Does Pride Trump Dignity?

“Self respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

One of the demons I have been battling of late is the issue of dignity versus pride.  I have been told that sometimes I let my pride get in my way while others have accused me of having no pride.  I answer that by saying without pride there is no respect and without respect there is no dignity.  I have done many things in my life that I am very proud of but, I am no saint, and have also had my share of less than dignified moments.

I have been an activist for fifty years and I am very proud of that.  I am proud that I was able to compete as a brash unruly teenager in the first Canadian Wheelchair Games (Montreal 1967), a time when accessibility was just a word.  In 1967 airline regulations restricted the number of wheelchair dependent passengers allowing two per flight.  I’m proud to have been part of that and the awareness it brought.  This resulted in the review and revision of flight regulations which had an added benefit of broadening a dignified way to travel.

Fifty years later we have a proud Paralympian having their dignity denied because of some misunderstanding over the rights of the disabled?  More incremental erosion.  When you are ask to leave an establishment because your wheelchair poses a “fire threat” it is your dignity that is threatened.  An apology the next day might make the establishment feel better but does little for the loss of dignity to the Paralympian.  Without some dignity in your life it becomes easy to be bitter and a life full of bitterness is a life wasted.

I’ve had my own experience with the whole “fire threat” scenario and it didn’t feel good. The pride I felt for my son’s grade 12 graduation exercise was denied me for the very same reason.  The school didn’t have a ticket for me and they were already over the number of attendees allowed under the fire code.

I had four years of involvement so for them to be unprepared for a wheelchair dependent parent posing “a potential barrier to a fire emergency” just didn’t sit well with me.

The short-term pain of accepting a truth is much better than the long term pain of believing an illusion

It would have been less dignified if I had pushed the issue and I didn’t want to embarrass my son in front of his peers.  Almost fifteen years later and that still sits in the back of my mind.  I had driven up from Victoria to Cobble Hill to attend that ceremony and had my dignity ripped away in front of other parents by being refused entrance. All that was going through my mind at the time was “don’t let your pride get in the way”, today is about Sean’s pride over graduating.

I did the half hour drive back to Victoria knowing I would never know the pride of watching my son graduate but when do you let pride trump your dignity?

Growing up in a hospital environment puts a different spin on dignity.  By the time the cognitive nature of dignity begins to develop the bar is already low.  You have generally been poked and prodded by so many medical professionals dignity is a different norm.  Every August from the age of 6 I would be booked into what was referred to as “grand rounds” at the Children’s Hospital.  Grand rounds was the indication you were going to be admitted for some type of surgery and schooling for the year.

I would be put on an examination table with a half dozen or so doctors, another half dozen interns and a handful of nurses.  All I would be wearing was a loincloth that would have embarrassed Tarzan.  However to me it was exciting because grand rounds meant admission and the hospital was my home.  My doctor, Dr. Vince Murphy, would have me on the examination table and he would start explaining what surgical process he wanted to attempt while those in attendance asked various questions.  There was no dignity to that but I was 7 or 8 years old and looking forward to “coming home”.  The last thing on my mind was dignity or pride.

The closes I ever got to the concept of dignity was that it was a word you would hear the nurses use as they wrapped up the kid who had died in the bed next to me.  So the foundations for dignity was more like putting turf over the ground rather than actually planting grass seeds.  Back to pride.

I take great pride in the activism I have been involved with most of my life in the ongoing fight for access and civil rights.  That’s pride and something I will never be ashamed of or feel a lack of dignity for.  What impacts my dignity is when I go out with friends to a restaurant and wind up shitting my pants because the “accessible” bathroom (if there is one) is also the storage area for mops and cleaning materials which couldn’t be emptied in time.  Nothing like an hour long drive home sitting on a pile of shit.

Loss of dignity happens when you have to eat your meal off the top of a stool because all of the tables in the restaurant are bar type tables.  You know damn well the last thing to have touch your eating area was someone’s ass and the staff don’t have enough common sense to put a place mat on the stool top.

Loss of dignity is when you ask the server for a cloth napkin (so you can put it over the stool seat they haven’t bothered to put a place mat over) and they ask the people you’re with if I had forgotten my “bib” at home.  These are all real and have all happened in the last six months so it isn’t ancient history to me.  those attitudes are still there.  So much for the pride of fighting for reasonable access while trying to increase positive attitudes regarding disabilities.

With Christmas quickly coming upon us this is even more of a problem.  Now this is where dignity and pride clash.  I use to host or attend “waif” Christmas meals.  A waif meal is a gathering of like minded people but that have no family attachments in the area.  We would get together just to enjoy Christmas with others around.  I’ve now reach a physical state (and age) where that is really no longer an option.  The waif’s of today are 45 years younger than me and doing their own thing.

This opens the door for well meaning people to feel the need to invite me to their family gathering with the understanding that no one should be alone at Christmas.  I can appreciate that however there isn’t a lot of dignity being stuck in a corner of a room that was never designed for wheelchair maneuverability.  I know they mean well however most people have no idea about the logistics of this type of event.  How crowded will the room be?  Is there a bathroom that is workable?  Do they understand the configuration to get a wheelchair up to a table build for 8 but serving 12 (which is the types of family Christmas I remember)?

It’s not a matter of my pride being in the way but I hate to insult people.  I have learnt over the years to just tell people “plans are made but thanks for the thought”.  It’s easier, it may be prideful but it does protect my dignity.  Social isolation is a choice to me not a condition of survival…



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When Independence Isn’t Worth It…

The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.” – Pat Miller (from Willfully Ignorant)

Choosing Ignorance

Why is it so much easier to choose ignorance rather than accept fact…

I choose the above quote based on my topic today.  It is very personal and very true.  I know too many people who are not paying attention and the marginalized are paying the price.

It has not been a good couple of months and I have been fighting a lot of demons. Those demons are created by the discovery of the quiet erosion of hard fought for gains.  I am becoming increasingly aware of how many programs that were developed in the 80’s and 90’s have now quietly been stripped away.  Lack of proper access has led to social isolation and I find myself becoming increasingly bitter.  Bitterness accomplishes absolutely nothing and when you are socially isolated you need to get that venom out before you are poisoned.  It’s time to start writing again.

CONFESSION TIME – I survived polio at age 3 and  have fought for my independence all of my life. I fought hard as an activist for civil rights in general with a major focus on disability rights and, in particular, #access rights.  Hitting retirement I am discovering there are new realities. The modest amount I had put away for retirement does not keep up with the rental market.  Every time someone ignores #accessible living others pay the price, in part, due to so many peoples belief that “there are programs there to help”. WRONG.

I worked all of my life and put as much away as possible for retirement.  Unfortunately the long term wear and tear on my body forced me into retirement early so I started collecting Canada Pension Disability at 58.  What many people don’t understand about that is those “disability benefit” years are deducted from your CPP when you hit 65.  For each year you are on CPP Disability they deduct a percentage off your CPP when the change happens.  In my case my CPP dropped from the disability amount of almost $1000/month to $642/month.  The RRSP I had been working on was converted early to a RIFF to supplement the CPP Disability amount.  You can’t live on a $1000 per month, not in a wheelchair.  The RIFF monthly payments would help cover costs until the Old Age Supplement kicked in at age 65 but I didn’t realize how much my CPP would drop at 65.

With the drop in income we also face a cost of living increase for disability related expenses.  Between increased disability related medical costs (a new RoHo Hybrid wheelchair cushion costs $820) plus a rental market sorely lacking accessible “affordable” apartments, costs sky-rocket.  You throw in local governments that don’t enforce accessible building codes fuelled by the erosion of federal/provincial governments programs over the past 25 years and you are left with a bleak future.  Currently 62% of my monthly income goes to rent. Anything affordable tends to be basement suites or two story walk ups. Not exactly wheelchair friendly so you take what’s available to avoid the street.  I lived on the street when I was 17 and have no intentions of going back at 67.

Last year I needed some wheelchair repairs and annual vehicle maintenance (new tires for everything as an example) so decided to take a one time withdrawal of $10,000 from my RIFF. I didn’t really need that much but I had realized (after doing the math) that my monthly costs were $250 to $300 more a month than my income. By taking out the $10,000 it provided an cushion for those additional costs and medically related expenses most people don’t understand.  I did this, in part, because I was going on the waitlist for a subsidized assisted living apartment.  I was able to access the subsidized waitlist because I qualified for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

What I didn’t realize was that $10,000 put my income over the limit for the Guaranteed Income Supplement “GIS” (all $18/month of it).  Okay I could get by without that. That’s when I started to find out lost of the GIS status had a lot of ripples.

All of a sudden I no longer qualified for the Premium MSP coverage (an additional cost of $42/month). The lost of the $98/month rent subsidy, the doubling of my Pharmacare deductible (from $450 per year to $900). But the final straw was the end of subsidized home care (they come in once a day to do my dishes and once a week to haul out the garbage). Island Health called me last week to tell me since I am no longer eligible for GIS I would now have to pay $31.38/day for, basically, a dishwasher. The services I could use, like housekeeping, are not a service offered by home-care.  By losing an $18/month subsidy I gained close to a $1000 in other costs.

What I was looking for was some housekeeping service, that’s more difficult in a wheelchair.  BC’s community health had removed housekeeping as a home-care service about seven years ago.  I am told by Island Health that I would have to “accommodate” a little.  Narrow bathroomI already live in an “adaptive suite” that has a bathroom I can’t get my wheelchair into so I believe I have done my part of accommodating.  I have now cancelled that service.  However without that service I also get removed from the waitlist for subsidized assisted living.

It wasn’t the lost of $18/month GIS that hurt, it was the ripple effect of no longer qualifying for GIS. This is the reality of what awaits all of those who grow up with a disability while maintaining their independence.  Meanwhile, according to those close to me, I am too “emotionally” draining to talk with anyone about this so social isolation has become my life style and social media my way to express. Welcome to the world of the “non-privileged”.  How much is independence really worth and what is to be gained by fighting for independence?  There has to be dignity or what is the purpose of living…

With all of this said my heart and thoughts go out to the victims of Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Thanks for listening…

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The Unexpected Legacy

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I conquered my nightmares because of my dreams” – Jonas Salk

I will never regret getting older. I know too many people who never had that privilegeIn 1952 Dr. Jonas Salk introduced the first polio vaccine.  He was so convinced of its effectiveness that he inoculated himself, his wife and their three children.  One of the driving forces behind his dream was the nightmare of Franklin D. Roosevelt, (FDR) surviving polio in 1921.  In his role of President FDR showed a nation what someone with a disability could be accomplished despite polio.  In 1936 FDR established the precursor to the March of Dimes, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.  FDR’s untimely death in 1945 kept him from ever seeing the results of Salk.

When FDR created his foundation polio was known as “infantile paralysis“.  There was this belief that only children were afflicted.  This was eventually disproven and poliomyelitis became the correct terminology.  In keeping with the times in 1939, Eddie Cantor rebranded the FDR’s Foundation to March of Dimes based on the song “Brother can you spare a dime?”.  If you listen to this song by Al Jolson it could be considered timely for todays political situations but I don’t want to digress to far here.

With the massive epidemic hitting North America in the late 40’s and early 50’s Jonas Salk used his dream to address his worst nightmare.  Not only did Salk develop the vaccine but he “donated” his vaccine to society.  Fortunately the likes of Martin Shkreli weren’t around and patent law were much looser.

The vaccine was first used in the States in 1952 however Canada took another three years to approve it.  Paul Martin Sr, despite political resistance, had it finally approved for use in Canada in 1955.  In 1951 the Rehabilitation Foundation of Canada came into existence and later became the Ontario March of Dimes.  Paul Martin Sr was the first official patron.

Between 1952 and 1957 another 25,000 Canadian children contracted polio.  Shortly after approving the vaccine Mr. Martin, then Minister of Health and Welfare, made a promise to the parents of those kids (of which I was one).  That commitment was that no survivor would ever have to worry about financial hardships associated with living with a polio.  This saved a lot of parents a lot of money and greatly enhanced the quality of life for so many survivors.  I lost a lot of friends at a very young age but not nearly as many had of care been denied.  Whatever became of that commitment?  Where did the polio money go?

This song was always very poignant to me because it really went to the heart of the matter.  I underwent over a dozen surgical procedures as a kid just so I could get rid of my braces and walk with sandals (it was the 60’s) rather than heavy orthopaedic shoes.  To be clear I am not a religious man (I am a man of faith but not religion) but if someone wants to cherish the belief that they will be rid of their crutches upon arriving in heaven who am I to take that belief away from them.

Today there are approximately 25,000 baby-boomers in Canada approaching or in retirement.  Those commitments regarding financial costs due to polio have disappeared and yet in retirement costs go up.  After a life time of education, labour market attachment, four different careers, marriage, children and community involvement those supports are no longer there.

The senior supports that do exist are based on your retirement income and not your retirement “costs”.  Unlike the Thalidomide survivors no class action suit has been launched by polio survivors despite the commitment made by the government of the day.  We are still fending for ourselves and refighting battles we thought had been settled years ago.  I live in a small City that regularly ignores the access standards of the building code to give developers a break.

That break comes at the expense of anyone that has mobility issues.  Roughly 70% of the Nanaimo rental market is automatically eliminated to me due to access issues.  61% of my current income goes to rent.  I am currently putting monies aside to purchase a new wheelchair cushion ($800), disability related costs are high and, despite many peoples belief, there are no programs out there.  I live in dread of that day when I will need to replace my wheelchair.

The Rotary have been doing an excellent job in eradicating polio and now that they are partnering with the Gates Foundation it can only get better.  With that said I have to ask what about the “legacy cases”.  Eradication is a lofty and worthy ideal but lets not forget the legacy.  No one seems to know what became of the March of Dimes funding for polio so I ask do Rotarians have a “legacy” program to assist those who survived prior to the vaccine?

Those of us who survived the last major North American outbreak are now hitting retirement.  Post-polio now has us refighting battles in a medical system that doesn’t even recognize polio anymore, after all it has been absence in North America for over fifty years.  That doesn’t mean the survivors don’t exist.

Polio is a “pre-existing condition” so I genuinely fear for my American counterparts, polio survivors.  With the current healthcare battle going on south of the border as a polio survivor to lose supports this late in life would be a travesty.  But then we are seeing the erosion of those same supports in Canada…

Later all…

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Words Through the Ages

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on” – Robert Frost

cropped-cropped-timmy1-e1348195768580.jpgCONFESSIONS – I have been around for a long time and I have seen a lot of change, some good, some not so.  But what has been consistent is the descriptive labelling that goes on while being changed regularly.  These rebranding exercises seem to follow a ten to twelve year cycle and are often made to avoid correcting an actual issue.

When I was 5 (1955) I was a March of Dimes poster child and we were referred to as “crippled children”.  Although “cuteness” had it’s benefits it meant little to me while the terminology was a bit demeaning.  Did I know that?  No.  Today that has become an unacceptable term but I could give a damn.  I am ME.

When I was 17 (1967) I was a member of the Alberta wheelchair sports team attending the first national wheelchair sports games in Montreal.  I was referred to as a “polio survivor” with little attention given to the fact I was also an athlete.  However at that point I could give a damn, I was ME.

When I was 25 (1975) I was now being referred to as a “disabled person”.  In hindsight that term was the early seeding of political correctness and considered a step up from “cripple children”.  This was all pre-Charter days.  Again I didn’t give much of a damn, I was ME.

By the time I was 35 (1985, post Charter) I had settled down after realizing I wasn’t going to die early.  We were condition with that belief while we were still “cripple children”, short life span however advances in healthcare and technology improvements were changing all of that.  In an effort to classify us they now referred to me “mobility impaired” and I still didn’t give a damn, I was ME.

Picture of Martin Luther King Jr with quote

If those closest to us don’t get why will anybody else?

By the time I was 45 (1995) I was a “person with a disability”.  Yep we had come a long way since 1975 and all it took was the rearranging of nouns and adjectives.  Life should be so simple and by that point in my life I had become so use to just “settling” that again I didn’t care about the terminology, I was just ME.

By the time I was 55 (2005) I was “architecturally impaired” and everything could be dealt with by a curb cut or a ramp.  Again I didn’t give a damn because I was ME.  With that said the ME of 2005 was more screwed up than the “polio survivor” of 1967.  Post-polio had finally caught up with me and I was discovering what having a “disability” really was.  Prior to that it had just been ME because I DID.  The wheelchair changed my life in so many way and I hadn’t prepared myself.  I began to become every title I had been labelled with in my life time.

Now at 67 (2017) I am an Island Health “case file” receiving service I don’t really qualify for (or need or want).  And now with this 64 year condensed history version I find myself subject to the whims of a service based on labels.  In order to move forward I am now subject to the labeling policies of our current local health system.  Based on their definitions the Primary Goal of Service is to “Teach/Encourage Independence”.

Now I’m just that “cranky old man” that some community care worker has to go see at 10AM everyday (except Sunday), which is fine because that’s ME!  And being ME means fighting my own jaded perspective of 60+ years of promised changed.  I am back to the days of that “crippled child” and have again become a “product” to keep health industry going (like they need help).  It has taken me 64 year to accept the fact that I am totally responsible for the outcomes of my success so fight on I will…

The Travelled Road

We grew up believing we can turn around,

Based on the path that travels the ground,

But the path of life is a one way street,

And we must deal with the souls we meet.

There’s no turning back to change the past,

The experience we have lived forever last.

There are other souls on life’s long road,

Carrying their memories as part of their load,

We meet these souls along the way,

Some move on while others stay,

What connects us to those so near?

What divides us from those we fear?

We travel long on the road of life,

Findings our joys, surviving our strife,

Meeting new people and making new friends,

Those special few who stay till the end,

Experiences shared make us who we are,

The road of life goes on so far.

Terry Wiens – May 2006


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As Time Slips By

“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by economic structures that creates huge inequalities” – Pope Francis

I can’t believe how quickly fall is coming upon us.  My body is certainly making me aware.  I’m not sure what this says about the excitement in my life but when I look at the depth of my latest epiphany, how much better my body has become at predicting the weather over the local meteorologist, tells me I have to broaden my horizons.  So I decided to have a 5 minute tryst with the Weather Network and it looks like those horizons may be pretty dark for the next five or so months.

La Nina returns meaning a wet, snowy winter making my car inaccessible.  Can’t wheel over a snow bank with the grace I had 25 years ago so I’m more of a homebody (not that I’m a social butterfly these days).  When it does snow the contractor comes in with his grader, does his thing and is gone in five minutes.  I have a nice foot high embankment of snow between me and the car door.  The upside of that means way more writing of which I have no shortage of time, topics or experiences to draw upon.

Ended last week on a bad note due to a misunderstanding on definitions of my new wheelchair cushion.  It is difficult to complain when someone has done you a favour and I didn’t provide enough detail.  Lesson learnt.  It’s truly amazing what my friends will do and for that I am grateful.  It is very much appreciated and doubly so because they are aging as well.  I think I’m more aware because of the speed the decrepitude demon is coursing through the sinews of my mind.

This week started off infuriating me.  This latest crap involving Jenny Hansman is outrageous and another symptom of how our system is failing us.  How can a landlord justify evicting a 70 year old who has been a good tenant for 16 years just because the property management (or whoever) is too cheap to fix the elevator?  Another instance of a local government letting local business off the hook at the expense of the marginalized.


For maximum effectiveness AND peace of mind choose your battles well

I generally choose my battles well however I am getting past the point of just ignoring local government issues.  When I hear elected officials suggest that “maybe those with mobility issues should only live on the ground floor” as a solution I see red.  Nobody tells me where I can live or at what height I can be.  I thought that battle had been settled in the 1980’s.  You know, the “Wonder Years” generation.  Give your heads a shake, we are not moving backwards, not as long as I have access to a keyboard and readers.

What I do know is that this wouldn’t stand for a minute in a human rights hearing.  I am also aware that it could take months just to get an application into the current Human Rights Tribunal system here in BC.  The system itself is so full of systemic barrier it’s now more about keeping (abstract thinking) “the tapestries of old to cover up the computer screens of today”.

Organization like Inclusion BC need to (and they may have this, I don’t always take the time to join every organization but I do know some of the people involved) partner with seniors organization for programming purposes.  Times are changing and how we interact needs to adapt to that.  Unfortunately every time an example like Ms. Hansman’s shows up too many of my non-disabled peers don’t hear that story because “it’s not part of my world”.  That “losing track of” is a major contributor to the erosion of rights.

When I see an issue I do speak up and I don’t deal well with idiots.  For every policy point they present to me I can find a half dozen contradictions.  The lower down you get in the political food chain of jurisdiction the less likely they are to be aware of Canadian constitutional law.  In Canada the doctrine of “paramountcy” establishes that where there is a conflict between a valid provincial and federal laws, the federal law prevails.  The provincial law, or even lower jurisdictions like municipal laws, will be inoperative to the extent that it conflicts with the higher jurisdiction.

If anyone tried to dole out to me what they have done to Ms. Hansman would be in for one hell of a legal battle.  The ability for her to find a simplified solution involves the application of policies that are, in my opinion, a systemic barrier.  Most recently I had an issue with BC Health Services and took steps to remedy them.  I received a resolution in a reasonable amount of time.  Plus I got it in writing.  I have had way to many, what I call, “pat on the head moments” telling me it would be dealt with and thank you for coming, just to have nothing really happen.  Much easier to get it done if you have a written commitment on government letterhead.

I also request written responses that reflect the conversation.  I am often amazed at how a group of people can take such different messages out of the same statement.  Fear also keeps many from challenging.  If you are “marginalized” it is easier to create fear.  Not a lot of people want to (what could appear to be) “bite of the hand that feeds you”.

Letter of commitmentI will not sit back and let fifty years of my efforts be in vain.  I fought hard for the development of systems distinctly designed to keep atrocities like the type hitting of Ms. Hansman or, different case, seniors being evicted so a assisted living facility could get rid of subsidized suites?  Ignoring this kind of stuff is how access and human rights get pushed to the back-burner.

I reach out to the powers that be.  I inform, hopefully I educate but I always remind them of previous commitments.  I speak for myself, without a mediary, and hopefully benefit others.  I wish I could say that Ms. Hansman was an “only” event but it isn’t.  There are many ways to erode human rights particularly when you have little knowledge of the particular issue but the easiest is always to “frame” it as a policy issue.

Sadly few people understand the concept of “primary” legislation let alone the concept of “paramountcy”.  It is time consuming, frustrating and you will often be angry but if you are persistent and know your rights, the fight can be worth it.  But get it in writing, get some deadlines and be informed.

In the world of today’s social media you can take five minutes out of your day and fire off an e-mail to your local politicians.  You may not want to push for change but you should at least make them aware that you are paying attention.  If the story about Jenny Hansman upsets you then send an e-mail to your local MLA and tell them your fed up with a system that allows this crap to happen.  I’m not asking you to march but write.  How many times have I crawled into your house?  Give me a simple accommodation by registering your feelings about this case with a politician.

Complacency is not the way…I did this little video two years ago to get my point across to the City of Nanaimo, a city where “variance” has more appeal than “access”.

Two years later it has been partially corrected…if I could present a half bouquet of kudos to Nanaimo, I would.  Change is happening, be aware…



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Perceiving Access

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception” – Aldous Huxley

Anytime I can open with a Huxley quote I am happy.  In my mind Huxley was brilliant, overcoming his own health issues while developing a philosophy close to my heart.  I read copious amount of Huxley as a kid with a sprinkle of the likes of Edgar Cayce, Lenny Bruce and so many others.  Lying in a hospital bed for six months at a time and reading the likes of Cayce at 11 years old really pumps adrenaline to the development of the limbic system.  With that said I want to put a bit of personal insight out there.

A picture of an optical illusions

What do you see?

I have spend the better part of my life arguing for access but after watching the City Council meeting Monday night I realized just how distorted perception is on this issue.  The newest member of Council had presented a motion,  basically to look at access issues within local government’s jurisdiction or possession.  It was a little bit more involved than that and I could get the actual motion but that’s not my point.  The discussion that followed among Council amazed me.  Based on their contribution to the debate showed me just how differently their “perception” of access is.

An optical illusion

When a bridge becomes a ship it’s easy to lose your way

Although I was hearing a lot of “support” for the idea there was also as much hesitation to support the motion.  As every councillor went around and spoke to the motion it quickly became apparent to me that there was a very narrow concept about what access is.  Much of the conversation focused on “built environment”, ramps, wheelchair friendly hiking trails, curb cuts and the list went on.  Unfortunately we spent so much of the 70’s/80’s creating the perception that access was “physical” that it became buried into societal groupthink.  I was one of those people pushing ramps, curb cuts, modified bathrooms, etc. while feeding the perception that access was all physical.  Well I might have done too good of a job.

In the late 80’s along came “educational inclusion” creating a new dynamic for access, service.  Physical access is very concrete measurable, physically apparent.  Service access is more abstract with measurable’s that are more qualitative than quantitative.  You can’t take a service access and set standards like a 1 in 12 grade for a ramp (just an example).  Qualitative outcomes are based more on perception than length and height, a different way of thinking.

Optical illusion

Knowing the structure helps with the perception

Following a healthy debate Councillor Armstrong agreed to withdraw the motion and revisit it at a later date.  Based on my perception of the subtext in the roundtable discussion it was the best course of action for now.  I, for one, am convinced that any healthy community needs, at minimum, an inventory of those places and services that may require some form of access planning.  I’m not arguing that all access issues have to be corrected today but I am suggesting that Council establish a common definition of what access should be.  To me access is more about attitude than code but that’s just my perception.

It was apparent during the debate that there was good support for that “with the right wording” could be acceptable.  I would suggest to Council that they fully define access before they agree on any cataloguing method.  Understanding the breadth of access is the maker or breaker for success on an initiative like this.

A short comparison from my days with the Office of the Fire Commissioner.  If you asked a fire fighter, a nurse, a policeman, and a paramedic to define the term “public safety”, you would have four different answers.  More than likely they would all be correct based on their perception of their role in public safety but I can almost guarantee you they would all be more focused on their role in the the delivery of the service.  Creating a common definition is best done at the beginning of any project.  It’s much less frustrating (and expensive) than modifying an approach along the way because there was never a spoken consensus at the beginning of the process.

Optical illusion

Count twice, cut once

After listening to the Council meeting I do hope they check their perceptions at the door before getting too deep into problem solving.  You can’t solve something you don’t see and if you don’t look deep enough you miss some of the more important parts.

I hope before Council tackles a new motion regarding the issue of access in Nanaimo that they firmly understand access.  This isn’t just about adhering to some measurable building code but about creating a new groupthink where access is about creating a welcoming environment.  Access to a public park is one thing, access to services that enhance life is another.  Well thought out access will increase the future employment opportunities for the new generation of those requiring some type of accommodation and allow for a better quality of life.  Define access before you decide how to approach it…





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Regulating Common Sense

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense” – Gertrude Stein

It would appear my rant last week regarding what constitutes a “disabled parking spot” was partially heard.  The City Manager of Parks Operation contacted me and I will be meeting with him at the parking spot on Wednesday.  In the meantime I was send another picture to show me one of the actions taken to correct this.

Revised parking spotI will deal with this Wednesday but the City did take a step.  What blows me away is that the dimensions of the actual spot remain unchanged but they turned the spot next to it into a “no parking” spot by painting the lines.  Page 25 of the provincial access standards lays out the dimensions very succinctly.  With a bit of common sense they could have saved the paint, followed the prescribed dimensions and created two “legal” spots with a 4 foot separation.  To me that just seems like common sense.

You know what is NOT common sense?  Narrow bathroomThings like passing off an apartment that may be “wheelchair friendly” as the accessible suite.  Just because you can get INTO the front door but can’t get your wheelchair INTO the bathroom does not make it a “wheelchair” suite.

There is no way a wheelchair that measures 30″ wheel hub to wheel hub will be very functional in a 41″ room.  There was a time when I would have said this with perverted pride but you can’t pole vault from a wheelchair over to that toilet.  And that grab bar you can see on the wall in the upper left hand corner, well you would need arms that are at least 38″ long to reach it (I measured).

You don’t need “code” to realize that, just some common sense.  However this is a five year old apartment building in Nanaimo that was given numerous variance’s by the local government to appease a local developer, Castera Property Management.  When you actually go looking for Castera to raise access issues you find it is property management company under the umbrella of Groupe Denux.  So who are these variance’s helping, the citizens of Nanaimo or a development company in Quebec.

Kitchen with dishwasher door open

You can’t reach into this dishwasher from a wheelchair especially when there is already no turning radius

Another things that makes no sense.  Why would you even put a dishwasher in a suite designed for one person and lose 16 square feet of space.  How many dishes can one person go through?  There is no turning radius in this kitchen to begin with so why complicate it with a dishwasher.   Personally I would run out of dishes long before the dishwasher was full so it is really wasted space to me.  I can’t even reach inside it once the door is down so what good does it do me (and I don’t think I’m alone with that thought).

With that door down I am left with a 20″ space which, no matter how hard you push, one will never squeeze a wheelchair through to get to the sink.  Am I the only one to see no common sense in that?  That dishwasher not only took up valuable (and needed) space that could have gone a long way to making this a much friendlier wheelchair environment.

Kitchen cupboards with microwave over oven

Microwave above oven (bought my own on counter) and cupboards I can reach

Continuing with the kitchen and common sense, if you can imagine reaching into a microwave that is positioned higher than me (that’s up till 8pm) you should recognize the inherent dangerous involved.  I refuse to try and reach a hot bowl of whatever when it is higher than my reach.  IF this was designed as the “wheelchair” suite someone has no understanding of health and safety issues.  So along with two thirds of the unusable cupboards I have a shiny microwave and a low end stainless steel front dishwasher that are totally useless in this situation.

Again am I the only one to see the lack of common sense on this?  I can’t quote the prices but I would suspect the developers just pissed away $800+ (between dishwasher and microwave) on optics that could have been applied towards actual accessibility.

People need to pay attention and speak out when they see regulations being ignored.  All of these “little” issues (and they add up in a hurry) happen everyday in the life of someone with a disability.  It may not be impacting you today but without a moments notice you are one blood clot away from a stroke or 30 seconds away from the wheelchair a distracted driver could put you in (if you’re lucky).  Too many people just shrug their shoulders and say “well you did your best”.  It’s not about my best, it is about standing up to what we have created.  It’s about looking past your own world and listening to those in your life who do experience these things.  When a group of young visually impaired hikers can conquer the Grouse Grind with the help of their friends then surely friends can speak up on access issues.  The tools are in place and they are in place for everyone, use them.

In closing, when I see a 20’s something visually impaired activist suggesting we need a “Charter of Rights for the Disabled” I just shudder.  We have a Charter that applies to all so use the tools that are already there, don’t go and re-invent the wheel.  I will let you know how the Wednesday meeting goes regarding the Colliery Dam Park disabled parking spaces…


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