Author Archives: Donna Jack

MEDIA RELEASE – International Summit on Accessibility

April 9, 2014



Guelph, Ontario, Monday April 9, 2014 – Local accessibility firm Roll a Mile will be presenting two sessions at the International Summit on Accessibility 2014 by Carleton University with support from the Province of Ontario and the City of Ottawa that will promote access and inclusion for persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. Leaders from around the globe will showcase innovation, celebrate best practices and enable collaborative dialog and action toward accessible and inclusive communities. With a major theme of ‘Making it Happen – Intention to Action’ and three primary streams; Innovation, Technology and Accessible Communities. Each stream will address issues of accessibility in education, communication, employment, recreation, mobility health and the physical environment with a special emphasis on employment.

Roll a Mile’s first session, “Accessibility into Perspective” approaches accessibility as a movement of social change, comparing it to historical examples of accommodation and puts accessibility into perspective by analyzing return on investment and evaluating items such as:  the societal and economic benefits and opportunities of accessibility and inclusion including the positive impact on education, employment, marketplace and community; the curb-cut effect; implementation costs; cost of non-compliance; and the value of preserving dignity and independence.

The second session, “The Importance of Accessibility Educational Curricula” will be presented as part of the panel discussion “Accessibility in Higher Education” and address how making teaching accessible is as important as teaching accessibility and how strategic implementation of accessibility into curricula across all disciplines can create a future generation of accessibility minded individuals creating accessible products, services and spaces. The session will explore the importance of including accessibility in the curriculum, looking at examples of global accessibility education models and the opportunities and experiences of accessibility curriculum models that have strategically implemented accessibility in a broad range of curricula.

Session speaker and Roll a Mile President, Donna Jack, says major obstacles to accessibility implementation include lack of awareness and misperception about the costs involved in complying with regulations. “There is a huge misperception about the true cost” she says,  “current regulations under the A.O.D.A. simply require most businesses to implement accessible customer service policies and procedures, and train staff. It’s really not just about having a ramp, though having a ramp is helpful.”

“As well,” she continues, “the benefits and opportunities presented by accessibility and inclusion for businesses, institutions and society far outweigh the costs. One recent study estimates that the implementation of the AODA could generate retail sales increases ranging from $3.8-$9.6 billion in 5 years. A chance at that piece of the pie is a pretty good return on the cost of becoming accessible”.

For information on the International Summit on Accessibility 2014 visit  or #ISAccessibility @ISAccessibility on Twitter

Roll a Mile will also be presenting for the third consecutive year at the University of Guelph’s 6th Annual The Accessibility Conference with this year’s topic “Strength In Numbers: Collaborative Accessibility Advocacy”. More information at

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For more information:        519-823-3046        @rollamile

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Suite 104

The other day I went to yet another new specialist, this time an hour and a half’s drive from home. So three hours total travel time for the day. I don’t mind traveling to see specialists, I am willing to try anything at this point, and to travel anywhere my coverage allows. The total time for appointment, four hours: 3 hours drive time, 40 minute wait, for a 20 minute appointment. That’s half a day for one appointment. I once overheard reception at another medical facility tell a patient that they ‘wished they had time to read a magazine’, to a patient inquiring about the wait time to see the doctor. Yes how fortunate we are to lose a half-days work to be able to read 18 month old tabloid trash.

As usual, I google street-viewed the location prior to the visit, and determed it was it a medical facility adjacent to a hospital, so assumed the accessibility would be decent. Though as the visit would most likely involve medical waiting rooms and long corridors typical in such establishments, the walker was a must. As the office I was going to was Suite 104, I hoped that meant no stairs to carry the walker up.

Once at the facility I was lucky to find the final available spot in the parking lot, though not a disabled spot.  The lot was of the ‘take your ticket with you’ variety, where you pay at a machine prior to leaving and then have a 15-minute grace period to get your car out of the lot (for many people with disabilities, this time restriction can be difficult). The machine only accepts credit cards. This is not uncommon at hospitals and medical facilities, and even our local university will not accept cash at their manned parking lots, only debit or credit card. Most people on O.D.S.P. are unable to have credit cards, and some do not have debit cards or bank accounts. This all due, of course, to the disproportionate amount of people with disabilities who live below the poverty level, but that is another blog, for another day.

Upon arrival at the doctor’s office I was visiting, I registered with the staff-member manning the reception window, and received a form to fill out. Unfortunately, my penmanship has declined markedly due to my tremors. I wish they had this form available on their website to download prior to visiting. Being accustomed to such forms, I always have a list of medications with me, but had forgotten to print out the ‘medical records’ I have created for myself to assist when filling out these dreaded forms. Medications taken, doctors visited, medical diagnoses and conditions, family medical history, and list of on-going symptoms. When I remember these, I am often able to simply hand them back with the form not completed, but the information detailed and legible. So today, the agonizing form is my fault.

I arrive ten minutes early to the appointment, and wait 40 past my appointment time to see the doctor. I am lucky. The woman beside me has already waited more than an hour, and has a much worse experience. After patiently waiting an hour, this woman approaches the reception window to be told that they have been trying to reach the medical office upstairs to get her records sent down, but the line has been continually busy (sadly, this is also commonplace for medical offices , and we will touch more on this later). The woman quickly offers to go upstairs and get the records herself, a suggestion that meets with approval from the staff member. She is gone and back with the records within five minutes, and in to see the doctor in another twenty. About an hour and twenty-five minutes that could have taken five with a pro-active approach by the staff member. Most likely more than her lunch hour, or whatever time-off she had arranged with her employer.

The waiting room itself is large, with lots of reading material (read: germ spreaders), a television set to the twenty-four hour news update station and plenty of chairs, not even half of which were occupied at any time during our visit. Unfortunately, nobody had had the foresight to remove any of the chairs to accommodate people with walkers or wheelchairs, requiring anyone using one to be either in the aisle way or blocking access to reading materials. Simply removing a few chairs and leaving spaces in the waiting room to accommodate these assistive devices benefits everyone else using the space.

There were about six doctors sharing the waiting room, and during our wait, a door would open occasionally and someone would call the name of the next patient. “Sally Smith”, “Joe Jones”, “Mr. Miller”, etc. At one point during my wait, the door opened and the staff –member said “Can you bring Mr. Labelle in to the office please” to the person accompanying Mr. Miller, who happened to be seated in a wheelchair. I admit, I almost lost my s*it, but decided addressing the issue at that moment would only degrade Mr. Labelle’s dignity further. The staff member might as well have said “Please bring Mr. Object into the office”. YOU SPEAK TO THE PATIENT. You say, “Mr. Labelle please come in” the same as you have for every other patient. YOU SPEAK TO THE PATIENT. The person with Mr. Labelle will know to ‘bring’ Mr. Labelle in when you call Mr. Labelle’s name. I promise.

PETITION to remove all ramps from highways in Ontario and replace with stairs

Of course we did not actually create a petition to remove all ramps from highways in Ontario and replace them with stairs, that would be ridiculous. However, I do invite you to take a moment to envision such a world where the only access to highways was a set of stairs …. how would people who use cars get around?

This scenario may seem far-fetched, but for millions of people, being unable to gain access to a vital place or service as a result of barriers to access such as a set of stairs, is a daily reality.

This scenario revolves around stairs and ramps, but there are numerous other barriers to access that affect people with disabilities, be they physical, hearing, intellectual, learning, visual or speech related, on a daily basis.

Hopefully, our fake-petition analogy will help some to better understand how barriers affect access.


For more information on barriers to access and accessibility visit


Turns out the TTC has been using video- surveillance from their Wheel-Trans vehicles to conduct ‘investigations’ into misuse by riders and not notifying riders that they were doing so. Reviews have been conducted by an independent panel using only visual observation of a small fragment of a rider’s true lived-experience to determine eligibility for service use. No medical evidence, no interview of the rider, nothing. They just looked at someone for a few minutes and formed an opinion of that person and their abilities.

I would be interested to learn whether the panel even considered where the riders traveled to using the service. I would bet that the majority of use was to medical appointments, banking, groceries, work, or other necessities. Not that this matters in the slightest, if a person with a disability wants to use the service for purely social matters like visiting friends, that should not be an issue, but I would just bet that the majority of use was for necessity purposes and would serve as additional material in defense of rider.

And, as Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean stated in The Toronto Star’s “TTC suspends use of Wheel-Trans security camera footage to weed out ineligible users” by Paul Moloney*, “There are lots of diseases where one day you’re okay and the next day you’re not.”  Many people with disabilities, specifically those incorporating chronic pain, are often only able to be seen ‘in public’ on ‘good days’, so basing a decision on eligibility simply on one short video is a ridiculous assumption that this would be standard representation of that rider’s mobility or eligibility. On days where a rider might ‘appear’ eligible, the rider is most likely unable to use the service at all. There is no video evidence of those days. Basing an opinion solely on visual observation of only a few minutes in a riders entire lived-experience is ridiculous beyond words. Not allowing ‘suspect-riders’ the opportunity to even present medical evidence or address the independent panel doing the review is problematic on a multitude of levels.

Obviously there are other serious issues with questionable issues including: failure to adequately notify riders of the true use of such video surveillance; failure to notify riders of investigations against them; and questionable resource allocation on behalf of the TTC on investigations rather than on barrier removal and increasing overall accessibility. According to The Star, 54 out of 47,000 riders were found to be ineligible during the TTC’s investigations. Hardly a high-percentage of TTC deemed ineligibility and certainly not enough misuse of service to warrant the allocation of such resources. Considering the fact that other than door-to-door service, there are no additional benefits to Wheel-Trans usage over their conventional modes of transportation, including cost it is not surprising to find such a low percentage of misuse. In fact, there are so many disadvantages to using Wheel-Trans that it seems obvious use would be only by those requiring it, with no other options.

Fortunately, the TTC has accepted the Toronto Ombusmen recommendations and has suspended the practice of using the video surveillance for review of eligibility for the time being. It will also be notifying all riders deemed ineligible since 2011 to invite re-application for usage. Not good enough by a long-shot.

Simply observing someone for a few minutes before forming an opinion of them and their abilities is wrong. Affecting someone’s quality of life based on this opinion is unconscionable.


*The Toronto Star: TTC suspends use of Wheel-Trans security camera footage to weed out ineligible users, By: Paul Moloney City Hall Bureau reporter, Published on Wed Jul 10 2013.

‘Running’ a Business in an Inaccessible Environment

Having run my own business and marketing consulting firm for decades, I knew when I started my accessibility firm, that there would be challenges. I expected, and have encountered, many of the expected challenges: raising capital, keeping up with technology, employee and human resource issues, time-management, the usual challenges for start-up businesses.

I knew that as a fledgling industry, I would have extra work to do educating potential clients about need. I knew I would have to overcome price objectives and the negativity surrounding ‘legislated compliance’. Businesses aren’t fond of spending money, especially when the government makes them, regardless of the purpose. They must first be educated about the huge return on investment that accessibility provides. The benefits accessibility has for all of their customers. Accessibility increases corporate perception, customer loyalty and sales, and unlike the mis-perceptions about cost that abound, do not have to cost a lot. And again, the return on investment is huge. I was just tweeting this evening with a gentleman about the many benefits of simply having a few chairs available for customers. Sit, stay, spend. For a multitude of reasons and for the benefit of many, particularly the bottom-line. There are numerous small things that can be done to remove barriers and increase accessibility, and they don’t have to cost very much. To paraphrase: If you build a ramp, they will come.

What I was not expecting was how many barriers to access would exist for my business and how affected it would be by inaccessibility.

I tried, for example, to join the local Chamber of Commerce, but couldn’t as I would have been completely unable to gain entry had I been using my wheelchair. Fortunately, I was able to use my cane to avoid a meeting in the parking lot where it was snowing quite hard at the time. But still, I cannot, as an accessibility firm, support a Chamber that is entirely inaccessible.

I have gone to an untold amount of business meetings where using my wheelchair would have been quite impossible in terms of accessibility. The latest came during a round of pre-event meetings for a local event I was to be speaking at. Despite my topic being about wheelchairs, I arrived with my walker to find the meetings being held on the second-floor of a Victorian-home converted to offices. Again, I am fortunate that I was able to return to my car and grab an alternate assistive device, my cane. I have to mention that the organizers were more than accommodating, offering to move the meeting to the main floor, etc. But that would have been way too much of an effort as everything was set up in the upstairs boardroom already, and I have already caused too much additional unwanted attention at this point.

Ironically, the event venue itself attempted to be accommodating providing a ramp for my sole-use, but this ramp proved completely inaccessible, even the cameraman had difficulty WALKING up the steep slope. Again, I resorted to using the cane I now keep attached to my wheelchair for such frequent occurances. I am fortunate that I have other options. I cannot image the added difficulties not having my additional assistive device options would pose for me and my business. Again, I note that both the organizers and the event tried to be accommodating and I am grateful for any accommodations, I just prefer accessibility and independence.

I encountered similar problems with every attempt to attend networking meetings. They were either entirely inaccessible (I myself have had difficulty finding accessible venues at which to host my own events), or I encountered what I call the ‘red-sea syndrome’ that occurs at most events, and makes networking in a wheelchair quite difficult. Many people are quite hesitant to approach someone sitting in a wheelchair, so I will usually be the one to approach others and introduce myself. I have found that approaching a small group of individuals and casually inserting myself into the group, and then conversation, quite impossible. Inevitably, someone will notice my chair approaching and a polite, ‘parting of the seas’ will occur as everyone re-adjusts to allow me to pass. This is nice of them. Unfortunately, at this point I find it quite difficult to casually insert myself into the conversation and will sheepishly, roll-on past, thanking them as I do. It may not be the chair, it could be me, but it’s easier on my self-esteem to blame the chair.

What does seem to work is finding another individual standing alone and approaching them with something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Donna, I don’t like sitting alone at these events so thought I would come over and introduce myself”. Individual approaches seem to work better for networking, though can occasionally strike fear in the eyes of those being approached when they realized I have signaled them out. I don’t think this is a reaction to my disability in any way, but an innate, networking event reaction for most.

I have a feeling too, that many potential customers are hesitant to approach us for fear that they are not currently accessible. They are unaware of the many mobility options available to me. Plus, they are calling inquiring about accessibility, this positive fact outweighs the obvious fact that if they are looking to increase accessibility, they may not currently be so. But I am hesitant to ever play the D-card as an excuse for my business, and honestly, there are many other reasons that a potential customer might not call.

I am not sure why I was so surprised by that inaccessibility affected my business, inaccessibility affects my daily life, and I suppose, for us especially, success lies in literally being able to get our foot in the door.

Nothing to Wear – Accessorizing Accessibly

For many, dressing everyday takes on additional considerations. Again, I offer only my personal experience, and all of the following is dependent of course, on my physical capabilities for the day, but for this, we will assume that I am having a good day. I also want to acknowledge my gratitude at the fact that I am still able to drive and have the ability to opt for other options aside from my wheelchair. Having these options is something many do not, and I appreciate the fact that I do. I am also grateful that I have the assistive devices that I require, including a scooter. Many are unable to afford the items that would ease their mobility. I am also still able to lift my own walker and wheelchair in and out of the back of my car, this alone makes much of my mobility as it is, possible.

My process requires the answers to several questions,

Where am I going?

Like most, this will dictate several decisions regarding apparel, but not in the usual sense. This next question is actually the more relevant for me..

Have I been there before?

If not, I will usually opt for my walker as it provides the benefit of being more portable than my manual wheelchair, as well as providing an always-available-seat* that my cane(s) do not.

If I have been there I am obviously better able to assess the accessibility and pre-aware of barriers. I will know whether ample seating and short walking distances are involved and perhaps be able to use only my cane(s).

I have found that calling ahead to determine accessibility is useless and usually just serves to complicate the whole process. Either the person on the other end answering will be unaware of what actual accessibility entails, or they will attempt to over-accommodate. One example of over-accommodation was when I called ahead for a mammogram to see if it was possible to sit for the procedure or how long standing would be required. As it was at a hospital, accessibility for wheelchairs is usually pretty good so I also advised I would be using my (preferred method) wheelchair. When I arrived the entire waiting room had been re-designed to accommodate a wheelchair and subsequently re-arranged immediately following my being taken for the appointment, serving mostly to make my wheelchair use a spectacle. I mean a hospital, particularly the radiology department must see its fair-share of patients using wheelchairs. Having now had one, I have used my walker for all subsequent exams and not called ahead.

These are my major decisions regarding accessorizing with assistive devices, but there are additional accessorizing considerations. The easiest of my devices are my canes, but I find that when I use just my cane, people (strangers) frequently ask, “Oh, what happened?” a question I have not been asked when using my walker or chair. Aside from one nurse at the emergency room who remarked “you really need a wheelchair?” when I borrowed a courtesy one from the hospital which was easier than lifting mine from the car. Unsure of how to answer, I simply pulled out my parking pass and said, “I left mine in the car”. The most difficult to use is my manual wheelchair, though it is the easiest for me in terms of comfort, and the difficulties lie only in barriers and inaccessibility, and are unrelated to my disability or manoeuvring of the chair itself. I would prefer to use my chair in almost all situations, but usually it is easier not to. Again, I am blessed I am able to exercise other options, but frustrated by the requirement to do so.

Some other accessorizing accessibly considerations:

Purses. The best option is always a cross-body strap so that my hands are free for other purposes, like walking on (canes, walker, manual chair). A single-shoulder purse usually just slides down the arm. Clutches and handbags are out of the question, unless I am using the walker, where they can be stored in the seat (another advantage of the walker is that it comes with a small amount of built-in storage).

Shoes. Sadly, flats are now the only feasible option. Plus, wearing my stilettos while using a cane or walker looks ridiculous, aside from being quite dangerous. So flats it is. I miss my Pretty Boots, but would miss walking much more and so I happily wear flats.

Eyes. Glasses are my latest assistive device and remembering them and their accessories is proving to be an ongoing process.

Toes / Feet: A long time ago I realized that when I used my assistive devices, people would look at my feet first, and then my face. So I started painting each of my toe-nails a different colour in sandals, or wearing mis-matched socks and quirky shoes, just to have a little fun with people.

Jewlery. If I am using my cane, I cannot wear bracelets, for some reason these tend to get caught and broken by the cane. Being a clutz is part of the issue, but the cane contributes. Rings can be uncomfortable if I am going to be doing a lot of manually wheeling the chair.


*walker use: assuming it is not raining, if raining, a slip-cover or plastic bag is required to keep the seat dry while walking outside. Holding an umbrella while using both hands with the walker provides additional difficulties, and quite frankly, the umbrella hats look a little ridiculous when not on a beach.

Experiential Teaching

Our talk at IgniteGuelph seems to have revitalized discussion surrounding the benefits of experiential teaching methods such as empathetic models and simulation exercises, and the opposition to these by many in the disability community which I hope to address here.

Our session at the University of Guelph on Accessibility Education a month after the IgniteGuelph event looked at a dozen and a half examples of accessibility curriculums. The majority of which included experiential teaching methods, and all of those lauded the benefits as well. In fact, in the medical education system, where accessibility and disability education has enjoyed the longest history, the use of standardized patients is now a “mainstay” and the “substantial majority of medical schools use the standardized patient exercise to teach clinical skills and / or to assess clinical competence” and “the strengths render the standardized patient approach particularly well suited for teaching students about disability”.

The reasons for including experiential methods when teaching disability to medical students are numerous. One Occupational Therapy program used the days students spent in wheelchairs to both see what future patients encounter in terms of barriers but also to which muscles are required to maneuver and use the chair itself. But perhaps the two most important benefits of including experiential methods to teach disability to medical students is that the “allow for “teachable moments to be created, rather than waited for” and “reinforce role of patient as authoritative source of knowledge”.   

Two of the biggest arguments against experiential teaching methods are that they focus primarily on the limitations of disabilities and that disability can’t be taught.

Now I could use dozens of quotations extolling the virtues of experiential education by scholars, staff, and students but prefer instead to deal with my own personal experiences and motivations. What follows is not meant to be a justification, simply an explanation of our motivations for using them and what we see as the benefit.

I think that it is the objective of the teaching that is the most important factor in the debate, not the actual use of techniques themselves. At Roll a Mile, our use of such training methods is to increase awareness about accessibility and barriers to access. We are not attempting to teach about disability, we are trying to increase accessibility. Awareness is key to doing this, and while a few minutes spent ‘rolling a mile’ in a wheelchair will never get close to illuminating all of the accommodations, adaptations and barriers faced on a daily basis by someone who uses a wheelchair regularly, but it can raise awareness. And raising awareness is a good thing when it comes to barrier removal and increasing accessibility. I suppose my motives are selfish really, by raising awareness and increasing accessibility, I can more readily buy toothpaste.

I agree that disability is difficult to teach. To accurately simulate chronic-pain one would have to inflict constant, yet random, blows to the body with a baseball bat all the while having young children scream continuously in their ear. According to a jury-of-my-peers, this is not permissible. But seriously, using chronic, debilitating pain as an example, it would take years to properly simulate. Literally years. Years of slowly having every aspect of one’s life affected. Of losing family, friends and worst of all, your ability. Years to go through the stages of grief as you mourn the life you thought you would have, the functions you’ve lost. Years of losing your job(s), your savings, your car, your house, and your independence. Years of learning acceptance, adaptation and working within limitations. Years of adjusting to frequent medical visits to be poked and prodded, to have fluids removed and injected. Years of tests, and doctors, and the whole dysfunctional healthcare system. It would take years to properly convey to someone what living with chronic pain is like. Truly replicating any disability is impossible. Especially considering every disability is as unique as the individual with them.

And as for the concern that empathetic models tend to focus on the limitations of disability, I cannot help but strongly disagree. In my experience, anyone that ascends a ramp using a manual wheelchair, cannot help but gain a new awareness, appreciation and even admiration for anyone who does so on a regular basis. However, the use of terms like “capability-compromising exercises” does not serve to help the cause. At Roll a Mile we use “differing circumstance” models and simulation exercises that, rather than only exposing limitations, focus on adaptations and accommodations while providing firsthand familiarity with barriers to access. And it is this first-hand experience that we feel enable our participants to not only learn more, but to retain and engage more.

Teaching the rules and regulations of accessibility and the A.O.D.A. are important, but so to is ‘going beyond the building code’ to understanding the rationale behind the regulation. Accessibility needs to be presented from more than just that of policies, procedures and physical structures. We go beyond compliance as legislated accessibility is not actual accessibility.

Unfortunately, unless personally affected, most simply aren’t aware of issues of accessibility. And the truth is that most barriers to access exist simply as a lack of understanding, not an act of malice. The example I like to give for that is a local medical facility that had put a small table to act as a sanitation-station outside the entrance to an office. In this instance, the Building Code required clear-space, but really, doctors and nurses cannot be expected to know the Building Code, let alone how much additional effort is required by a person using a manual wheelchair or walker to gain entry when there is no clear space. Simply bringing this to the attention of the correct person resulted in removal of the barrier. Awareness is key to accessibility. And first-hand experiences can raise awareness significantly.

At Roll a Mile, our desired outcome is not to teach disability, but to increase awareness about accessibility and barriers to access. Our sessions and scenarios are tailored to reflect workplace realities so staff are able to provide proactive, adaptive, accommodating service and strive for understanding and awareness over empathy or pity. And we use empathetic models and simulation exercises to do it, because we truly believe their benefits outweigh their negatives.

U of Guelph Session “An Accessibility Curriculum”

Our session at the 5th Annual University of Guelph’s The Accessibility Conference May 29, 2013

 ”An Accessibility Curriculum”

First, I would like to note that the objective of this session was merely to facilitate a discussion about including accessibility in the curriculum and to review some examples of existing accessibility curricula. We truly believe that an accessible society begins with strategic implementation of accessibility into curricula across all disciplines to create a future generation of accessibility minded individuals creating accessible products, services and spaces. Any discussion around this is beneficial, however, ideally  accessibility education should be standardized and delivered by qualified individuals and institutions.

Second, I would like to thank Sarah White for her invaluable contribution to the session providing her practical experience designing, implementing and instructing the accessibility program at Durham College.


Sometime back about the beginning of the year, a tweet came up on my feed about IgniteGuelph accepting applications for speakers at their inaugural event. I knew nothing about IgniteGuelph, but as I had spent the day working on pitches for other speaking opportunties, I figured, “why not”, and submitted my application to be a speaker. Had I done any research about Ignite, I most likely would have intimidated myself out of even applying.

The inaugural event was held April 23rd, and was such a blast!  There were 16 speakers, presenting 15, 5-minute talks. I was first up after the intermission break, which meant I missed hearing the first half of the speakers over the beating of my own heart. The speakers who followed me were fantastic, and I have a feeling those before me were as well. Now that the videos for all speakers have been posted to the Ignite Guelph You Tube account ( I can finally see for myself. And so can you.

Our talk on why we think everyone should spend some time in a wheelchair can be found here