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'It's a mess': Why a single mom sits outside her daughter's Toronto school every day


Michelle Cousins can be found in her van, sitting down the street from her daughter's Toronto school, every day after following her on the bus route.

"I’m one who greets her when she gets off the bus. I help her get into the school. I help her take her coat off. I give her a kiss, and then I hop back in my van and find a parking spot,” she told CTV News Toronto.

Cousins waits in case her daughter calls to use the bathroom. Normally, educational assistants are charged with helping in such cases, but Cousins says she sacrifices her days because it is the best way to ensure her daughter’s modesty.

Her daughter, Colette Cousins, is 14 years old. She has arthrogryposis, which affects her mobility, and uses a wheelchair.

Cousins says she tried to flag issues last October before Colette was accepted to Marshal McLuhan Secondary School.

Colette was accepted in May, and an assessment was done in June by an occupational therapist.

It was then she was told adjustments and modifications based on the assessment would be done over the summer, Cousins said, and there would be two educational assistants to help with lifts and transfers in the fall.

“The day before school starts, that’s when I learn nothing has been done physically for her, in spite of all the recommendations—grab bars weren’t installed, the elevator company didn’t come in to inspect it and modify it,” she said.

Out of nine assistants, she was then told only two would be able to lift her daughter when needed.

Cousins says she also had to sign off for a fire evacuation plan before a fire drill, where her daughter would be left in a stairwell.

Michelle Cousins is seen in her van outside her daughter's school on Oct. 28, 2022.

"Students with disabilities are treated like an afterthought by a system not designed for them," said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

The longtime advocate was a member of the Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education Standards Development Committee, which was appointed in 2017 to draft recommendations for accessibility standards and best practices in all publicly-funded schools in Ontario.

The recommendations were presented to the Ministry of Education in February. The office for Minister Stephen Lecce says the ministry is working with the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility to review the findings.

Lepofsky says the province is sitting on its hands.

“Individual parents from one end of this province to another have to keep fighting those barriers one at a time,” he said.

Meantime, Cousins says she and Colette have proposed a solution to her occupational therapist to demonstrate Colette is capable of partially supporting herself, and would require different equipment that would allow only one person to lift her with less invasive results.

The problem now is finding a supplier for the equipment, waiting for it to get here, and training staff on the new regime, she said.

“Now we’re playing catchup,” she said. “Now, they’re working tirelessly—and I do believe individually they do care—but I just sit there and it’s just a mess.

“And I do know this is part of a larger problem. This is systemic.” Top Stories

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