnít think he would be bringing a dog home but with hard work, determination and a little faith, Bliss became Johnís constant companion. Over the past decade, Bliss has given John a sense of safety, security and the confidence to live independently but now it is time to embark on a new chapter. Bliss is retiring and John is headed back to Ontario to meet his new dog.
One of the accomplishments John is most proud of is being a home owner. It took more than a year of meeting, discussing, arguing and persuading but finally he convinced everyone that he shouldnít be treated differently because of his disability. He made history as the first social services recipient to qualify for a mortgage and because of his perseverance he has changed the system for other disabled people.
In 2009, John connected with REALM, a foundation that strives to help individuals with high physical disabilities live their best lives through the development of volunteer networks. ďBeing part of REALM means sharing issues and finding commonalities with other people with similar situations. Having a network means I am supported by people who care about me and help me do the things I need and want to do.Ē
When you meet John, you immediately get a sense of his tenacious spirit and itís easy to forget how much help he needs just to live his daily life. He has spent his whole life fighting a system that expects him to adapt to Ďití rather than Ďití adapting to him. John is strongly committed to his friends, family and community and with the help and support of his network and his community, John will continue to change the world and make history.
as told to Amanda Lewis