I grew up with a disability in a very different time. There were no programs, no regulations, etc. there was just you, your family and your community. There was no socialized medicine, accessible building codes or educational inclusion. From a societal point of view we were just coming out of that age of “The Secret Garden” created so well in Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s 1911 novel.
Unfortunately my parents didn’t have a British estate fully staffed so I, like many of my polio peers, had to rely on our personal creativity, persistence and flexibility. If you were lacking in those skills your “Secret Garden” often wound up being an extended care centre at age 19. If you wanted to live in the world you had to take charge and be creative. In the 70’s government started regulating access and how the disabled were treated. Prior to that it was a matter of you did or you didn’t.
When architecture is a barrier, you use that creativity and learn to improvise. If you couldn’t improvise it is easy to end up in that shadowy area of existing rather than living. When you are just existing you deprive yourself of experience which is why a $77 a month increase can sound so good to some and completely insulting to others. Those with the experience are insulted, and should be, but those quietly accepting are just trapped.
We get trapped because somebody has convinced you that that is the way it is. My experience has been that just because someone tells you something doesn’t make it so. Look at some of the issues that have gone on while the average Canadian thought everything was just fine. In this new world of social media fact checking is imperative. The recent “detailed” review of the Canadian Disability Pension is a prime example of a bunch of people in positions of authority telling us one thing while the complete opposite is going on. To quote an old TV show Just the facts Jack.
If someone is so convinced that what they are doing is right then supply me with some details when I ask. I don’t want ideological rhetoric or litigation fear-mongering, I want referenced detail. Since I am usually talking to an issue from my perspective I like to include detail sometimes, I am told, to a fault. It is only by sharing details that all parties can be sure they are talking from the same page. And to achieve positive solutions everybody needs to be really aware of what the issue is.
My experience has been that those people who see details as threatening (or believe them to be threatening) have no interest in solutions. They tend to have their own agenda and that’s when my persistence kicks in. I’m only persistent until the details ring true but you need to be able to show me that this isn’t “it is because I say so”. That’s not a policy or regulation, that’s a personal judgement. If I were interested in living under someones personal judgement I’d move to Russia but I’m not. I live in a democracy where we all have a voice and to take that voice away is an affront to my human rights.
When I see an issue I like to offer solutions, not be silenced. I am offering solutions because of problems that may have been ignored or not even noticed until along came I.
Recent case in point. Two separate but at the same time side by side situations. As many of you are aware I have my own YouTube channel. I use it to post access videos and other silly little things. But when it is a serious access issues I also forward it on to the powers that be. I recently noticed a potentially dangerous issue in the parking lot of the Nanaimo General Hospital. I capture about forty seconds with my iPhone and did my thing which, in this case, meant sending a link off to the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).
In the process I identified a few other access I had experienced in the hospital. Just awareness raising. Simple, done and forgotten.
Two days ago I received a very detailed e-mail explaining how each of my points were being dealt with. Grate issue solved. There were also detailed responses to the three other points I had raised and an invitation to participate in some advisory functions from time to time complete with contact people. Job well done, primary issue dealt with, collaborative relationship established and everybody seemingly happy. Very professional, very well thought out, thank you VIHA and a big kudos to Toni O’Keeffe, VP of Communication.
In my ongoing campaign defending access in Nanaimo I have discovered what can only be described as a mediocre attitude between City council and City administration. Many of my access concerns in Nanaimo are well documented on my YouTube channel which I have shared more than once with City Engineering. I’ve met with the City engineering department and in discussion I hear a lot of “I wouldn’t have thought of that”. Well I have recently discovered there is no disabled representation on any of the City advisory committees, so I ask how can you understand access issues when those needing the access have no voice?
One of the issues demonstrated by both VIHA and the City was the lack of accessibility on their websites. Government websites must adhere to the level of access as spelt out in the W3C guidelines. VIHA’s website is not exactly user friendly and neither is the City’s. The Court decision I send them dealt with a recent Charter challenge regarding web accessibility by Donna Jodhan and it was send as a way to develop understanding of how City Council decisions can have human rights ramifications. It’s a complicated world whether we like it or not.
Some of the councillors have connected to express support for the accessibility issues I have raised however after forty years I would have though access should be ingrained by now. Wrong! The Mayor hasn’t despite my reaching out to him. What the Mayor did raise, and this came to me by way of the Nanaimo grapevine (a favourite way of doing things in Nanaimo) was the suspicion that I was using the threat of a law suit to get action.
I have yet to hear from the Mayor on anything but to alleviate his fears let me be clear, I HAVE NO INTENTION OF LODGING ANY LITIGATION TOWARDS THE CITY OF NANAIMO. That was never my intent. My intent was to get the City to start paying attention to the reality of access. Work needs to be done in this City, structurally and attitudinally. HOWEVER should any disabled person feel their rights are being ignored because the City said “that just the way it is” well that’s a different story. I’ve been an advocate for most of my life and I’m not about to stop now.
Let me close with a question to the city, when do we move past “raising awareness” and actually put that awareness into action?
Just one man’s opinion…