Talking to Children About Disability and Adaptive Equipment with Karen Autio

Mar 20, 2023

Show Notes: (Full Transcript Below)

This week I am joined by special guest and picture book author Karen Autio of I Can, Too. In this episode we have a conversation about supporting inclusion and teaching children about disability and adaptive equipment.

We cover several important points, these are some of the highlights: 

  1. Books as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors
  2. The difference between empathy and sympathy
  3. Disability is not a bad word
  4. Adaptive equipment is an important tool for a disabled person, how to help children understand the importance of not touching
  5. Understand your role in inclusion and Karen's responsibility as disability adjacent creator

Important Links Shared in this Episode:


Authors Cited in this Episode:

I Can, Too is authored by Karen Autio, Illustrated by Laura Watson and Published by Scholastic


Note: The transcript below may not be exactly the same as the podcast, it has been edited for readability and context.


Host: Tara Gratto

Guest: Karen Autio, author of I Can, Too

Tara Gratto  00:00

In this week's episode, Karen and I talk about how to support your children with conversations about disability and adaptive equipment. Using her picture book, I Can Too, we dig into the importance of books like this one that represent mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors, and what the difference between sympathy and empathy is.


Tara Gratto  00:19

Hello, and welcome. I'm Tara, the founder of Raising Resilient Children. As a longtime educator, former preschool owner and parent, I have been working with caring adults and children for over 20 years. In that time, I've been asked a lot of questions and provided a lot of support and feedback. Through this, I built a system for navigating the hard and messy parts of parenting with clear paths that will support you and your unique family's needs. My expertise is in social emotional well being and I'm a big fan of using picture books. I even wrote one to support teaching children about emotional regulation called The Adventures of Team Brain. I know there is no cookie cutter approach to parenting, and the information can be overwhelming. Let's tackle some of this by having some important conversations and digging into some different topics.


Tara Gratto  01:05

Welcome back, everybody. I am excited today because I'm going to be having an author visit. And if you've been following along, you know that I think literacy is a huge sort of component of how we can build skills and tools with children, for all kinds of things. I typically talk a lot about how we can build sort of feelings and kindness. And so today is one of those conversations, extending our understanding of kindness, and sort of building on our awareness. So I have author, Karen Autio here today, and she is the author of I Can Too. Well, she's the author of several books, actually. But the book we're gonna be talking about, right today is the book that just came out. I Can, Too.

So welcome, Karen, how are you today?


Karen Autio  01:50

I'm great. Thank you for having me.


Tara Gratto  01:53

Yeah, I'm excited. I'm excited to have this conversation. I know, it's gonna be a bit of a hard conversation for some people, it's a question that I get asked quite a bit. So that sort of the topic, and that's one of the reasons I'm doing this. I want to make hard conversations for parents and educators a little more navigatable, a little more accessible, a little more relatable.

So one of my goals today is to first talk about the difference between empathy and sympathy before I sort of dive into some questions with you because when I owned a preschool and I taught young children, and I was sort of guiding their parents, and parents were sort of building their awareness around having bigger topic conversations, something that would come up as a pattern was a lot of sympathetic approaches to talking about big topics.

And today, we're gonna be talking about disability. And one of the things that happens is sympathy is when we sort of feel sorry for people. And we use language and body language. And we do things in a way that makes someone else feel like we feel sorry for their difference, how we sort of look, it almost feels like you're looking down on someone, when you have sympathy. And you don't mean to, you don't mean to do it, when you're expressing sympathy. That's not the goal. But that's what it's doing.

And one of the things that I'm sort of shifting the conversation around is we need to think of things as empathy. Now, what empathy is, that's where you can sort of imagine yourself in somebody else's place, and how they would feel. So it's not just imagining in someone else's, like place of existence, it's also how do they feel in that place? How do they feel in that sort of space, if you will. So there's a really big distinction there. Because if you imagine how someone might be feeling, it will change the way you speak, it'll change the way you interact, it'll change the way you tell stories. So that's a really important distinction to make the difference between sympathy and this applies to all kinds of topics, and empathy.

And then the other part that I want to start the conversation before I get into the questions, getting to the questions soon, is the importance of books that operate as windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors. And if you're in my community, my membership community, you know, I've actually done a little workshop on this, because it's really important to understand this, it's really important to understand that we need books in the world for all ages, so that we can look inside. So that's that empathetic perspective, being able to look inside, right. We also need books that we can see ourselves in. So they are reflective, right? So we can see, whatever that may be a disability, a skin color an identity, right. There's all kinds of things that that's so so important for. And then a sliding glass door is kind of the combination, right? This idea that maybe the book can invite us in and that's what we're going to talk about today is this sort of empathetic perspective.

So big preface there sorry listeners but I wanted to make sure you had a little bit of like, substantial grounding for our conversation. So thank you.


So first, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became to be an author.


Karen Autio  05:06

Sure, I always enjoyed writing stories as a child, and keeping a journal, that sort of thing. But when it was time to think about what to do in university, I went with my highest marks, which were math. I have a degree in math and computer science. So how did I get to write for kids? Well, I always had that interest. And it grew over the years. And once I had my own children, I realized that that is the thing I really wanted to do. So my youngest child started grade one. And all of a sudden, I had these few hours in the day when my kids were at school. And I thought I could get a part time job, or maybe I could actually look into what's involved with writing for children. And my husband was a great encourager, and he said, go for it. So I did. And I used that time while the kids were in school. And I guess, at that point, when I started out, writing was more of an escape from my reality. So I was working on a trilogy of historical novels for kids. And it was set in the early 1900s, inspired by family history, and a gift of a silver sugar spoon from my grandmother. And so that that really took me out of my, my reality. And it was just a very engaging time to work on those books.


Tara Gratto  06:37

Oh, interesting. That is such a fascinating story, I love that you're like, I'm math and science and but, that's not how I started, I love that. It  was an unexpected twist I wasn't expecting. So what then inspires you to sort of, to create this book? So it sounds like you started in sort of historical fiction. And so I guess let's first start with what is this book about? I Can, Too, what's it about? And what inspired you to write it?


Karen Autio 07:08

Sure. I call it a book about inclusion, accessibility and friendships. And so it's about Kayla, who has a disability, she uses a wheelchair, and meeting Piper, who has no disabilities, and how they become friends and do all these different activities together. So it's a lot of focus on adaptive equipment.

And so, yeah, you asked what inspired me? Well, it was who inspired me. It was my daughter, my firstborn. She was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, and used a wheelchair. And so it was my experiences getting familiar with adaptive equipment, because of her using it that, that got me interested in writing this.

And so it was both and Elise's experiences using the equipment plus her interactions with children without disabilities. So both of those ideas I wanted to incorporate. I mean, I had to learn about all this equipment, because she had was using it and right had to figure out or learn how does a wheelchair get selected for an individual? How does it get custom fitted? And as soon as we have a you have a family member using a wheelchair, you realize how inaccessible the world is? Yeah,


Tara Gratto  08:37

That's true of so many things, right? It's the things we don't stop and think about, that's why that empathy piece is so important. That empathy piece is so important because we don't often stop to think about other things until they affect us directly. And I think that's what makes your book so important. If we can tell and show more children to think about this, this is how we change the world, right? This is how we change the world by by creating empathetic experiences. And I think one of the best way to create these experiences with books, because they can see it, they can feel it.

They can imagine themselves as the friend, they can see or they can see themselves. Right. So I think I think you touched on such an important point piece there in that sort of like, Oh, I didn't really realize until I realized, and I had a similar experience. I used to work at Variety Village in East Toronto. And it was the same, I used to work with adaptive equipment. It was my first time and I was like, Oh, wow, like there's this whole other world that I was just totally naive about, completely had no idea and so inspiring. I have to say that I left that inspired for the rest of my life. It was early in my career that I worked there. So I love that you shared that.

So one of the things that sort of, I know having taught young children for a long time is there aren't a whole lot of books out there about this, about disabilities. And if they are, it's like really in the background.  And I know, and I'm not calling any parents out here, but I do know we kind of overlook the conversations when it's in the background because you don't know what to say, you don't know how to say it. You don't know what, you don't know how that works. So how do you think your book in particular, is really focusing on this idea of bringing awareness and bringing empathy into the world? Like how do you see your book is kind of like shifting a narrative?


Karen Autio 10:36

Well, like you described earlier, how books can be mirrors, windows and sliding doors. I see Kayla, and I Can, Too, and sure she's modeled after my daughter, but I really want her to represent all children, or as many as possible kids who use wheelchairs. And like, I really hope that children will see themselves in the book. So my book being a mirror in that case, and actually know this is happening. I've had some wonderful contact with readers.

In fact, one was from a dad who contacted me through my Facebook Author Page and just said, I found your book in the library. And I just have to say, it's as if you wrote our story. Their daughter uses all the same equipment, as mentioned in the story. And wow, I mean, that was that was such a beautiful moment to make that connection. 

And then as a window of my book gives children without disabilities, the opportunity to see a character with disabilities doing the same things either themselves are doing or that my characters in the story without disabilities are doing. And it gives them an opportunity to compare life experiences and, and really see the importance of accessibility. Kids can see my characters having fun with their diverse friends. And it shows through it and as far as a sliding glass door. It allows kids who are listening or reading to the story to really enter Kayla's world, and to imagine life from her perspective. And I think it's really important for developing an inclusive mindset in children.


Tara Gratto  12:28

Right. And I think that you highlighted so many important things there. Kids are naturally curious, kids love to play, right. And that's that empathetic mindset that we have to foster. It doesn't matter where they came from, what sort of circumstances, they all love to play, children love to play. And if we can create an avenue for this Windows, we're sliding glass doors, we're allowing them to play together. Now, here's where it gets a little bit tricky. And I think this is where books like yours can be super helpful because kids don't always say the kindest things.

The adults don't always either. Right. And it's not that they're, it's because of their natural curiosity that they'll see and do things. And this is where, in my experience, actually right before I contacted you, I think I told you this, or I'm not sure if I did, but I actually had a parent reach out to me and they're like, Okay, my son saw somebody in a wheelchair, we did not handle it properly. We were at the library. I know, we didn't Tara  please give me some tips and tools. Tell me about the books. And I was like, Hey, I got a great book for you. But this, you know, parents who want to have conversations or know that things didn't get handled the way they could have. I think that's why your book is so important, because let's have the conversations so that we can, you know, make a space for kids to play with maybe accessible language and an awareness of empathy versus I feel sorry for you that you can't do this because you're in a wheelchair, that kind of thing, right? So we want to move away from that.

And how do we still fulfill the curiosity, while also showing up with a different way of being a way of talking way of sort of doing things. And as I said, over the years, I've had a few of the example I just gave you. There's someone who who is blind that lives in my neighborhood. And I often see them having really tricky interactions with some of the kids in the neighborhood. She has a seeing eye dog* and those kinds of things. So I think it's books like this that make such important avenues and tools. So one of the things that sort of I know parents are afraid to talk to their kids, right.

So what do you want parents to know? To help them with this? How can parents feel less afraid to talk to their kids, about disability, about accessibility, about wheelchairs about these kinds of things?


Karen Autio 14:54

First of all, I want to say I know it's not easy, and it's uncomfortable but you know, we're all learning and just do the best you can. But the worst thing you could do is shush your child's curious questions and avoid talking about disability. This gives them a negative impression. We can make them fearful, can make them uncomfortable. Disability isn't something to be ashamed of. So when you're out in the community, and your child asks those kinds of questions, be as honest and direct as you can in your response.

I really love how author James Catchpole address this in his book. He has a disability and he has a wonderful picture book called What Happened to You. And at the back, he has a letter to adults. And it's all about dealing with children who want to know simply everything about disabled people. And he says he recommends to answer their questions simply. And generally. Yes, some people have one leg. Yes, some people use a wheelchair, or move and speak differently. But that's okay. Disability is normal. So, just do your best to answer the question. And if you don't know something, you can research it together later. And, you know, discuss it later. But like you said, the inclusive picture books that have characters with disabilities, whether they're visible disabilities, or invisible, these are such a helpful tool to prompt and guide those conversations and, and just really help with disability awareness. And then it grows the children's understanding and their empathy and leads to more inclusion.

I really want to mention this quote from Amanda Leduc, who's also an author with a disability.

Because I want to point out, I don't have a disability so I'm a disability adjacent creator. But I want to amplify the voices of those authors and individuals who have disabilities.

So she wrote, when disability is in story, particularly in stories for kids, we begin to build a world where all bodies and disabilities are woven into the fabric of things right from the very beginning.

Just love that.


Tara Gratto  17:28

So if you're following along, and you're like, I want to read all those books, I will put them in the show notes for you. So I'll get the the full titles and spellings. And I'll put them in the show notes for you to be able to access


Karen Autio 17:40

right and I just, I just want to encourage people parents to help their their able bodied kids view people with disabilities as a valuable part of our diverse world. Encourage your children to interact with people with disabilities the same way they would interact with people to people without disabilities. 

Encourage your child to get to know other children with disabilities, look for what they have in common to build a friendship. And when when your child has a friend with a disability and wants to invite them to your home, I can guarantee that that child's parents will bend over backwards to make that happen. The want to help. They'll do whatever's needed. They'll answer any questions you have.

I remember when Annalise was young and a friend wanted to invite her over for a playdate. And the parent sometimes would wonder, well, how do I need to assist her, like especially with the washroom? That was a big question. And I was, I was more than happy to explain and be there if needed or just give whatever guidance was necessary. 


Tara Gratto  18:54

I love that. Don't be afraid to ask. And I think I do want to loop back to one of the things you said about like the shuushing. And I know that can be like a bit instinctual, right? We're like, Oh, don't talk about that. And again, it goes back to what I was saying about sympathy being unintentional. That's a great connection there where we might feel like we don't have the answers. So we tell our kids not to talk about it right now. And the message we're actually giving is, this isn't something we talk about ever, we sort of shut children's curiosity down. The message kids hear is this isn't something we talk about. This is something I should avoid talking about. This is something that I shouldn't, so we're unintentionally teaching them exactly what we probably don't want them to to understand or know.

So if that's happening, that was such a great point. Like it was a big aha moment for me when you said that I was like, oh, yeah, I need to make a point about this because we don't do it on purpose. We really don't. But those are the moments, and I talk about this when I'm talking about teaching people about feelings and kids not being able to understand feelings, and like oh, they know the feelings, but they don't have the words for them. This is exactly the same. They know, want to know, but if we quiet them thinking that we're being respectful. We're actually saying, oh, we need to treat these people differently, which is the opposite of what you're saying, right? We're like, no, we've got to open up the space.

And of course, important to say, everybody's different. Literally, everybody's different. Regardless of you know, we're all different. Some of us like to talk, some of us don't like to talk, some of us like to be approached, some of us don't, right, introversion, actually, we're all different. So you know, we can't speak for everybody's experiences. However, sort of the general idea here is so important.

I'll use that as a sequoia. So I've been focusing a lot about parents, and how we can make sort of those connections start to happen. How do you imagine and I know this is happening, because I follow you on Instagram. But how do you want educators to use this book, see this book, incorporate this book.


Karen Autio 20:52

First of all, I really encourage educators to, instead of focusing on differences, to focus on disability awareness, and how inclusion and accessibility are possible. To look at the positives there. I'd love to see educators using the resources that are available with my book. They're available free, downloadable from the Scholastic Canada website. And they will help spark conversations that lead to more empathy, understanding and inclusion. And there, there's both classroom activities. And there's an extensive list of online resources to make use of. And I curated list of recommended picture books with characters with disabilities. And of course, it was only current up until the time I had to submit it. So it's been more since then,


Tara Gratto  21:49

There's been an explosion and I love it. It's been living in the picture book world right now. Like when I wrote my master's 20 years ago, like there was like Trudy Ludwig, I don't know if you know, Trudy Ludwig, or like, there was very few social emotional empathy builder books, really, like handful. And now I'm just like, I can't if you can see me, you'd see that I'm surrounded by picture books, but like, I can't have enough of them. I'm just so excited about the number of books that are out there is really exciting.

Yeah, I will also put in the show notes, a link to Karen's website. So you'll be able to get all the resources talking about whether you're an educator or a parent, I find some of those resources really helpful for parents. Because in a lot of cases, we grew up with a very different mindset. And it's hard to change mindsets, even if we have the best of intentions, it can be really hard. So in a way, we're kind of re educating ourselves. So if we think of it with that mindset, sometimes it can be helpful to be like, you're not a teacher, because I know this parents say the smell of time, I'm not a teacher, I don't want to read teacher stuff. I understand you're not a teacher, but you are reteaching, your mindset, your approach your thoughts around this. So I just wanted to throw that there are


Karen Autio 23:02

A couple of really, I mean, I think it's all fun activities, but especially for kids, they're hands on, there's a coloring page, and there's a matching game to do with the adaptive equipment. So there's a bit more to do. And if anything, educators want to, you know, extend the discussion of disability accessibility inclusion even further. I do school visits. So I do in person and virtual and information. 


Tara Gratto  23:31

Yes. Awesome. And I'll put that in the show notes too. So I love it. So one of the next questions is actually related to something I said just a few minutes ago. And that's the idea that like, there's a lot of terminology, right. And I used to as I mentioned, I worked at Variety Village. At the time, I was considered an adapted special education teacher for physical education. Schools used to come to us at the time. And so now I know it can be, I am still learning this too, whether it's disability, whether it's special needs, like there's all kinds of different terms and labels and things like that.

Can you share maybe some guidelines that you how to approach this, how to think about this? I know reflecting on even in my own experience with the people that I know, have very different perspectives on what the terms they're comfortable with. But do you have some guidance on this sort of space because as we're talking about it with our children, we kind of need some some language


Karen Autio 24:27

For sure, for sure. First off, I would say disability is not a bad word. It's okay to say the word disability and disabled. Some people use the word diverse ability instead of disability, but I used to use that word, but I don't anymore. And that's because I've learned from adults with disabilities that they actually prefer to use the word disability instead. And so it's like, you don't want to sugarcoat things you want to just be factual and you know, refer to the person as a person with a disability or a disabled person.

I took a webinar focused on writing compelling characters with disabilities. And one of the presenters was Lynn Miller Lachman, who's the author. And she is a person with autism. And I learned that myself as a non disabled person should use person first language, therefore, person with autism, yet Lynn chooses to identify herself as an autistic person. And she said it's about 50-50 split in the autism community. Right. But the very best approach is to ask the person with a disability, how they choose to describe themselves and then use their language.


Tara Gratto  25:51

Right? Yeah, yeah, I think that's such good advice. And I think I love the point that you made, because that's the world I grew up with, disability was a bad word. And that you were, you were actually causing harm, or you were looking down like, it was actually, I was taught that that was more the sympathetic, right, this is like, you don't say that word. Because you're not seeing the person for their ability, you're not seeing the person for what they their potential, right? And it really sort of was uncomfortable to try and flip my brain, I'm not going to sort of sugarcoat that it has been, because for most of my life, I was taught that what I shouldn't say disability, I shouldn't say that word. So it has been a mindset shift. But as you mentioned, so important to ask people, how they want to be called, and maybe not the first question, because that's not empathetic, right? That's not getting to know the person. You know, when you're referring to things. That's such an important point. So I really appreciate you saying that, because it does, that definitely happened to me.

So there is a lot of messaging out in the world. And if you're on social media, which I think I can probably safely say most people are there's a lot of messaging out in the disabled community about adaptive equipment. Right, and especially about touching people's adaptive equipment, and what does that look like? And, and sort of why we should or shouldn't, or how we should or shouldn't. So your book talks about a whole bunch of really cool adaptive equipment, which I think makes a great conversation for this. And I think we need to be really transparent about why is it important that we highlight adaptive equipment? And what do you think more people need to know about when we're talking about being around adaptive equipment?


Karen Autio 27:46

Well, I really wanted to showcase a variety of adaptive equipment in I Can, Too, because I think some of the inventions are brilliant. And I really wanted to show Kayla on an equal playing field with her peers. So I also chose not to identify it or explain it in the story. I waited until the back of the book, there's a glossary that that goes into detail about the different equipment. And that way, the focus in the story is on Kayla and her being active in the community doing the same things as the other children her age, so Right. But as far as people's adaptive equipment, really, it doesn't matter why someone needs to use adaptive equipment. The fact that they are is is allowing them to be out in the community doing things that they need to do. So what matters is inclusion and accessibility.

And too, especially for children to allow all children to be able to interact with each other. So it's important to teach your children that each piece of adaptive equipment is a tool. And it's also part of the persons in our personal space. So it's it's the same, you wouldn't touch their body without permission. You don't touch their adaptive equipment without permission. So that's so important to always ask right for permission first. Now, for example, you're out in the community and you see a person using a wheelchair who seems to need help. instead of rushing over and grabbing their wheelchair and pushing them. First, ask the person do you need help? And wait for them to answer and listen for the response.


Tara Gratto  29:33

Oh, that's a good point. 


Karen Autio 29:35

They may very well say no thanks, I'm fine. Right and then respect their answer. They're fine. But if they say yes, even before touching their wheelchair, ask how can I help? I once in the middle of winter came upon a person using a power wheelchair and they they were stuck in the snow and and she was able to direct me what parts of the of the wheelchair to basically grab on to and help to her to get out of that situation. So I always think about the questions that you would ask any person.


And think when you're interacting with someone with a disability, is that a question you would ask someone who doesn't have a disability? So instead of asking why are you using that wheelchair? Say hi? Say hello?


Tara Gratto  30:31

Yeah, what's your name? 


Karen Autio 30:32

Yes, give them a compliment, say cool colors or, or something else and because that's inclusive, and that's welcoming, and that's respectful. And it opens the conversation if the person wants to share more or share about their situation they can 


Tara Gratto  30:51

No, for sure. And I think that's because I mean, there are lots of disabilities that are completely invisible, right, the invisible disabilities. And we would never think to ask somebody that we couldn't see Do you have one? Just for randomly asking a question, right? Like, Hi, do you have a disability? Like, nobody would do that. So it's very similar. When you think about it, right? I think you make a couple of really good points there.

Now, kids are tricky. They have a hard time with personal space sometimes. And they actually think there's maybe an extra layer that needs to happen here. Because I know kids can be tricky with personal space, they're not always the best about asking before touching. And you as a caring adult actually have to do quite a bit of work.

That was a big part of my preschool, consent based touch was a huge, huge component. But not everybody believes in consent based touch. So not every child learns that they're not actually supposed to touch other people in general. Some people just think kids are naturally curious. And that's a whole other topic for another day that I probably should have. But in my preschool, I had a rule about touching people for any reason whatsoever. Because of consent.

Now more thinking about someone who might have adaptive equipment, I can imagine young children probably need an extra layer. So when we're thinking about that, that's why books like yours are so important, we can actually, like put that almost, I'm gonna, I'm gonna put an air quotes rule into the world. When you read a book like this, that's how you help kids who maybe have a harder time with personal space and boundaries, know ahead of time, because I did I mean, I saw a viral post this summer where someone's adaptive equipment that was touched by another child, and it led to serious injury and a hospitalization and the whole nine yards, right.

So in my mind, I'm like, I'm not surprised that kids touch things without permission. This does not surprise me having worked with kids for a really long time. So I do think there's a really important layer. There's an important layer here that when we're reading a book like this, that we make, like that extra step, to have that conversation. That's a part of their body, it's an important part of their body. And we don't touch it without asking. I think we have to actually, like say that transparently out loud, because kids can't read our minds. Sometimes we wish we could. And we wish we could read there's, but it's not how it works.

So I think that's really important. Like that was one of the reasons I really wanted to, like have this conversation with you is because I know, there's been a lot of, of not great situations happening with adaptive equipment and children. Even if they're being curious. It's not okay, that's, that's the truth isn't it's not okay. So, a little bit of a heavy note there.


Karen Autio 33:25

Thank you for taking that further and explaining that.


Tara Gratto  33:30

Amazing. All right. So you, as you mentioned, are an advocate, right, you don't have a disability, you had a child that had a disability. So one of the things that I know from checking out your work, or what you've been up to, is that you've been really advocating for things like accessible playgrounds. And I know there's a couple where I live in Toronto, I know there's a couple that have been built here. I know, in Mississauga, there's a family that's done a lot of work and building playgrounds, or being sort of really advocating for it.

So what is sort of your bigger scale goals? You know, what local initiatives how can people support some beyond conversations with our children? There's another layer here, right? And what does that layer look like? And how can people get on board with that?


Karen Autio 34:16

Sure, be happy to share. So I really want my book to show inclusion and accessibility in action, and how the world can be welcoming and affirming and open to all people, especially those with disabilities. So I encourage everyone to make accessibility and inclusion priorities. So for example, when you're planning an event, think about accessibility. When I was planning my in person book launch here in Kelowna for, I Can, Too it was really important to me to hold it in a building that was wheelchair accessible. So I used my local library branch and they had just recently renovated their children's area and it was perfect, but it was great. But I also invited an interpreter to come. And she not only interpreted my reading of the story, she interpreted my whole presentation. So that was wonderful. 


Tara Gratto  35:16

A sign language interpreter?


Karen Autio 35:17

Yeah, exactly. So, and keep in mind inclusion benefits everyone. So inclusive playgrounds for all abilities of children. It welcomes every child to come and grow their skills, build their confidence, develop connections and friendships. If a child can't reach the equipment in a playground, right, how can they join the fun, whereas a universal design has no barriers.

For example, in a playground with a poured rubber surfacing, a child using a wheelchair can access the entire playground. But even even beyond that, ensuring that every piece of equipment is is accessible, and usable by a child with, especially a physical disability, that provides inclusion and promotes belonging and, and those such important connections for friendships to grow. And so that's what I wanted to show in I Can,  Too. And I really wish that more schools and communities would either build or renovate to have fully inclusive and accessible playgrounds.

So Julia's Junction is, is going to be an all abilities fully inclusive playground, coming to West Kelowna. So just across the bridge for me. And I think it's so integral to have such a facility that I'm donating a portion of my royalties from my books to this project. And construction starts next month, so I can hardly see this playground.


Tara Gratto  36:56

Yeah, that's super cool. I know, when I worked at Variety Village, one of the most sort of life changing, and I mean, this I know, I'm not saying that lightly life changing experiences for me was, I became certified on their challenge course, which was a fully adapted, it was in the ceiling challenge course. And that literally changed my life. Because seeing the impact and the teamwork required and how I just literally, I was blown away by what adaptive equipment can do, and how, like the community impact it can have. And yeah, so I think, I think it's amazing.

And I, you know, one of the things that some people will say is like, kids don't have an opportunity to experience sort of having a disabled friend or, and part of that is if you don't have spaces where they can hang out together. Well, yeah, that's why because there's not accessible spaces for them to be right. If we keep them separate all the time. We're automatically making it impossible for children. You can't play with someone if you're not in a space where you can be share in a play environment. So I love, I love that. I'm excited to see your project. I know there's one in Mississauga, too, I don't know how many here now. Now I'm gonna go look it up!


Karen Autio 38:12

So I would really encourage listeners to check out their own community, see if there are any fundraising efforts that they can get behind? And what about your own child's playground at school? Is it is it fully accessible? If not, how can you work to toward it being upgraded? I'm so encouraged to see a number of school playgrounds in Kelowna are being upgraded. Not entirely accessible, necessarily, but at least portions of them. Let's just start right. 


Tara Gratto  38:44

For sure, absolutely. The truth is many playgrounds need an update regardless, at this point.

All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me in this conversation. And I will add all your notes to my show notes and make sure that there's a nice link in the in the blog, I always do a blog for my podcast, all the information will be there. So any resources that Karen shared today, will all be there. Thank you so much for joining me in this conversation.


Karen Autio 39:11

Well, thank you so much for inviting me to do this. It's been a real pleasure.


Electric Sound Effect

I wanted to add a note because because as I was listening to the playback I realized I used an outdated term for my visually impaired neighbour's guide dog. I called their dog a seeing eye dog and this is no longer a term that is used so in place of that it should have been guide dog. And I wanted to actually make a note about this. About how one of the things Karen and I talked about is how part of this process if relearning and relooping and accepting that we might not always get it right and when we don't can we make sure to re-loop on that and sort of re-establish. So I wanted to make it clear that when I was listening I realized, oh no, I had used the terminology that is no longer the terms that we use and I wanted to make sure I made a note of that in the episode.


Tara Gratto  40:02

Thanks so much for listening. Don't forget to hit that subscribe button so you don't miss future episodes. You can also submit questions or comments to me at Tara forward slash podcast. I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, have a great one.



Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors by Rudine Sims Bishop

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