Color & Control:

Sip Sip Hooray

Sip! Sip! Hooray!

Yes, let’s save the oceans—but don’t dare take away our straws!

“Straw ban leaves disabled community feeling high and dry.”

“Santa Barbara authorizes jail time for handing out straws.”

These are just two of the hundreds of headlines that appeared in reaction to this summer’s Great Drinking Straw Ruckus—a controversy that featured a telegenic nine-year-old eco-activist, a set of suspect statistics, an earnest effort to reduce waste in the oceans, and aggressive environmentalists and calculating politicians who orchestrated a single-minded campaign to, essentially, rid the world of the humble plastic straw—a simple, effective, inexpensive way to, ironically, get life-giving water and other liquids into the bodies of those among us who cannot hold a cup and raise it to our lips.

Seven years ago nine-year-old Milo Cress, now of Vermont, had a Eureka! moment. He noticed that a local restaurant supplied a plastic straw with each drink ordered. What a waste, he thought. Why can’t the restaurant simply hand out straws only to people who ask for them?

And so a movement began, inspired by Milo’s “Be Straw Free” initiative to raise awareness about plastic waste. Young Milo even did his own research, contacting major straw manufacturers and asking how many straws a day each produced. His final tally: 500 million.

Now that’s a big number. Journalists and environmentalists took notice, sucking it up quickly and relaying the information through their networks. And although some conservative skeptics rightly questioned the child’s statistical methodology, young Milo became the anti-straw poster boy. The media loved him, his story, his cause and his commitment.

Somewhere along the way, Milo’s original intention—plastic straws solely for those who request them—disappeared, tossed into a trash can labelled Sensible Solutions Stupidly Rejected.

The rush to de-straw intensified. Big corporations such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Marriott and Royal Caribbean, anxious to “greenwash” themselves, announced plans to phase-out straws. Politicians in Colorado, California, Washington and other jurisdictions announced new laws to ban straws. This Tsunami of Good Intentions crested higher until…

“Excuse us,” interrupted a chorus of people with disabilities. “Those straws you want to ban? Well, we need them. They help keep us alive.” Most other people with disabilities were far less polite.

There are many lessons to be learned from this controversy. One is that some environmentalists, when caught in mid-passion, could be snippy, arrogant and cruel.

“Don’t get in our way,” they thundered. “We are trying to save the oceans, the world. You lot can use straws made from recycled paper, metal, bamboo and other alternative materials.”

“Ummm. Sorry. We can’t. They don’t work for us,” shot back the chorus of people with disabilities, becoming more resolute. “They don’t last or aren’t hygienic, or cause us harm in several possible ways. So, no!”

Another lesson to be learned from the Great Drinking Straw Ruckus is just how easy it is to ignore or forget people with disabilities when planning any type project or campaign—progressive or otherwise.

And with increasingly dire predictions about the havoc and upheaval that climate change will bring in the decades ahead, the need to begin planning to protect the most vulnerable among us becomes readily apparent.

Saving our straws is just one very small first step.

On behalf of the Board,
Stephen Trumper
Chair of the Editorial Committee, Canadian Abilities Foundation

How to fight stigma with strength based language

Stigma. What is it and why is it so important that we work together to get rid of it? Dr. Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., offers this definition, “Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.” Stigma prevents people from reaching out for help and often makes them feel ashamed.

As mental health advocates, we strive to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. One of the best ways to eliminate stigma, in my opinion,

is to use strength-based language. Strengths-based approaches focus on the innate strengths of individuals, using personal strengths to aid recovery and empowerment. “In essence, to focus on health and well-being is to embrace an asset-based approach where the goal is to promote the positive.” – Pattoni (2012).

So, strength-based language is…implementing the approach in the way we speak. An example would be to use the word “challenge” instead of using the word “problem.” Doesn’t it sound better to use the word challenge to mean a difficult situation in your life…why? Because most people associate the word challenge with an obstacle that can be overcome and if you overcome that challenge you feel accomplished. Instead of using the word problem, which people may perceive as an inconvenience or something that will never go away.

Why is strength-based language important to use when talking about mental health?

The way we think about something influences the way we feel and our perceptions about the subject or a person. This is a premise of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). For example, have you ever heard someone say, “I am so OCD, I have to organize my closet by colors” or “You are so OCD because you (fill in the blank)”? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not a characteristic, it is a diagnosable mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. Maybe that person who said that statement can refer to themselves as being rigid or obsessive, instead of saying they are “OCD”. If others, who are already stigmatizing mental illness, hear this they might come to the assumption that OCD is not a real mental illness or that OCD can be made fun of or trivialized. As mental health advocates and educators raising awareness about mental health and mental illness, these situations present opportunities to provide a model of using language correctly through examples of strength-based language.

Another example might be a person saying, “The weather is so bipolar.” Bipolar disorder is not something that goes up and down in a matter of seconds. However, this makes others (who may not be as educated about mental health) to think that people living with bipolar disorder cannot help their symptoms.

Try to use accurate language

Using accurate language de-stigmatizes mental illness. Otherwise, characterizing one’s behavior as a mental health disorder perpetuates the stigma associated with mental illness, attitudes that can potentially hinder a person’s recovery.

In fact, Granello and Gibbs (2016) conducted a study where they had two different surveys, on one survey the term “mentally ill” was used and on the other “people with mental illnesses.” They found participants showed less tolerance toward people who were referred to as “the mentally ill” when compared to those referred to as “people with mental illness.” This is evidence that language matters.

Changing the conversation about mental illness can start with using strength-based language. Although change is hard because it requires doing something differently, it is important to sensitize others to the importance of how we use language about mental illness and is one of the first steps to take as a stigma fighter. Leading by example, we can encourage others to use more accurate language to make a difference in the way people perceive mental health.

Although my awareness has increased about using strengths-based language, I still struggle with using this, too; it does take time and practice, but it is achievable.

Now, I have one question… Will you, too, start using strength-based language?

Raquel Sosa is a determined mental health advocate who hopes to become a counseling psychologist. She is the current President of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and President of the Active Minds chapter at East Stroudsburg University.

This article originally appeared on the Active Minds Blog (

Living with Tourette Syndrome

Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a neurological or brain condition that is characterized by a series of tics. These tics take the form of repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations.

Individuals with mild TS generally have symptoms that can be treated through education, while those who experience psychological distress, physical pain or interference with social, academic or professional functioning may require medical treatment. Although there is no known cure for TS, there are several behavioural therapies and medications that can help to manage the symptoms.

Treatment options

An intervention for tics called Cognitive/Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics (CBIT) uses six strategic therapeutic components derived from both cognitive behavioural therapy and traditional habit-reversal techniques. CBIT focuses on increasing a person’s awareness of their tics, and their understanding and management the environmental factors that influence them. It also aims to teach individuals how to effectively block the tic when they sense it is about to happen.

This form of treatment requires active participation from the individual and high tolerance of distress, and is not suitable for everyone. It also requires a deep level of understanding and awareness of one’s tics, and is therefore unlikely to be appropriate for children under the age of 10 years. Lets take a look at other treatment options:

Pharmaceuticals: Each person with TS will respond differently to medical treatment. Not every medication will work for everyone, and so you should always consult your doctor before trying any new drugs. It may take time to determine the best course of medication and the most effective dose.

Botulinum Toxin (Botox) Injection: Botox therapy has been used for both vocal and motor tics. This treatment is still very new, and there have only been a few studies conducted to determine its effectiveness. The effects of the injections are limited to one area of the body and wear off in about three to six months, meaning the costs can quickly add up. In addition, it is necessary to find an administrator trained in the use of Botox.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation:

In transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), doctors place an electromagnet on the scalp, over the supplementary motor area, and activate it for short periods. This sends pulses of magnetic waves into the brain, with the aim of reducing tics by altering the rhythms in the brain. The technique is still fairly new.

Although TMS is a non-invasive form of treatment it is associated with a risk of seizures, particularly for those who are susceptible to them. It is also a costly treatment and access is limited. Therefore, it is currently not supported by the “Canadian Guidelines for the Evidence-based Treatment of Tourette Syndrome.”

Deep Brain Stimulation:

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a relatively new surgical approach that is recommended for individuals whose TS does not respond to medicine and who are experiencing significantly decreased in quality of life as a result of the condition. DBS refers to the direct delivery of electric pulses to the brain to help moderate any abnormal signals associated with the person’s tics. These pulses are released from an electrode that is implanted into the brain and connected to a pulse generator via a cable or lead. These are surgically implanted in the body, leaving the pulse generator to sit in the upper chest.

As this treatment is still in the early stages of testing, the “Canadian Guidelines for the Evidence-based Treatment of Tourette Syndrome” currently state that there is insufficient evidence to make a formal recommendation for the use of DBS in adults. It not recommended for children.

Dental Appliance (Occlusal Splint):

This form of treatment involves the use of a removable mouthpiece or dental appliance to help reduce tic severity. Its effectiveness in reducing tic severity in children is currently being studied. Although TS tics are involuntary, they can be induced in response to both internal forces (e.g., stress, fatigue, excitement) and external factors (e.g., reactions of people around the affected individual, stress-inducing situations). In addition to formal therapies, there are many other modalities and techniques that can help individuals to manage tics that include massage therapy, osteopathy, chiropracty, acupuncture or a hot bath can help relieve the pain and soreness associated with physical tics. Exercise can aid in relieving stress, encouraging sleep and boosting mood and yoga, meditation and relaxation exercises can reduce stress and calm the mind and body.

Tourette Canada offers many kinds of support and is always developing new content to its website. Using the on-line T-search platform you can narrow down your search by province or community to locate specific services to meet your needs. Visit Tourette Canada at

Julia Abballe is an Abilities communication intern.

Direct funding is a game changer

Choice, control and flexibility. What’s not to like about the Direct Funding Program?

Sponsored by: Centre of Independent Living in Toronto (CILT)

Gone are the days of relying on an agency to send you a personal support worker you don’t know, to assist you at a time you didn’t choose.

That’s the beauty of Direct Funding. You hire your own staff, train them to meet your personal needs and create your own schedule. Under Direct Funding, which is funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, each budget is unique. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Available anywhere in Ontario, the program was created by people with disabilities who believed they could manage their own attendant supports (for tasks like dressing and showering) and assume the responsibilities of being an employer. In many ways, it’s like running a small business.

It may sound like a big challenge, but more than 1,600 people across Ontario have been a successful part of the program. Some were nervous about taking on new challenges but they’ve found with some risk, comes great reward. Ray, a 37-year-old program participant with Muscular Dystrophy who lives in southern Ontario, says his life has improved dramatically with Direct Funding.

“Freedom and flexibility. This is what the Direct Funding program has provided me. There is no price I can put on the immense impact this program has had on my quality of life, my relationships and my mental well-being.

I have the freedom and flexibility to hire caregivers who are best suited for me and my individual needs and I’m not restricted to a general community pool. I can now independently select caregivers for those specific needs brought on by my disability. I have the freedom and flexibility to spend quality time with my children, my wife, my siblings and parents without the requirement or obligation that they will later need to tend to my physical and personal care. I can now independently arrange for those tasks I wish I could do myself, including appointments and household responsibilities.

I have the freedom and flexibility to control my schedule. There is

communication and a direct link between me and my caregivers—no third-party

supervisor or schedulers to deal with. I can now deal independently with those

obstacles that created stress before.”

Every person is looking for these two things: freedom and flexibility. The Direct Funding program has given me exactly that. Direct Funding is suited to people who can “self-direct” and “self-manage” their attendants. Participants need a strong understanding of how their disability affects their day-to-day lives and the kind of help they require. That said, participants do not have to do everything on their own. They have the assistance of a bookkeeper to help with payroll and support staff at their local Independent Living Resource Centre to answer questions and provide guidance. There is also a network of other program participants—many of them veterans—to provide support.” —Ray