Recently I had a little back and forth with an individual that really brought the idea of advocacy back home to me and, in particular, its relationship to physical access. I recognize access as a right and I have spend the better part of my life fighting for and defending rights. Not just those of persons with disabilities but the rights of every Canadian. I find it very distressing these days that, as a society, we have become very reticent over voicing our concerns when we see our rights being eroded.
The discussion was with a peer of mine who is about 30 years younger but has grown up with his own mobility impairment. I make that distinction in age because of its importance to this discussion. It is particularly pertinent when it comes to the issue of standing up for yourself, self advocacy. What is particularly bothersome is that it that the new generation of disabled no longer understand the basic of self-advocacy. They take certain things for granted that the generation before them fought hard to achieve.
They now are able to participate in a lot of activities and enjoy certain rights, like attending a public school, due to the advocacy work of so many before them. Many people in my generation didn’t have that luxury, in fact the majority of my schooling was done in the Alberta Hospital for Sick Kids. Unfortunately this has created a new generation of people who take their rights for granted and don’t want to “rock the boat”. It has become easy for them to sit back and just accept. From my perspective that really denigrates and nullifies all the advocacy that went on by the generation before them. Forty years ago people like me, people with disabilities, were just warehoused in institutions. So people, like me, took that fight to the community and demanded a productive place in our society.
I don’t expect anybody to be me however don’t raise an issue with me if you are not willing to act on it. I want people to bring solutions to my attention, not issues. I don’t believe that standing up for your rights has to be adversarial and is most effective when done in an educational way. There is a level of passivity in todays generation of disabled compounded with a heavy need to please. It’s the passive insecurity that bothers me. If you want people to see you as an agent of change while also being a productive member of your community then you can’t pick and choose when that happens. Particularly when it is something as basic as physical access. You can’t decide “well I like this group so I won’t make an issue” when something as basic as physical access is the barrier to attendance. The reality is the barrier to attendance is simple lack of awareness!
This particular case involved a young entrepreneurs meeting that had been booked in a non-accessible venue. The individual involved, who had been attending these monthly get togethers regularly, opted to passively put out the word that he couldn’t attend due to lack of access. He never raised it as an issue with the organizers, he never requested a change of venue but decided instead to “accommodate” the organization by letting it slide. After all, these were good people and knew him well.
Well the fact that they would book a regular get together in a non-accessible venue made me challenge just how well they really knew him or what level of understanding they had of his needs and by extension the needs of their future customers. When I suggested he raise his concern with them he saw this as “an inappropriate thing to do”. He made it clear that he was not me and didn’t see the need to make everything a fight. I don’t see it as a fight and in fact in some ways it is a good thing. By actually making this booking they did overlook his wheelchair dependence which is good. They saw him as a person and overlooked the access issue. So make them aware. The young entrepreneurs club represent the future business leaders of our time and if they can’t grasp something as simple as physical access then someone needs to speak out.
If these organizations have really bought into something as basic as physical access then they wouldn’t even be booking the venue in the first place. Personally I think you have to look pretty hard to find a meeting place these days that isn’t wheelchair accessible but it can happen. And every time we let that happen we are, as persons faced with access challenges, supporting the idea that accessibility is secondary as long as their heart is in the right place. If we can’t stand up, figuratively, for something as basic as physical access then we are not agents of change and have no right calling ourselves motivational. This particular person does motivational speaking and has a real drive to please, which i am not saying is wrong however he is seen as representative of the disabled community. Therefore he wields more power than he realizes. It’s only my opinion but the most motivational people I know “live” their beliefs consistently. They don’t let people or organizations off the hook because “well they meant well”
Meant well my ass. If they truly meant well a person wouldn’t be passively whining in a public venue (Facebook) about not being able to attend the gathering. If they were truly motivational they would be able to say to the organization “hey this isn’t right”. It does not need to be seen as an attack or denigration of the organization. Mistakes can be made so pointing it out does not have to be a conflict but excusing them outright is just enabling the problem.
It is almost forty years since the building code was adjusted to ensure physical access was protected. As I have mentioned in other posts we should be past the point of even having to remind organizations and community groups that physical access needs to be there. We should be long past the days of having to turn it into an issue.
However we now have a generation of persons with disabilities how have grown up with the protection that many of those who came before them fought for. I grew up in a time when something as simple as voting could be denied me from a physical access point. Polling booths did not have to be accessible. Even worse my ability to vote was based on the attitude of the polling station manager. This was the societal belief of the day (again not ancient history).
Prior to 1976 managers of voting polls had the authority to decide if someone with a disability was capable of voting. We encourage the return to those days by not making our voices heard when something as simple as physical access is allowed to slide. And the generation I am speaking of don’t do it solely because of complacency, they do it out of a sense of entitlement! They are prepared to “settle”.
The last municipal election I voted was in Calgary almost five years ago (not ancient history). My polling station was was down eight stairs in a community gym. They moved one booth to the top of the stairs so persons with mobility issues could vote there. With that done anyone with a scooter or wheelchair now blocked the access to the stairs. The mobility impaired voter were constantly being asked to move aside so other voters could go down the stairs to cast their vote. Now this was Calgary and I was personally aware of at least six other venues within a two block radius that could have been used. To me that is second class voting and I am not a second class citizen.
As long as we allow this to slide we will continue to be second class citizens regardless of how motivational we would like to see ourselves. I am not a motivational speaker but I will speak out against injustice. Being denied something as basic as physical access is a huge injustice and if people fail to see that they really don’t understand what being motivational is about. It is perfectly acceptable to say no!
Just one man’s opinion