School opened this week for most kids in BC and my grandson attended his first day. It was 24 years ago that my son, the taller of the two, entered his first day of school. It was the same year BC Education introduced a number of changes to how school worked. One of the changes was duel entry. Basically any child who turned five before the end of April began classes in January. Anyone turning five after the end of April would start in September. It didn’t really make any sense at the time and it was abandoned quickly (I believe it only lasted the one season).
Another big news event at the time was the disappearance of Michael Dunahee. Michael was a four year old who just disappeared from a playground in the city of Victoria.
Needless to say there were a lot of concerned parents on the Island. After all if a child could disappear right off a public playground and completely disappear ON AN ISLAND then parents had to be hyper vigilant.
Ladysmith, where my son began school, was not that far from Victoria and the disappearance of Michael had Island people justifiably concerned. If a child could disappear from a public playground while parents were around how safe were our kids.
The Ladysmith Elementary was a one level small school that had outgrown itself. To handle the increase in student growth the school district had brought in three or four portable classrooms. For some reason the school decided to put the youngest kids in one of the new portables. This meant if a child had to use the washroom they had to leave the portable and walk across the schoolyard to get to the bathrooms.
In light of the Michael Dunahee incident I was a little concerned over this. I felt it was wiser to put the older, more experienced students, in the portables and keep the younger more vulnerable kids inside the school. As a concerned parent I phone the principal and made an appointment to discuss what I considered a child safety issue. The principal was very understanding and receptive to a discussion with me so two days later I was off to meet with the principal. Being that this was 1991 the idea of asking about accessibility to a public school didn’t even dawn on me.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived in the school parking lot and found myself staring at three stairs leading up to the front door of the school. There was no ramp. I couldn’t get my wheelchair into the school. Again, 1991 the only cell phones were those bricks you saw “Sonny Crockett” hauling around in Miami Vice. So I sat beside my car honking my horn and waving at the windows of the school administrative office until eventually someone in the office notices and came out to see if they could help.
In the end I did meet with the principal, in the parking lot. We quickly discussed my initial concern regarding having the most vulnerable children in such remote classrooms. Not only was this a potentially dangerous situation for the youngest students but it also hindered my ability to participate in parent/teacher events. All of the portables had three steps, which meant I couldn’t access them.
The principal was very apologetic and attempted to justify this by stating there were no children with disabilities attending the school. Okay I have to take a deep breathe here because there goes my whole “welcoming environment” argument. I asked the principal if he knew how many parents had disabilities. He didn’t. No where on the school application does it ask for any accommodation a “parent” may need.
However when all was said and done he made it to graduation and I managed to get a shot of his graduation ceremonies. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch them as there was no access for me into the venue.
I have to ask myself, how does an education system that just used the whole concept of being “proactive” to justify their dual entry process not be as proactive on something as basic as access. After all, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and the National Building Code (amended to ensure access in 1976) had reportedly address the access issue. Unfortunately those same documents had almost frozen the concept of access as physical into the minds of, not only Canadians, but most of the community involving people with disabilities. The concept of access continues to be one of the big wedge issues among disability groups today.
With all that said today access is more than a ramp, it’s an attitude and I wasn’t seeing that attitude. How can a school system talk about inclusion when something as basic as access hasn’t been addressed? And if you are going to talk inclusion then you had better look at every aspect of access. At that time I was personally aware of one other couple, both deaf, who had identified communication access as an issue.
Over the years, as an #AccessActivist, I have dealt with many families who required access in different forms. Parent’s with visual impairments receiving everything in a written format or families who have limited reading capabilities due to having English as a second language need an alternative format. This all contributes to access.
Physically getting into a venue is the easiest aspect of access to deal with but that is not where access ends. I’ve used this analogy before but putting a ramp into a library does not mean it is accessible. If you can’t use the materials in the library (the books) then access isn’t there. For too many years the focus of access was physical and this has embedded itself in our groupthink.
I messaged my son this morning to ask him about access to the school my grandson is attending. He assured me there was a ramp just to the left but out of the picture. Now if he would only get an accessible home maybe I could increase my involvement as a grandparent.
Just one man’s opinion!