“A right must exist independently of its exercise,” – Rory O’Shea Was Here (2004)
Throughout my life I have been asked more times than I care to count, “What’s it like living with a disability?” Depending on my mood I would utter some flippant comment or make some kind of feel good statement. To me that question was like me asking someone “What’s it like to live with a big nose?” Or “What’s it like to be fat?” Basically we are who we are. I grew up with crutches. I never know anything else. To me, this was normal.
People are multi-faceted and a disability doesn’t change that. There were many things that contributed to who or what I am, the disability is only one of that factors. I believe what shapes us is how we handle events in our lives and what we do with the knowledge we glean from those events. I started off a farm kid and became a poster child. You know, one of those cute little kids that are used to separate you from your money. Now I’m a pain in the ass life long activist!
I was five years old and one of the first poster children. It didn’t take me long to discover that you had to be more than cute to survive in this world but more about that later. For now let me tell you what it’s like to live with a disability and, hopefully, by the end of this read you can tell me if it is really any different from your own experiences. This story is about the life of one poster child.
We come into this world with no guarantee except some kind of future. What that future is will be dictated to by many events but in the end its how we deal with those events that helps shape our future. Regardless of what anybody tells you we are ultimately responsible for our own futures. In the end all we have for ourselves is our story.
If one has lived their story can be one of fascination, disbelief and, if one is lucky, inspiration. If one has only existed then the story tends to be pulp fiction. This is my story so you can decide. Mine began long before the laws of today and I was lucky to have journeyed that developmental highway of todays regulatory system.
One of my first adult experiences in with dealing with bureaucracy was over my drivers licence. My first drivers licence had a hand control restriction but I can tell you, as a disgruntled teenager, when I “borrowed” a car off the street I wasn’t looking for hand controls. I could push with my foot but I couldn’t lift it so my hand controls were my hand. I just discovered very early not to go with a standard. A clutch is a bitch when you can only use one leg.
However in those days there was no option. If you had any kind of physical impairment you were basically forced to have conditions on your drivers licence. I had one friend whose polio had only affected his left arm. He needed permission on his licence to use a “suicide knob” as a one armed driver. This goes back to the days of “assigned risk” insurance designation. That was the extent of regulations then which was far more simple than today. You had to abide by this rules at the point of purchase. After that there was little tracking and when you moved to a new jurisdiction, all bets were off.
I took my drivers licence in Calgary using my mentors car. Keith was the only person I knew with hand controls. When I moved back to Vancouver in 1972 I went to get my licence transferred to BC. Now this was in a time before electronic records so it was an easy event but not a straight forward one.
I was filling out the transfer form and I came upon a question that asked me if I used any mechanical “contrivances” to drive. I was a 22 year old stoner and had no idea what “contrivances” meant so I ticked off the “NO” box. Now in my defence the Motor Vehicle Branch clerk had my Alberta drivers licence so I thought they would look at it. I walked out of there with a class 5 drivers licence and no restriction.
A year later I moved east and spend nine months having a great time in Montreal. I would have stayed in Montreal but this was shortly after the FLQ crisis and Quebec was getting big on language protection. If you didn’t speak French you couldn’t get a job. I wasn’t about to learn French just so I could hang around Crescent and Peele Street so it was back to Toronto, a city I hadn’t been in for three years.
Once in Ontario I went to have my licence transferred. Ontario used a letter system while BC used a numeric system. The clerk that had taken my licence looked at it, turned around to someone in the background and said “Class 5 BC, isn’t that a Chauffeurs”. From somewhere back there a voice answered “yeah I think so”. The clerk turned back, took my info, took my picture (now this was at a time where your “actual” licence complete with picture arrives about a month later) and passed me my temporary Ontario drivers licence. It was a Chauffeurs status and having dispatched taxi in the past I saw this as a valuable working tool.
I quickly took the three day Toronto City Taxi Course and became the first (or so I was told) crutch using taxi driver in Toronto. It was one of the best jobs of my life but I didn’t want to make a career out of. Hell I’d probably be dead if I had of stayed with it but that is fodder for a future episode.
That really laid the foundation for the future of my dealings with regulations. They are only as good as they are define and policed.
I drove for 30 years with no hand controls and have a flawless driving record but age and ability eventually catch up. Being wiser later in life I eventually recognized the need for hand controls. I put my first set on my vehicle in 2000. Here’s where the foolishness started.
When I returned to BC in 2012 I went to switch back to a BC drivers licence. I’m sitting there, in my wheelchair, at the counter with the clerk doing the licence transfer while she explained to me that I would wind up getting my original BC licence back. All fine and dandy until she looked at my Alberta licence and noticed the hand control restriction. She looks at me, in my wheelchair, and says “do you really need hand controls?”.
My original BC licence didn’t have that restriction and the regulations have now changed. There is a certain “code” that needed to be input into the computer system so it could do me a new licence. The only way to get that “code” is by having a doctor fill out a certain form stating I needed hand controls. Until she had that code she couldn’t complete the transfer unless I did a completely new licence which would have meant a “two-year novice” ranking. $75 (the rate the doctor gets paid for filling out the form) later I had the “code” and an updated licence.
What do I take away from that kind of stuff? Never trust regulations or policies to have any sense and never accept what you are being told as the absolute, just because they say something doesn’t mean that is the way it is…