Student turns the key on living independently

Hayden is your typical 20-year-old student, happiest when listening to his music (loud) and playing video games.

He just finished his first year of sociology at the University of Toronto. He’s loving student life, but he’s not quite sure what he wants to do after he graduates.

Right now Hayden lives with his dad, who he gets along with. But the idea of living on his own is becoming more and more appealing.

But making that transition won’t be easy. Hayden has cerebral palsy and with limited mobility, gets around with a powered wheelchair.

He’s never lived on his own before, but he got a taste of freedom through The Independence Program (TIP) at Holland Bloorview last summer.

Every summer TIP invites a group of young adults with physical or cognitive disabilities to learn how to live away from home by staying at a university or college residence for three weeks.

Like a reality show, but reality

“It was like an MTV show,” said Hayden. “You get to live with a bunch of people and do things together. It was a fun, intermediate step to what I imagine living on your own would be like.”

Hayden joined 10 other youth, staying in a residence at Ryerson University.

Being from Toronto, Hayden was already familiar with the city, but there were plenty of brand new experiences, like living with two roommates.

“It was fun, but challenging at times,” he said of sharing living space. “There was a real sense of camaraderie, but it was two other guys and just one fridge,” he said laughing.

Sharing the same living room, sharing a bathroom, sharing the cooking and food shopping duties did create moments of tension.

“That was the most difficult thing. When I wasn’t getting along with my roommates that affected how the day would go,” he said.

But Hayden quickly learned how to work through any issues and is now grateful for the experience.

“It wasn’t the most fun part but it was helpful. And in a strange way, I came to appreciate those moments,” he said.

New experiences in the kitchen and beyond

Together, Hayden and his roommates were also in charge of their own meals. That too made for some culinary adventures

“When you’re planning meals and you do grocery shopping, you think ‘This is the best! I’m going to get all this stuff my parents would never make!’” said Hayden. “But then you get your budget…we never ran out of money but I learned you have to make priorities.”

Hayden and his group also feasted on other new experiences such as sailing around Toronto Harbour. Back on land, excursions to downtown shopping malls and the Science Centre gave Hayden the chance to become a little more comfortable taking public transit.

“When you navigate around the city as a disabled person you have to think about things other people don’t think about – accessibility, how much time you need to spend…you’ve got to make a plan and try to stick to it,” he said.

“Part of being a young adult is spontaneity, but with a disability you’ve got to have a plan.”

Wicked workshops

When Hayden and his group weren’t hitting the town, they were taking part in workshops like managing money, how to do laundry, time management and arranging travel.

“There were skills I picked up that really helped me out,” he said. “I feel more confident and I feel less anxious about things like going places and taking the bus.”

Hayden’s dream is to live right in Toronto’s downtown core. He likes the action and the energy. He pictures living with a couple of roommates just like during TIP. And his plan is to make that move soon after he finishes his degree.

“But to be honest, I don’t know if I can wait that long,” he admitted.