Troy dipping his feet in the lake while sitting on a pier

With over 20 years of experience, Troy’s career as a chef saw him traveling the world and operating a successful catering business in Vancouver and later Ottawa, where he now lives. And there were some nice perks.

“I worked quite a bit, and I loved it,” he says. “There were so many times, where it was like, ‘Hey Troy, come up to the cottage for the weekend and you can do all the cooking,’ and I’m like, ‘Sure, why not?’ Vacation and get paid, all right.”

However, about four years ago he began having seizures, losing his balance, and eventually becoming unable to walk. After a long process, he was diagnosed with ataxia, a rare neurological degenerative disorder which affects the body’s motor skills, causing difficulty in speech and movement.

For about two years after the diagnosis, he lived in a nursing home, having been told he might never work again or live on his own. He decided to apply for independent living, however, and a month after applying moved out on his own.

Today, he doesn’t just cook most of his own meals, he shares his love of cooking with others. Since May 2021, he has worked with the Parkdale Food Centre, teaching cooking lessons, including a class for people with disabilities.

At the beginning – working with an online class – he found his computer skills were outdated.

“I haven’t used Windows in 10 years,” he says.

Una Wallace, his Vocational Counsellor at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, referred him to Neil Squire, which could help him with his digital literacy skills.

Troy first joined Neil Squire’s Digital Jumpstart program, where in particular, he needed help with Excel, so he could keep track of his clients, and help with emailing his clients. He also received a wireless keyboard.

“Everything was one-on-one, I didn’t feel like a number in any way,” he says. “I’m a lot better at it because of everything they showed me and went through with me, which is awesome. Helps me to do my job. We now have about 80 people that participate through the online classes, which is awesome.”

Working with Solutions occupational therapists and receiving funding through Working Together, Troy was also able to upgrade his working set-up, receiving adaptive utensils, a kitchen aid with slicer, and stainless sit/stand table built to accommodate a person in a wheelchair. He also received a transport board for pushing pots and pans on the counter made by Makers Making Change.

These tools allow him to work more safely and use less energy.

Troy says he would “absolutely” recommend others to Neil Squire.

“Neil Squire has helped me out a lot,” he shares. “The process from start to finish has been amazing, the level of willingness to help has been really great. People are available whenever you need them, it’s not ‘you need to be available at this time.’ It’s always been when are you free.

“It’s been great because through my work computer, I can access and do things I wouldn’t have known how to do. They would have had to hold hand, and say, ‘OK Troy, this is how you open this. Look at this. This is where you do this.’ I can do it myself, which I wouldn’t have been able to do before.”

With his new skills and tools, Troy looks forward to continuing to grow his classes and helping more people learn how to cook.

This post originally appeared on the Neil Squire website.