Some are born great: a review of A.B.L.E.’s production of Twelfth Night

Photos taken by Michael Brosilow courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Photos taken by Michael Brosilow courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater

We’re pleased to have Carolyn Alessio as a guest blogger today. Carolyn teaches English at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, and her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and Brain, Child. Her novel manuscript was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction.

by Carolyn Alessio

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” This quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is often used to inspire strength in serious situations, but it actually comes from a hilarious moment in the play. The A.B.L.E. Ensemble’s performance of Twelfth Night I went to at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater featured actors who embody greatness on and off stage and boast some impressive comedic skills as well.

A.B.L.E., which stands for Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations, includes 20 teen actors with Down syndrome and other developmental special needs. During the play, facilitators and teaching artists dressed in black assist the actors with lines while the actors concentrate on their characters and physical expressions. Founder and Director Katie Yohe cleverly demonstrated the method before the play began by offering the audience a line to repeat–about putting away all our cell phones and cameras during the performance.

05_ABLE at CSTAt first I wondered if the assistants might distract from the overall acting, or if the audience might not get to hear the actors’ distinct voices. Once the play started, I realized that several of the actors had already memorized their lines (through a rigorous practice schedule), and we had plenty of opportunities to hear the actors’ individual voices.

Many people with Down syndrome have anatomical differences in their oral cavity and facial muscles, and sometimes their words can be difficult to decipher. But almost everyone has trouble with Elizabethan English at first! At the play I found myself enjoying the words uttered twice–interpreted so differently, so passionately. The whole interaction reminded me of Portia’s lovely speech in The Merchant of Venice, in which she says that the “quality” of mercy is “twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

The actors’ physical “voices” also shone throughout the production. The role of Malvolio was a perfect vehicle for several A.B.L.E. actors. Written as a character who is a priggish servant to Countess Olivia, he is duped into believing that his boss secretly loves him and wants him to wear absurd, cross-gartered yellow stockings. Three different actors shared the part, and all showed great timing. Ben Collins, a 19-year-old ensemble veteran, hammed it up expertly, hopping around with one yellow-stockinged leg in the air. The audience exploded with laughter.

Versatility and adaptability are second-nature for these actors. Actor Lucy Walsh, another veteran, confidently played a whopping four roles including Feste, the clown. In the resplendent musical numbers that opened and closed the show, on-stage musicians played ukulele and guitar while the young actors swayed together, sang, blew kisses to the audience, and mixed in dance moves. One inventive actress even captured the creative, mischievous spirit of the play by briefly dancing “The Swim.”

The ensemble will start work on their second original feature film, The Spy Who Knew Me in August. A.B.L.E. describes it on their Hatchfund site like this:

Set among the high stakes game of international espionage, The Spy Who Knew Me follows a cast of 20 actors with Down syndrome as they struggle to stay true to who they really are in a world that wants them to be someone else.

The promising project is being funded by donations via Hatchfund.


Learning to teach people to travel independently on public transportation

Kristi McLaughlin, Project Action

I am pleased to introduce Kristi McLaughlin as a guest blogger today. Kristi is the Project Manager for Easterseals Project Action Consulting and is the primary mover and shaker behind getting our certification program off the ground.

by Kristi McLaughlin

If you’re anything like me, you may have had a fear of public transportation prior to taking the plunge into the world of buses and trains. Maybe you’re still experiencing this uncertainty and haven’t yet crossed that bridge. Or maybe you’ve mastered buses and trains, but haven’t yet ventured out to try a new mode of transportation, like Uber or Lyft.

Regardless of your comfort level, there are important skills that must be learned in order to travel on any public transportation vehicle. Public transit riders need to have a minimum level of physical, cognitive and social skills to safely access public transportation. The particular skills may vary based on the mode of transportation, the accessibility of the transit agency and the accessibility of the community in general. Functional skills to ride public transit include, but are not limited to:

  • being able to get to the transit pickup location
  • navigating various terrain
  • boarding and exiting vehicles
  • paying fare
  • navigating through various environmental conditions like snow and ice
  • handling unexpected situations
  • traveling safely in the community.

The professional field that teaches these independent travel skills to people with disabilities and older adults is called travel training. If you had asked me 15 years ago what a travel trainer did my answer would be that it was probably a person that helped schedule transportation or make travel arrangements similarly to a travel agent.

I was completely in the dark.

In my defense, it is a relatively new field that’s been around for approximately 30 years or so, but it is growing rapidly. Travel trainers can be found in just about any organization with the shared goal of independent travel for those they serve — school systems, public transit, human service and older adult agencies, non-profit and for-profit agencies alike.

Easterseals Project Action Consulting (ESPAC) has been working to increase and improve accessible transportation in local communities for more than 25 years. We’re happy to be one of the few organizations teaching the important skills needed by travel trainers to improve the independent travel skills of those they work with. In this vein, ESPAC has developed a robust professional development certification program for travel trainers. Our certified travel training instructor program (ctti) includes coursework covering all the essentials for travel trainers.

Visit the CTTI page on our web site for more information on becoming a certified travel training instructor. You can check out our schedule of future training opportunities there, too, and link here to register.


News flash: people with disabilities have sex lives

Who could resist an invite to a panel discussion called “Disability and Sexuality: Everything you wanted to know about disability and sex but were afraid to ask…?”

That's Bethany Stevens.

That’s Bethany Stevens.

I sure couldn’t.

The panel took place at Access Living (a non-profit organization in Chicago for people with disabilities) and was promoted like this:

A panel of “sexperts” will join our guest speaker, Bethany Stevens, J.D., M.A. (blogger of Crip Confessions) for a juicy, frank and sexy conversation about CripSex!

The promotional material also teased, ahem, that before the panel started, “disability-sex-friendly businesses will join us for a CripSex fair, providing free goodies and important information.”

I made sure to get there before the panel.

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney led me into the “Crip Sex Fair,” pulled me forward about ten or twelve feet, and then suddenly stopped. I figured we were at a table, but I was reluctant to reach out and discover what “goodies” were laying there. I finally mustered up the courage, stretched my arm out to grope the goodies, and felt…the push handles of a wheelchair! We weren’t at a table at all. We were in line to talk to a saleswoman from one of the “sex-disability-friendly” businesses there.

I eavesdropped on the woman in that wheelchair, of course. When she reached the front of the line, I heard her using halting speech to compliment the saleswoman. “I love your store,” she said. I paid close attention to understand every word, and I’m quite sure I heard her say she’d celebrated her 18th birthday by going to that shop with a friend.

I won’t disclose what she was looking for there, but I can tell you that staff members helped her find what she wanted. “They actually wanted me to take my time and look around — they said I could stay as long as I wanted,” she marveled. “You all were nicer to me than the people at Wal-Mart.”

The saleswoman sounded pleased. “I’m really happy to hear that,” she said. “We train our staff to be open to people with all sorts of needs.” I didn’t hear any of the people from the sex-disability-friendly businesses mention devices or toys made especially for people with disabilities, just a lot of talk on things they sold that might be easier to use than others or could be adjusted to fit a person’s particular needs.

The CripSex Fair was only open one hour. I picked up a free goodie before they closed, and just like the old classic movies used to do, I’m going to leave the intimate details about that to your imagination.

Time for the panel discussion. Only two panelists: Sergio Tundo from Chicago House (a social service agency serving individuals and families disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS) and Bethany Stevens, a faculty member at Georgia State University who studies, teaches and writes about disability and sexuality. Bethany has brittle bone disease and uses a wheelchair. Sergio never said anything about having a disability himself, and without being able to see him, I couldn’t tell.

The panel discussion was promoted to people with disabilities of any sort, but the focus was really on people with physical disabilities. They gathered cards with questions from the audience, and Bethany announced that the questions fell into three categories. “Raise your hands or make noise for the category you’re most interested in learning about,” she said, listing the three as:

  • Relationships
  • Nuts & bolts, or
  • Miscellaneous

The panelists sounded as surprised as I was when the audience chose “Miscellaneous,” but they just shrugged and took it from there.

“Since we have people here with expertise in things like sex workers and other ways of doing things, this first question is an important one,” Bethany said. “What is the best way to start a conversation with your personal care assistant or personal assistant agency about sex facilitation?”

In the end, most of the questions in the “miscellaneous” pile had to do with personal care assistants:

  • If you’ve been using the same personal care assistant for a long time, and you like them, and you know they will probably not be open or comfortable with helping you with this, should you even bring it up?
  • How does it affect interaction if there is a need for another person to assist in the sexual experience, but that third party is not sexually involved with the other two?
  • If two people with physical disabilities would need an able-bodied person to help them move, how does that third person behave in the relationship?
  • What are some of the best practices for facilitating the experience if you are the personal care assistant?

I didn’t hear one lewd comment after these questions were asked, and not one titter, either. I did hear some answers, and learned about some new ideas, too. Example: San Francisco is working on a program similar to e-harmony to match people with disabilities and personal care assistants. The person who needs the P.C.A. spells out what they need, the personal care assistant fills out a form describing the services they are willing to offer, and you match up that way. Others shared things that have worked for them –- and things that haven’t. I was really glad I went that night and thought the whole thing was pretty cool: people together, talking frankly, sharing stories and offering suggestions.


Innovative students from Segal Design Institute work to make sewing accessible

Remember the 9-year-old who wrote a post here for Valentine’s Day about how much she loves her Dad? A lot has happened to DJ Mermaid since that post was published in February. Most importantly, she had a birthday. Our ten-year-old guest blogger has been in a casting program the past couple months, and you can read this post to discover how she came up with her pen name “DJ Mermaid.”

DJ Mermaid still has casts from her hips down to her ankles on both legs, and she’s told me many times that she “doesn’t let her physical disability stop her from doing anything she wants to do.” Her guest post today proves exactly that.

Sew Good Students

by DJ Mermaid

Hey guys, DJ Mermaid here! I’ve gotten back on the guest-blogging trail and I thought this post would be a good way to start off.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I participated in a program with Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University. This is a program dedicated to creative design that changes people’s lives for the better. I requested something that would help me with sewing. Two groups of students were assigned to help me with the following problems:

  1. Driving the fabric efficiently through the sewing machine
  2. Creating an innovative way to use the pedal

I am unable to use the foot pedal because it’s hard to push with my foot. I usually put the foot pedal on the table and use my hands while mom drives the fabric through the machine. The groups came up with two different solutions.

Solution One: Sew Good

  • The Sew Good group came up with a guide constructed of metal to help me drive the fabric. All I had to do was pushpin the fabric onto the guide and keep my hands on the frame in case the fabric started veering off.

    That's the feed control box designed by the Sew Good group.

    That’s the feed control box designed by the Sew Good group.

  • The Sew Good group also created a way for me to use the “foot pedal” with my hands. The students created a box that was able to go to three different speeds simply by turning a knob. The best part about it was that it kept going at a consistent speed I set without any adjustments. The students also painted the box pink and purple. I like those colors. They even used glitter for the writing. I was wowed!

Solution Two: SewMates

  • The SewMates group made a voice operated sewing “pedal” — it’s a box I plug into the sewing machine. The box has wires and a chip to record and receive my commands. The students had to use coding to program the commands. The commands are “Robot, Go, Slow, Slower, Fast, Faster and Stop.” I speak into a little microphone on the box, and, magically, the sewing machine goes. It is high tech and I am impressed that they used coding. Coding is awesome, and I do it all the time!

Last Saturday I was eager to try them out. They worked! I sewed a headband by myself with very limited assistance from mom.

And then, guess what? Mom broke the sewing machine. Nice Going, Mom! It may be a while before I am able to try my devices again!

Well, that’s a wrap!

-DJ Mermaid


A life worth living — Veterans Affairs analyst finds fulfillment with support

Sue and her Seeing Eye dog KismetJust like me, Sue Martin uses a Seeing Eye dog to get around safely. Sue’s blindness is not the result of some eye disease or genetic condition, though. It’s the result of a suicide attempt.

Sue works for The United States Department of Veterans Affairs as a management analyst now, and though I’ve never met her face-to-face, I know her virtually—she shares her assistive technology know-how online and is a huge help whenever my speech synthesizer stumps me.

The Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Health Information asked Sue to write a guest post outlining ways Veterans Affairs is helping make people more aware of suicide warning signs and risk. She opens the post explaining that when she was 26 years old, she was so depressed that she thought she had no other option than a loaded gun. “There was an explosion and, in an instant, my world went dark,” she writes. “I didn’t die, but the failed attempt left me blind.”

Thirty years of rehab, therapy, and support from friends and family have brought Sue to a point where she is willing to share her story in hopes it might help others who believe life is not worth living. She is happily married and describes her work at Veteran’s Affairs as “fast-paced and exciting.” Instead of facing each day with dread the way she did all those years ago, she says she greets each day in anticipation of what she might discover.

Sue Martin is deservedly proud of what she’s made of her life, and extremely grateful to the people who helped her along the way. “I didn’t do it in a vacuum,” she says. “The important thing, if you feel your life is not worth living, is to talk about it and get help.”


Disability-focused movies are nothing new, but where are the actors with disabilities?

Two Movie Tickets In Front Of A Take Clapperboard And A Reel Of Movie Film

I lost my sight when I was 26 years old. After that, I pretty much quit going to movies.

I can still picture movies I saw on TV or at movie theaters before then, though, and it surprises me now to think how many of them happen to center on disabilities. Some examples:

  • In Coming Home (1978) Jon Voight won an Oscar for playing a veteran who was paralyzed in the Vietnam War.
  • In An Affair to Remember (1957) Deborah Kerr’s romantic rendezvous with Cary Grant is nearly derailed by a paralyzing accident.
  • In A Patch of Blue (1965) Elizabeth Hartman is a blind white woman who falls in love with a black man played by Sidney Poitier.
  • In Butterflies Are Free (1972) Edward Albert is a blind man attempting to break free from his over-protective mother.
  • In Johnny Belinda (1948) Jane Wyman is referred to as a “deaf-mute.”
  • In The Miracle Worker (1962) Anne Bancroft stars as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller.

As you can see, ahem, disability-focused movies are nothing new. But wouldn’t you think by now, it being the 21st Century and all, far more movies would feature actors and actresses who actually have disabilities themselves? In all the movies I watched when I could still see, I can only think of one where an actor with a disability played a character with a disability: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) featured Harold Russell (a real-life veteran who lost both hands when a defective fuse detonated an explosive he was handling) as a World War II veteran home from the war. Actress Marlee Matlin is deaf, and of course she won best actress for her role in Children of a Lesser God, but I wasn’t able to see that one – it came out in 1987, a year after I lost my sight.

There must be plenty of actors out there with disabilities who are looking for work. Can it be true that it’s been nearly 30 years since a major motion picture featured an actor or actress who has a disability? Please leave a comment and tell me I’m wrong!


Frank Lloyd Wright Trust makes architecture accessible to all

That's me touching the museum signGuess who spent a Saturday afternoon last year playing the very same piano architect Frank Lloyd Wright practiced on 100+ years ago?


The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust was one of 31 cultural organizations that partnered with Chicago’s ADA 25 for 25 Cultural Access Project last year. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015, the trust offered special ASL and touch-tours of its historic sites.

The goal of the 25 for 25 Project was to help at least 25 cultural organizations in Chicago commit to improving accessibility for visitors with disabilities in 2015 in some concrete way, and then put plans in place to continue to take steps to improve accessibility after the 2015 anniversary year.

The success of last year’s tours motivated the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to continue offering accessible programming, and last week Laura Dodd, the trust’s Director of Operations and Guest Experience, emailed me and forwarded a thank-you letter she’d just received from an exchange student from Poland who is blind and got to tour some pretty special houses. “I want to share a proud moment,” Laura said, and I was glad she did.

Monica also visited Robie House in Chicago -- in addition to taking the Oak Park tour.

Monica also visited Robie House in Chicago — in addition to taking the Oak Park tour.

Here’s the back story: Monika Dubiel had contacted Laura after completing a semester at University of North Carolina. She’d be visiting friends of her parents in Oak Park, Illinois when the Wright Plus house walk (an annual event where private home owners open their homes to visitors) would be going on and wanted to know if there might be some way she could take in the house tours, too.

Laura told me that in the past she wouldn’t have been able to make this kind of accommodation with only a weeks notice — or even a month’s notice. “But with all the things I learned {from 25 for 25} and the confidence I have gained, we easily said yes to her request.” I was so moved by the thank you note Monica wrote to Laura afterward that I contacted the young woman directly to ask permission to share her note with you Easterseals blog readers. Here it is:

Dear Laura,
I write to you to thank you for the marvelous opportunity that you
gave me to enjoy the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and his friends. The house walk this past Saturday was an amazing and unforgettable experience for me.

I especially would like to say thank you to the trainee who helped us all day by telling us about the places we were visiting. She spent the whole day navigating us from house to house and dealing with house captains private tours. Also, all the volunteers in the houses were very nice and open minded.

In some houses, I could touch whatever I wanted because the owners were there and they gave their personal permission. It was incredible to feel all the furniture and decorations.

I’m so glad that I could do that. You can’t imagine how grateful I am.

I also would like to ask about visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio and the Robie House. We talked about me coming this coming Saturday, but it turns out that I will be in Hyde Park on Thursday, next to Robbie House. So I would like to ask if I can visit it on Thursday.

I hope you have a good day.

Best regards,

Monika Dubiel

Monica did indeed get a chance to visit both the Robie House and the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio. I’m not sure she got to play Wright’s piano, but I’m confident she enjoyed those two touch tours as much as I did when they debuted last year. Thank you, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, for continuing to make architecture accessible to all.

Monica is off to Washington D.C. now to do an internship at the Polish embassy, where she’ll probably know more about Frank Lloyd Wright than anyone else working there. zpiecznej podróży!


Political ad features candidate’s son with cerebral palsy: Exploitative or empowering?

pexels-photo-29737A political ad in New Hampshire features a candidate with a son who has cerebral palsy. Is the ad exploitative? Or empowering? For an answer, I went to an expert: the mom of a daughter who has a similar disability.

by Deana Herrman

New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan is running for senator. A campaign ad came out last month featuring her 25-year-old son Ben, who has cerebral palsy. Can we first agree that it was nice to watch a political ad where no one was belittled?

I watched the ad a few times. I had mixed feelings because I watched it each time with what felt like a different identity — a mom of a ten-year-old daughter who has a similar disability to Ben’s, an advocate, a healthcare worker and a skeptic who is sick of the tone and actions of politicians.

Governor Hassan’s ad tells the story of why she got involved in public service. I bet a lot of parents of kids with special needs can relate to that. I appreciate her story. It’s important for people to hear stories of parents of children with disabilities. It encourages sharing, gives parents a support community and may encourage others to get involved as well. Good for her for being involved and having this drive her so far into public service.

Honestly, children cannot always advocate right away for themselves, and as parents, one of our first jobs is making sure our children are supported. Some have called this ad exploitative saying that it takes advantage of her son. I think she is allowed to own every part of being Ben’s mom, including the part about being motivated to get involved as a result of raising him. After all, it helps define part of who she is.

Is this ad “inspiration porn?” Maybe. I don’t know the extent of Ben’s abilities. If it were Ben on camera telling us how great his mom is or telling his own story, would we judge the ad the same way? I can see how someone who has a disability might look at this ad and think that Hassan is using this story to show how everyone “helped” Ben without shedding light on any of the issues facing the disability community.

That said, Ben inspired her to get involved. Is there a way to tell her story without using her son? Probably not — especially if getting him what he needed was her main reason for entering community service and politics in the first place.

In the ad, Governor Hassan says, “That’s one of the reasons I got involved in public service, because it made it so clear to me how much you can accomplish when you work together.” It actually sounds to me like the collaborative efforts around raising her son are what inspired her to want to work with others in the same manner, even in the political arena.

Yes, she doesn’t have Ben’s disability, but isn’t it natural that his disability affects his parents and siblings? I can see how our daughter inspires/influences our son’s actions and vice versa. It’s just what happens living in a family.

In order to advance any progress for people with disabilities, doesn’t the greater community need to be aware and to be involved? To me, there are broader topics to discuss in an election year — topics like: When does the disability community make an impact in this (any) election? When does disability get discussed by politicians without tit being linked to healthcare? I wonder if Ben can vote — a big issue for people with disabilities. I wonder, if Ben saw that ad, would he vote for his mom? Or would he just want to go join a community service organization?

Perhaps rather than critiquing or lauding this ad, opponents and supporters can collaborate as Maggie Hassan did and use it as a platform to bring awareness to some of the disability issues that are getting ignored: voting rights, funding of IDEA, enforcement of ADA, equal pay, unemployment. Pick a topic — there is more work to be done!


Can you access the vote? Researcher says there’s still work to do

Image of an 'I Voted' sticker, with an asterixAn article in the May 23, 2016 issue of Stanford Lawyer magazine quotes a Stanford researcher saying that the United States is ill prepared to accommodate people with disabilities at polling places in the upcoming presidential election.

Researcher Rabia Belt will start her new position as an assistant professor teaching disability law and criminal law at Stanford this month and says rather than increasing access to voting, lawmakers seem to be doing just the opposite. From the article:

Strict voter ID laws popular in a growing number of states and aimed at cutting down on fraud at the polls are falling hardest on disabled voters, who are less likely to have the requisite documentation. Paradoxically, disabled citizens still wanting to cast ballots have to vote absentee, a process that studies have shown is especially subject to fraud and manipulation, Belt said.

I wrote a post here about phoning my State Board of Elections after poll workers couldn’t get the assistive technology at my polling place to work in a previous election. I spent a fair amount of time on hold back then before someone from the Illinois Board of Elections finally answered and listened to my story. “Were you able to vote in the end, then?” Yes, I said, but I wasn’t able to do it independently. I did my best to explain that the Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandates that voting systems provide some way for people to vote independently and privately, including those of us with disabilities. The Illinois Board of Elections assured me my poll workers would report the problem to the correct authorities and have it fixed. “You got assistance, then?” they asked. I told them yes, that my husband had signed an affidavit, that Mike had helped me in the voting booth. “So you were able to vote, then?” they asked. I said yes. “Okay, then, you’re all set,” they said, and hung up.

I called the voting section of the U.S. Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division) after that. The woman on the line asked me for details, took down notes and said someone would contact me. No one ever did.

The Help America Vote Act has been on the books for 14 years now. In this new Stanford Lawyer article, Belt says that in all this time, the Justice Department has not brought a single case under the law alleging violations pertaining to people with disabilities. “We could think of voting as so important that we make sure everyone is able to vote. But we also could say, ‘Voting is so important that we want to purify the electorate and make it hard for people to vote,’” Belt said. “I think there is a long history of the second phenomenon being true. We still see that today.”


Girl on the run: you do what with your guide dog?

If you haven’t signed up to follow BlindBeader’s Life Unscripted blog yet, I highly recommend you do. BlindBeader is a gifted young writer who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with her husband, 3 cats and guide dog Jenny. My other friends who are blind and run go with a sighted guide, but BlindBeader runs with her guide dog. You can read BlindBeader’s Girl on the Run: you do WHAT with Your Guide Dog? post in its entirety on the Life Unscripted blog to learn more about her decision to take up running as a form of exercise. For now, here’s an excerpt to give you an idea of how she manages to run using her dog as a guide.

by BlindBeader

Blogger BlindBeader and guide dog Jenny waiting for a water taxi during a visit to NYC.

Blogger BlindBeader and guide dog Jenny waiting for a water taxi during a visit to NYC.

It all started a couple years ago after a fundraising run; I had made a great connection with my guide runner, and she and I agreed to go running together. This would involve going home from work, leaving my guide at home, taking my cane, catching the bus, going for a run, catching the bus home… and to me, that was a lot of planning for a quick run, as much as I loved running with my friend. Add to this the fact that I have a guide dog who genuinely likes to go fast (and occasionally we have “arguments” about such things), and I figured I could at least try running with her.

A friend makes sports-style harnesses and I asked her to make one for me. It has a lot of room for the dog to move and acts like a traditional harness in all other ways. The pull in the handle took some getting used to, but once I understood the feeling of the pull in the harness, we were ready to go!

I started small (like, around the block small); if Jenny hated it, I didn’t want to make her run with me. She took to it so quickly that over just a few weeks, then months, we increased our speed, distance and complexity of routes.

Our winter was short, so it didn’t take long for us to really get moving this spring. This past month alone, we have done our longest run ever (more than 7 km), had our fastest ever run longer than 5 km, and did our first ever big group run in support of the Fort mcMurray evacuees. That last wasn’t a flawless experience, but it taught me how to handle it, and gave me hope for other big group running events later on in the spring and summer, and even beyond. My goal is to run an organized 10K by the end of the season; we’re well on our way!

I’ve made some mistakes along the way – misjudging if my guide wanted water (the answer is usually “no”) or underestimating her willingness to go at fast speeds – but when we have this matching jogging-pace speed and are completely in sync, there’s no feeling like it.

Many people ask me if I’ve ever been hurt; the answer is yes, but it’s got nothing to do with Jenny and everything to do with my thinking I know more than she does. If I listen to her quick, decisive, flawless guiding moves, I know I’m in good paws.

More than once I let Jenny set the route (or, at the very least, don’t direct her as much); our neighborhood is a veritable labyrinth of angled sidewalks, roads that intersect and curve around back to each other – a residential runner’s paradise. I can focus on my feet, on my music (90s music is the best to run to!), on the feeling of wind in my face and the smell of pine sap in the air. I don’t have to think too much about where I’m going, what street I’ve crossed, if I’m lost or not, I can just run. I know my guide will run me home when she needs a drink of water.