Jackie Silver is an example of someone making a difference. While studying for her Masters of Health Science in Nutrition Communication at Ryerson University in 2019, she interned at Special Olympics Ontario where she worked with athletes with disabilities. She immediately saw a big gap between people with disabilities and being able to access nutrition.
“The organization had 25,000 athletes but not a single dietician. I wondered, ‘why are these athletes not being treated like athletes and getting the nutritional support they deserve?’” said Jackie. “This is where I developed a strong passion for what I do.”
Jackie well understands the challenges people with disabilities often face. She was born with a vascular malformation in her left leg, and uses a wheelchair. In 2020, Jackie launched a virtual private practice to empower people with disabilities to make sustainable and long-term healthy habits, assist in managing conditions and prevention of long-term complications through making good nutritional choices.
A Passionate Ambassador
Jackie’s journey of making a difference began long before university. When she visited Vancouver from Ontario with her family a decade ago, she met Rick Hansen and asked how she could become more involved in advocating for people with disabilities. Jackie was put in touch with the Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador program director, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was really inspired by Rick Hansen and his story. It motivated me to want to make a difference,” she recalled. “I wanted to help raise awareness about the potential of people with disabilities, and I wanted to work on my public speaking skills, and being an Ambassador was a really good opportunity to do that. Raising awareness is really important to me to show that you can live a full life with a disability. It isn’t about being an inspiration. It’s something that just is. I wanted to help spread that message.”
As Jackie is one of RHF’s long-time Ambassadors, she has experienced both in-person and virtual presentations. While the nature of the virtual world means there are no more barriers related to travel associated with in-person presentations, addressing children and youth through a computer screen was not without some adjustments.
“When it was in the classroom, the kids can obviously see that I have a wheelchair,” she said. “Online, they’re seeing me from the waist up, so I have to make sure I choose the right pictures to convey to them that I do use a wheelchair, and some of the barriers I might face. In person, you really have to be on your game! Virtually, sometimes you’re just speaking to a screen and wonder if they’re listening…”
The level of engagement comes through during the question period of the presentations, Jackie added.
“One of the questions I was recently asked is if there was a cure for my condition, would I take it?” she said. “That’s a very deep question. I thought about it and said, ‘If there was a cure, why not? I would take it. BUT my life is still meaningful as it is.’”
The Bigger Picture
Being a part of the RHF team of Ambassadors creates meaningful change for people with disabilities. As with any social movement, it’s the sum of many actions, both big and small, that contribute to the larger cultural shift.
“The presentations change attitudes and raise a lot of awareness in how they view people with disabilities. The first thing is showing children and youth that you can still live a full life with a disability. It doesn’t have to stop you,” Jackie said. “I think it helps them to start noticing all the accessibility barriers that exist that they probably didn’t notice before.
“Even if just one of the messages sticks with them and, say, five years later they say, ‘Oh, because of your presentation, I spoke to somebody in a wheelchair directly, and not to their caregiver’ – well, that to me is one of those little things that really mean a lot.”
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