Creating a more welcoming theatre 

I have always loved to perform, to be on stage, to be acting, dancing, speaking.  I often laughed with people who were impressed with my stage presence that I feel more comfortable the larger the crowd gets. Speaking to one person is terrifying, so is a few.  But the more that are added, the more they melt in the background and I can be less hyper focused on them, less concerned about how they are analyzing me, about how I don’t understand how to interact. Fear melts away and I try to trust myself and be confident in what I am doing.

Sometimes it was more successful than others.  I was still too shy, too awkward, too constantly misunderstanding things to ever truly flourish. My confidence was mostly non-existent for most of my life.  I was the kid who got written out of their grade 10 drama performance and played cards in the tech booth for the last month of the semester, the kid who skipped the gr.11 musical theatre cast party because I would rather hang out with my cousin, the kid who was 5 years older than most kids in their dance class.

I’m not the kid you would have expected to grow up and end up in Theatre. Or I am. I guess it depends. But I’m not the one my class would have voted as 

“Most likely to end up in theatre after graduation.”

It actually gets even better.

In grade 10 I was away for some reason on the day our class decided roles for our final performance.  It was decided that I would find it too uncomfortable and I was chosen to be lights. It turns out, during those drama classes I spent playing cards in the tech booth, I actually picked up some skills that are useful to what I do know.  And what do I do?

Well there will be more on that,

But I help to make Theatre more accessible, more inclusive, more welcoming! Younger me would not believe this!

Right now I’m part of a very cool organization called Inside Out Theatre and they have an amazing program, The good host program. Working with consultants, like myself, who are from the communities we want to include, we collaborate with local theatre companies to provide a wide variety of shows accessible to people who might not get to experience the theatre otherwise!

Me, a white wheelchair user in a green manual chair with the cast of Madagascar the musical after our first relaxed performance
With the cast of Madagascar the Musical at Storybook theatre after a relaxed performance

As the relaxed performance consultant, I get to watch the regular performances of shows and use my skills of being able to write in the dark to make notes and suggestions on how to “relax” the performance.

Every relaxed performance is different, but the idea is to create an environment that is welcoming to a wider group of people.

There are lots of people that could benefit from a relaxed performance, so these are just some examples,

  • People with anxiety, who maybe have never been to the theatre before
  • Someone with PTSD, who might startle at loud noises and effects,
  • People with chronic illnesses, health conditions, or disabilities that could make them need to leave the theatre sometimes to use the bathroom, take medications, or other things
  • Autistic people, others with sensory sensitivities, or ADHD
  • People with migraines, photosensitiity, epilepsy, or seizure disorders 

And that’s just a few examples!

A relaxed performance is not a different show, it’s a show where small differences are made so that many more people are able to enjoy it!

It’s an amazing experience for me because I get to interact with so many different people,

From those who have never experienced theatre before,

To those in the industry.

And somehow, somehow the shy awkward kid that no one new what to do with found a place in all of this.

And together, there’s a lot of us working to help more people belong here too.

Yes, I am disabled 

The problem isn’t that I’m disabled, the problem is that you can’t associate anything positive with disability.

So in order to compliment me, to percieve me as a “good” person, you need to see me as a person in spite of my disability, ignoring the fact that disability in itself is not negative.

There is nothing wrong with disability, but you can only see positive things in me as a disabled person if you separate me from my disability.

And that’s a problem.

Disability is not a “dirty word.”

The way we treat disabled people is the problem.

The way we dehumanize and segregate an entire group of people instead of trying to understand and accommodate them is a problem.

Stop trying to find a way to describe me that makes you feel better, and use that energy to learn about me and what I need.

This is what current “autistic” representation on TV makes me think

Less than a year ago I was having a conversation with someone when I was asked “When did you realize how smart you are?”
I was taken aback, as was the other person when I answered that it had been within the past year.
As we continued our conversation I had to go back and ask for clarification- 
I’m used to being called narcissistic, egotistical, to being misunderstood. I’m used to being unable to explain my thoughts well enough. Being the strange one that everyone writes off as rude, difficult, ridiculous and full of nonsense. I’m so used to being seen in those ways that I first assumed that’s what was meant.
That I thought myself smarter than those around me, that I had an attitude problem, that I kept asserting myself as “smart”.
And that is complicated. 
Because after a lifetime of being written off, combined with a lifetime of trauma, mental illness, and so many other things,
Yes, I do at times resort to nearly shouting “oh for crying out loud I actually know what I am talking out. Please listen to me. Please listen to me. Please give my strange brain and strange self a chance”
This might be the time when I mention that I am Autistic.
I am Autistic and among many other things, continue to deal with post-concussion syndrome.  
I am something people forgets that exists, someone who is considered extremely “smart” by conventional standards, and yet has a cognitive disability.
I can write, as I am right now, in a way that I can not comprehend and read. 
It is infuriating.
But it is the most frustrating because people will pick and choose from this to either validate or invalidate myself and others. They will point to one thing I can or cannot do and use it to overwrite all else. 
I do not want to be seen as smart.
Or intelligent.
Or anything else related to things because it is usually someone’s way of intentionally or unintentionally erasing my experience.
The experience of someone unable to finish University.
Someone who struggles to find employment.
Someone who is frequently passed over for opportunities that I am qualified for.
Someone people frequently dismiss.
You do not get to pick what you like from me, to use my thoughts and ideas while people like me are tossed aside as disposable labour at best.
It is difficult because when you are constantly overlooked, it is so easy to want to be noticed, no matter the cost. 
I frequently do not know how to express myself when I know things, when I have ideas and thoughts that are bringing unique, important perspectives. I don’t know what else to do sometimes than to be the tactless young person at the table yelling “no! No that’s not it! Please listen to me I think I know this”
I’m the kid in school that shouted all the answers, sometimes loudly disagreed with the teacher, and on more than one occasion could not finish the exam because I disagreed with it.
And then around a year ago someone I respect,
Well they were one of the first to say it out loud.
And so I had to bring our conversation to a halt to ask for a clarification.
What do you mean? How long have I known how smart I am?
Since then I realized that there’s a different word that might apply to someone like me:
“Autistic Savant”
Autistic Savant: known in society as the “useful Autistics”. The ones whose Autism is justified by their usually exploitable genius.  
Something that is somehow justified, because we have vilified disability, Autism and Autistics to the point that our very existence becomes what needs to be justified, instead of how we are mistreated and misrepresented by society.
There is this idea that being a savant somehow “makes up” for the tragedy of being Autistic.
Being autistic is not a tragedy. Being a savant is not some consolation prize I was given. The unique way I see things, the way that I analyze and process, is because I am Autistic. If I was not Autistic, I could not do what I do.
The media will portray that as a tragedy, feeding you lies about kids locked in their minds and trying to convince you that Autistics must be divided: high and low functioning, most and least disruptive, exploitable, expensive.
I never finished University. There’s a longer story to that but the end result is that I have no degree. I’m not a Prodigy that amazed all my peers and mentors, I’m more the disappointment that frustrated everyone.
I can’t fill out a form without help which is a significant barrier to employment, education, assistance, and most opportunities. I struggle to express myself in ways that others understand. I don’t understand how to do things others find simple.
There are probably more people that consider me too difficult to work with, more trouble than I’m worth, than people who are willing to accommodate my disabilities. I’m much more likely to be left alone mumbling in frustration at how no one ever paid attention to me when I was talking about these things years ago.
And on the occasion when I am recognized, it is often to put down another Autistic person.
I will not be used in that way.
I will not continue to be misrepresented by the media. 
Autistics are so many things. 

 Stop relying on the trope of the Autistic Savant.
Stop using Autistics to put down other Autistics.
And stop representing us as rude, white boys/men who are obsessed with trains and violating people’s boundaries. 

Trying to “social media” while cognitively disabled

The first time I tried to use twitter I used it wrong.  Three years later I’m still not entirely sure how it works, or what I’m supposed to do or exactly how this specific sub-culture works.

It’s beyond frustrating.

When we discuss ableism, or how ableism is and isn’t addressed in other spaces, I find that so often myself and others like me are left out of the conversation.

There’s this implied idea that if you can’t find the discussion, if you don’t understand the content or how the content is presented.  If it is overwhelming, and otherwise inaccessible,

Well we don’t  consider it inaccessible.

Everyone else is fine, right?

Why consider the needs of those who are not there, or those who have to use all there energy for this one “simple” task? (sarcasm)

In the end, I become the most frustrated with myself.  I’m disappointed that I can’t navigate things the way I wish, annoyed that I don’t understand, and lacking the energy and time to put in the many hours I would need to for what others consider small tasks.

I have let myself disappear.

I wish I had more to say or something to contradict, but that’s the truth.

It has been too hard, to exhausting, to painful.

And I have found  it so much easier to just disappear.


This is not what I want.  I’m not sure how or when but I will be around trying to fix things up.  I will be trying to fix something up that works for me.

I still exist.


If you value Autistics, Return our Voices

(Note: I started this on Monday, but then I was too exhausted to finish it, so I’m posting it a day late)

Today is Autistic Speaking Day.

It’s Autistic Speaking day, and my friend and colleague is in Ottawa at a National Youth Forum discussing what an accessible Canada would look like.

It’s Autistic Speaking day and just yesterday I rolled into a theatre, saw my name on a sign as the guest speaker, and reflected on the collaboration we had we done with the theater company and the amazing work that has been done this past year.

I’ve spoken at the United Nations in Geneva, made UN submissions as an autistic person representing autistics, been involved in National Campaigns,

and you know what?

this morning my phone broke even more, and I cried.

I pressed the non-responsive buttons repeatedly as if they some how held the answers I desperately needed.

I stared at that broken phone in disbelief and all the exhaustion came rushing back.

I’m so tired.

Last night was amazing.  It was amazing and I was preparing to write a very different post for today.  I still want to write that post.

But this one, this is something I have been putting off for so long.

A few weeks ago when  I spoke at the consultation for the Canada Accessibility Act, I first spoke on the barriers I was facing as I was working to be involved in advocacy (and other things).  How having a disability, especially multiple disabilities, impacts how you are able to deal with your disability.  How being poor, not living in acccessible housing, and not having access to necessary medical supplies has left me with constant health problems in addition to what I normally deal with.  How I struggle to fill out forms so much that it is often easier for me to simply go without, how this means I miss out on constant opportunities.  Everything I accomplish takes so much out of me that I return exhausted, with less energy complete necessary functions others consider simple.  With increased damage to my body.

I have failed disability studies courses 5 separate times.

That’s a different post, but it’s important because I so often see amazing disabled people pushed out of the field, their experiences enriching their non-disabled classmates, who go on to graduate and find jobs in the field,

while our expertise is overlooked and miscredited, and if we are lucky enough to get paid (we usually are not), we are frequently underpaid.  Our involvement is not considered serious, or work, or something worth paying for.

This needs to change.

I love what I do, and yes, the stress, the tears, all of it is worth it.

But here is the problem.

I don’t constantly cry about money just because it would be easier for me and others,

I do so because I have been barely able to hang on for several months now.

I have some of the most amazing people in my life, and their support, their love, hope, optimism, that allows me to keep mine.  Because my life is filled with such amazing people, I’ve spent the past few months trying to drag myself through this, knowing that there can be something in the future.

With all the talk that everyone does about Autism, how much money raised goes to support Autistics?  And actually support them, not just fund questionable therapies.  How much money goes to us, the Autistics working so hard for this.  We don’t do it for praise, we often get dragged through the mud by so many people for this work.  We put our reputations, our sanity, ourselves, on the line for this because we know they never  mattered in the first place.

And all I want is for someone else to not have to make the choices I’ve had to make.  To not have to try to balance a non-existent budget but then find out too late that when you don’t eat because you ran out of food, it’s impossible to work.

I don’t want people having to triage emergencies, because everything is urgent.

I don’t want people losing themselves because it’s hard when you don’t have time to process your own trauma and tragedy.  To deal with it.

It’s terrifying to make decisions that will be better for you and your community in the long run but right now, oh right now they hurt.  They hurt so much.  And yes, yes they are worth it.

But that doesn’t make them hurt less.

I do not regret my decisions.

But sometimes I have to take a moment and just acknowledge the weight of them.  It’s how I stop it from crushing me.

So I am writing this because the last year has been amazing but also terrifying.  I wouldn’t have made it without having such an amazing group of awesome supportive people in my life.

But I can’t keep running on empty.

I think I can because I’m so used to it.  But I can’t.

And this is relevant to you, to others, because I have a lot to give, a lot that I can do.  It’s not the same situation here in Canada.  I’ve tried to replace me before, but we’re not yet there.  (Trust me, there was a whole month long thing where I cried a lot and was willing to put myself in a very questionable position because we couldn’t find a replacement me for something yet).

So what I’m asking for, is help.

especially to non-Autistic people, stop donating to large non-Autistic orgs and consider donating to self advocates.

Stop stealing our voices

Give them back.

If you are able, (and I know, times are very hard right now, for us all), I’m setting up some fundraisers,

No obligation, No pressure, but if you are interested,

I have a YouCaring page, and also a Patreon

That time I spoke at the UN

Several months ago I had an incredible opportunity to speak at a United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP) side event in Geneva, Switzerland, on the topic of restraint and seclusion. Since then, my life has not slowed down, and sometimes that trip feels another lifetime ago, not this past April.
Regardless of the exact issue I’m dealing with, there are so many things that have me thinking of my speech lately.
I think about the rarity of having Autistic people being the ones to discuss these issues. Of how it felt to return to the UN the next day and realize that people like me just don’t get these opportunities, we don’t get this far. It was such a strange feeling.
I remember the amazing joy I felt of seeing a young Autistic there, on holiday in Geneva, visiting the UN. That memory makes me keep working when it feels too tough sometimes, because I want young Autistics to have a future.
And so, several months late, I give you my speech.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here, as an Autistic Advocate, during the occasion of Autism Awareness day.

This past weekend, during the many different campaigns and events associated with Autism Awareness day, Autistics from around the world, including Canada, expressed their desire to be viewed as people, not problems, burdens, a disease, or an epidemic.

Today, during the rest of this month, and every day, I sincerely ask you to remember that.

When we are thought of as problems, that is when it changes from people working with us, to instead focusing on “fixing” or normalizing us.

Rather than de-escalating stressful or difficult situations autistic children face in school, these situations are often further escalated. Instead of working with students to develop coping methods for when they are overwhelmed, normalizing therapies such as ABA take away students current coping strategies, do not allow for the creation of new, autistic friendly coping methods, and frequently leave students traumatized.

Instead of assisting these students, this situation is worsened by the usage of restraint and seclusion.

As an elementary school student, I was aware of my school’s time out room. It was a small windowless room, with the handle on the outside at normal height, while the inside handle was at the top of the door, so only teachers could reach it, not students. The door locked automatically when it closed.

The existence and use of this room was not a secret, just as the use of restraint and seclusion today is not a secret. It was however something we were discouraged from talking about, from asking too many questions. We would be reassured that this was something for “other students”. This continues to be a common attitude in Canada, that while as Canadians we might have suspicions, but it is easier to believe something so horrible does not happen, not here. This is made more challenging as documenting incidents is not legally required, and information on their usage can be hard to obtain, even for families, who are often not informed or aware.

When families do find out, it is rarely from the school, as was documented by a 2013 report from British Columbia. Most found out about the restraint or seclusion of their child from somewhere else. Nearly half of all respondents reported physical injury or obvious signs of pain occurred during the restraint. Also to be considered is that often signs of pain in autistics are not easily recognized by non-Autistics. 79% of respondents reported emotional trauma as a direct result of seclusion. The presence of emotional and psychological trauma is also notable as the negative changes on behaviour could then be misinterpreted and used as justification for more restraint and seclusion, instead of stopping the practice and seeking appropriate care for the child.

Currently, restraints and seclusion are still used in schools in Canada. In Toronto, there are section 23 schools with classrooms where students can be handcuffed to their desks. Many training programs still teach the use of restraints. While they are taught with the intention of being used in emergency situations, there is no evidence that this is being followed, and no clarification as to what is meant by an emergency.

We can not create harmful environments, and then use that as justification for the usage of restraint and seclusion. We cannot use the behaviours demonstrated by traumatized individuals to then continue to justify the usage of restraint and seclusion. We should not be justifying the usage of restraint and seclusion.