July 15, 1996
This week we are featuring a true story written by Dave Barefoot of Hamilton, Ontario. He gives a touching account of his life, and he reveals some of the feelings he went through during his childhood and adulthood, as he recounts....
I want to tell people what I have been through. I want people to know what it is like living in a wheelchair. Listen to my story.
I was born in Oshawa, Ontario in 1948. I was the second child of my parents, Douglas and Audrey Barefoot. Just before I was born, my mother fell and was rushed to the hospital. The doctor saved my mom while an intern saved me. I was injured at birth. The cord was wrapped around my neck so oxygen was not getting to my brain. It affected one side of my body.
I remember when I went to kindergarten. I was in a wheelchair but I liked school. At first, school was easy but after awhile it became more difficult to learn, especially reading.
I liked the outdoors and playing with my brothers and sister. I remember in the summertime squirting each other with the hose. My older brother would push me in my wheelchair for footraces and baseball. I also remember fishing with my Dad and my brothers.
My brothers, Wayne and Jim and my sister Cheryl, were good to me. I didn't know why they could walk and I could not walk. I didn't know why I was in a wheelchair. I figured God put me here for some special reason. Now I know, it is to make people understand people like me.
During this time, I had been selected to attend the Crippled Children's Center at Woodeden. This was like a camp. The most amazing thing for me was to learn that there were other children like me in a wheelchair. I had thought that I was the only one.
When I was twelve years old, my family had to put me in an institution, Smith's Falls Hospital School. I was in the institution for 18 years until I was 30 years old. I had many good memories but I also have some unpleasant memories of the institution. A good memory was my first girlfriend. She was very special to me. We would go to shows and to dances together. When I was with her, we were just like everyone else. We would talk, laugh, fight, make-up and be good friends with one another. One day her Dad came to the institution and decided that he wanted her home with him and not in the institution anymore. So she left. I felt very hurt and lonely inside. At the institution, I lived in a large ward. There was no privacy. That was one of the most difficult things for me. We lived in a very regimented schedule every day.
During the weekends, there were sometimes groups of highschool and college students who would come and visit with us. They would take us to different places. I especially liked going to the movies. I made some very nice friends with these students.
As I said, the most difficult thing for me was the lack of privacy. There were always people around me. When I was thirty, I moved to Hamilton on the mountain. I had my own room but I shared the washroom with the man next to me. I lived there for ten years.
During this time, I became involved in the Special Olympics. I wanted to prove to myself and to my mom that I could do something special. I practiced archery every day. In 1978, I went to my first games. My first win came in 1981 when I broke the record for the most points scored in archery. I participated in the games for six years. 1984 was the last year I participated in the games. The games were held in New York City. My mom, brother and aunt were there to cheer me on. I won the gold medal in archery. My family was very proud of me.
Now, I want to learn to read. So with the help of my tutor through the Literacy Council, I am going to prove to myself that I can do it.
I wanted to live by myself. I wanted to be boss of my own life. I needed a chance to be like everyone else. So I moved to my own apartment on Jarvis Street in downtown Hamilton. Now, I have my own apartment. I am in control of my own life !!
[Published with permission from the Hamilton Literacy Link, summer 1996]