Friday, August 29, 2008

I Have a Voice

One of my favourite things to do is sit on the deck and read a good book. I can't get enough of books, sometimes juggling two or three at a time. A murder mystery is in my car (it's unthinkable to sit in a waiting room without the latest P.D. James tome to distract me from an impending dreaded root canal); my old standby, Pride and Prejudice, graces my end table in the bedroom, and dozens more are scattered throughout various rooms in our house.

Books have always been a comforting presence in my life, as well as a pleasurable way to pass the time. Oh, let's face it, some women experience the 'thrill of the hunt' when shopping for shoes, or bling. I get the same tingles all over my body when I enter a bookstore or a library.

Thankfully, I've been blessed with opportunities to sit down with other book addicts and spend countless hours mulling over the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly in every great opus.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I read that a book club was developed exclusively for the intellectually disabled? According to Newsday, "five years ago, with the help of like-minded advocates and the Port Washington Public Library, (a mother of a Down syndrome man) formed Books for Dessert, a book club - thought to be the only one of its kind on Long Island - for adults with intellectual disabilities."

"People have always assumed that people like Jamie don't really have opinions on anything remotely complex," said his mother, Nancy Comer. "They're just expected to work and be happy."

Another book club was created in Ohio, called the Next Chapter Book Club. It was "founded in 2002 at Ohio State University's Nisonger Center and now has more than 100 chapters across the country (the U.S.)," said program director Tom Fish."

Hmmm, that's all well and good for those who are lucky enough to reside in areas close to these book clubs, but what about those people who live in the boonies, or for that matter, don't happen to live in the United States?

The more I read about this wonderful opportunity, the more I itched to create the same thing, here, in Canada. I reflected on how book clubs allow the participants to create a social network, and as Fish said, "even though people with intellectual disabilities are living with greater frequency in their community, that doesn't mean they're part of the community."

After Googling everything under the sun, I finally struck gold. "Seek and ye shall find," as my mother drilled into us as children. The Down Syndrome Research Foundation (DSRF) recently announced they're bringing the Next Chapter Book Club to Canada, albeit British Columbia. However, after checking out the contact list on the Chapter Book Club site, I found a contact name in Erie County, Ontario. Eureka!

I liked the site. It's warm, friendly, and doesn't talk down to the reader. And I liked the fact that "unlike any other book club, the Next Chapter Book Club provides adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to read and learn to read, talk about books, and make friends in a fun, community setting. Next Chapter Book Clubs meet weekly in local bookstores and cafes to read and discuss books of their choosing. NCBC members range from those who read well to those who do not read at all."

If your local town or city doesn't have a book club, why not start up your own club? Adapted classics are available at every bookstore, or can be purchased online. As one member said, "I like coming here because I like to read history...and I like this group. I'm alive, and I feel great being here."

It doesn't have to be a book club, of course. How about an art club, or a crafts club? The list is endless. Let's just open the gates of our communities, and invite the intellectually disabled in. Give them a place where their voices can be heard. Because they have a lot to say. We're just not listening.


Anonymous said...

Barb from Guelph

I just love your blog and have told all my friends about it. You are a beautiful writer, and your topics are every bit as wonderful.

For the past 15 years, I have worked with persons with special needs, and absolutely love my work. These special individuals feed our souls more than we feed theirs.

I initially heard about Ideal-Way during the spring when they ran a province wide poetry contest. How can I become more involved with Thanks and keep the stories coming!!

Yvonne said...

Congratulations on a great blog that always says it like it is.

Yes, persons with intellectual disability do have a lot to say. Unfortunately, due to 'our' ignorance and/or 'our' arrogance, "We're just not listening."

The recent poetry contest was a stroke of genius towards giving 'them' "a place where their voices can be heard."

God willing, the upcoming art contest will continue this positive momentum until "We're just not listening." becomes an infamous footnote to the history of an all-caring future society.

Maureen Lee said...

Barb, I love your comment, "These special individuals feed our souls more than we feed theirs"! Thank you for your interest in Ideal-Way - one way you could help would be by sharing Your skills. As you know, volunteering is a terrific way to share your hobbies or skills, and since you have worked with persons with special needs for 15 years, you would be a valuable asset to our organization. You love your work, and a passion to work with special needs individuals is a must! Check out our website ( for other ways to contribute, if you find that you simply don't have the time to volunteer.

At Ideal-Way, we're very excited about the upcoming art contest, for it will give special needs persons another opportunity to share their vision, creativity, and passion with the rest of the world.

I like your positive outlook, Yvonne, and God willing, "an all-caring future society" will take into account the needs of everyone.

Sarah in Burlington said...

Hello Maureen! Your blog is very interesting and unique. I have enjoyed reading the many comments from others. Sounds like your mission to allow those with disabilities to be heard is spreading rather rapidly. Truly enjoyed visiting website. Great work you are doing.

Bill in Thunder Bay said...

"I wondered why somebody didn't do something. Then I realized, I am somebody." Such is the realization behind volunteering.

Barb from Guelph "gets it".

maureenlee, yvonne, sarah from Burlington, and the good people at also "get it".

Maureen Lee said...

Thanks, Sarah and Bill! Let's keep the ball in the air, get the message out there, for you're right, Bill: "I wondered why somebody didn't do something. Then I realized, I am somebody."

Cecily, Mississauga said...

First of all, thank you, Maureen, for championing these special individuals thru your informative blog. How wonderful to know there are book clubs open to this community and in so many cities! Book clubs would have been unheard of at one time because the thought was since they can't read, why bother? Oh, how they have proven everyone wrong! Our special people can and have accomplished so much! Just imagine what could have been for so many if only they had been given the opportunities of today.
And speaking of books, a colleague mentioned an Ideal-Way cookbook of some kind was in the works. Any info?

Pierre said...

cecily, Mississauga commented that "an Ideal-Way cookbook of some kind was in the works."

maureen lee, please, let us know as soon as this cookbook is published. My wife wants to buy one book for our family, and a few more books for Christmas gifts.

Another fabulous ideal-way idea, by the way!

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