Enabling Access Blog


When the Smoke Clears - A New Perspective on Disability

I am writing this blog using Windows Voice Recognition software on my laptop, to demonstrate just one of the accommodations I have had to make following a recent injury.  I am having some frustration with traditional typing due to a Scaphoid fracture in my wrist, which I sustained a couple of weeks ago when I fell getting into a boat, at our family’s cottage near Kenora, Ontario.


A fractured wrist is a temporary impairment resulting in a mild disability.  The injury occurred as I was attempting to assist a badly burned man into our boat to get him to the ambulance that was waiting for us on the mainland.  This man had barely escaped a fire which had destroyed the cottage he was staying at, and took the life of his friend who didn’t get out.  The cause of the fire is still undetermined and the man we helped suffered severe smoke inhalation, 3rd degree burns, and major lacerations from breaking a window to escape. He is still in critical condition in an induced coma. This tragedy has taught me many things, and has offered me a gift I can’t ignore.


I’ve been struggling with reliving the sequence of events, the sights, smells and other sensations I experienced during the event, trying to process if there was more we could have done.  My husband assures me that we gave the man we helped the best chance of survival.  Luckily, one of our neighbours is a paramedic and his wife is a nurse.  Together, the four of us cared for this injured man and got him to the ambulance as fast as we could, keeping in mind it was pitch black at 4 am, with no moon and we were on an island 20 minutes from mainland.  Although I did not know the man I helped, I feel connected to him and I am fearfully anticipating the tremendous journey he has before him, should he survive his critical status in a U.S. burn center.


I have worked with people living with disabilities since I was a teenager. As an occupational therapist for the past 11 years, I feel like I’ve been an empathetic therapist, understanding the needs and pain of my clients and how their impairments affect their lives on a daily basis.  I also thought that I was doing a good job assisting clients with mental health issues like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and grief, return to work and to their previous level of function, following accidents and injury.


By witnessing the fire, loss of life and suffering, my eyes have been opened to the horrors one must feel after living through a traumatic event. The cast on my left arm is a constant reminder that life is precious and it can be taken from us, in just minutes.  I also see it as a call to action, prompting me to share with others, that we all have a responsibility to be prepared and have a plan in place in case of emergency, as it may prove to save a life.


Although my injury is not life changing, it has made me aware of the difficulties people living with disabilities encounter on a daily basis.  Having to only use one hand for all of my activities of daily living, although frustrating, is a minor inconvenience when compared to the barriers people living with more involved disabilities face each day. Tasks that I took for granted like getting dressed, cutting my food, driving, and using my computer, have become difficult and require that I modify how I conduct them. For folks who have been impacted by injuries or diseases that render these basic tasks impossible, I am truly empathetic and will be more compassionate and patient, moving forward.


I just returned from travelling to another city and had to explain what had happened to me to many curious people I met throughout the week.  I had a short script prepared explaining, “ I slipped and fell into a boat” so I didn’t have to relive the event over and over again.  It makes me wonder how people with profound disabilities deal with curious observers, feel about the second looks, and also what scripts they have prepared for the inevitable questions.


Even as someone who works with people who live with a variety of disabilities, it took a tragic event for me to finally understand and appreciate fully what people may be going through after experiencing loss, illness or injury. Although I don’t want people to go through a similar experience, I do hope we can all dig a bit deeper in our hearts and minds to image what our clients, our neighbours, or strangers may be going through. We can each advocate, donate or make changes in our lives to prevent injuries, and to remove barriers in our homes and workplaces to make our communities more accessible for people living with mental or physical disabilities.


Please share this link. It might save someone you know.  http://www.foca.on.ca/Fire-Safety



Marnie Courage

Managing Director

Enabling Access



Barbara @ www.therextras.com on Oct 14, 2011 5:58 PM posted:
This is an impressive post, Marnie. Thank you. I'm glad I read it. I'm glad I found your blog, too. I've been an OT 34 years and like you have considered myself empathetic and understanding of the emotional component attached to disability. Yet in the past 3 years I have learned more about the lives of parents of children with disabilities than in the previous 30 - by reading the blogs written by parents of children with disabilities. I'm not sure either of our recent new understanding can be built into a curriculum.
Marnie Courage on Oct 16, 2011 12:16 PM posted:
Thanks for writing Barbara. The OT ciricumlum could definitely include more disability awareness with a panel of family or individuals living with disability sharing their experiences. We are so eager to help our clients solve their problems, yet sometimes we forget to allow time for them to share their experiences so we can truly understand their needs. Another reminder that we can listen more to better serve our clients.- Marnie

Post Your Comment:

Your email will not be published