A letter to my wheelchair – in need of repair

Dear Chair:

Two and a half years ago you and I made a deal. I would work and in return we could go on adventures together. We’ve been to Edmonton, where the snow fell in March and we could barely get through the snow. In England, where I blew up my transformer and you held on for as long as you could. We learned that English chargers do it quietly, and with style.

You are a part of my identity. Accompanying me on everything; my daily commute, protests, coffee meetings, kisses, and cat cuddling sessions. You make my life possible, and I’ve failed you.

I took a risk. Like many who work in wheelchairs I pay your repairs out of pocket. It gets expensive. It would’ve cost $200 for them just to show up this weekend, just to look at you. Instead I chose to pay rent, and student loans, and that amazing new coffee maker I bought the week before. But hey, this was the deal we made, to live life without fear of broken parts.

Now we’re here, you and I, unmoving. Let down by an unregulated wheelchair repair system that encourages people to stay on poverty; on ODSP repairs are free, and you and I thank the credit card. It’s funny how with all my activism I missed what’s right under my feet. Now we wait, without any sense of when the work will be done, or what it will cost.

There has to be something better, for all of us.

You need us

You Need Us

You need us to stay in poverty to hold up your economy

You need us to sustain the industry you’ve built up around us in health care, equipment and psychiatry

You need us to build up your own worth, to keep our heads down and feel shut down so you can feel adequate

You need us to maintain your power, to be seen to be doing something when you’re really doing nothing at all

You need us to fight hard to be everything, so you can tell the rest of us it’s better to be nothing

You need us to lie down so you can stand on top of us

You need us to follow your rules so you can justify their existence

You need us not to realize how much you need us

Women at a mad movement protest
From: http://scm-l3.technorati.com/11/10/25/54849/lives-worth-living-07-press-1.jpg?t=20111025131253

Racialized people with disabilities walking on the road.

From http://www.joyen.net/VOASpecial/soft0627/201106/20110630212747372.jpg

No Shame in Falling

I hate falling. It serves as reminder to me that no matter what I do or what I accomplish, my body will at some point let me down, and that pisses me off.

If you`re reading this and thinking there`s a lot of internalized ableism in there, you`d be right.

So why do I feel so crappy about falling? I would never shame anyone else when they fall.

I know the answer to this. There was a time in my life when falling meant somebody was going to get upset with me, roll their eyes at me, yell at me, accusingly ask me “What’s wrong with you?” etc.

So naturally, when I fell in a movie theater the other day, and the staff had to come unlock the door so my partner could help me back up I expected some kind of negative response, or at least embarrassment.

All he said was “Why would I be embarrassed? People fall.”

And in that moment three things came to mind: 1) I wish I had a time machine to go back and say that to my childhood self. 2) I have an awesome partner (I knew that already), and 3) I still have a lot of internalized ableism to get rid of.

Falling is good, it teaches us it’s ok to fail, and you will get back up. Metaphorical falling anyway, real falling can hurt, so we should still avoid it, but the feelings of shame don’t have to be there.

I’m reminded of a quote I posted on facebook the other day: “Feminism doesn’t know WTF to do with disability, because disability throws a huge monkey wrench into the gears of the feminist notion that we’re supposed to be strong, independent, and accomplished beings, healthy and full of power.” from http://www.disabilityandrepresentation.com/2013/07/30/why-this-disabled-woman/

On that note, I’ve decided to write an article for an anthology on the conflicts between feminism and disability, and would welcome any suggestions. :)

Solidarity with the elevator workers strike

As of the end of May, there are no talks planned in the strike that’s seen 1,400 Ontario members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors striking for more than a month with no end in sight.

According to Ben McIntyre, business manager for the IUEC Local 50 in Toronto, the union’s deal with the National Elevator and Escalator Association expired at the beginning of May. With no new deal, the elevator workers went on strike. Like many workers, they’re fighting just to keep what they already have.

But a problem is brewing that may make things even more challenging for the Ontario’s elevator workers. If the maintenance workers’ strike continues, the agency regulating elevator safety in Ontario says it may need to shut down elevators for safety reasons. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority says it requires regular safety checks and is concerned that, with elevator companies won’t be able to keep up with required inspections.

But while you’re journeying up those flights of stairs, it’s worth remembering that these are the workers who keep those elevators running every day, and without them, your commute might be much more exhausting.

Having said that, many people depend on elevators as a part of daily life; I use an elevator roughly ten times a day. Until they develop an easily available wheelchair that can handle stairs, elevator workers will be an invisible army connecting me to the outside world.

And I’d personally prefer that army to be well paid, well qualified, and in strong enough numbers to get the job done.

I’ve had calls from reporters expecting me to be angry about this situation, and I can understand why some people are upset and worried, but without this strike would any of us stop and think about the importance of the work they do?

The Toronto Transit Commission is trying to make it easier for people with disabilities, and other people who depend on elevators while supporting the striking workers. They are adding buses and looking at their options for riders as the elevator workers strike continues. They are also putting Wheel-Trans buses in strategic locations to assist people that may get stranded because of broken down elevator. Wheel-Trans is the accessible public transit alternative for people with disabilities to use in Toronto when they can’t access the regular transit system.

Elevator workers are vital to the quality of life for many who live in Ontario, including people with disabilities. Let’s not let others make this a case of workers’ rights versus disability rights; let’s make it a time we supported each other in solidarity, so that we can all have the quality of life we deserve.

Reposted from http://www.socialist.ca/node/1774

Fighting austerity in North America: Walmart workers to Bill 115

 Tuesday, January 15, 7:00pm
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 252 Bloor Street West, room 8220
Elizabeth Clinton, OUR Walmart campaigner from Texas (via Skype)
OUR Walmart is a grassroots organization of Walmart workers and former workers fighting for rights for Walmart workers.

Ritch Whyman, International Socialists

Low wage non-union Walmart workers organized a fantastic strike against their notorious anti-union employer on Black Friday. Workers, both union and non-union, are fighting back against austerity across North America. 

Showing that workers in some of the lowest paid service-sector jobs can organize and fight back, workers from McDonald’s have held protests, wildcat strikes and campaigned for better wages. In Canada, federal and provincial governments are using legislation to impose contracts and try to stop strikes and solidarity. What are the prospects for resistance in this new environment of austerity?

Join a discussion on working class resistance, where we have been and where we are going. 

Organized by the U of T International Socialists
Info: reports@socialist.ca

A People’s History of the War of 1812

Picture of the War of 1812

Fundraiser evening with JOHN BELL
Toronto Centre fundraising dinner and talk, suggested donation $7-15
Sunday, November 4 - 5:30pm Dinner & Talk
United Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street

Stephen Harper has devoted at least $28 million to glorifying the War of 1812, as part of his ongoing campaign to “rebrand” Canada as a “warrior nation”. There is a lot to remember and celebrate from this history, but it sure isn’t what Harper wants us to know about: corruption, incompetence and greed among the rulers on both sides of the border; and a powerful urge to resist war by working people in the Canadas and in the battleground states.

Come hear Socialist Worker columnist John Bell on A People’s History of the War of 1812. It’s not your Tory’s history.
Please forward widely

Reproductive Justice includes Women with Disabilities

Earlier this month I spoke at a reproductive justice rally, and as much as I was honoured to be there, it wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. For a long time I stayed out of the pro-choice conversation. I have always been pro-choice, but I didn’t always feel included in the movement. My concerns about reproductive justice were a little different than most feminists, while most women I knew were fighting for the choice of whether or not to have children; most women with disabilities were fighting for the choice to have children at all.
Like many fights in the disability movement this one goes on silently and often behind closed doors. It happens in subtle ways, the dead quiet after a little girl with a disability suggests that she is going to be a mommy someday, the doctor who asks a teenager with a disability why she wants birth control, to the barrage of comments a pregnant woman with a disability is subjected to in public. It also happens in more overt ways, like when a woman with a disability is not allowed to have her child in the maternity ward, the many unwarranted calls to the Children’s Aid Society, and even in some cases forced sterilization.

There are 300 million women with disabilities around the world, each one of them are impacted by issues like these, compounded by the same lack of reproductive justice facing other women in their communities. But how do these women organize if they are too afraid to tell their stories? How can we expect them to join the movement if they do not feel included?

While these women are feeling excluded from discussion of choice and reproductive justice, the anti-choice movement has been freely exploiting us for years. One day they tell women that children with disabilities are their punishment for having abortions, and the next time they are telling women that they should risk giving birth to a potentially disabled child, even at the risk of their own lives. We did not ask to be used this way, and I for one refuse to be used this way.

What we need is a reproductive justice movement that welcomes women with disabilities in the way we want to be included. The rising of women is the rising of us all, but only if women with disabilities rise too.

People with Disabilities March and Roll on the Streets of Toronto

On October 13th, 2012 the disability community once again made their voices heard on the streets of Toronto. They marched with a goal to bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression, but they also marched to celebrate and take pride in themselves as part of a community of people with disabilities.

The Toronto Disability Pride March began in the fall of 2011, inspired by the events of Occupy Toronto, and the marches against cuts to disability services that were happening in the UK. The March was also intended to raise awareness to cuts and events that were impacting the disability community locally, such as cuts to social housing and incidents with the Toronto Police. In that first year one hundred people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square and marched down to St. James Park.

The UN has noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society. Many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed against their will. Though people with disabilities are seen as less or not exploitable by the owners of the means of production, they are further oppressed by being left out of it. To put it in terms of the occupy movement, they are often the lowest 1% of the 99%.

This year we are noticing this oppression in the form of cuts by stealth, and a political scene that not only divides us by our various disabilities, but also by other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, etc. In September, the provincial government put forth a draft standard to make parks and the outdoor environment accessible. This sounds great until you consider that the same government is eliminating Community Start Up and Maintenance funding to people living on social assistance, which many people rely on to find and keep their homes. They might as well call making these parks accessible the new Home Modification Program.

The accessibility legislation may get out foot in the door for changes in Ontario, but at what cost, but letting our government choose which barriers to eliminate and which to ignore, are we setting ourselves up for future discrimination? Where are the standards to benefit those with chemical sensitivities or mental illnesses? Who says it’s acceptable to leave them out.

The way the March was built also changed this year. Without a solid Occupy Toronto base to build from, we were basically starting from scratch. We discovered some of the perils and perks of grassroots group organizing. We came up with a new route, and made new allies that helped make our March a success.

We also discovered that for some people in our community the concept of disability pride is scary, the concept of the oppression of people with disabilities is still too hard to face, and connections between different movements in the disability community are something they are not ready to build. We need to work on that.

A question I often get asked about this March is what is disability pride. I think we can find it in a great many things. Being in the march, and making ourselves visable is one example, the solidarity we find in marching with each other is another. Another way I think we show this pride is by recognizing and fighting oppression. There are some people with disabilities who will try to tell you that oppression of people with disabilities, otherwise known as ableism, does not exist, that all we need is to eliminate a few barriers and we’ll be fine. I’ve actually gotten emails suggesting that. We know that’s not true. Anyone who’s on ODSP can tell you that’s not true, anyone who’s been asked to leave a disabiility grassroots organization because of a mental health issue knows that’s not true, and any parent who has feared having their child taken away because of their disability knows that’s not true. We can do better. For too long, the rights and oppression of people with disabilities have been discussed behind closed doors, or not at all, but through actions like the Toronto Disability Pride March we find our voice, and make ourselves heard in the chorus of movements.

It’s no mistake that the Toronto Disability Pride March brings out a call to build connections within the disability movement. It’s a call for equal access and equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or what disability they have. This is something that seems to be lacking from the mainstream organizations and movements, and why the March will continue to forge its own path.

We call on our allies, people of every ability from the labour movement, the student movement and beyond. We call on those whose struggles have long been supported by people with disabilities to join our struggle and prove that we are stronger united. For more information you can find us on Facebook, or check out our website http://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/. We look forward to seeing you next year!


The Most Important Post I’ll Ever Write

I know I haven’t been on this blog for a while, so maybe I’m a little late to test the loyalty of the few who read it, but I really need some help here. I had to give it a try.

Before I get into that, let me first explain what I’ve been up to the last couple of months. It boils down to two things really. The first is that I have a new job (yay!), but that’s the less interesting part. The second thing is that I am in love, even now that’s far more rare than a job.

Now before you all start rolling your eyes at me, this is not a post to expose my gushy romantic side, I really do need some help with an issue, but I’m willing to expose that side of me to get that side across. I mean I could go on about how he saw me at a march I organized, and it took him 6 months to ask me out, and when he finally did I fell for him in a way I’ve never felt before…but I’m pretty sure at least half of you would yawn and move on and i haven’t gotten to the important part yet.

You see, this guy, this wonderful guy, he has two months to find a new place to live. Now on the surface that may not seem like a big deal, but look at it this way.

He’s lived in his current place for more than ten years, no issues. He lives on social assistance like I used to, which means $800 in rent is his limit, and anything in that range in this city has bedbugs. Add to that discriminitory landlords who refuse to rent to him because he lives on so little…and then maybe you might get why it’s a big deal.

If that still doesn’t work for you, let me try it this way. This a man who left his house at 6 am to walk for an hour to my place because my attendants weren’t showing up and were putting my job at risk, he helps me out of with things I can’t do, fixes the tires on my chair, makes me smile on a really rough day even when he’s stressed out, and does all of this and more like it’s just something any man would do. Kind of my version of Frank Miller’s Noir Hero.

Now take a man like that, a man I love more than I realized I could love someone, and imagine he could be homeless in 2 months.

I know this story is not new. I know it happens to people all the time and that’s why we have rallies against poverty, and countless activists across the country fighting against situations like this. But this man has my heart, and right now my heart fights for him.

Which brings me to my request, if any of you know of a one bedroom apartment somewhere in Toronto, whether it be Etobicoke, North York wherever…and this place is affordable and has no bedbugs, please send a message to this blog. Even if you don’t, he could really use some encouragement right now.

If poverty take this man away from me, I don’t think I’d have the heart to write anymore.