Calgary Community

Meet 4 Calgarians with disabilities who share their stories to help shatter stereotypes

One Calgary woman says people assume she has a mental disability — even though she has a university degree. Another man says just because he can't speak doesn't mean he doesn't have something to say. CBC Calgary shares the compelling stories of four Calgarians in a campaign called See My Ability, which aimed at heightening awareness around disability issues.

This fall, CBC Calgary showcased the compelling stories of four Calgarians in a campaign called See My Ability, which aimed at heightening awareness around disability issues. On Tuesday, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we bring you a roundup of their stories.

People assume I have a mental disability — even though I have a university degree: Kelsey Ferrill, 28

I was born in Calgary, but High River is really home for me.

There are lots of cool spots in Calgary, but to be honest, my favourite is any bookstore. Being around books brings me a sense of peace.

I wish that my love of books was what people first noticed about me but my facial paralysis is hard not to miss and it is impossible to hide.

Kelsey enjoys spending time walking her dog niece Brooke, a nine-year-old golden retriever. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

I want to be known for my writing and advocacy work more than anything else. I have done a lot in the name of advocating for, raising awareness of and educating about Moebius syndrome. I was even featured in Chatelaine magazine in 2016, speaking about my experiences and life living with a rare condition.

But when I open my mouth to speak, people are sometimes taken aback by how I sound and a lot of people assume that I have a mental disability because of how I appear. It's frustrating to be thought of as less, solely based on appearance.

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The most difficult aspect of living with Moebius is the fact that most people have never heard of it.

Don't be afraid to ask me about Moebius, or what life is like living with a disability. For the sake of educational purposes, asking someone what is wrong with them is not the right way to go about finding out more.

Never judge someone based on appearance alone; we are all so much more than how we appear.- Kelsey Ferrill

There is nothing wrong with people that have disabilities. We are humans above all and that is what should be seen first and foremost. Don't make assumptions about what someone can or can't do.

I am more than my disability, as we all are.

I live on my own. I graduated from both college (with honours) and university, earning my journalism diploma and my communications degree.

Kelsey and Brooke enjoy going for walks in North Glenmore Park, and Brooke will never pass up an opportunity to pick up unattended socks and carry them around in her mouth. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

I am an ambassador for Positive Exposure, a non-profit organization that uses the arts to educate the public about various medical conditions. I sit on the board of directors for the Moebius Syndrome Foundation.

I try and advocate for people that have been marginalized in society or those who are at risk of such and I educate about Moebius syndrome, in particular, whenever I can.

It is important for me to share my life experiences — both good and bad — in hopes of not only educating about disabilities and what those living with them struggle with, but also to let others know that they are not facing these struggles alone. 

Never judge someone based on appearance alone — we are all so much more than how we appear. A disability is not something that should be feared or misunderstood and by telling our stories, we are hoping to change the narrative and eliminate the stigma that surrounds human diversity.

Just because you can't speak doesn't mean that you have nothing to say: Lucas Durfey, 25

We went to visit Lucas at his home in south Calgary. Lucas is non-verbal as a result of a misdiagnosis and using a communication app on his phone, he told us his story. 

I was involved in a car accident in 2016 and as a result of a misdiagnosis — not the accident itself — I suffered a non-traumatic brain injury and have been non-verbal since. 

Although I have physical impairments, communication is definitely my biggest obstacle day to day. 

For me, I can communicate quite well if you know how I work. 

A lot of people assume that because of my physical disabilities I have a cognitive deficiency and can't live on my own. Because of my disabilities, people initially think it's impossible. It's far from ideal but it's definitely doable and for me independence is crucial for my mental health.

Lucas is an animal lover. He has a cat named Lola, a dog named Lisa and a horse named Bugz. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

I live on my own with the aid of a few public services, but communication remains my biggest obstacle and keeps me from being able to enjoy many of the activities I would like to be involved in. 

No matter how 'different'or 'special'someone may be, everyone just wants to be involved and feel like their opinion is taken into consideration.- Lucas Durfey

I think people first notice my physical impairments and I think that's quite common for the general public but I wish my personality was easier to display.

I really admire the British neurologist Oliver Sacks. Along with being a neurologist he was also a naturalist, historian of science, and a writer. A lot of his writing has really resonated with me after sustaining my particular injuries. 

Communicating in the general public is definitely the biggest obstacle as noisy and busy areas make it even harder than normal. If people take the time to understand me it makes it much easier for both of us. 

Lucas has a recumbent bike that he likes to ride on the Calgary pathways near his home in the southeast. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

I like visiting the Foothills hospital because I have spent a lot of time there as a patient and on the whole, people are educated about people with different communication strategies. 

One thing that really improves my quality of life here is a place called Synaptic. They don't focus on communication like my speech therapists but they are an amazing community of people that help a ton of different people with a huge variety of injuries. I come for physio and it's unreal how excited I can be just to come exercise!

They are a huge contributor to me being able to stay healthy both mentally and physically.

With my particular injuries, there are services I need that are not provided in other cities and if they are provided they are not nearly as accessible or financially viable to people facing similar obstacles.

I think my biggest accomplishment has been regaining some independence following my injury. I was a fourth year electrician and also had my own business as a farrier.

I love expressing myself, it's just a little difficult for me to do in the general public. I have made great progress, but still don't have a voice. In spite of my physical disabilities, communication is by far my biggest hurdle. 

No matter how "different" or "special" someone may be, everyone just wants to be involved and feel like their opinion is taken into consideration. For people who don't have a great communication strategy, just because they can't speak or equivalent, it doesn't mean they have nothing to say.

Ask if we need help; don't offer, just ask: Kate, 39

We spoke to Kate, who has cerebral palsy and impaired eyesight, when she was out for her weekly ride on a horse called Milkshake at a barn south of the city where Opening Gaits Therapeutic Riding Society operates.

Q: What do you like about Calgary? 

A. The horseback riding arenas.

Kate is 39 years old from Calgary. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

Q: What is the first thing that people notice about you? 

A. People notice that I'm nice and kind. 

Q: What is the best way to interact with people who have your particular disability? 

A. They should ask and wait for an answer. I have bad eyesight and cerebral palsy.

Kate has cerebral palsy and impaired eyesight. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

Q: One thing people think you can't do?

A. They didn't think I could walk (but she can). 

Q: One person you'd like to spend time with?

A. I would have to say Cher (who works with Opening Gaits), because I like her, she's a funny person. 

Kate loves her weekly rides on Milkshake at Opening Gaits Therapeutic Riding Society which is run out of a barn just south of the city limits. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

Q: What do you want people to know about people with disabilities? 

A. They need to ask before they touch us. They need to announce their name before they come up and scare you. To ask if we need help or not. Not offer, just ask.

I am a small voice but to be reckoned with: Mindy Butalia, 72

Before my hemiplegic stroke, I didn't even know what a stroke was. It's the unknown until it happens to you.

It happened all of a sudden without any warning about three years ago. My right side was affected and it changed my whole life.

From being very independent, I am now wholly dependent on other people. I had lost my speech, had difficulty swallowing food, couldn't get up from bed, and had trouble walking and standing.

My daughter said, "Mommy, you can not look after yourself."

Her husband and my grandson, they look after me and that brought me to Calgary. 

My daughter is an angel.

Mindy moved from Ontario to Calgary, to live with her daughter, after she had a stroke in 2017. (Stephen Lubig/CBC)

I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk. She was prepared for the worst. She was going to get three home care persons to look after me around the clock. I needed only one. Now I have home care who is great, loving and caring.

I have recovered very well but losing myself as a productive human being, mother, grandma and mother-in-law was not what I had envisioned.

I had to settle for the new norm, which is progressing.

There is nothing wrong with using a wheelchair. It gives me independence.

I am a recent graduate of ARBI (Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured) here in Calgary.

This is not the end of the world, what we are going through- Mindy Butalia 

Calgary is home to a lot of disabled people. I didn't know that.

I was surprised that on every corner you will find an access bus. Even in my neighbourhood there must be three or four. It is a small neighbourhood but I see buses pick up kids, grown ups, all sorts of people.

Disability is not confined to one section, it is all over the place. When I go on the access bus, I discover all kinds of people.

Not enough is done for this sector. About five to 10 per cent of the population has a disability and more are going to come. Around 2030, there will be more disabled people because the population is getting older and there aren't enough resources. The government wants to cut funding but that is not the way to go.

I like to help people. Maybe I cannot help myself the way I want to but other people, I want to give them hope all the time.

This is not the end of the world, what we are going through.

Along the way family, ambulance personnel, doctors, nurses and therapists have shown me what humanity is. Service to others has been my motto and they have reinforced that in me.

Sometimes there are people who do not want to help. For example, I had a home care supervisor at my house and instead ot talking to me, she was talking to the home care person. 

They think just because you had a stroke or you go through something that you can not do things. Of course I can not write but I can do things. I can think, I am an accomplished person.

Why do they think like that? We have to break the stereotype. 


Kelsey Ferrill

communications assistant

Kelsey Ferrill is a communications assistant at CBC Calgary. She has always loved to write, and has received both her journalism diploma and communications degree. She has been involved in many advocacy campaigns for the rare neurological condition that she was born with called Moebius syndrome. The highlights of her advocacy work were being featured in Chatelaine magazine in 2016 and being cast on the show called You Can’t Ask That on CBC.