3 min Read

Interview with Dr. Ann Syme

Accessibility comes in many forms. From assistive technology, to city planning, to architecture, to language and the ways by which we communicate. One such vitally important aspect of accessibility is healthcare; to get a better sense of what that care means to providers and where care can be improved, we spoke with Dr. Ann Syme of Langara College.

Before she became the head of the Nursing Program at Langara, before she finished her degree, Dr. Ann Syme was a volunteer at Bloorview Hospital in Toronto. She seized opportunity to work as a recreational therapist for children with disabilities, and this turned out to be the first step in her long career in health care.

Optimal health

What Dr. Syme brought up early on in our conversation was the idea of optimal health. Care that aims not to treat a condition or injury, but care that aims to enrich all areas of a person’s life.

“As nurses,” says Dr. Syme, “what we’ve tried to do is get involved with them to know sort of what the context of their life is, and how it is that we can make whatever it is that is important to them and living their life – whether that’s going to school or working or just, you know, socializing or playing depending on their age – that they can do those things in a way that gives them a full life.”

And this commitment to helping someone is no idle thing. As Dr. Syme points out, health care for people with disabilities tends to be a long term arrangement.

“The people that you connect with, generally are people that you continue to connect with,” says Dr. Syme. “And so they’re people in your life, like family almost. And so there needs to be that kind of sensibility and relationship. The people who get attracted to this work are people who are like that. So it’s not your alarm nurses, you know, whether it’s nurses, it’s physicians, it’s people who really want to get into that more humanistic interpersonal side of things, because you can’t do this work without doing it.”

Room to improve

As with all things, however, there are problems. When it comes to the healthcare system here in B.C., Dr. Syme points to the difficulty accessing vital information.

“One of the worst things with our health system is navigation. And I’ll say that quite clearly,” says Dr. Syme. “The word ‘access,’ you’ll see in just about every policy document. And what they’re talking about, generally speaking, is access in the way of, you know, do you have an MRI in Vanderhoof, that’s ‘access’ to the policymakers. What we’re talking about is is human navigation.”

Building compassion

When it comes to events like the National AccessAbility week, Dr. Syme sees the difference they can make in public awareness and compassion.

“The greater social awareness we have, the more humane society we’ll have, you know, and let’s face it, we need it as much as we can these days,” says Dr. Syme. “When we’re at our best as human beings, it may actually make us stop and think about it. And to stop and think about other people and how we could be helpful, and to stop and think and be a bit grateful for what we have.”

“Even between that one person making that one little bit of difference to that one person in that moment. If we all did that, just once a day. Would the world change? Yes. It would.”