• Toronto Abilities Expo
    Toronto
    January 19-21, 2018
    The International Centre, Hall 1
    Fri. 11am-5pm | Sat. 11am-5pm | Sun 11am-4pm

Local disability activists lead Abilities Expo’s community outreach efforts through ambassador program

Abilities Expo has appointed Ambassadors—members of the local community of people with disabilities and their families—to spearhead community outreach initiatives. These individuals will meet face-to-face with rehab institutions, independent living centers, local manufacturers, service providers and local associations to generate excitement and increase attendance at each event.

Tham Banting

Tham BantingThough my journey has presented me with a crucible of trials and adversity, no one and nothing can stop the person who has since emerged. At a young age, I came to Canada on a medical visa following the ravages of the Vietnam War, spent two years in the hospital, and lived with multiple foster families. A forward-thinking physio-therapist introduced me to adaptive sports, a move that changed everything.

I thrived as an athlete, playing basketball, track and field, tennis, wheelchair rugby, swimming, and volleyball. I competed nationally and, although most athletes took years to reach Paralympic status, I achieved that honor in six months. In the 1988 Summer Paralympics in Seoul, I took home five gold medals and broke five world records, two of which still stand today. In the following two Summer Games, I won three gold, five silver, and one bronze medal. Participating in these prestigious contests have given me the opportunity to travel the world, meet exciting new people, build the confidence I did not have growing up, and reinforce my sense of independence.

My work since then has been a constant effort to instill that strength and self-reliance in children. As a kindergarten teacher, office administrator, and Variety Village volunteer, I encourage kids to have the confidence and tenacity to do anything they set their minds to. I was also an ambassador for Ability Online, a web-based service for children and adults with disabilities to chat safely and openly about any issues they face on a daily basis.

I love Toronto for its vast diversities and cultures. I live on my own and have a penchant for globetrotting, travelling to England, France, Sweden and Korea. Through my work with Right to Play, an organization that is partnered with the United Nations, I visited African orphanages to introduce the value of play and gave children the opportunity to show off their skills. I firmly echo Right to Play's motto, "Every child in the world has the right to education and the right to play any sport."

Thanks to the inspiration from the soldiers competing in the recent Invictus Games where I was volunteering, I have a new goal. After my long hiatus, I have decide to return to competitive tennis and have set my sites for the 2020 Paralymic Games in Tokyo!

Overcoming my life's challenges has made me a stronger, more independent person. I would like the world to know that we are all human and, no matter what circumstances we have gone through, we can, "Soar high as long as we try, and stay strong for us to belong."

Karl Ludwig

Karl LudwigLike many Canadians, I grew up with an incredible love for hockey. Unlike most Canadians, I was born with spina bifida. While my disability may be part of my story, it's just a footnote…a factor that taught me to persevere and meet any challenge in my path.

Growing up in Brampton, Ontario, I had a burning desire to make it big in the NHL. Though my inability to stand on skates should have made this boyhood dream a fantasy, it only strengthened my resolve to forge it into a reality. I discovered sledge hockey and found that I excelled even beyond my own expectations. As my exhilarating pastime rapidly evolved into an unquenchable passion, I became determined to make Team Canada.

I was no stranger to adversity and even failure, but I kept my focus strong and refused to throw in the towel. For a decade I was continually cut from tryouts until, after many long hours in the gym and on the ice, I earned a position on the Canadian National Sledge Hockey Team. Playing for the national team has opened doors and revealed countless new opportunities; including earning a bronze medal at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.

My personal experience in overcoming obstacles through sheer force of will has galvanized an all-important fact—once you convince yourself that you can achieve something, all that's left is hard work. I strive to convey this message to multiple audiences through speaking engagements at schools, corporate events and more. Though I no longer compete on the national stage, I apply these lessons to my new career at Nike and I continue to share my story in hopes of inspiring others to unleash their greatness.

Kayla Penner

Kayla PennerI am the proud mother of five amazing children who have been the greatest source of joy and learning in my life. Four have special needs, but each and every one of them has their own stunning talents and has taught me the true meaning of bravery and courage.

Ten-year-old Karla was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of three. Because invisible illnesses like this so often go unnoticed, I connected with the arthritis society and began advocating in media, newspapers, hockey games, and indoor playgrounds. Recently, we discovered that chronic pain has sensitized her nervous system. Thankfully, neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections—has helped us to meet this challenge head-on!

Medication helps eight-year old Lydiah's ADHD and obsessive defiance disorder, and we continue to look for the right combination of pharmaceuticals and sensory treatments to support her. My son, Lathium (pronounced "lay thum") is a complex child. He has epilepsy, autism and eosinophilic esophagitis. Better known as EOE, this rare disease involves allergies in his esophagus and causes weight issues. I am constantly in awe of his courage!

At the age of four, Josiah has hyper-mobility ehlers danlos syndrome. He has ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) braces on both feet and legs during the daytime and knee ankle foot orthosis (KAFO) braces at night. We are undergoing further studies to see if something else is going on. My youngest daughter is three-years-old and has not presented any diagnosis. Their collective strength is undeniable and each day is a treasured learning experience!

In addition to caring for my children, I have put my degree in community service to work volunteering in the diverse community we call home. I have developed and implemented action plans for the local area, written funding proposals, and helped JK/SK students with special needs as they transition into the classroom setting. In addition, I have operated as a public health peer mentor to prenatal and postnatal mothers. To assist this group, I have helped create a care pathway, facilitated focus groups, advocated for all mothers at the hospital, as well as planned and implemented Young Parent Day.

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