Keisha supports teens, in part, by sharing her disability story
By Louise Kinross
Keisha Goberdhan is a youth facilitator with Holland Bloorview’s neuromotor clinic. She shares her own experience growing up with a disability to support teens—and their parents—who are getting ready for the adult world, including moving into adult health care. ‘I think lived experience is so important, and it should be something we value across all roles,” she says. Keisha, who works two days a week in the neuromotor clinic, just accepted a new role as accessibility coordinator with our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team. We spoke about how her experience receiving care as a child here informs her work.
BLOOM: How did you get into this field?
Keisha Goberdhan: I’ve been a lifelong client of Holland Bloorview, so it was a very natural fit. It was always a dream of mine to give back to Holland Bloorview, because I benefited so greatly from so many programs and services here.
I did my bachelor’s degree in Disability Studies and Developmental Psychology at Ryerson. After that I was a chair at RyeACCESS, and was involved in writing reports to show that Ryerson was complying with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) act.
BLOOM: As a student, did you find Ryerson accessible?
Keisha Goberdhan: Early on I found that accessibility was something that was talked about a lot, but wasn’t really a priority. I made it my mission to make Ryerson as accessible as possible, for as many students as possible.
BLOOM: What access challenges did you face?
Keisha Goberdhan: There were two major ones. A lot of the buildings are quite old, and while they were signed as accessible, they often weren’t functional. So automatic doors didn’t work, or ramps weren’t properly cleaned so you could use them in the winter.
The other issue was they didn’t have course material available in various formats. I have glaucoma, so it’s difficult for me to read small print. They expected us to enlarge materials ourselves, instead of understanding it was a requirement. I sat on the Faculty of Arts Learning and Teaching Committee and made sure that when students are given accommodation forms, they can input the formats they require.
BLOOM: What is your role here as youth facilitator?
Keisha Goberdhan: To use my own experience with a childhood-onset disability to help youth and families transition to the adult care system. It’s also to connect them, within Holland Bloorview and their communities, to resources for recreation, education, independent living, transportation, work and social opportunities.
BLOOM: What would a typical day be like?
Keisha Goberdhan: In clinic, I meet with youth aged 14 to 18 for 20 to 30 minutes.
BLOOM: Do you meet with them on their own, or with their parents?
Keisha Goberdhan: Either. Each family is different. We focus on their best hopes, using resources here and in the community to reach their goals. They may be interested in learning about recreation, or planning for post-secondary school or living independently. Or they may want to talk about any difficulties they’re having in high school or with family or friends.
BLOOM: What’s the greatest challenge?
Keisha Goberdhan: Creating personal and professional boundaries. Although we may not have the same disability, we do have similar experiences. It’s important to know how much of yourself to share, and what is truly beneficial to the client and family.
The youth facilitator position champions and prioritizes lived experience as a way to build rapport and create deeper connections. The role inverts the traditional medical model, where the expert tells the youth everything. We allow the youth and family to focus on their hopes, and make them the experts in their own story.
BLOOM: What are the joys?
Keisha Goberdhan: Seeing a family come in, overwhelmed and stressed, and we’re there to provide the hope and the fun. We look beyond the medical to things like recreation and friendships.
BLOOM: What are some examples of things you might offer?
Keisha Goberdhan: Snoezelen, swimming, wheelchair basketball, robotics. We open doors for families that they may not know existed.
BLOOM: What qualities does someone need to be good in your job?
Keisha Goberdhan: Creativity. Every client and family is different, so you need to be very flexible in your approach. Meeting families where they are, and having the resources to cater to different needs.
One thing I value at Holland Bloorview is that we don’t look at clients as a check list. They’re people, and they have so many diverse backgrounds to share with us. We're collaborating to find what is best for that client and family. Being open to sharing your story is part of the job.
BLOOM: You’ve spoken very highly of your experience here as a child. Was there anything you would change?
Keisha Goberdhan: The one thing I wish was a little different was cultural awareness. In our community, disability isn’t very well known, and the focus is on what a child can’t do. Seeing people with disabilities from different cultures creates a sense of confidence and hope for families—that they can see their child growing into a fulfilling life.
BLOOM: So would it be helpful to connect a family with another family from the same culture?
Keisha Goberdhan: I think it would have been very beneficial.
BLOOM: What was your greatest challenge growing up?
Keisha Goberdhan: It was always proving to my family, and my community, that I was capable of doing anything anyone else could, even if it looked a little different. They weren’t expecting me to have the resiliency and passion to do all I was able to accomplish.
The hardest year for me was in Grade 5, when I was 11 and I was an inpatient for six months at the Bloorview site.
Going back to school and having to explain to my friends and people in the hallway that I’m the same person, although I use an orange wheelchair with light-up wheels, was quite a challenge. But I was able to tell people that even though I’ve had this surgery and I’ll be getting around a little different, I’m still able to play and do all of the things I want to do.
You interviewed Randy Dindial in BLOOM. He was one of the best nurses I had. I remember even on my worst days, he always brought the sun, and I always felt really safe when he was around. My family was able to relate to him because we had a similar background, and they always looked forward to his care because they knew they could trust him. He was more than a nurse to us—almost a member of our family. My mother wouldn’t go home very often, but when she would it was often because Randy was the nurse.
Randy knew I was very much into art, so he would make sure my care was done before, or after, an art program here, so I could attend it. It was the same thing with pet therapy. To be able to go to pet therapy after a long day of therapies made things so much better.
BLOOM: Was there a way that clinicians could improve care?
Keisha Goberdhan: Some of the staff would always talk to my family, and not include me in the conversations. Being 11, I knew a lot about what was going on and I wanted to be a part of it.
BLOOM: You’ve just started in your role as accessibility coordinator. Will that be somewhat similar to what you did at Ryerson?
Keisha Goberdhan: I need to complete our AODA compliance report by December, so in many ways, yes.
BLOOM: Are there ways we need to improve?
Keisha Goberdhan: There are two areas I want to focus on. One is to make all of our customer service areas in the cafeteria truly accessible. That would involve looking at how our kiosks for parking and Tim Horton’s and the banking machine are constructed. The other area is emergency planning for families. When they arrive at Holland Bloorview, are families given information on what we do in case of emergency, and is it accessible to all families in different languages?
This role is a great opportunity to make sure that we are truly “No Boundaries.” Now is our chance to go above and beyond requirements, and be a pioneer for an accessible pediatric hospital and workplace.
I wouldn't be where I am today without Holland Bloorview. Coming in to work, I always feel it's such a place full of potential and possibility and hope.