Who Is the Choir?

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela 

What does it mean when someone says “you’re talking to the choir”?.  Lately when the conversation turns to access I get a lot of “it’s alright you are talking to the choir” comments until I ask them something like:

Me – “Okay where could I send a family who want their 17 year old son with Cerebral Palsy to learn to drive.  They can’t find drivers program with a hand-control vehicle.  Where would you suggest I send them?”

Choir – “Well I thought you were talking about access. Learning to drive has nothing to do with access”

Me – “I am talking access and it’s relationship to driving is access to service.  The need to access service is the backbone of an inclusive community.  Everything else, ramps, hand-controls, beeping crosswalks, etc are tools to meet an objective and that objective is access.”

Choir –  “Oh I thought you meant getting those buildings ramped properly and some accessible housing.”

Me – “Well that’s part of access.  I’m much more interested in accessing the services in the building.  As an example, ramping a library makes little difference to a visually impaired persons access, so why do we consider it accessible once a ramp is there?  A ramp is merely one tool that can be used for access but that tool isn’t the whole process.  There is a wide range of life requirements to live independently and by recognizing access as an attitude it is much easier to plan for an inclusive community.”

Is that really talking to the choir?  Access is a very complicated subject that has been watered down over the years by dividing the audience.  To me access is a thought process and needs to be incorporated into every step of a process.

Pro-birthWhen a young person graduating from high school with a disability cannot access any of the services available to his graduating peers then full access has not been accomplished.  Starting your life with a major disadvantage like a disability is difficult enough and yet we make it worse by not ensuring access to services is available.

If an advocate only sees building code issues but fail to see “service access” then they are providing “peer support” not access activism.  Peer support is good but should not be confused with activism.

When someone talks to me about being a member of the choir, I want to know if they are really the choir or am I hearing the alto/soprano section but not the base and tenors.  If that is the case I’m not really talking to the choir, I’m talking to a special interest group.

Activists or advocates need to see a process from beginning to end.  They need to understand the full implications of what they are striving for and how it impacts the entire community.  Access shouldn’t be a social issue, it should be ingrained into all aspects of community planning.

It shouldn’t be relegated to some “social policy” committee.  Forty years has shown me that the minute they set up a “special” committee to look at your social issues they have just carved you out of the herd.  Access is no longer a social issue, it is a societal issue and societal issues need to be front and centre in any community planning.  In the 80’s and 90’s having your “issue” on a social planning committee sounded nice however the reality (and I have sat on many of them) you have just been moved to the kiddie table.

We need to abandon this “silo thinking” approach and start working together.  We need to check our rearview mirror every now and to recognize how we got here.  For over fifty year I have watched a pattern of two steps forward, one step back and it doesn’t appear to be changing.  Activists need to know their history, they need to know what steps were taken to get them here.

There is a need for peer support personalities and fighting for the needs of a specific segment of the community.  An advocate should be speaking for what is best for the whole community while not disenfranchising any member of that community.  So are you pro-birth or pro-life?



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