The following story is shared by Shawn's mom, Elizabeth Fennelly.
As a family that lives with Deafblindness, we appreciate how the Blue Jays’ collaboration with Sensity gives families and individuals like us a chance to share in the excitement of cheering for a team, a life experience that often gets taken for granted.
The Rogers Centre organization did a magnificent job with Shawn. The staff was simply incredible with him, especially ACE and the MC. They were very patient and accommodating, working together to ensure that he had a wonderful experience. The players’ interactions with Shawn were a wholly unexpected surprise, and they were great role models! We were both surprised by, and so proud of our team, for, without any direction or explanation on our part, immediately engaging with Shawn rather than just his support team. We cannot tell you how heartwarming it was to see them recognize and interact with Shawn, the child that was so excited to be part of such a special event, rather than focusing on the ways in which Deafblindness influences his engagement. Shawn was in awe and the baseballs that the team members gave to him will be forever cherished! (In fact, he generally has to have at least one sitting on his bedside table at night before he will agree to go to bed.)
It was a great opportunity to bring attention to those living with Deafblindness in Canada. However, maybe what we are most delighted to have been able to share with the entire stadium is how excited, proud, joyful and incredible our children are. As a special needs parent, sometimes the fear that our children will be unable to fulfill the expectations set for them or will be misunderstood can be overwhelming. But it was so amazing, and such a relief, to realize that the only expectation that the Jays had for Shawn was his enjoying the event and, in so doing, raise awareness for Deafblindness in Canada. We think that the Blue Jays evidenced inspiring leadership, demonstrating how wonderful it is for every child to participate and being open to implementing the accommodation to ensure that participation. We are grateful for the Jays’ work with Sensity, and thankful for the continued social leadership represented by the organization.
On a personal note, Shawn will benefit from this experience greatly. As is often the case with children living with Deafblindess, Shawn navigates complex developmental delays as a result of his multi-sensory barriers.
Below is an excerpt from his mom’s thank you letter to the Toronto Blue Jays, describing how grateful she is for the opportunity they provided her son Shawn and the impact it has already made on their lives.
While we hoped that this event would open a new area of interest for Shawn, it has actually expanded his life in ways that we never even thought to hope for! Shawn’s Intervenor, using the pictures from this event, has helped Shawn discover and incorporate numerous new words and ideas. Shawn is so proud (a word that he signs constantly now) of having thrown the opening pitch and is eagerly communicating and engaging his family and friends in discussions about Ace, who Shawn was completely amazed by and enamored with. Shawn now signs ‘blue’, ‘bird’, ‘fuzzy’, ‘tall’, ‘gloves’ and fingerspells “ACE” when he sees his baseball cap, searching out YouTube videos of Blue Jays events, and talking about how he traveled to Toronto to the Rogers Centre, which he fingerspells. Shawn is very proud of his new jersey, and is learning to fingerspell the letters of his name on the back. He is very proud of the role that he played at the event, and has been motivated to try to find the signs to describe his experience, like “ball” and “throw” and about how he “walked” on the “not grass” and “felt hot lights” and it was “bright” and he “felt” the “noise”.
These are immense learning gains and concept developments. We will be able to mine this memory and the images for months, unlocking many new signs and concepts for him as a result. As his vocabulary improves, he is better able to communicate his wants and desires, and his behaviour calms. It is not an exaggeration to say that this event will have a profound influence on Shawn for the next several years.