Working at Annai Thantha Illam (ATI Foundation) has significantly changed my perspectives towards the future and level of independence that differently abled individuals may have in life. In the past the way I perceived disability to understanding the extent of everyone’s capabilities and talents has really astonished me and improved my perspective towards it. ATI has given me the opportunity to apply the skills that I have learnt theoretically into a practical and hands-on environment through the DAILI (Differently Abled Independent Living Initiative) program.
I had the pleasure of working with both verbal and non-verbal clients. I was not only able to teach them through the various activities we did but also learn from them as well. The first thing I learnt was that each client is unique and talented in their own way. Although some may be non-verbal and cannot communicate using their words, most of them are incredibly talented in singing and dancing. A few of our clients such as Janani and Arjunan have an incredible talent where they can listen to any song once and will be able to repeat and sing the song in the right tune as well. Sakipan, is a client that is very clean and organized with a positive attitude. He always ensures everyone in the room are happily participating in the activites and eating as well. The determination to be independent can be evident throughout the program in the activities done through all the clients by their keen attention and relevant questions. Seeing individuals that want to continuously strive for excellence shows that their determination is key to overcome all obstacle in their paths. A differently abled individual might lack in one area either physically or mentally but may still excel in another such as arts and music.
Before working at ATI, I had limited knowledge and experience with individuals with disabilities, however now when I see an individual who is differently abled I am more prone to seeing them as a person with a hidden talent or unique ability rather than focusing on their diagnosis. I try to perceive through their eyes and how they view the world. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to work with our clients here at ATI and to be able to learn from them, through our weekly hot pot lunches, community outings, shopping trips and hidden talent segments, broadcasting the different skills we all encompass, both the clients and staff.
To these individuals we are their friends and family. This organization provides just that, giving the clients a place to feel at home with the friendly staff and volunteers. To receive the “Good Morning Buddy” from Ganadeesh and “you are my best friend, did you know that Haru?” from Meera honestly puts a smile on my face everyday. Returning those greetings to our kids also creates a warm and loving environment.
Overall, all individuals are unique and special in their own way and are all differently and uniquely abled in their own way which should not be looked down upon or pitied on. As everyone else, these individuals can be as successful and independent. Being an employee at ATI Foundation has allowed me to become more open minded and makes me want to provide as much support as possible to the clients to make them self-governing and prepared for what life has in store for them.
Harunja Chitravel is an undergraduate student working her way to completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience and Health Studies at the University of Toronto. She has experience working with differently abled individuals through her time at various health centres such as Markham Stouffville Hospital and Unionville Home Society. Through her past experiences and knowledge, she assists as a Personal Support Worker at ATI Foundation.