Inclusion in the school system and activities that stretch beyond the classroom have dramatically broadened Miranda Yates’ horizons.
Born with Down syndrome, she was diagnosed in Grade 4 with Usher’s syndrome type 2, a degenerative eye disease that also involves stable hearing loss.
It was Shiva, her guardian, close friend and constant canine companion, who initially alerted the family to Miranda’s vision loss, said her mother, Barbara Yates.
The Colwood family found Shiva in Barkerville after doing a lot of research to find the right dog with the right training, and Miranda and the dog bonded immediately the moment they met.
“Shiva opened the door to many social connections for Miranda and provided more independence for her at school,” Yates said.
She and her husband lobbied long and hard to enable their daughter to remain in a regular classroom during her school years.
“There’s a difference between inclusion and integration,” Yates explained. “Integrating someone into the classroom doesn’t necessarily mean they are included. We had to fight for that inclusion.”
Because Miranda’s hearing difficulties weren’t diagnosed until Grade 4, the family also had to fight for educational assistants who knew sign language as well, Yates said.
Shiva accompanied Miranda to school and allowed her a new level of freedom, as well as helping her build solid friendships that will carry into her adult life that may not have otherwise been possible.
Now 19, Miranda has made remarkable strides since graduating from Belmont secondary in 2015. She followed that with a year at Royal Bay secondary, where she made the honour roll twice and was awarded a scholarship from the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
She has been gaining work experience at Winners in Westshore Town Centre and will begin a pre-employment program at Camosun College in January.
Miranda’s passion for sports includes Challengers baseball and kung fu, where she has earned a junior black belt. She also competes in Special Olympics, in both rhythmic gymnastics and snow shoeing. Miranda is especially passionate about her participation in para-equestrian events, including dressage and vaulting, where she regularly places in the top seven competing against riders with no disabilities.
“I love keeping busy and I really like horses,” she said with an infectious smile. “The one I ride now, Queen, is very special. She gives me a kiss every time.” Miranda trains twice a week and plans to compete in the B.C. Summer Games in 2020.
“I hope to bring a medal home,” she added enthusiastically.
She is also looking forward to attending Camosun – the plan is for her to ride the bus alone to school – and continuing to work at Winners. “I love meeting new people, and the people I work with are really nice.”
Her mother believes the connections she makes will carry into her adult life.
“There are already so many people out there who recognize her abilities and skill sets,” Yates said. “We’re always getting stopped for a chat.
“One thing my husband and I always looked at is that you can always learn a skill or academics, but it’s more important to develop the ability to advocate for yourself and have friends. You can be smart as a whip, but be isolated and lonely.”
As Yates is happy to acknowledge, that certainly isn’t the case with Miranda. “There are so many people to thank for where she is today,” she said, her mothers’ pride shining through.