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I shouldn't have moved the car
I knew I should not have moved the car. To this day, I don't know why I moved it. It was 1990 and I was in the tenth grade. There are a couple of reasons why I should not have moved the car. Firstly, I didn't have a driver's license; the reason I didn't have a driver's license is linked to the second reason I shouldn't have moved the car – I am disabled. Mom had just bought my grandmother's car and was selling her old one. My plan was only to turn the car on, back it up, move it forward, shut it off, and go back inside. I was going to do this because I was told that it's not good to let a car sit for an extended period, because it could seize. If my plan had worked, no one would have even known what I had done. But when I backed out of the space, I hit a post. Then, when I went forward, I hit another post. Somehow, I turned the wheel, hit the gas, and hit the side of the building and then hit another car, which hit the car next to it. I am grateful no one was hurt, though.
I don't remember who called the police. I do, however, remember Mom and her girlfriend, Kim, were called home from a hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner. I was not the most popular child. I don't quite remember, but Mom probably had a few choice words for me. Before the accident, Mom had a buyer who had an identical car and wanted to buy the car as a second vehicle. She still had the same buyer, but now he bought the car for spare parts.
I have cerebral palsy – a non-progressive but unchanging neurological condition. It affects muscle coordination and body movement because of damage in the developing brain. The severity of the condition depends on how much brain damage there is, and which limbs are affected. Fortunately, only my right side is affected. My arm is predominantly affected, and I tend to drag my foot. I can walk, and I value my independence.
Raising a child with special needs is tough, especially as a single parent. It takes courage, patience, determination, and a loving, supportive network of family and friends. The emotional support and help with babysitting Mom found was from family, friends, and coworkers. When I was diagnosed at just under a year old, the doctors told Mom not to expect much from me. Despite this, she raised me like there was nothing wrong with me.CHAPTER 2
The importance of family and friends
Growing up, it was instilled in me that family was important. My grandparents moved their family from South Porcupine to Elliot Lake, located in Northern Ontario. My grandfather was a miner and worked for various mines while my grandmother got a job at the post office. My grandparents had four children – Mom is the oldest. She has two sisters and a brother. The children were young when the family moved, and the Copeland family soon made their mark in the community. While they worked and raised their family, they were avid curlers and had a lot of close friends.
As the family grew up and moved away, they still got together for holidays. My grandparents' anniversary was on July 1st, so the family would always get together in Elliot Lake to celebrate with them on the long weekend. Unfortunately, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and died when I was only four years old. I do remember him and am fortunate to have good memories. Being a strong, loving, caring woman, my grandmother took two years off from work to take care of him. I am very fortunate to have my grandmother still alive today. In September of 2018 she celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday, and she is still the matriarch of the Copeland family. Elliot Lake, being a mining community and July 1st being Canada's birthday, there would be a parade with different mining contests and displays.
The parade was always on the Saturday of the long weekend. Before the parade, we, including my grandmother's friends, would all gather at the Legion. After the parade, we would all meet at the Collins Hall where the parade ended. There was always live music, a barbecue, and a beer garden. Once that was over, the party generally continued in my grandmother's backyard.
At the end of July, my grandmother's brother and his wife always rented a cottage in Restoule for two weeks. After my grandfather died, my grandmother and my mom would rent a cottage with them, which became a tradition for several years. Mom's brother would bring up his family and would also rent a cottage. I remember, one year, the entire family came up this one weekend. Some of my family brought their friends. There were wall-to-wall people in our cottage, as well as tents set up. I really don't remember how many years we kept this camping tradition going but, after my grandmother's brother died, so did the tradition. Growing up was fun, and the fact that I was disabled didn't stop me from swimming, playing in the sand, or going fishing with my uncles and cousins.
I believe I was five years old the time Richard and his wife moved into the apartment just up the hall from where Mom and I lived. Unfortunately, Richard's wife died not too long after they moved in. Richard and I became great friends and I visited him often. When Richard retired from the Ministry of Transportation, he would pick me up from school whenever I had appointments. He was always willing to give me rides anywhere. He was a huge part of my life growing up. Soon, his friends became friends of mine and Mom's. Every summer, there was a country music festival that was held in a field just outside Sudbury. Richard's friends would always come up and set up a trailer at the festival's campground. Richard, Mom, and I would always go up there for the day.
For as long as I can remember, Richard came over to our place for supper on Sunday nights. When I graduated from college and was looking for work, Richard would drive me around to deliver résumés, as well as for interviews. I remember one time I was applying for a job at an advertising agency and had the wrong address; Richard and I drove around for over an hour before we looked up the address. The advertising agency was just up the street from where we lived. When I was not working, I would spend all day visiting him while Mom was at work. His daily routine would be to get up early and drive out to the mall and have coffee with his friends and I would often join them.
In fact, when I was in college and had early-morning classes, he would drive me to them. After I got my first part-time job and moved out, he would time his trips from the mall to coincide with me taking the bus to work, just to drive me. When I was working, my Saturday routine would be this: he would pick me up from home, we would go for coffee, and he would drop me off at Starbucks, where I would start searching the papers for work.
I think I was around seven when Mom asked me if I wanted to go to an Easter Seals camp for two weeks, which were the same two weeks that our family went camping. I was nervous because that was the first time I would be away from Mom and the family. But Mom thought it would be good for me to be around other disabled children. Mom, Grandma and I went to Restoule on the Saturday and dropped off all their camping gear and luggage. On Sunday, Mom and Grandma drove me to Camp Northwood, which I believe was near Kirkland Lake.
The campgrounds and the cabins were equipped for children with wheelchairs, walkers, and whatever mobility devices were used. The camp counselors and other staff were friendly, helpful, and specifically trained to assist children with disabilities. Activities included canoeing, swimming, hiking, fishing, singing songs, campfires, roasting marshmallows, horseback riding, and arts and crafts. However, all I could think about each day was running away to be with my family. I was a child and had no concept of how far Restoule was from Camp Northwood – I had it in my mind that I could hitchhike to Restoule. Mom missed me as well and wrote me a letter each day. I didn't want to open the letters because they would make me cry.
One day, a bunch of us went fishing, and there was a reporter who did a story on Camp Northwood being an Easter Seals camp. They interviewed me, and I told the reporter, while I was holding a fish I just caught, that we used those for bait where my family camps. That was my only two weeks at Camp Northwood.
Christmas was another family gathering. During this time, the family would rotate locations. One year, we were in Toronto at my aunt and uncle's; the following year, it could have been in Ottawa with my aunt and uncle and their two boys. Wherever my other uncle and aunt were living with their two boys, we would have Christmas there – they were either in Whitby, Oshawa, or Kitchener. My grandmother kept the family home – a three-bedroom house with a basement – in Elliot Lake after my grandfather died. The basement was setup to have a finished rec room on one side and my grandfather's workshop on the other. My grandmother had her washer, dryer, freezer, and a fridge. We would often have Christmas there. Mom and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment and could not accommodate the whole family all at once, so Mom never had to host the family for Christmas. Now that I think about it, Mom was the only smart one.
While I was growing up and after Grandma retired, I would spend the summers with her. Like any kid I would ride my bike around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, since my balance was horrific, I had training wheels which are meant for small children. As I grew, the training wheels would often break due to my weight; it was always a goal of mine to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. My grandmother's niece's husband tried to teach me for several years. The only way that I could successfully ride a bike without training wheels was if I took off at the top of a hill. However, this proved to be dangerous because stopping the bike was always an issue. I eventually decided I was not going to realize my goal of riding a two-wheeled bike.
I eventually got an adult trike which I used for several years. However, it was not exactly convenient because it had to be transported in either a van or a truck. I would generally keep the trike in Elliot Lake, though, and would occasionally visit my aunt and uncle in Ottawa where they had extensive biking trails. My uncle would always take my cousins biking and I would plan to have my trike brought to Ottawa, so I was able to join them.CHAPTER 3
Introduction to social assistance
When I turned eighteen, I was eligible to receive what is now known as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Back then, in 1992, it was called Family Benefits. ODSP and Ontario Works are administered through the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The ODSP program provides individuals who have disabilities an income to cover living expenses including shelter, groceries and utilities. The program also offers employment support to assist individuals who can and want to maintain gainful employment.
Back then, I knew what my limitations were and that I was never going to be able to do a lot of physical labor. However, I knew I wanted a career, so I would not have to rely on social assistance for financial support. I remember the day I applied for family benefits; I made a promise to myself that, one day, I would have a career so I could stop collecting ODSP. However, I soon realized that collecting social assistance was just a stepping-stone to something bigger and better. The one good thing about collecting ODSP while I was in school was that I did not have to worry about working while I was pursuing my education – I had money to spend on what I needed. At this point, I was more determined than ever to graduate college and make something of myself.
Mom has ingrained in me a certain level of courage, patience and determination from an early age. I am told that I am stubborn – which is good because I would not have achieved all my goals if I was not. I do not let obstacles or barriers I face daily get in the way of achieving what I want to achieve. I also had a lot of great influences growing up that encouraged me not to give up. I am grateful for these influences because if it was not for them, you would not be reading this.CHAPTER 4
The CTC and assessments
I attended the Children's Treatment Centre (CTC) at Laurentian hospital. The CTC is a family-centered community-based rehabilitation program which provides treatments, assessments, consultations and education to children and young adults with motor and communication impairments. At that time, there were three hospitals in Sudbury – Laurentian, which focused on pediatrics and rehabilitation; Memorial, which was where they did heart surgeries; Sudbury General, which was the main hospital where I was born and where Mom worked. I do not remember when they amalgamated the three hospitals, but our hospital is now known as Health Sciences North which is situated at the old Laurentian hospital site.
When Mom retired from the hospital after 37 years of service, I wanted to do something special. I had arrangements made with her co-workers and friends to go for supper. I showed up at the hospital with an eighteen-passenger limousine. I had some of her girlfriends in the limousine already when she finally realized the limo was for her and got in. We drove around for an hour and then went for supper where there were another twenty friends and coworkers waiting for us. She thought that was her retirement party. About a month later, she walked into the Lockerby Legion with some friends to what she thought was a fundraiser. There were one hundred people. Tickets were sold; my family was there, and I did a slideshow presentation of pictures. Being an only child (because Mom got perfection right away), I spoke about all the jobs she had at the hospital. I added up all the hours she worked, which included nights, weekends and holidays. I then told everyone that I was raised by babysitters.
I do not know how many years I attended the CTC, but I do remember having physio, speech and pool therapy and receiving other assessments. I was also enrolled in their education program. I also remember going on some school trips including Canada's Wonderland and Santa's Village. The only thing I remember about those trips was that I got to stay in a hotel (which was a big deal). I also remember that Mom was on the fundraising committee. One evening, she was out at the CTC at a meeting. I was old enough to stay at home alone and eventually I got bored. I decided to walk to the CTC which was a couple streets over where Mom and I lived. When I got there, I remember looking through the window. When I was discovered, Mom let me in, and I played games on the computer while they had their meeting.
As my mobility was improving due to therapy, I was slowly being integrated into the regular school system. I started attending St. Theresa's School from kindergarten to Grade Three. Unfortunately, the school was not equipped to handle a student with special needs. So, I was placed at the back of the classroom and received little help. The schoolyard was paved with gravel; my mobility and balance were not the greatest, so on a regular basis, I would fall and end up having cuts on my face and head which required car rides from the principal to the General Hospital to receive stitches. I also did not take my time and would run everywhere. Running, and the fact that my balance was not the greatest, was a recipe for such trips to the hospital. I did not particularly enjoy the trips to receive stitches and would fight the initial needle when I received the freezing. In fact, to restrain me, the nurses put me in a straight-jacket on a couple of occasions.
At that time, the General Hospital was owned and run by the Sisters of St. Joseph and, because I frequented the emergency department on a regular basis (sometimes twice a day), I received priority treatment. One of the benefits to getting stitches was that I got the rest of the day off school. My godmother, who is a sister with the Sisters of St. Joseph, lived at the sisters' residence, which was adjacent to the hospital, and she would babysit me whenever I needed stitches. The other benefit was I had nurses tend to me and give me attention. Unfortunately, I didn't get any phone numbers.
Mom worked as the administrative assistant to the director of the general hospital while I was in grade school. She had a very demanding job requiring her to work long hours, plus work at home on weekends. She was required to attend board meetings and take minutes. When the minutes were all typed up, she would take me with her once a month to deliver board packages on a Sunday afternoon.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Abilities Outweigh My Disability"
Copyright © 2019 Dave Copeland.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author, vii,
Chapter 1 I shouldn't have moved the car, 1,
Chapter 2 The importance of family and friends, 3,
Chapter 3 Introduction to social assistance, 8,
Chapter 4 The CTC and assessments, 10,
Chapter 5 Special education and acceptance, 13,
Chapter 6 Tragedy and sorrow, 17,
Chapter 7 Goals in high school, 20,
Chapter 8 The love of my life, so I thought, 29,
Chapter 9 The assessment in Toronto, 34,
Chapter 10 A lesson about discrimination, 40,
Chapter 11 The conversation that changed my life, 42,
Chapter 12 The backyard conversation, 49,
Chapter 13 The career search, 53,
Chapter 14 Being fired, 60,
Chapter 15 The win, 69,
Chapter 16 The bank, 73,
Chapter 17 The fire, 77,
Chapter 18 Another disappointing interview, 82,
Chapter 19 The exams, 85,
Chapter 20 The long-awaited career, 88,