This Difference Maker Gives Everybody Pumpkin to Talk About
Siena Padulo is ten years old, in Grade 5, and loves cats so much that she wants to open a cat café when she grows up. While many kids her age may share the same dream, Siena’s knowledge about inclusion is evident because she wants to build an accessible cat café.
Siena was six when she learned about accessibility and inclusion. Her dad, Rich Padulo, was placing pumpkins on the front stairs to their Toronto home and looked up to notice a family pass by on the sidewalk.
The family included a boy using a wheelchair. Rich realized that the child would not be able to get up the stairs at their home to trick-or-treat. The Padulo family immediately got to work making a sign to let their neighbours know their home was accessible to all on Oct. 31st, and planted it on the front lawn the next day. The sign read “Treat Accessibly”, and this is when the big idea was born.
“I felt very sad about the accessibility challenges the boy in the wheelchair must face every day. But I also felt very touched that I could actually help this family, and other families, have a Halloween where everybody was included,” said Siena.
Turning Halloween into a Teaching Moment
That Halloween in 2017, Siena and her family moved trick-or-treating from the front door to the garage where they dangled Star Wars’ light sabers from the ceiling for decorative effect. Rich dressed as Batman. Siena dressed as a cat. Many trick-or-treaters visited the home with many people remarking what a great idea it was not to have any physical obstacles from the street to the garage.
Fast-forward four years. Treat Accessibly is going strong, with an estimated 40,000 Canadian homes participating in the movement. The signs are available from RE/MAX offices in Ontario, Québec, and the Atlantic provinces and available for download on the Treat Accessibly website. Siena and her family look towards expanding the idea across Canada, so the 300 thousand Canadian children living with a disability have an opportunity to collect candy free of any physical barriers.
Halloween may just be one night, but it’s the lasting lessons of inclusivity that Siena hopes will stick year-round. Plans include talking about accessibility in schools where her peers can learn about simple tricks to make their homes accessible to ensure an inclusive Halloween. Siena’s school, The Toronto French School, has already committed to the idea this year. The Rick Hansen Foundation School Program (RHFSP) resources, such as the Ambassador presentations which create a meaningful dialogue around disability, help Siena reach her goal of spreading knowledge about accessibility.
In recognition of these efforts of inclusion, Siena received a 2021 Rick Hansen Foundation Difference Maker of the Year Award.
“I started talking with friends at school and explained what we were doing,” Siena said. “Then I started talking to teachers, and I have a new teacher who was really amazed by Treat Accessibly. We spent the period talking about accessibility instead of doing our regular work!”
All Acts, Great and Small
Realizing the value of awareness, Siena came up with the idea for a t-shirt for Treat Accessibility that features a stick figure with a cape propelling a wheelchair forward. The motto: There’s No Can’t in Canada.
“To me, being a Difference Maker is to expand Treat Accessibly so more people notice and do something about accessibility,” Siena said. “Hopefully, we have a bigger voice so that more homes are accessible not just Halloween but every day.
“Being a Difference Maker doesn’t even have to be a big thing. It can be something like picking up a piece of garbage in your neighbourhood. It’s the little things like that that can also help your community.”
Want to join in the fun?
Download and print your own FREE Treat Accessibly Lawn sign in time for Halloween!