“Ring out the false, ring in the true” – Alfred Lord Tennyson
The road through 2017 has been one of ruts, potholes and sometimes just plain erosion. I usually approach New Years by taking the lessons I have learnt throughout the year to make myself better, not bitter but this year has been very challenging. This is my farewell to 2017 short and me draining all of that pend up bitterness before going into 2018. This may cost some relationships but growing up in a hospital you learn early that sometimes gain may require some pain.
I don’t believe I have had a year where I have felt as alienated as 2017. A lot of this alienation is due to the assumption that my lexicon works from shared definitions, WRONG. Something as simple as the use of the word “understanding” has a completely different meaning for me than many in my sphere of influence. It’s not until one has actually walked a path or travelled a particular road that you can really appreciate the perspective of understanding.
Disability rights and access is like a living organism, continually evolving. If you haven’t traveled it you will never really understand. You may empathize but that isn’t understanding. Complete understanding means seeing an issue that may not affect you directly but still take the time to make the powers that be aware that this isn’t good enough. Be that an e-mail to a politician or a note to a corporate office.
The road keeps changing and awareness is never ending. My activism will never stop and shouldn’t be confused with a “rant”. Recently, someone I’ve known my entire life, felt I was attacking siblings based on a comment I made about a shortage of family members with accessible homes. This was followed up with a comment how I’ve always wanted to be “treated as an equal and not as a handicap”. I’m not really sure what being “treated like a handicap” means but, to me, it doesn’t equate to equal. I have paved my own road when it comes to equality as a disability activist.
In a later chat I tried to clarify with one of my brothers that no insult had been intended. He assured me it was fine but felt I could have used a better descriptor than “understanding”. My brother means well and helped me out a lot ten years ago when I was in crisis. He helped me move from Victoria back to Alberta where I could stay in his “accessible” home. I was very appreciative however a house with three stairs at each entrance plus an interior with all bathrooms, bedrooms and entertainment room on different levels is not exactly accessible.
That kind of understanding would be like me telling a blind friend that I understood their access issues then suggesting we go to the local Chinese buffet for supper. A buffet is actually a barrier to someone with a visual impairment because you need to see. Me suggesting a buffet shows a lack of understanding for access to a visual impairment.
Access is like a road continually under construction and like any road requires regular maintenance of what had been previously built. That’s the road my generation help build.
It is frightening as I watch certain disability rights slowly being eroded which is why I will never stop my activism. Last week the American Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew Obama era guidance documents on the Americans with Disabilities Act affecting how States and local governments provide employment services to the disabled. A move that is seen as re-segregating the disabled.
Disability Now, a podcast I subscribe to from Britain, recently reported on the “extra costs commission” (a Commission set up by the government to look at the extra costs associated with disabilities) and 30% of an earned dollar goes to disability costs. In a 2016 Nottingham University study there appears to be an increasing backlash in the workplace for employees with disabilities. With Brexit looming over Great Britain right now there is a lot of concern within the disability activism community. Access and disability rights regulations are contained in the EU regulatory system. So far little has been said on what will replace those protections once Brexit is complete.
Meanwhile in Canada we have a federal Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities, Kent Hehr (a quadriplegic himself) insulting a group of Thalidomide survivor with his now famous quote “Everyone has a sob story“. The City I live in fails to enforce the accessibility regulations contained in the building code. These are the realities I understand because I wheel that road.
So yes 2017 has been a perfect mixture of materials to make me very bitter. That part I do understand but I don’t have to hold on to it. I need to turn that bitterness into something I can use to make 2018 a “better” year. If the steps I take to accomplish that offends others I apologize. This is about equality and the day to day issues I deal with so understand that.
Have a Happy New Year and all the best in 2018…
The Travelled Road
We grow up believing we can turn around,
Based on the path that travels the ground,
But the path of life is a one way street,
And we must deal with the souls we meet.
There’s no turning back to change the past,
The experience we have lived forever last.
There are other souls on life’s long road,
Carrying their memories as part of their load,
We meet those souls along the way,
Some move on while others stay,
What connects us to those so near?
What divides us from those we fear?
We travel long on the road of life,
Findings our joys, surviving our strife,
Meeting new people and making new friends,
Those special few who stay till the end,
Experiences shared make us who we are,
The road of life goes on so far.
Terry Wiens – May 2006