“With Rights comes Responsibilities”
Two stories grabbed my attention this week that I really need to speak out on. The first was that unfortunate event in that Quebec restaurant. Did the police go to far in arresting the server? Initially I would have said yes until after watching some Facebook chatter. I was also hearing from other disability activists looking for a point of view. These are peers, each with a minimum of 45 years experience living with a disability plus a long history of activism.
We have spend the better part of our life’s fighting for access based on the disabled profile of the day. However the face of disability looks very different today than it did in 1980. The complexity of disabilities has grown in the past 40 years and our thinking has been slow to catch up. In todays society we have to look at an inclusive community rather than just an accessible one.
The 70’s and 80’s set the table for “physical” access almost tying the concept of access to the build environment. Today we confuse an accessible community with an “inclusive” community. Two very different concepts requiring two different ways of thinking, access is about an “assumed” responsibility (building code as a concrete example) while inclusion requires a level of “shared” responsibility (which could be represented as the “intent” of the building code).
An inclusive society is about interdependence rather than independence. Inclusive thinking would require the server to maintain a level of responsibility in dealing with a customer who had explained a life threatening allergy. My experience has been if there are no consequences for the lack of responsibility than why should anyone ever have to be responsible.
The consequences for Simon involved three days in a coma and that was the result, in part, because someone ignored their responsibility in this little interaction. If a doctor had caused this there would have been consequences. If societal expectations are that an inattentive server can abandon their workplace responsibility but a doctor cannot then that is elitism not inclusion?
Are the police right in considering charges against this server?
I have seen comments that since Simon-Pierre Canuel, who was more than aware of the severity of his allergies, left his EpiPen in his vehicle he failed on his responsibility. I agreed initially and then reread the article. The reporting made it clear that Simon (for the record I have no personal knowledge of this Simon) had explained his allergies very clearly to the server which, from my perspective, means he fulfilled his role as the responsible customer. Throwing all the responsibility for the tragedy back at Simon is just another form of “victim blaming” and I will not sit by as we make the victim the culprit. This blaming the victim mentality has become to easy in todays society.
When I phone a restaurant verifying accessibility, making them aware that a wheelchair will be one of the reservations I have done the responsible thing. When I arrive to find an automatic door opener that opens into a room full of bar level tables I am left staring at access, not inclusion. End result, the design met access code but the application missed inclusion. My days of eating with the food at my eye level are behind me but the restaurant maintains they stuck to standards and they did. This is where we need to speak up for inclusive space, not just an accessible ones. In an inclusive community we all have a “shared responsibility”.
So should the police be charging the server? That’s up to the legal system to determine. What we need to do is re-evaluate our beliefs by redefining our understanding on the difference between access and inclusive. Recognizing that we all have a responsibility to make our community truly inclusive requires a major shift in our current groupthink. We need to start seeing old problems through new eyes. If charging someone will make everybody else more accountable then go for it…if you want to have the right then you better assume the responsibility.
The second story I will discuss in my next post but I will leave you with a teaser, what is a “service” animal and how does that differ from a “therapy” animal?
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