Supporting families from the very beginning
When it comes to Special Needs Advisors, Shirley McGuire is an original. Her first connection with CUPW was interviewing parents for the 1996 study, In Our Way, which looked at the workplace barriers for families who have children with special needs. The study gave birth to the Special Needs Project, and soon thereafter Shirley became an advisor.
“I thought the study was interesting but also thought it was just going to end up gathering dust somewhere,” she says. “Instead it turned into a project that was forward looking and innovative.”
Thirteen years later, Shirley has developed strong connections with many of the parents she calls three times a year to help with project forms, suggest resources, and touch base with.
“I talk with some of the parents from the time their children are very little. I get a sense of the children, their siblings and their parents, and grow up with them. It’s neat. And then [when they become too old for the project] they’re gone and it’s almost like a sadness.…I had one mum who I talked with as part of the study, and her son just aged out last year so I talked to her for almost 13 years.”
Shirley was also part of the CUPW think tank of parents and advisors who began the discussions around developing a project for postal worker families with adult sons and daughters with disabilities—the Moving On Project that exists today.
She has been interested in disability issues as far back as she can remember, and has worked in the field since 1976. The mother of two grown children, she is now semi-retired, having worked for the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living for 14 years as a respite coordinator and a family network coordinator. She now does some contract work for a number of disability organizations.
Shirley is passionate about valuing children with disabilities. Once a year, she co-ordinates a grief workshop for families whose children with special needs have died. “Sometimes people forget how much value the children have given to their families and the impact they have made on their families’ lives. They also forget they are part of society and society needs them as part of the fabric of a whole spectrum of people.”