Reliving the “Dream”…Access

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer” – Bruce Lee

Well let’s start off with the good news of the week.  The new BC government is re-instating the BC Human Rights “Commission” and it is about dam time.  The Liberals closed it down in 2002 leaving BC, a province that in the 70’s and 80’s was a beacon of human rights solutions, the only province in the country with no Commission.  The Tribunal process in itself was a discriminatory barrier, I know, I did one.  Having left government from a policy analyst’s position I was familiar with the paperwork required but god help those people that didn’t understand the system or knew how to interpret the process.  Anyway, congratulations Premier Horgan, good start.

Now to the other side of the equation and I am focusing some of this at the new generation of activists, particularly those activists involved with the disabled.  Please, please learn about your topics, don’t let “access” slide because you believe someone or someplace is “trying”.  They’ve been trying nothing but my patience for the past fifteen years.  Every time you, as a young activist, “settle” for a lesser than what should be you trash every right the previous generation helped mold.

Not Accessible signage
I love seeing signage telling me the obvious “not accessible”. Basically a business buying signage to say not accessible

Every time you “settle” for a situation as seen in this picture you denigrate someone’s purpose.  I know Pat Danforth.  I was one of her first contacts with the world of disability after she broke her neck.  I’m pretty sure she was wishing she could get up and run when this long haired hippy freak on crutches walked into her hospital room.  It’s a longtime ago memory but I’m pretty sure she showed dread as I introduced myself as her Canadian Paraplegic Association mentor.  I am also aware of the advocacy battles she has fought the past 40+ years and her contribution to human rights and access.  If you are one of those activists that accepts the sign in the picture as “they’re trying” then get out of this work, sadly you are part of the problem.

That old game of “let’s put them on a committee” is just that, a game.  Those committees were happening in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s but where are we today.  Stop “settling” for things and insist on accountability for the regulations that are already there.

Newcastle Island, in Nanaimo, is a provincial marine park which in itself means access guaranteed.  It’s the law but like any law requires enforcement.  Any barrier to full inclusion in one’s community is not only illegal but, in my mind, immoral.  The province maintains they have met the accessibility standards and, according to their website, they have…

BC Park Website
The sign describing the required (by law) wheelchair access of this provincial park

Except, the walk-on ferry that takes you to the Island isn’t accessible and that isn’t a BC Parks issue.  That’s the service providers issues and nobody in Nanaimo has pushed this issue.  I know scout troops that go over there for some of their camping experiences so I can only assume (I know, never assume) the scouts here have no disabled members.  I raise that because my dad was a scout master and I grew up in a children’s hospital that had a scout/cub troop as well as guides/brownies.  That’s 55 years ago so what am I missing.  If you can’t go camping with your scout troop, family or any other number of events that go on over on Newcastle you are being excluded by your community.  And where are those activists speaking out on access?  Oh right they are busy over on that volunteer committee.

A similar issue is happening in the City of New Westminster with this new walk-on ferry pilot project providing service from Quayside to Queensborough.  It’s designed to accommodate bicycles, strollers and up to 40 passengers but (check the small print) “the use of wheelchairs or scooters is not supported“.  We are letting this happen.  Every time we “settle” for something like this we are throwing away (to me) fifty years of purpose, that is how long I have battled for full access.

I also have to stress that access goes beyond the built environment.  Access to services, employment, education and the Internet are built in attitude.  It’s not a ramp or an elevator, it’s an attitude.  It’s an attitude that is sorely missing in Nanaimo.  Any kid graduating this year in the Nanaimo school district is shit out of luck if they hope to stay close to family AND not be dependent on the provincial disability benefits.  There are no accessible place for them to rent and with no place to live (except mom and dad’s home) the chances of finding meaningful employment are slim to none.

The few younger activists I’ve met on the Island or in Nanaimo don’t seem to recognize these little ripple effects.  So with that in mind (plus in light of Horgan’s commitment to reinstating the Human Rights Commission) I have submitted a request for closed captioning of all City Hall meetings that are broadcast.  I have presented it as a “Duty to Accommodate” under the federal Treasury Boards Web Accessibility standards.  I have laid out the timelines with the city and if it means a human rights complaint I will.

Access Elevator
Nothing like a wheelchair access elevator opening onto a staircase

I haven’t spend my life fighting for rights just to watch them slowly erode due to others complacency.  That kind of complacency allows an environment where something like this picture is considered access.  I have mentored a lot of younger activists and most are to quick to “settle”.  It’s to easy to settle but when you lack the historical context that “settling” may actually be giving up ground previously gained.  In all honesty I was impatience in my early days however I slowly learnt about patience and research.  These days I will not sit back and watch as gains are washed away as quickly as a sand bar in the south Pacific.  Climate change is doing that but I will not let complacency destroy what was one of my life purposes.

Terry at 24
In my younger crazy days minus fifty pounds and still able to use my crutches.

Since I don’t golf, stroll along the beach or take long contemplative walks in the forest my retirement activity is a return to activism.  And I put out a #ActivistChallenge for all of you hard fighting radicals who believe in an inclusive and welcoming community to speak out again.  It’s time to fight past that fatigue and make your voice heard again.  The advances we fought for 30 years (or more) ago are slowly disappearing.  When we have reached that point where a major transportation system in one of the largest cities in Canada can ignore access then we all need to speak up again.  I don’t know about you but I have less access today to peoples homes than I had even fifteen years ago.  Apparently my work isn’t finished and I refuse to just roll over while my life’s purpose is dismantled…




5 thoughts on “Reliving the “Dream”…Access

  1. Great article and totally agree, except your point would be better made if your website wasn’t so darn hard to read for us visually impaired disability folk. Contrast is ok but having a “busy” background of this pictures makes it nearly impossible to read. I had to get someone to read it to me. So please, this is something you can control. Put the picture on the side and have a plain background for the writing. Thanks so much. Fellow activist.

  2. Thanks Sarah, I recently changed my design and I wasn’t sure how the W3C standards would work. To be really honest I have been a little remiss on the alt descriptions as well. I have taken your advice and changed the theme totally while tagging visuals with alt descriptors. Let me know what you think…

    1. So much better! Thought for a moment it was a totally different website. Thanks for being responsive to requests and for the fast improvement. I wish all requests for better access could be resolved this easily!

      1. It is actually pretty simple but too many companies/websites hide behind policy to avoid making change hoping the individual will give up due to frustration. When I worked within government it was an unwritten understanding that 30% of complaints would stop with a short “sorry, can’t”. No is easy to say but doesn’t make it factual…glad this worked better for you

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