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Finding Support In Your Community

by Amy Herskowitz, MSc

For the last 18 months of my father’s life, he was severely physically disabled from a terminal, neurodegenerative disease. He went from being a tall, strapping man known for his love of scuba diving – having been certified as a master scuba diver in wreck, ice, and night diving – to relying on his primary caregiver and machines to perform every bodily function for him.

Up until that point, I had very limited first-hand knowledge of how the health care system in Toronto, Canada functioned (or didn’t) for people with multiple physical limitations. My dad required communication devices, mobility aids, mechanical lifts, and work done on his home to make it more accessible for his changing needs, and he needed it within a short time frame because his illness was fast-moving and constantly evolving.

This blog historically has not featured much content on the intersections between weight, (dis)ability, and access, yet we would love to publish pieces that speak to the diversity of issues and ideas that affect you, our readers, to help build support and foster community. We know that weight gain can be related to physical (including sexual) and emotional trauma; it can occur as a consequence of being on psychotropic medications that help to manage symptoms of severe mental illness; it can be a chicken-or-egg question where weight gain occurs as illness and/or disability develops; and it may also just be the result of any number of non-traumatic or sociocultural, familial, economic and other variables that converge in one’s life. All of these scenarios make it difficult to tease out the causative and correlated elements contributing to physical and psychological needs that require support and resources to manage and live with.

This week, the Blog Committee invites you to share the resources in your community that may provide assistance with obtaining:

  • mobility aids and assistive devices
  • in-home personal care, nursing care or homemaking services
  • mental health support
  • home improvements that aid accessibility
  • transportation services
  • recreation and opportunities for enjoyable physical activity

In the province of Ontario, for example, provincial health care coverage and charitable organizations like March of Dimes Canada offer a combination of government-subsidized and lower-cost options to provide equipment, supplies, transportation, or home modifications. Community Care Access Centres coordinate services for seniors, people with disabilities and people who need multiple health care services to help them live independently in their community, including personal support and homemaking services for people living in their own homes and for school children with special needs. Ontario also has 10 Aboriginal Health Access Centres that provide a combination of traditional healing, primary care, cultural programs, health promotion programs, community development initiatives, and social support services to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, both on and off-reserve, in urban, rural and northern locations.

There are hundreds of community mental health agencies in Ontario that provide a range of services to those dealing with moderate and severe mental illness, and their families. I want to mention just one program that I love because of how innovative it is. Innovation is generally borne from necessity and our community agencies get such limited government funding that they are forced to be creative to meet their clients’ multiple and varied needs. The Haldimand-Norfolk Resource Centre is a small community program in a rural Ontario region that serves individuals 16 and over living with mental illness, mental health challenges and substance use issues. The program focuses on wellness and quality of life through social recreation and educational opportunities, peer support and advocacy. They operate on a drop-in basis, so no appointment or referral is required. They charge a $3 membership fee for the year and membership offers benefits like limited transportation support for medical appointments and meals served twice per week.

Their “Food Stop” program was created in response to member comments that shopping had become a very confusing, overwhelming and frustrating experience. As the range of items in some grocery stores expands, many products are unknown to people, and for those living on very limited incomes, purchasing something you’re not fully acquainted with becomes risky. No one wants to spend money on something they may not end up liking! The goal of Food Stop was to introduce people without any disposable income to different foods that they may not have previously experienced and provide opportunities to learn more about food.

Once per week, the Food Stop program offers a chance in a safe and fun environment, for members to learn and step outside their comfort zone around unfamiliar food. Program facilitators research the history and background of a food item and teach members about its cultural significance, how to select and purchase the product, how to prepare it and an opportunity to sample it. For people who only buy what they know they like to eat, programs like Food Stop offer them more choice in what they can eat, and empowers them with knowledge about different food.

Let us know what resources are available in your part of the world!

Amy Herskowitz

Amy Herskowitz, MSc, is a senior program consultant for the community health care sector in the Ontario provincial government, and has more than 15 years experience working with the eating disorder support, treatment, research and advocacy communities in Toronto.  Amy has served as ASDAH’s Vice President, International Vice President and is currently chair of the blog committee. In her spare time, she enjoys participating in sprint triathlon, playing with her young nephews, boardgaming and movie-watching with her partner, and throwing axes at targets.

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