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Young advocate determined to bring about change

When you meet nine-year-old Jillian, you don’t need to yell – she’s not deaf. 

And yet so many people do. They scream and shout when they first meet her, thinking her wheelchair somehow affects her hearing.

Nor does she have some terrible contagious disease, and no, she wasn’t in a horrific car accident – two other assumptions often made. 

Jillian is a sharp fourth grader who has cerebral palsy. She can hear just fine. She also has no trouble speaking, or singing for that matter. (She sings in her school choir.)

She’s a bright, well-spoken, vocal advocate who has been coming to Holland Bloorview since she was two years old and she’s determined to show the world that kids with disabilities can do just about anything. 

“Kids with disabilities aren’t just people that you can stare and laugh at,” she said.

Campaign crusader

Recently, Jillian was involved with Holland Bloorview’s Dear Everybody anti-stigma campaign. She saw the campaign’s potential to change minds and attitudes and quickly decided, “I want to be part of that.”

When the campaign was launched, she often proudly wore a t-shirt that said, “Talking to someone with a disability like they are a baby is rude, unless they are a baby,” - something she also has experience with. 

She loves the campaign’s message and the discussions it’s sparked. 

“People should have a voice rather than feeling alone and isolated,” she said. “You have a voice and you can say, ‘Here are some things you could try to not do to me…like staring, pointing or making comments.’”

“And I believe we’re starting to change the way people see kids in wheelchairs,” she added. 

That’s not Jillian’s only role. She’s also been a member of the hospital’s Children’s Advisory Committee for the past five years, sharing ideas on how to make the hospital’s services better.  

Actually, being on committees is quite the family affair. Cheryl, Jillian’s mom, has been on the Family Advisory Committee for the past six years, and her ten-year-old sister, Lauren, joins Jillian on the Children’s Advisory Committee.

A little time for fun

 But while Jillian is serious about advocacy, she’s still a kid who wants to play. 

She loves to draw, particularly comics. And she loves listening to musical soundtracks – her current two favourites being Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton. 

She also loves exploring the spiral garden’s paths in the warm summer months, as well as in the fall to see the leaves change.

And when not at committee meetings or appointments, she loves nothing more than to sneak into the outpatient playroom and dive into the giant ball pit. 

Though she loves Holland Bloorview, Jillian does have one small complaint: the cover put on the outdoor sandbox doesn’t fit terribly well. 

Open it after a good rainfall, and you’re left with a giant puddle of mud. 

But putting such challenges aside, Jillian remains focused and determined to change minds and attitudes. 

When asked if she will continue to be vocal about changing the perception of kids with disabilities, she leaned forward and said in a very confident tone, “You are very correct.”

And Jillian has big plans for the future. She’s just not sure what they are yet.   

“I could see myself doing a lot of things. I can be whatever I want…I want to be a vet maybe,” she said. 

She also wants to become part of the Family Advisory Committee, just like her mom, who said, “When Jillian was six, she wanted to be Prime Minister.”

Even that isn’t out of her reach.