A Hostage of Circumstance

“The biggest restriction to independence for the disabled is the perception of retaliation for speaking out” – Terry Wiens (2018)

I am so pissed off right now I need to speak out.  I have been a hostage of circumstance for the past four years and I’m tired of it.  I own part of the responsibility but only part.  I accepted a “partially” accessible apartment based on the information provided by the building manager.  I accepted a lease for a place sight unseen rather than drive 600 KM to view it.  With that said I was very clear about being in a wheelchair and they send me responses leading me to believe that a one year old building met the current building codes.

It wasn’t until I arrived with a moving truck full of furniture that I discovered a difference of opinion in the differentiation between “building code” and “accessibility standards”.  But I settled, accept the place based on the belief that I could make enough accommodations to make it work for me.  I didn’t realize at the time that Nanaimo City Planning didn’t enforce accessibility standards, a practice I’m not use to.  An erosion of rights in a system I tend to take for granted, local governments enforcing accessibility standards.

It has now reached a point where I can no longer just “settle” and I am tired of watching small erosions of rights won.  Fortunately I can stand up to systemic issues without fear of reprisal.  Too many of my disabled peers can’t.  They are held hostage by circumstance to live in situations where speaking out could result in a retribution they can’t afford, financially or emotionally.  Sadly these systemic barriers just seem to be growing as programs are eroded or hidden behind complex policies and regulations.

The latest is a federal government policy that now restricts disabled Canadians from self-representation in their fight for government disability benefits.  They now require a lawyer.  Lawyers are expensive and most legal aid has disappeared.

Whether they can afford a lawyer or not becomes almost irrelevant because so many of them are fearful of speaking out.  They equate speaking out to this “biting the hand that feeds you” mentality.  That’s not standing up for your rights, that’s “settling” for the scraps that fall of the table.

Cartoon of lady laying on ground with two political figures withholding her wheelchair
We don’t want to enable you, we want you to be independent

My DNA doesn’t work that way.  I am no Robin Cavendish but I will be damn if I sit back and let his advancements for my rights be thrown aside simply as a cost savings process.  I have spend a life time speaking out and fighting for rights.  The few times I have “settled” I’ve lost.  I am by no means comparing myself to Robin Cavendish.  He was a man of strength and ideals but he helped lay the groundwork for much of my future.  He had a dream and a willingness to fight.  What he lacked in system supports was more than made up by the strength of his friends and family.

I am more of an opportunist with a social conscience who happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I was able to water the seeds of community inclusion in the garden he had established.  Where I am like Mr. Cavendish is that I was never one to just “settle”.  I helped pave my road by standing up to those who told me I couldn’t.  Every time we “settle”, we lose ground.

South of the border Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, is slowing dismantling the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In Canada basic access to the community is slowly being eroded and we are being represented in Parliament by an MP best known for his line “There are all kinds of sob stories out there“.  If that is indicative of the new face of disability rights then start breaking mirrors.

In Nanaimo accessibility standards are a nicety, not a necessity.  Nanaimo is about the financial needs of developers.  It is a nightmare trying to get the City to not only understand accessibility regulations but also recognized how they are linked to human rights laws.  It is my belief that the City has a “duty to accommodate” by insisting that developers incorporate accessibility standards into their housing development.

Picture of large tear in flooring laminate
Fourth tear in cheap flooring

The building I live in advertised on their website “High-quality interior finishings including durable flooring and designer colour schemes”.  That’s crap, I have had to have that “durable flooring” repaired four times now (still waiting for the fourth repair seen in picture).

I first raised this latest issue with my landlord October 3, 2016 and I was still waiting for repairs two months later.  Enough was enough so I finally decided I wasn’t “settling” anymore and initiated an Application for Dispute Resolution through the BC Residential Tenancy Branch.  At some point a person has to take a stand.  I have done nothing but accommodate this place since moving in here.  That includes crawling on my hands and knees so I can use the bathroom.  It’s not large enough for my wheelchair.  I’ve done my part.

The property management company definitely wasn’t happy.  I received their response last week and included a $2800 dollar bill to have the floor repaired.  They blame the damage on my wheelchair.  In 30 years I have never encountered this type of damage to a floor due to my wheelchair and I will not settle for this…a hearing date has been set for January 25.

More to come, I’m tired of being the nice guy…there is no end to be an activist which was another lesson Robin Cavendish taught me.  He was an early example of death with dignity and was assisted with his death in 1994 at the age of 64 (almost 30 years after being told he may live 3 months).


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