Is Being a Pioneer Worth It?

“In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore had to blaze my own trail” – Major Taylor 

There’s a light fog out there today, maybe better described as a mist but enough that you know the horizon is there but you can’t quite make it out.  That same fogginess has been clouding my mind of late which has stymied my writing.  So today I have to get some thoughts to paper before I go completely ballistic.  This misty mind is very depressing and when you are socially isolated the only form of expression is my writing.

People have been telling me for most of my life that my activism made me a “pioneer”.  That may be true but in my mind a pioneer has a destination with the plan of arriving at a destination.  My destination has always been an inclusive community which involves minimizing barriers, a society build on policies and regulations designed to eliminate any type of physical, attitudinal or systemic barriers.  A community that protects and supports all members otherwise known as an “inclusive” community.

To fully understand inclusion one needs to recognize three basic concepts.  Inclusion can have numerous forms but are generally defined by three parameters.  Some individuals may need more hands-on supports, which is interdependence.  Some may simply need protections provided through some policy or regulations that just even a playing field, independence.  Those two states are different but related.  The connecting concept, which often gets lost in translation, is the ability of self-determination.  That ability to self-determine contributes deeply to ones dignity and self-esteem.  How important is inclusion if you have to live it without dignity?

If you can’t differentiate between those three concepts you will never really grasp the importance of the “independent living movement“.  Those three terms are the trifecta of an inclusive community.  Without acknowledging all three you are simply creating a “product” for a healthcare system.

As a young polio survivor I was in the perfect demographic to be a pioneer in the coming independent living movement.  I grew up in the shadows of the likes of Robin Cavendish, Doug Mowat (one of the founding members of the BC Canadian Paraplegic Association and first elected disabled MLA), and Judi Chamberlin.  These are but a handful of activists whose mantle I picked up in the late 60’s and forward in my life.  They prepared the pathway that my generation began to pave.

I did my first activist march as an 18 year old hippie in Vancouver.  I got involved, as so many hippies did, protesting the Vietnam war.  It wasn’t due to my crutches but it did introduced me to the world of activism.  I was in Vancouver as a way to outrun the Alberta Eugenics Board.  Sterilizing the disabled was still allowed in Alberta so when I saw that letter show up I was out of Calgary and on my way to Vancouver before my parents even got home from work.  So the seeds of activism were already there, they just hadn’t been nurtured yet.  Vancouver did that and gave me a process.

Picture of a person walking through a field of high grass with caption
Never let them see you bleed

After retuning to Calgary I enrolled at Mount Royal College in 1970 at a time when schools didn’t have to accept students with disabilities.  The old Mount Royal in Calgary was far from accessible and again I was told I was a pioneer.  The students union nurture my activism gene even more and it took off faster than a Japanese Honeysuckle vine. Continue reading “Is Being a Pioneer Worth It?”