Every year, two young people are selected to represent Easter Seals Ontario as provincial ambassadors. This year, one of the youth chosen for that honour is Bradford student, Niki Tokhi.
The Easter Seals Ambassador Program empowers young people with physical disabilities to discover what makes them remarkable while fostering self-confidence and lifelong skills such as networking and public speaking.
Tokhi, a Grade 7 student at Fieldcrest Elementary School, is a confident young woman who was born with Musculocontractural Elhers-Danlos syndrome (mcEDS), a rare genetic disorder that affects her connective tissues and thus her mobility by making her body fragile and prone to injury.
“As someone with a disability, I have a lived experience with ableism, accessibility barriers, and accommodations," said Tokhi. “When I found out about Easter Seals and what they do, I wanted to apply."
Tokhi said there are two sets of interviews and when she got selected for the second interview she told herself "you’re going to be an ambassador."
She said shortly after, an official with the organization called to give her the good news.
"We were really happy. My mom and dad were very proud of me," she explained.
Easter Seals Ontario is a charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth with long-term physical disabilities. Since 1922, the organization has provided essential programs and services to families across the province. They also want to break down barriers and provide the support and resources these individuals need to reach their full potential and achieve their goals.
The Ambassador Program began in 1947. The goal is to help children and youth with disabilities to develop their leadership and public speaking skills, discover their ability to advocate for themselves.
Another objective is to bring awareness to local issues with regards to accessibility and support for those with disabilities. When asked about what concerns her locally in Bradford with regards to those with disabilities, Tokhi said the town needs more accessible buildings and more ramps in the area around sidewalks.
"Most importantly, more accessible walk-in clinics," she said. "My sister lost her ability to walk a couple years ago, and when she goes to the clinic there is a big step and its wobbly and there isn’t a ramp. I would like to have more accessible options in the future.”
Tokhi also discussed the social needs of families dealing with disabilities and the importance of connecting with others in established groups.
“I used to live in Richmond Hill and we had this big group of friends with my mom and all of their kids had disabilities. I know kids in Bradford who have disabilities, but there isn’t a group set up for us to connect with," she said.
Tokhi lives in Councillor Joseph Giordano’s Ward 4. When asked about Niki being one of the two ambassadors in the province he said he couldn't be more proud.
“I met a lot of people on the campaign trail. When I was told one of Bradford’s own was chosen to be ambassador, I knew who it was right away," said Giordano. "Niki is a born leader. I reached out to Scot Davidson, our MP, and he is super excited about this. Between the Town of Bradford, the County of Simcoe, all of us are super excited."
Giordano also commented on some accessibility plans coming to Bradford in the near future.
"Council is currently designing the grass area beside the library to be transformed into an accessible area with pathways and areas for large events," he said. "It will be a place where we can all gather together and be fully accessible.”
Tokhi will make her first official in-person appearance as provincial ambassador at the 72nd Rogers Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction on March 29th at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.
“As an ambassador, I am the face of Easter Seals Ontario," she said. "When I grow up I want to help people. I want to be a dermatologist so I can help people.”
To learn more about Tokhi see her intro video here.