How Far Have We REALLY Come?

Do not let complacency silence you!
Do not let complacency silence you! was having their first organizational meeting in Kelowna last evening.  I have been on their mailing list for sometime now and have added my signature to a number of their online petitions.   This is an online organization that appears dedicated to the protection of our democracy and tackle issues of importance.  Issues like the ethics (or lack there of) in politics, the environment, democratic erosion and more.  Most recently they have taken to tackling the so called Fair Elections Act.  Anybody that read my last post knows how I feel about that particular piece of legislation.

Since I have a long history of involvement with grassroots organizations I accepted the invitation to attend the meeting.  One of the issues they were going to be discussing was Fair Elections Act and, I assume, discussing strategies to fight the ramrodding of this piece of draconian legislation through Parliament.  This is a VERY important issue to me because I grew up in a time when a polling manager could make the determination if a person with a disability could vote.  I was turned away from the voting station and deprived of my right to vote in 1972 (the first year I was old enough to vote).  I do not want to go back to those days and will join with any organization or individuals fighting that concept.

Leadnow had an excellent response to the meeting.  In fact they had just a rush of people wanting to attend that they had to change the venue to accommodate the numbers.  I received an e-mail late in the day on Thursday announcing the change of venue and the reason for the move.  My wheelchair sense (very much like Spiderman sense) began to vibrate the minute I saw the word “basement”.  The meeting had been moved to the basement of an older church in the downtown area.  Considering the short span of time they had to find a new venue (and limited budget) I suspect they were probably lucky to find an alternate venue for a Friday evening event.

However I have learnt over the years in the world of wheelchair that when the term “basement” is used rather than “lower level” it is a strong indication that access is going to be problematic.  It’s almost like the word “basement” is code for saying “not wheelchair accessible”.  I immediately responded to the e-mail notification with my query regarding wheelchair accessibility.

Friday morning was a beautiful day and I had a number of other meetings to attend that day.  My experience has been to always check things out myself so I decided to check the venue out and kill some time between meetings.  I know the moment I drove up to the building that there was no accessibility.  In fact it didn’t appear there was access to any level of this old church.  There were 14 stairs up to the main entrance of the church and no where could I find any signage indicating wheelchair access.  I circled the building numerous time looking.  I quickly realized I would not be able to attend the gathering.

Speaking for rights at the Canadian Labour Congress national convention
Speaking for rights at the Canadian Labour Congress national convention

When I eventually finished all of my days activities I arrived home and found a response to my earlier e-mail.  The organizers of the event very politely told me that the venue was NOT accessible and they were very apologetic.  They even offered to “carry” me down the stairs and expressed how accessibility was on their “wish list”.  As you can see I am not a small man and declined their proposal for the accommodation down for a number of reason.  First of all my personal safety, I am the one that would have to deal with the consequences should I be dropped.  Secondly I was not about to risk someone else getting injured trying to carry a 240 pound man down a flight of stairs.  And thirdly, which I told the organizers in my response, there is no dignity in a 60 year old man being carried into a community organizational meeting.

I do realize that they meant well and had to work with what they have which, as a grassroots organization, is limited.  However the whole “wish list” thing I find a little unsettling.  It has been almost 40 years since I struck the concept of physical access off of my wish list.  There are still issues over access in todays society but I do find the idea of todays social activist and community organizers accepting access as a wish list item and not as a “given” upsetting.  I am getting tired of watching the wheel being re-invented.

I am a social activist because I don’t want to see the erosion of rights.  Something as basic as physical access should no longer be on a “wish list”.  It needs to be accepted as a given.

I will continue to support Leadnow and any other organizations that are intent on protecting rights and democracy.  I would also advise all of these organizations that the erosion of our democracy is due, in part, to not paying attention the dismantling of rights.  Something as simple as the right to access is basic and shouldn’t need to be revisited.

Maintaining physical access as a wish list item is a big step backwards.  It undermines all of the work that so many community organizers attempted to accomplish forty years ago.  To the new generation of activists I offer this simple piece of advice, “Don’t wish list for something that has already been removed from wish lists”.  Really be a part of the solution and not a contributor to barriers!

Just one man’s opinion!


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