All Access Life awarded the inaugural Simon Chang Difference Maker Award, sponsored by Roadrunner Apparel Inc.
Dan O’Connor and Bradley Heaven held an outdoor gaming day to test new programs for their YouTube channel.
(Photo courtesy of All Access Life)
All Access Life pave the way for others living with a disability
By Cindy Davis
In 2010, Bradley Heaven was just starting the seventh grade at John Rennie High School. Born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him non-verbal and confined to a wheelchair, he required a full-time aid to assist him in his studies and day-to-day life. At the time, Dan O’Connor was a 19-year old figuring out his next steps when he first heard about the job posting. At first, O’Connor was apprehensive about applying for the position as he had never worked in the field, but after some encouragement from others, he took the plunge – and the rest is history.
“We clicked on the first day,” said O’Connor. “Within a week or two into our journey, I was able to read Brad really well by just a few head gestures. We’ve basically been attached ever since.”
O’Connor accompanied Heaven to high school daily, and when he graduated in 2015, O’Connor was faced with a difficult decision: to pursue his own dream of becoming an occupational therapist, or to continue on as Heaven’s aid while he studied social sciences at Dawson. He chose the latter. “It was a huge relief for me,” said Heaven through his Tobii 4C eye tracker, which, through a Surface Book 2 tracks his eye movements to produce speech. The Tobii 4C was gifted to Heaven last year by the March of Dimes Canada.
Throughout the years, the pair saw massive changes in technology that would consistently improve Heaven’s quality of life, and they were inspired to come up with a way to share their findings with others. They took a website development course, and created All Access Life, a website that acts as a one-stop shop for the latest trends in accessible technology, apps and information. They also created their own YouTube channel to post product reviews. Their first post, a review of the Xbox adaptive controller, garnered over 1 million views. “It really blew up,” said O’Connor. “It kind of skyrocketed us on YouTube.”
They have since developed a following by reviewing products regularly and are regarded as trusted voices in their field. Their light-hearted rapport and banter in the videos make them fun to watch and shows a genuine friendship between the two.
O’Connor says that his work with Heaven has been gratifying on many levels.
“We educate people on what products are out there, which can give them a better life. We also realize that there is a stigma attached to disability, so for people to see Brad having fun playing videos, or out about town, does dispel a lot of the myths attached. People sometimes talk to Heaven as though he is a baby or doesn’t understand, but in our videos, you get to see that that’s not the case. He has a larger than life personality and enjoys things like everybody else – he just uses the resources to give him a voice and to be able to do certain things.”
Their short-term goal is to generate enough income to expand to a studio and hire professional coders and graphic designers who can help with their growth. Long term, the duo would like to open their own headquarters where people could test accessible products before buying them. Meanwhile, they continue to inspire and educate.
Though the pandemic kept the two apart at first, Heaven used the time to learn a program that enables him to draw using his eyes. His first drawing was a picture of himself with O’Connor. During this time, he also received the Lieutenant Governor’s Youth Medal and graduated from Dawson College. When some of the restrictions around COVID-19 lifted, the two thought of creative ways to continue posting YouTube videos by setting up outdoor gaming days and activities. Now, as Heaven continues to take university prerequisite courses online, the two look forward to many future projects together.
Heaven and O’Connor are excited and honoured to be the first recipients of the Simon Chang Difference Maker Award.They plan to use the Amazon gift card they will receive courtesy of Roadrunner Apparel Inc. to purchase filming supplies - including a camera, lighting, and backdrops - to improve the quality of their videos. They also plan to run a marathon, with O’Connor running and pushing Heaven in his new adaptive jogging stroller next year and will use any remaining funds to purchase needed supplies. “I will run 41K and Brad will finish the race in his gait trainer.”
Simon Chang was moved by All Access Life and their mission, and was inspired to award Heaven and O’Connor with the inaugural Simon Chang Difference Maker Award. “A ‘Difference Maker’ is someone who recognizes that they have a special talent and feels compelled to share it. Brad and Dan are being acknowledged because they are people who think outside the box,” said Chang. “The only true way to understand someone’s obstacles in life is to walk in their shoes. Dan has been sharing Brad's shoes for some time now and understands how they fit. A personal need has led them both on an incredible journey of discovery and, in turn, has made them experts in their special field. By sharing their experience and knowledge, together, they are helping others and changing lives. To me, this not only deserves to be recognized but it must be celebrated.”
For more information visit www.allaccesslife.org.
To nominate a Difference Maker, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Heaven’s drawing of the duo that he created while in lockdown. (Photo courtesy of All Access Life)