"This partnership model," recalls Andrew, "between an established, non-profit agency and PhotoSensitive is a winner. We take the pictures to show what's happening, right now, to celebrate the work of the agency and also reveal it to others. In this case, we helped show how life can be for independent, courageous and involved people with intellectual disabilties - and how much they have to offer. Too often we fail to see what is around us. PhotoSensitive was able to show how much has changed since Community Living first began its work half a century ago."
The men, women and children who were photographed by PhotoSensitive for Inspiring Possibilities had a wide range of abilities. One young woman in her forties could only utter three words: Mumma, love and happy. But Dave Childley's photo reveals her trusting and gentle nature, and her mother said, "Elizabeth communicates with her body, her eyes and her heart. Can't we all learn something from that? I hope these photographs help people understand. People are nervous to ask about someone with an intellectual disability. We need to educate, educate, educate."
Fred Chartrand drove to the Ottawa Valley to photograph people Community Living helps in that part of the province.
"Dave Kenopic coordinates everything there, and he introduced me to Debbie Broomer - they call her Boomer - because she has a big voice and a booming personality. She took quite a shine to me and I watched her play ball hockey in the morning and then bocce ball in the afternoon. When she saw me returning, for the bocce ball, she shouted out, 'Fred's here! FRED'S HERE!' and, honestly, she made me remember how much fun a simple game can be.
"It showed me that people with disabilities are just like the rest of us - full of feelings and wanting to be involved and part of a community. I find that PhotoSensitive images always make an emotional connection, a social connection, a person-to-person connection. Somehow, these photos open people's minds and hearts to things we either take for granted, or things we just haven't thought about," said Fred.
At this exhibit, the images were accompanied by a substantial amount of text - not short captions, but meaty paragraphs telling the personal stories of courage and joy. Parents and friends of some of the people photographed for the exhibit became quite emotional. One elegant woman in her seventies slowly approached Alannah Campbell, writer of the Inspiring Possibilities book and narrator of the DVD, and held her arm, saying:
"Do you know what this means to us? You have given my child a voice and my child is in her forties. I have been trying all my life to help people understand her story, her challenges, but most of all her beauty and her strength. And you did that. You gave her a voice and a face and a presence and I am taking home this book and this DVD of these incredible photographs and I am showing all my friends and my family and everyone who loves her. This is her story and stories of people like her. Thank you. I cannot thank you enough," said Alannah. This kind of celebration of diversity is a theme PhotoSensitive has returned to many times over.
Hopes and dreams of those in the photos
One of the favourite stories from this project belongs to PhotoSensitive's Peter Bregg. He met Jason and Jennifer, two young people who had started dating after a Community Living dance near Brighton, Ontario. When Peter learned they were planning their wedding, he asked if he could be their wedding photographer and include photos in Inspiring Possibilities. They jumped at the chance. The new bride had clear advice for parents who are told their child has an intellectual disability and a clear hope for those looking at her wedding photos.
"Don't ever stop your child from having a dream. Support them and don't judge. They need you to be there for them and then they can do anything. It can be hard but it's worth it in the end. When people see our pictures, I hope they say, 'There are two people who did it. They accomplished their dream. They stuck with it!' And I want them to know: we're happy," said Jennifer.
Appreciation from those in the photos
PhotoSensitive's Dick Loek spent time in Etobicoke with a vivacious young woman, Lisa Tuckwell, who works one day a week at Winners. Dick captured the enthusiasm and pride she feels each week when she's working with 'her team.' It is a far cry from the life many intellectually challenged adults led fifty years ago, when society was not as supportive or inclusive. After meeting Dick, Lisa dug deep, found the confidence and agreed to speak at the opening of the PhotoSensitive exhibit in downtown Toronto, at Brookfield Place. She thanked PhotoSensitive for telling her story to the world.
Andrew Stawicki remembers watching Lisa speak with quiet courage and determination.
"She spoke so well - much better than me! This is a show that will always stay with me because so many of the people in the pictures came to see the show. They came with their families, their friends. Here they were, these 'special needs' kids and adults, and they saw their faces reproduced in big black-and-white photos in a beautiful atrium in downtown Toronto, with all these people around. You can't put into words what you feel when you see a fellow - with a huge smile - pointing to his picture and saying, 'Look at that! It's me. I'm the star," said Andrew.