#009: Helen Ries – Siblings empowering siblings with a disability

May 23, 2017

siblings empowering siblings with a disability with helen ries

This week’s guest is a fellow sibling, Helen Ries, from Ottawa, Ontario. Helen is a community builder, consultant, sibling caregiver and author of “Ontario Leaves Many Persons with Disability Trapped in Poverty” and a manifesto for “The Family Arm of the Disability Movement”.  In this episode, Helen shares her story of becoming her brother’s primary care-giver, or as we coin in the episode – ‘go-to person’. Helen shares the challenges of learning the ‘system’, forming a plan, getting resources, handling stress, and dealing with grief alongside her brother Paul after the passing of both of their parents. Like many of our parents, Helen’s were pioneers and paved the way for Paul to have a full life in an inclusive community. However, after their passing, it has been a difficult journey. Helen explains how she had to fit all the pieces together herself because she wasn’t included in informing the plans her parents had laid out for Paul. 

There have also been many positives and enlightening moments on Helen’s journey, like learning more about who she is and becoming more patient and understanding. Helen tells a story of how she and Paul fell into a pattern of fighting on Saturdays, every couple of Saturday’s they would have a ‘blow-out’. Finally, Helen had enough. She dug deep, and took a much different approach than she ever had before; instead of arguing back, she said “Paul you know, you are my best friend and I really love you, and I don’t want to fight”. The fight stopped cold in it’s tracks. This is a fantastic story about the power that love has in the face of anger and fear. After reflecting on Helen’s story, I encourage all of us to ask, “how can we use love to change our relationships?”

So if you are a sibling that wants to help your brother and sister, where do you start? Helen and I agree that it is best to get involved early and open the lines of communication with your family. Ask to be included in the planning process because more than likely you are going to be the one implementing and managing the plan. These conversations can be hard, but they can also be very empowering. Start the dialogue and enrol the resources that you may have available, such as the tools provided by PLAN, P4P, Lifetime Networks Ottawaindependent facilitators, and estate planning service providers.

Over the past year, Helen and her coalition has been advocating for the amendment the Ontario Disability Support Pension (ODSP) to increase assets that ODSP receivers can hold ($5,000), and increase the amount an individual can receive as a gift ($6,000 over 12 months). On April 27, 2017, the Ontario budget for 2017 announced an increase in assets to $40,000 and an increase of the gift limit from $6,000 to $10,000. These increases are a step in the right direction, and there is still more work to be done. A big thank you to Helen and her coalition for helping Ontarians on ODSP to live more financially stable lives. 

What you will learn in this episode:

– Hear Helen’s story as a sibling ‘care-giver’

– Learn why it is important for siblings to be a part of family planning

– Learn how siblings can empower their families with conversation and tools

– Learn how Helen is changing Ontario policy, and how you can support.

How to contact Helen Ries:

Website: helenries.ca

Website: gifts-assets.ca

Contact Helen: [email protected]

Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Ontario Independent Facilitation Network OIFN.ca

Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) Click Here 

P4P Click Here

A Manifesto for The Family Arm of the Disability Movement” by Helen Ries Click Here

Ontario Leaves Many Persons with Disability Trapped in Poverty by Helen Ries Click Here

Facebook Groups for Siblings 

Canada – Click Here

USA – Click Here

Love & Respect,


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