Event aims to inform students with disabilities of possible post-secondary routes

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

The Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) and Community Living Fort Frances and District will be hosting an event to showcase the different options available to people with disabilities and their caregivers as they leave school.

Robyn Melville is the Manager of Community Supports Services at Community Living in Fort Frances and she says the event was organized in conjunction with the school board because the majority of support for people with disabilities is done through the school system before kids graduate.

“The RRDSB reached out to Community Living with an idea to partner up and provide an event that would spark engagement, and help towards supporting students with a disability,” Melville said. “Between the two of us, our agency and the RRDSB, the idea kind of snowballed from there. We thought it would be helpful to invite local agencies to one big event, kind of like an info night where each agency could have a booth and showcase their organization, how they support and what services they provide to children and adults with disabilities.”

So far there are several organizations involved, with more expected to join in.

“So far committed to coming and displaying a booth with information are… Community Living, and we’ll be focused on the transition from childhood disability services to adult disability services, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), Giishkaandago’Ikwe Health Services (formerly Fort Frances Area Tribal Health), Confederation College, specifically their CICE program (Community Integration Through Co-operative Education), Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, Weechi-it-te-win Family Services, and Developmental Services of Ontario, DSO.”

Others may also be involved but have yet to confirm as of this writing.

Melville says DSO is sending a representative from Thunder Bay who will help families start the application process for services through DSO.

“They’re actually sending a transitional worker from Thunder Bay to come,” Melville said. “He’s going to have packages on site to help people learn how to apply to Developmental Services Ontario, which should happen when [people with disabilities] are around 16. We’re pretty excited that they’re willing to make that trip as well.”

The event won’t cater to any specific disability either.

“Our agency specifically provides services to those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, which do often run concurrent with a physical disability for some of the people we support,” Melville said. “All the agencies that are coming are going to provide information about a variety of disabilities and what that looks like.”

According to Melville, the transition between school and life afterward can be the toughest time to navigate for people with disabilities and their families.

“I would say that this is one of the trickiest times for individuals and their families preparing to navigate the transition from childhood disability services to adult disability services,” Melville said. “That’s because childhood disability services are primarily rooted in education, but once the child leaves the education system, the traditional one of elementary then high school, people can feel a little bit lost as to what the next step is. It can be a very daunting task to try and decide which route you want to go and how you can navigate … As parents, the best thing you can do is advocate and prepare for your child’s future, but for parents and caregivers that’s a lot of weight on their shoulders.”

Melville’s hope is that the event shows parents and people with disabilities that there is support available and they can get help.

“It’s information overload if you try and look on the internet, and we’re just trying to connect all of the dots for people and say ‘this is how you can smoothly navigate the system,’” Melville said. “I’ve found in my role with Community Living, that when organizations and agencies don’t have strong communication with each other and a strong understanding of what each other does, it’s hard to provide a holistic overview for people with disabilities for how to go from child to adult services.”

Melville says there are still spots available for other agencies or organizations who might want to be part of the evening. She can be reached at rmelville@clfortfrances.com or by contacting Community Living Fort Frances.

Melville added they don’t want any barriers to prevent interested people from attending the event so if you need a ride or childcare, they are working to try and make those options available. Anyone needing assistance to get to the event or can contact Mellville or her co-organizer Robroy Donaldson at robroy.donaldson@rrdsb.com

The event runs from 4-8 p.m. at La Place Rendez-Vous Hotel on May 24. There will be light food and drinks available.