Times They Are A’Changing!

Imagine having your ability to be a parent challenged simply because you have a physical disability.  Imagine carrying your child for the duration of your pregnancy with your husband, who also has a disability, by your side throughout just to have a government children’s protection program take your child on the day of birth.  Imagine having to fight to get your newborn back after children’s service arbitrarily decided you couldn’t parent because both parents have a disability.  Unfortunately, in Canada, some people don’t have to imagine instead they have to fight.

I find this particularly upsetting because I really believed that we were passed this type of blatant discriminatory activity fifteen years ago.  I watched and participate in the advancements in health care in the 50’s and 60’s.  Technology just speeded up those advancements, which forced societal thinking to change.  At the speed with which technology develops it is impossible for societal thinking to maintain pace, which usually leaves us playing catch up when it comes to planning supportive programs.

In 1967 I participated in the first Canadian National Wheelchairs Games held in Montreal during Expo.  Those first games represented a big step forward in societal recognition and acceptance of the disabled in mainstream society.  The significance of this was lost on me at the time; after all I was a seventeen year old on his way to a major city hosting an international event.  I was going to have fun but when one looks back the development of wheelchair sports did a lot to establish an early cornerstone of independence, self-determination.  An important component when it comes to true independence.

In the 70’s and 80’s I participated in the development of programs and policies aimed at ensuring protection from discrimination based on a persons disability.  I sat on committees that examined the proposed changes to the national building code to ensure a universal approach to physical access was being used.  As a provincial advocate for the Canadian Mental Health Association I the opportunity to be involved at a very early stage in the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights.

However the same technology that had such an impact on health care was also changing the face of the disabled.  Major improvements in neonatal health were introducing a whole new generation of persons with developmental and mixed disabilities that had never been seen before.  Now those programs developed in the 60’s and 70’s build on the societal beliefs of the 50’s and 60’s were not as successful.  Deeper fragmentations were happening in the disabled community itself as each emerging group competed for a shrinking pie of government grant money.

In the 90’s I became immersed in the fight to expand the meaning of access.  Did a ramp into the library mean it was accessible?  Not if you asked an individual with a visual impairment.  We again needed a shift, not only in societal thinking, but also within the disabled community itself.  Technology itself demanded changes in the definition of access.  With increasing resources going into the development of a cyber world electronic access was now as important as physical access.  In 2000 the International Conference “Access by Design” held in Montreal a group of attending participants coined the term “the disabled of the future will be those who cannot access technology” which I continue to maintain.

Throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s change was happening with a positive affect on most individuals with a disability.  However the 80’s and 90’s also saw a shift in societal thinking.  To many people were now coming from a position of complacency and buying into the hype that everything was fine and that individuals with disabilities were “taken care of”.  First of all I have always maintained I don’t want to be taken care of but I do expect a few field levelers.  However what I am increasingly hearing from people these days is “haven’t we done enough to help the disabled”.

Well I started this out raising the issue of a married couple (both with disabilities) having to fight for custody of their own child.  That hardly strikes me as advanced societal thinking.  In fact it strikes me as a society who has started moving backwards.

In 2006 the Harper government shut down the Web Accessibility office thereby removing any oversight regarding web accessibility on government sites.  In 2010 Donna Jodhan, a visually impaired professional, took the federal government to court and won a right that had been established twelve years earlier: access to the Internet.   In 2011 Maricyl Palisoc and Charles Wilton had to fight for one of the most basic of rights, that of a parent.

In 2012 the Alberta government revised its Education Act and removed the condition to use teaching and study materials that “honour and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Alberta Human Rights Act”.  I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist but all I see is erosion of belief and erosion of belief traditionally takes away from rights.  I don’t believe the disabled of tomorrow will have near the rights my generation enjoyed and they won’t even realize they have lost them.

Just one man’s opinion.

4 thoughts on “Times They Are A’Changing!”

  1. I had actually known Charles for a few years as a teenager, and was so proud to see that he and Maricyl had a child. I was extremely pissed at what the government demanded they do extra of in order to even keep their child. Thankfully an organization was able to step up and help, but to be questioned like that and to have the possibility of your child being taken away simply because you have some mobility and some speech limitations is utterly ridiculous to me. I have not seen Charles in quite some time, but through friends of friends, I hear he is doing a wonderful job as a father.

  2. also, thank you for the work you have done in your life to bust down doors for young people with physical disabilities like me.. I appreciate it and would actually like to know if you have any posts on the person who might want to take on certain issues within their own commuity and what advice you would have for those people or perhaps what people with disabilities should do who see an existing program that works, but could be better in dealing with certain issues… how to be taken seriously, when you dont have a college degree or Masters behind you. Anyway, im digressing from the point here, good job, thank you for this blog and your fight.

    1. Hello D. B. thanks for the read. I don’t have college or a Master’s degree behind me but I have spend a good part of my life building a credible reputation (which isn’t always easy). I also have a strong belief in common sense even though it may not be that apparent in the world so if one uses a common sense approach it is hard to go wrong. We also live in a world of technology that is so empowering to so many with disabilities. You master that technology and you can do just about anything you want, as long as you have also mastered the others skills required to do what it is you want. That is the best I can do right now because your question is much more complex to adequately explain without some extensive interaction. I have had over 40 years developing these skills and asked many of the same questions you just posed when I was 25. Never stop asking questions, I still do.

  3. It is due to unjust instances experienced by the Wilton’s of Ontario as well as former Alberta resident, “Marie” (pseudonym) a loving mother with MS who was forced to flee the Province rather than risk loss of her children – as the disease progressed and in-home services were denied – which prompted the following Alberta Primetime segment (thank you for speaking!) NO MORE SILENCE; human rights must be honored!
    http://www.albertaprimetime.com/Stories.aspx?pd=4903

    *In response to “Bugs” who left commentary at the Star webpage questioning why society ought to be support others in crisis: What needs to be recognized is the fact that no one is infallible. At any given moment, accident or disease can strike the heartiest-appearing individual or a loved one, altering ability. And, not a single one of us escapes the aging process. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we value and protect all persons equally with honor and respect. – VM

    http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/07/disabled_couple_cherishes_a_year_of_firsts_with_their_baby.html#mystars/users/registrations/new

    Disabled couple cherishes a year of firsts with their baby

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