One Voice Speaking

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity” – Albert Einstein

SilenceIn light of the tragedy out of Charlottesville last week I feel the need to speak out a bit.  You cannot point at any one event that lead up to Charlottesville but silence and complacency went a long way to creating the conditions.  I am reminded every day by people I know very well just how disconnected many people are from much of the reality many of us face.  Denial is an easier bubble to live with when you avoid the realities of what is going on around you, it’s a good guilt alleviator.

I believe the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms comes with a sense of personal responsibility.  We do not have “freedom police” and we don’t need them if people speak up when they see rights being ignored.  If you are a responsible member of the community and have the ability to self-determine then you need to speak out.  Would you pass a grass fire by the side of some highway and not report it?  This same attitude is needed to avoid the erosion of the Charter.

We have a shared responsibility to protect our rights by using the due process that is available.  You can’t do that from inside your bubble of “privilege” regardless of what that privilege is.  A sense of privilege does not have to involve wealth, skin-colour, social standing or tribal mentality but it does require acknowledgement.  By recognizing your privilege you can step out of the comfort of your bubble by supporting the rights of those being marginalized by the erosion of their rights.  For the last fifty years mine has involved access in all of it’s forms.

To that end I attended a Nanaimo City Council meeting this past Monday to speak to the laws regarding accessibility.  I was thinking I would be speaking to the letter I send the City requesting a “Duty to Accommodate” an ongoing issue, closed captioning on Council meetings.  They broadcast them, they live stream them and they are available for archived viewing but none of them are closed caption.  Access, a federally mandated concept, can take many forms, is not restricted to the built environment and web accessibility is also an access issue.

Turns out it wasn’t even on the agenda.  One would think when an official “Duty to Accommodate” is received by the City with a stated timeline this would have some priority but apparently not.  I take my responsibility seriously and found a way to get on the agenda of speakers by framing it as access to city parks, a topic on the agenda.  I did have good support from Council but I have heard the words so many times before and now I want to see the walk, not just hear the talk.  Talk is cheap, walk gets results.  With that said I will follow up using the human rights process available to me and now that the new provincial government has reinstated the BC Human Rights Commission I won’t have to do it on my own.

Your own privilege can create storms

I am not popular these days with some locals who don’t think parks need to be accessible.  I have become one of those who some people prefer to dislike but then they are quite happy living in their 1978 bubble.  Then there are those who contact me asking me to speak out on certain subjects, like web accessibility, but decline to take any direct action even when supplied appropriate information and contacts.  I am sorry but I will “help” work on an issue but I won’t do it all for you.  Fortunately I’m thick skinned (fifty years of activism will do that) however I have become very disenfranchised with the whole issue around access.  Most people can’t think past a “ramp” or a curb-cut.  To me access is about attitude and the desire to make a community a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere.  Not in Nanaimo.

Food for thought:

  1. Your 17 year old son uses crutches due to cerebral palsy (CP) and is graduating from high school and then heading off to UBC.  Dad would like him to take driving lessons over the summer but he can’t find a driving school with a hand-controlled car.  That’s access…
  2. You are visually impaired and your daughter just started grade 1.  Everything the school sends home is visual, what do you do?  That’s access…
  3. Your company has recently transferred you and your family to Nanaimo.  You have three children and your oldest is a 9 year old in a wheelchair.  You take her to her first day of school only to discover her classroom is an inaccessible portable with three stairs.  What do you do?  That’s failed access…
  4. You have just moved your mother-in-law in with you following her stroke.  She uses a walker around the parts of the house she can get to (anything with stairs is out of bounds unless you are beside her) but to go out she uses a wheelchair.  She needs to see a dentist but you can’t find one that can accommodate that wheelchair.  What do you do?  This is also access…
  5. Due to a life-time of diabetes peripheral neuropathy and you are now wheelchair dependent.  Your doctor has asked you to keep a weight gain/loss log but you can’t stand on a scale.  What do you do?  That’s an access issue….
  6. You are hearing impaired and you want to discuss your latest City tax assessment.  You check their website only to discover there is no TTY system (legally mandated) available in City hall.  What do you do?  These are just some examples of the day to day access issue…

I moved to Nanaimo three years ago thinking I was moving to a small city with all of the amenities of its larger counterparts.  I had no idea how far behind Nanaimo is on basic access.  When a grocery store can lower their check-out counter to address the height issue of my wheelchair but I can’t find a doctors office that has adjustable examination tables one has to question priorities.

Access isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s the law….and I am one voice who will never stop speaking out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s