by Stacy Dunn
Spinal Cord Injury PEI (SCI PEI) is a non-profit organization that offers programs and services to people with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities. The aim is to help people achieve independence and self-reliance, and to promote full community awareness and participation.
The organization just hired Sara Abu-Itham as its Seniors’ Navigator. In her role, she works with adults 55 years old and up who have a mobility impairment and their families. A Seniors’ Navigator specifically for persons with mobility disabilities is a first for PEI, based on a framework that comes from Ability New Brunswick.
“I help people to be as independent as possible, identifying needs and exploring options to meet those needs, and I help them attain their goals or develop plans for the future. It’s a person-centered approach.”
The two-year pilot project is funded in part by a federal government grant. Sara is currently gathering resources and making connections on the Island to see what is available to help older adults who acquired their disability through a spinal cord injury, stroke, amputation, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or at birth (i.e. cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy). She is also promoting more public awareness of the needs of older adults with mobility issues.
“Supports and resources can include equipment or technology, household supports or needs, connecting to the community, or building social networks,” she says. “Solutions could be around healthcare, accessible housing, transportation, skills development, education, volunteering, income support, employment, or recreation.”
The Navigator role
“Navigators in general are becoming much more common, I think, because people don’t know what’s out there, or where or how to access it,” Sara says. “People can live very meaningful lives, remain in their homes longer, or remain more independent if they connect to programs and services they may not have otherwise known about.”
Prior to joining SCI PEI, Sara worked with the Alzheimer Society in Ontario and PEI, where she provided support and education to individuals living with dementia, caregivers, and families for many years. Sara also has experience working in various community settings including retirement homes, palliative care, and other community agencies. She has a bachelor’s degree in Family Science as well as a Social Service Worker Gerontology diploma.
“I have always been passionate about working with older adults. As the population ages, the need for programs and services for seniors is becoming much greater. It’s important for older adults to be seen as valuable members of our society. It is important to continue to maintain a good quality of life and still have access to programs and opportunities.”