Building Social Isolation

When does passion become obsession?  I am passionate in regards to access.  I am passionate about defending the right to access that so many others have fought so hard to achieve.  I am passionate about ensuring complacency or lack of historical perspective does not allow the new world of #socialmedia to create new challenges to access.  You can’t build ramps to improve access in the digital world but you can build attitudes.  It is attitude that is the access tool in the digital world.  It was attitude that helped develop the Braille e-reader thereby opening a large component of social media to the blind.  These are my passions.

I am obsessed with getting people to understand that access is about attitude.  The “information age” brings a whole new challenge to access.  We need to adjust our attitudes and policies to reflect the realities of today.  I have concerns when one of the top universities in Canada can can make tradition sound like policy and deny reasonable accommodation as is the current case of University of Ottawa student James Lewicki is realizing.  This raises the question over which direction attitudes are taking in this country.  I am obsessed with making sure we never return to the attitude of 40 years ago.

I had a very good friend who had spend a lot of time in the Children’s Hospital with me when we were children.  She was also a polio survivor but with greater physical loss than myself so was wheelchair dependent from the start.  In the mid 70’s she got into an abusive relationship and it didn’t take him long to isolate her socially from all of us.

A strong trait of an abuser is their ability to create social isolation, out of sight, out of mind (a philosophy many levels of government adopt).   A few of us did try to get her out of there however women’s emergency shelter were lucky to exist in those days let alone be wheelchair accessible.  In 1978 the Calgary one wasn’t.  There was no place for her to go.

In the 70’s concepts like access, inclusion, etc were not even thought about let alone on the legislative agenda.  The Charter didn’t come into existence until 1982 and prior to that it was almost every man for himself.  There was no system then, you either mainstreamed on your own or let the system warehouse you in institutions.  Personally I mainstreamed however that didn’t deal with every issue.

In the summer of 1978 (not exactly ancient history) she was found beaten to death.  The police report suggested her death was due to a three day bout of physical abuse.   At the time I was working as the Patient Advocate for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Calgary and well situated to access support if so needed.   The deaths I had dealt with previously had been medically related and growing up in the Children’s Hospital had created a different perspective of mortality.

All of us who grew up in the Children’s Hospital (and I would imagine any centre like that) had experience losing a friend in the middle of the night or some kid never returning from surgery.  We were dealing with that from a very young age.  That was part of the nature of a hospital.  I remember the first time I woke up in the middle of the night just to be hushed back to sleep by the nurse as they transferred my roommate to the gurney.  I was nine and hospitals were not the Taj Mahal’s of technology we are use to seeing on our favourite TV shows today.  On the night shift we were monitored hourly by a nurse with a flashlight, not blinking lights and audio monitors.  That gave me a perspective of what was needed from a very young age.

Despite all of that this death really hit me.  I saw this one as a failure of a system that didn’t exist yet but needed to be developed.  I wasn’t sure what it would look like but I knew we couldn’t let this type of social isolation result in any more unneeded deaths and I maintain my role as an advocate to this day.

Flash forward to a life of semi-retirement.  I wound up in Kelowna for a while.   Since I don’t golf, hike, cycle, take long walks on the beach, quilt or embroider I avoid social isolation by being active in my community.   Besides being very active on social media I like to do some volunteer work in the community.  Homelessness has been a cause I have been interested in so I approached the local homeless shelter to see if there was something I could do.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the homeless shelter in Kelowna (this was 2013) was not wheelchair accessible.   Four other volunteer opportunities turned out to be on the second floor or a church basement.  All of these were grassroots non-profits and not one of them saw access as an issue until it showed up at their door.

As it turned out Kelowna was not the city for me and I had to get back to the Island.  Kelowna did serve a very good purpose, it really tempered the transition to Nanaimo.  Having come back to the Island after five years in Calgary it would have been a major culture shock if I had of come straight to Nanaimo.  Kelowna softened the blow.  I like Nanaimo even though it is one of the most unplanned cities I have ever lived in.

Welcome to retirement
Welcome to retirement

As I mentioned I like to keep busy on social media, this means inside and out.  I also like to think I can be part of a solution as well by raising awareness.  I maintain my own YouTube channel and take a lot of short videos using my iPhone (got the technology might as well use it) while I’m out doing my physical things.  If I find an issue that appears to be an access issue I take a quick video, send it to City Engineering, just as a heads up, and then post them to my channel.  The e-mail responses I have had from the City Engineering so far has me convinced that their concept of access can fluctuate.  I want to be part of a process that won’t allow social isolation to get started….

Just one man’s opinion…



2 thoughts on “Building Social Isolation

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