5 Minutes with Jacob

Jacob in shorts and a polo shirt, with a prosthetic leg

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I’m Jacob. I’m 21 and currently studying Political Science at Toronto University. I am Canadian, although I consider myself Can-Asian, as my mother is Canadian but my father is from India.

I grew up in Vancouver, where my parents still live and love getting home whenever I can.

I love athletics and am currently training for a place in the Canadian Paralympic team, I’ve won 100m gold and silver twice in national competitions and so I’m hopeful I can represent my home country.

I have a partner, Luis, who I met at university. I’m very lucky because he’s great about the amount of my non-study time I spend training. When we do get time together, we like to get out exploring; Niagara is one of our favourite places for a day trip. It’s not all work and no play in Toronto either, I’m not much of a drinker, but I still enjoy a good party and so I tend to stick to soda and be the taxi for my friends.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

No problem. I lost my right leg above the knee and some of my hearing when I was 13 years old. I wasn’t paying attention and walked out in front of a car. I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was at the time, in fact I really struggled to come to terms with some of the changes to start with, but when I look back now, I really do feel lucky to be alive and I’m determined to make the most of it.

To be honest, I don’t really think of myself as disabled, although I know I kind of tick the boxes to say I am. There aren’t many times I feel any different to my friends, in fact I often say my running leg performs much better than my left one.

The only difference I guess is the controls on my car. I drive with just my left foot and so I have my gas and brake pedals the opposite way round to most people. It’s cool though, as I have another gas pedal on the other side which means they can easily be swapped, you just flip one up and the other comes down, so we can share the driving on road trips.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

The main thing that comes to my mind is making people aware of the assumptions they make and how patronising some comments can feel. I still get people approaching me from nowhere asking “what happened?” and saying things like “oh my god, I feel so sorry for you”. There’s nothing to feel sorry for, you didn’t push me in front of the car and actually my life’s really good. Ironically, I didn’t even get in to running until after my rehabilitation and I love it. I think people mean to be supportive, so I guess it’s a case of giving them some help on how to have the conversation.

It’s even worse when people try to avoid looking at my prosthetic or mentioning it at all. I mean, I don’t expect someone to say “Hi my name is, what happened to your leg?”, but I’m really cool once I get to know someone a little if they have any questions around what happened or the types of prosthetics I have. I’m really proud of my latest running leg, thanks to my sponsors, and I’m sure my mom and dad are also grateful that it wasn’t their credit card this time.

I’d also like to include something on not having everyone speak at the same time. My hearing isn’t so bad, but if more than one person is speaking close to me, I sometimes find it hard to follow a conversation. I have sometimes pretended I was following just to make life easier, which isn’t so great and can come back to bite you on the butt.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

It’d be great if I could buy just one shoe from a store. Not just because of dollars wasted, but it’s not great for the environment just throwing out a shoe from each pair. I have seen some stories of people sharing shoes, but I’m yet to find someone with only a right foot who is the same size as me. Recently I had some single running shoes made for me, also thanks to my sponsor, which made me feel like a real pro (professional).

It would also be great to be able to hire an adapted car when travelling. I don’t think my controls are so unusual, yet when I took a trip to Europe in the summer I couldn’t find a hire car I could drive. I was offered hand controls by more than one company, but I have no idea how to use them.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

I don’t really have any issues because of mobility at home. In fact, I tend to wear my leg a lot less when I’m just chilling in my room and I still do what I need to just fine.
It would probably be more difficult if I didn’t have a separate shower, I know some friends who have to climb into a bathtub to shower, but I don’t even have a bathtub so it works for me.

I’m not really a gamer, but Luis is, so if we play together online I use noise cancelling headphones as I find they help me hear everything going on. That’s it really.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

I would love to make good prosthetics far more affordable. I know from some forums there are people who either can’t get a prosthetic at all or have one that gives them pain, just because they don’t have the money to buy what they need. It also limits sports and things, as you need specific types of legs to compete.

My second choice would have to be more global equality. In Canada we’re very lucky with the equipment we can buy and the specialists we have. I know from my family in India that it’s not so easy there and in some areas really restricted.  I’m sure there are a lot of countries where equipment, specialist doctors and companies who support different needs are hard to find and accessibility shouldn’t be based on your zip code or your bank balance.

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