After a number of years of research and development, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario officially launched our Cortree Disability Education Centre in 2019. The vision was to produce relevant, reliable and accessible information on issues related to living with an SCI and other physical disabilities, as well as disability training for clinicians and businesses. Course content is curated by SCIO with contributions by peers, health care professionals and industry experts. As one of the peers chosen to participate in the production of a Cortree course, I can say this program is just what the doctor ordered!
In fact, I wish Cortree had been available at the early stage of my injury. At the time when I was an inpatient in 2003, I do not recall attending education sessions during my rehab. It was offered here and there but, like many inpatients that were new to the trauma, we were not in the right state of mind to learn anything, especially when educational products were not conveniently available. I went home without knowing what a pressure sore is, what neuropathic pain is, how to prevent and manage a UTI, etc. As a result, I learned everything the hard way by having to experience all these dangerous medical complications. Among them, having a pressure sore because of an ill-fitting wheelchair was definitely something that could have been prevented if I knew better. Like me, many of our users are finding the information they need and are enthusiastically recommending Cortree.
Topics and course content are chosen as a result of research with our own community and other leaders in the field. “We understand that knowledge and education are keys to living a healthy and active life,” says Tory Bowman, Director of Knowledge Exchange for SCIO and Managing Director of Cortree. “We wanted Cortree to be a place where the community’s voice was heard loud and clear, where people could find resources they can trust and that would protect their health and strengthen their lives.”
The first Cortree course designed and launched was Choosing a Wheelchair, which features my own videotaped story. A properly fitted wheelchair is the most fundamental device that affects someone’s quality of post-injury life. We understood that many newly injured people were passive participants in getting a custom-made wheelchair because they weren’t quite ready to make such an important decision. As a result, some would end up with a wheelchair that wasn’t ideal for them, which they were then stuck with for at least five years. This Cortree course features stories and tips shared by peers and information provided by an occupational therapist with years of experience in this area. Course users have shared that the concrete information and storytelling by those who’ve been there have helped them play an active role in the wheelchair prescription process.
Subsequently, we developed eight courses with that same purpose in mind. Current topics in the Cortree catalogue include: Accessible Technology, Bladder Surgery, Preventing and Treating Pressure Sores, Vehicle Modification, Sex and Disability, Nutrition and Kitchen Accessibility, Choosing a Wheelchair, Getting Back On the Road and Living with Chronic Pain. The process is cyclical in that we take questions from our community through the Cortree platform or SCIO’s InfoLine and then offer answers to Frequently Asked Questions, including some recent submissions:
- What are the funding sources for equipment?
- How do I apply for subsidized housing?
- Where can I get free legal aid?
- How can I stay physically active?
- How do I build a temporary ramp?
New content for Cortree is being developed all the time according to the needs of our community and to generate income for SCIO’s services and programs. Cortree has always been free to SCIO’s registered community members with an SCI, their family members and program clients and, in response to COVID-19, is now being offered without cost to everyone.
The program offers a full package of disability training to business and clinician customers, and just recently produced a comprehensive training program for attendants working with people with SCI. Mediation services is a new offering that we’ll promote as it develops. The Cortree team has expanded to keep up with the need and opportunities. Tory heads up a skilled and enthusiastic group: Project Manager Susan Willis, Manager, Mediation and Training Services Sharol Cordner and Learning Architect Marty Doupe, as well as myself and Oda Al-anizi, Information and Resource Specialists.
SCIO’s Board of Directors and CEO Stuart Howe set out three clear objectives in our 2017-2022 strategic plan: expand our impact across Ontario; amplify our community’s voice; and share knowledge. Cortree hits all three. “It’s an honour to produce work that really meets a need,” says Tory. “We can reach people wherever they are, on topics they want to learn about, with content that’s been created with people who’ve lived that experience. It’s a powerful package.”
Learn more and register now!