Recently, I was asked to participate in the Friends of the Senate program. It was graduation time — a touching time where high school students in the program receive small gifts from the Senate. But the gift that keeps on giving are the students themselves. These are students with physical and intellectual disabilities. There are sensory, mobility or learning impairments.
The Friends of the Senate program gives these students a good starting point, but in my view, senators should become more involved once graduation is over. Why should anyone be left behind? We live in a world of inclusion. Just opening up a door a little wider allows the opportunity for lifelong learning — an opportunity to access full- or part-time employment.
This is a human rights issue — one where we all have the moral and social responsibility to give just a little more of our time. After all, what is it? It's just time — time to help break down the social and physical barriers these young people face every day.
Six years ago, I met one of the students at a graduation from the Friends of the Senate program. His name is Michael Hurley-Trinque. I may be Michael's boss, but he has become one of my best friends.
Michael is 28 years old and has been working with me for some time. And what a time we have! He has Down syndrome. As a child, he was confined to a wheelchair but Michael has never allowed his disability to get in the way of who he really is — a loving person who loves to work in my office. There are certainly no mobility issues today as he goes about his tasks. He has become an integral part of my office and has gained a Senate family in the process. He even refers to me as his "Boss Dad."
As a senator, I believe my role extends beyond simply employing someone with a disability, to reaching out and working with others in the disability community. With that in mind, I work with many groups including Special Olympics Canada and organizations dealing with autism.
My inspiration comes from being the father of young boy born with Down syndrome. Timothy James Alexander Munson passed away before his first birthday, but what didn't die was his spirit. And it is his spirit that motivates me in all that I do in the Senate.
It is my hope that the Friends of the Senate program embodies that spirit and more. I hope that other senators take up my challenge to find a place in their office for someone with a physical or intellectual disability. After all — it only takes time.