Abled, Disabled, or Differently Abled?

I have to admit, I came into the OT program thinking that I knew the “right” way, the “respectful” way to talk about people with disabilities. I would’ve cringed if I had read or heard the third sentence below; and likely rolled my eyes or fumed inside about inappropriate language.

“Nathan is a 5-year old boy with autism. He attends OT twice a week.”

“Nathan is an autistic boy who attends OT twice a week. He is 5 years old…”

“Nathan is a 5-year old boy who attends OT twice a week. He is differently abled.”

I had learned in one of my classes that person-first language is more respectful to our clients as it allows for the person to be defined by other factors (eg. age, interests, strengths) before being defined by their disability. It made sense. I internalized it. And I took it for granted.

Our professor instilled self-doubt on the first day of classes. She said that she would use person-first language …but that there was a heavy debate on the matter. She also made sure to point out how clients of this class introduced their disability and themselves. Some chose to point out several facts about themselves before bringing up their disability, and others laid out their disability right after their name.

My daughter doesn’t have ‘special’ needs. She’s disabled. This is an eye-opening article written by a mother of child with autism. In brief, the article makes a case for her child’s needs not being “special” at all and rather basic and ordinary. The mother also shares that autism has set her child’s life on a certain trajectory and has become an integral part of the child’s identity.

It seems that we are trending towards euphemisms to replace words we consider ugly…moving from “handicapped” to “disabled” to “with disability” to “differently abled”. But with time, the new words can also become somewhat ugly. (more…)

Diving Deep into the Layers of Reflexivity

My daily commute on Montreal’s underground transit system got a whole lot more reflective last Friday, as I read Barbra Gibson’s fresh take on everyone’s dependence on technology, and the tendency to “normalize” people when it comes to universal design and rehabilitation. Her arguments took me through various stages of bargaining, discomfort and ultimately reflection that things need to change in our practice as Occupational Therapists (OT’s), all in the 45 minutes it took me to get to the McGill campus. What follows are my opinions on a few of her points.

Challenging ideas of dependency and disability

A form of person-technology assemblage that resonates with many, author in photo.

The article challenges the idea that dependency on technology is just for rehabilitation clients, and argues that we are all in someway dependent on it. We are all part of assemblages, or a whole that consists of technology, our physical bodies and others in our social circle. These assemblages change depending on the technology we are currently using, with whom we are interacting and in what environment. This notion fits well into an occupational therapist’s mentality; our end goal does not necessarily need to be technology-free, we simply want to enable our clients to function in the best way possible. I spent most of my summer in my second placement trying to find technology that best fit both my client’s and their family members’ needs and ultimately making their assemblages work for them, even if it involved using the technology non-conventionally. I credit my supervisor for pushing me to think outside the box in my solutions, and really listen to what my client needed. As such, I whole heartedly agreed with Gibson’s take on this which made me bargain, or argue that my profession’s focus on function, with or without technology, still embodies this ideal.

Challenging the notion of universal design and normalization

Gibson also demonstrates how universal design, although innocent enough in theory, is essentially trying to design towards a universal human or an average person. Coming from Montreal, I feel like any strides towards accessibility are much needed, (I have seen WAY too many accessibility features that require one to use a staircase to reach them). However, Gibson made me question this ideal; (more…)

Taking action: My journey to Pivot International

Marie-Kim McFetridge, McGill M.Sc.(OT) 2011, in Nicaragua, offering occupational therapy services to disabled children in need.

Veuillez lire la version française ci-dessous

Many of us who choose a career in the health professions do so because we want to make a positive impact on the lives of others.  I most certainly did, and in December 2012, I jumped at the chance to participate in a rehabilitation project that brought me to the little village of Santa Julia in Nicaragua to help Milton, a 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.  This project was the brainchild of then-student Simone Cavanaugh, now a McGill law graduate, who met Milton and his family while participating in a humanitarian project the previous year.  Profoundly touched by Milton’s situation, Simone returned home to Canada determined to help him obtain the necessary adaptive equipment to realize his full potential.

This project was for me, the beginning of a life-changing adventure.  In this first trip, we helped young Milton, who was housebound and required full time care provided by his mother.  Milton received a specially adapted wheelchair, as well as training on its use and proper body positioning.  You can imagine the impact we had on Milton’s quality of life, as well as his mother’s.  By allowing him to sit upright in a chair, Milton could better interact with his environment and work towards achieving more developmental milestones, such as improving his motor and communication skills.  Just as compelling, this allowed Milton and his mother to better integrate into the community, with more opportunities to learn, play and socialize with peers.

There is a great need for more awareness and access to rehabilitation services in rural Nicaragua.  In 2014, Simone and I co-founded Pivot International, a non-profit organization committed to improving the independence, mobility, and quality of life of physically disabled children in developing countries, starting with Nicaragua.  Working closely with local rehabilitation specialists, we discuss and plan the care needs of affected children and their families.  Over the years, we have been able to raise enough funds to provide equipment to assist many such families in Nicaragua.

As the Paramedical Director, I oversee volunteer recruitment and manage the healthcare professionals who travel on-site and develop care plans for the children.  We are all 100% volunteers at Pivot International, and we are growing and expanding our reach.  Our next trip to Nicaragua is scheduled for the first quarter of 2018, and we will have two rehabilitation teams to work with families in different regions, providing assistance to new children and follow-ups for those we have helped in the past.  We have also started an internship program at Pivot for two McGill Occupational Therapy students to join us in Nicaragua next year.

Every step of this adventure has been stimulating and rewarding for me.  Doing volunteer work not only brings joy and hope to others, it also brings a sense of purpose and meaning into our lives.

To learn more about Pivot International, visit and/or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Interested in volunteering?  Please contact:

Marie-Kim McFetridge, M.Sc.OT

Prendre part: Mon parcours vers Pivot International

Marie-Kim McFetridge, McGill M.Sc (Erg.) 2011, offrant des services d’ergothérapie à des enfants atteints d’un handicap physique au Nicaragua.

La majorité d’entre nous qui choisissons une carrière dans le domaine de la santé espérons avoir un impact positif dans la vie des autres.  C’est toujours ce que j’ai souhaité et c’est ainsi qu’en décembre 2012 j’ai décidé de participer à un projet de réadaptation qui m’a conduit dans le petit village de Santa Julia au Nicaragua afin d’aider Milton un jeune garçon de 5 ans atteint de paralysie cérébrale.  Ce projet était l’initiative de l’étudiante Simone Cavanaugh, maintenant graduée en droit de l’Université McGill, qui avait rencontré Milton et sa famille alors qu’elle participait à un projet humanitaire l’année précédente.  Profondément touchée par Milton, Simone est revenue au Canada avec la ferme intention de lui fournir les outils nécessaires à la réalisation de son plein potentiel.

Ce projet a été pour moi le début d’une aventure qui a changé ma vie.  Lors de notre premier voyage, nous avons aidé le jeune Milton qui était presque constamment alité et requérait des soins continuels de sa mère, à lui fournir une chaise roulante adaptée à ses besoins, à leur montrer comment bien l’utiliser et à le positionner adéquatement dans son fauteuil.  Vous pouvez vous imaginer l’impact que nous avons eu sur la qualité de vie de Milton et de sa mère.  En lui permettant de s’assoir correctement, Milton peut dorénavant mieux interagir avec son entourage et travailler à l’amélioration de son développement moteur de même qu’à ses capacités de communication.  De plus, ces outils favorisent pour lui et sa mère une meilleure intégration dans la communauté facilitant ainsi les opportunités d’apprentissage, de socialisation de même que les possibilités de jouer avec d’autres jeunes de son entourage.

Il existe un réel besoin pour la sensibilisation et l’amélioration de l’accessibilité aux services de réadaptation dans les régions rurales du Nicaragua.  Et c’est pourquoi qu’en 2014 Simone et moi avons fondé Pivot International, un organisme à but non lucratif qui a pour objectif principal d’améliorer l’indépendance, la mobilité et la qualité de vie des enfants handicapés des pays en voie de développement, en débutant par le Nicaragua.  En œuvrant conjointement avec les spécialistes locaux en réadaptation, nous discutons des plans de soins des enfants et de leurs familles.  C’est ainsi qu’au cours des dernières années, et grâce à différentes levées de fonds, que nous avons été capables de recueillir les fonds pour assister plusieurs familles dans le besoin au Nicaragua.

Comme directrice paramédicale ma tâche consiste entre autres au recrutement et à la coordination des professionnels de la santé qui se rendent sur les différents sites et qui contribuent au développement des plans de soins pour les enfants handicapés.  Nous sommes tous bénévoles à 100% chez Pivot International et notre organisme est en voie d’expansion dans le but d’élargir nos horizons.  Notre prochain voyage au Nicaragua est prévu pour le début 2018. Nous aurons alors deux équipes d’ergothérapeutes qui travailleront avec les familles de différentes régions afin d’offrir l’assistance nécessaire aux nouveaux jeunes qui ont été sélectionnés par nos professionnels et assurer le suivi à ceux qui ont déjà reçu de l’aide dans le passé.  Nous avons aussi débuté un programme de stage chez Pivot International pour deux étudiantes en ergothérapie de l’Université McGill qui se joindront à nous l’hiver prochain.

Chaque étape de cette aventure s’est avérée stimulante et enrichissante pour moi.  Faire du bénévolat n’apporte pas seulement de la joie et de l’espoir pour les autres, il nous offre aussi une motivation et un but dans la vie.

Pour en savoir plus sur Pivot International, venez nous visiter en consultant et/ou suivez-nous sur Facebook et Instagram.

Vous souhaitez devenir volontaires pour notre organisme? N’hésitez pas à communiquer avec :

Marie-Kim McFetridge, McGill M.Sc (Erg.)


School Based Clinical Fieldwork in Ayukudi, India: Applying the Theory!

Sitara Khan seated with students of ASSA

As Occupational Therapy Masters students, we are required to complete 4 placements in a clinical setting, so when the opportunity to do one internationally arose, I couldn’t say no! Rural South India was a land as foreign to us as we imagined OT might be to it. To our amazement, in the little village with its limited resources and proportionally large population, an inspiring rehabilitation facility, spanning acres of land, had made its place. Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA), a non-profit organization catering to a lifespan of people with disabilities, with its early intervention center, special school, vocational training workshop and extensive spinal cord injury rehabilitation program, offered free services to its population.

Naturally, I worried about our interventions being culturally sensitive and our abilities matching the needs of the population, but I soon realized that the resemblances in the problems we faced, far exceeded the differences. Yes, the setting had fewer material resources than an equivalent center in Canada, but the lack of human resources was an issue that sounded all too familiar!

In our OCC1-617 class, we learned that very few OTs in Quebec practice in school-based settings. Often, a single OT is assigned to an entire school board, resulting in an area of great needs and no service providers. The same challenge presented itself at ASSA: the entire center relied on the services of a single part-time OT. Working at ASSA’s Special School, and quickly became aware that the needs exceeded what I could provide in my 2 month stage, but I wanted to make meaningful change.

In the same course, we were also taught the Partnering for Change model. Though it was developed in Ontario, it was created to tackle the same issue I now faced across the world. Clearly, the model’s relevance was not limited to Canada!

Sitara Khan with some of the teachers at ASSA

The model’s key concepts of collaboration, coaching and partnership, allowed me to provide OT interventions that reached beyond specific students and addressed the larger school context. I saw my clients, the students and the teachers, on a daily basis. I asked to invite the parents at the school multiple times to get their expert input and get them involved. I had “mini-meetings” with groups of teachers to exchange ideas extending beyond my clients to all the students in the school. We discussed classroom adaptations, adjusting teaching materials, managing schedules to ensure all students are alert during activities, and shared ways to ensure positive interaction and learning.

By working with parents and teachers collectively, I know I accomplished more than I would have on my own. The relationship established between all of us was the key to enabling effective change in the students’ lives. This experience allowed me to appreciate the applicability of the Partnering for Change model in all school settings, and its ability to address a problem faced by school-based OTs, not only in Canada or Quebec, but rather, by OTs internationally. In India, despite the language barrier and the cultural differences, this model provided a platform for knowledge translation and effective exchange between professionals, and I am excited to see what changes it brings to school-based OT in Canada when I begin my clinical practice!

By Sitara Khan
OT Masters Student 

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