February 14, 2014
Story and photo by Sherri Gallant
If you’ve ever been to Chinook Regional Hospital, you may have met Tim Hamilton. Like the other volunteers here, Tim wears a volunteer lanyard and vest, but he’s best known as the upbeat fellow in the wheelchair with the terrific sense of humour.
If Tim helps you find the X-ray department or escorts you to Day Procedures, he’ll take you right to the desk to ensure you arrive safely. And if he makes you feel special, well, you’re just one of thousands of patients whose day he’s brightened over the 25,000 hours he’s logged to date as a volunteer at the hospital.
Tim, who has cerebral palsy, was one of the first volunteers who signed on after the regional hospital opened in late 1988, only a few months before he started helping out early in 1989. He still puts in about 30 hours a week.
“Tim was one of the first volunteers in our volunteer program back in the late ’80s,” says Judi Reed, South Zone Manager, Volunteer Services. “His dedication and commitment over the years is stellar. Thank you Tim!”
He jokes about being a “glorified tour guide” but takes pride in his role.
“If you have somewhere you need to go, I’m the guy who will get you there,” he says with a smile. “Being a volunteer helps me get out in the community and sell my positive attitude. It helps me, personally, to give one-on-one service. It’s priceless. A volunteer can help in many different ways, and I also like to be an advocate for the disabled.”
The 54-year-old was a keynote speaker last fall at an event held in Lethbridge for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. He explains why he takes issue with the word ‘handicapped’.
“A cute-looking girl has a handicap, because she has to fight off all the boys,” he says. “Whereas a special-needs person just requires some sort of special equipment to be mobile.”
He would like employers to hire more special-needs staff and work closely with them to understand what they require in the workplace.
“They should work together on building their accessibility,” he says. “For example, are the offices or washrooms that are marked ‘disabled friendly’ really disabled friendly? It’s important to pay attention to accessible building design.
“I want to challenge the able-bodied person to work with a special-needs person, because I’ve learned through experience that a special-needs person can often be more responsible.”
Tim lived with his parents most of his life, until their health deteriorated. Now that they’ve passed on, he resides at an assisted living facility in Lethbridge.
“I love it there,” he says. “I’m just having a ball.”