Strange Situations – June addition

Between the double-takes in office buildings and people who think they’re “helping” when trying to push my wheelchair without asking, there’s a few amusing/uncomfortable stories that come up. These are real interactions I’ve had, just in the month of June 2015. Aside from the last one, none of these situations involved people who seemed as though they might be impaired in any way.

The Streetlight Guy

I’m waiting for the pedestrian light to say walk so I can cross. I’m looking at the light, just waiting on a nice clear sunny day when a man with his dog, standing a few feet away yells out “I’ll let you know when the sign says walk!”

I look directly at him and say “That’s ok, I’m fine, thank you”

As I’m just about to cross he shouts “It says walk now!”

As far as I can tell, he genuinely thought I couldn’t sort this out on my own unless other people were crossing. I guess that’s how you fail a pay it forward.

 

The Subway Guy

Sometimes when I can’t find an accessible space on the subway I’ll park right up to some empty seats, where there’s a lot of room around me and lots of other seats. People don’t try to sit there, because I’m out of my way and there’s space, so I read my book in peace. Except for this day.

I’m reading my book on the subway and I’m about halfway home when I notice someone staring at me. I look to my right, and notice a man sitting in the seat I’m parked up against. Again, there’s lots of other seats and space, but this guy chooses the one seat with so little space he has to tuck his feet under the seat, which is strange, but the fact that he’s staring at me with a grin on his face is weird. I decide not to draw attention to the situation, stay put, and go back to my book.

A few minutes go by, and then I feel someone poke me in the shoulder with their finger. I look up, and it’s the same guy.

He says “I’m sorry, I was just curious. How’s it going?”

What?! Personal space, it’s a thing, chair or no chair.

The College Cat-Callers

Last but not least, there is no good cat-call EVER, but those guys who whistled and shouted “Hey hot wheels” at around midnight one Saturday; I appreciate the diversity, but it’s no less creepy, sad, and sexist when compared to the next cat-call. Also, a fourteen year old boy thought that one up decades before you.

Just don’t do it.

That’s it for June. I wonder what July will turn up.

Disability…the final frontier for marriage equality?

This week Americans finally achieved marriage equality, and my fellow Canadians cheered (and quietly gloated over the fact that we’ve had it for the last ten years). While this is truly awesome, it also tugged at a small quiet chord of pain for myself and many others.

Amongst the cheers, some quiet whispers: we’re not quite there yet folks, not yet.

For those of us who live in poverty, are disabled people, or are otherwise oppressed, marriage means giving up certain safety, and reassurance that the what dignity we still have will be protected. It is a right that is given to us only if we meet certain normalizing criteria, incomes, or self-sufficiency. It means making ourselves vulnerable not only to our partners, but to the harsh oppressive voices we’ve worked to block out as single people. To join the club, you have to belong in the club.

Now don’t get me wrong, marriage is amazing. I am happy for those I know who are married, and for those who are happily getting married as a result of this recent decision. I believe that if society values marriage so highly, then all those who choose to enter it fully should be allowed to do so without fear.

For disabled people, the fear comes in two forms: society and policy. The society part is what we often talk about. How society still views disabled people as burdens, and how that plays out in our gender roles. For example, when I was growing up I was told that if I’m lucky I’ll find a good man who could see past my disability and take care of me, and when I do, I’d better hold on to him. Now I know that any person I choose better value my disability and see me as an equal partner. The point is that messages like make good partners hard to find, and keeps us vulnerable to less healthy partners.

Even if we do find healthy relationships, social policies still stand in our way. These things are hard to talk about because it involves programs that we’ve been conditioned to feel lucky to have, like social assistance and affordable accessible housing.

This American author had the courage to say what I did not, but it’s still true in Canada, including Ontario. While disabled people can technically marry, to do so they give up already meager social assistance, or certain kinds of accessible housing (like what I live in), or supportive housing. Many programs for disabled people are designed around the assumption that disabled people are not marriage material.

While not nearly as profoundly damaging as an outright ban on marriage, these policies still impact the public view of marriage. It is an injustice to pretend these polices do not exist.

What follows is one of my favourite quotes from the Kennedy decision, taken from Mother Jones:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Don’t we all deserve that much?

Helen Henderson

A bright light in the disability community has left us. Well maybe she hasn’t really left us.

I didn’t know Helen well, but I did have the honour of working with her a little bit. One day, she was encouraging the work I was doing with the Toronto Disability Pride March, and I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to tell her how much of an influence she was in my life. I thought I would find a better time. She was someone I looked up to, and though she was a humble person, I felt humbled in her presence.

Her writing taught me that people wanted true stories of disabled people at a time when it seemed like those things were invisible to the wider world. Her ability to cross that border, and show non-disabled people the truths of our lives was uniquely powerful.

Thank you Helen for sharing your cleverness, your quiet strength, and your warm encouragement. There are eyes more open, and lives made brighter, because you dared to share your world with us.

The following is a You Tube video of Helen at TedxRyerson:

The Grocery Shopping episode

My attendant mentioned that she hates grocery shopping with me because people stare at her with pity. I can’t say I blame her, it happens every week. What I did find strange was that she’s been working with me for a year, and only mentions this today. Maybe because when I backed out of the elevator some guy thought it would be funny to pretend like I ran over his foot. Yes, people do that. It’s on the scale of things that makes me wish I was bold enough to actually run over their foot and sit there for a few minutes. You start to wonder if you could’ve done things differently. I’ve seriously considered wearing make-up to the grocery store, or at least a “Piss on Pity” shirt.

We shouldn’t need such armour just to avoid a side of contempt with our cornflakes at the grocery store.

There are people I’ve known my entire life who think I’m somehow exempt from things like this, because they couldn’t imagine it. They dismiss it as unintentional or ignorance, but its objectification. Treating people like less than human beings. Small on their own, but like a steady leak that eventually leads to rot.

People wonder how big acts of oppression, discrimination and violence occur. It’s through the build-up of those small things, day after day it wears on your soul, your energy to act, and how your people are seen over time. Before long the raised voices become quietly archived history.

Disabled people are under constant threat of erasure. Our experiences undermined, our stories told through someone else. I heard today that in response to the assisted suicide decision, there’s talk of developing a list of disabled people. I think they could use a history refresher. Society in general has not been kind to those who get asked to register their status. People who’ve never had to worry about these things have a remarkable ability to ignore the lessons of the past.

I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario today with a friend. There was a section that was about art and politics, and it said that focusing on the positive leads to greater change. It got me thinking that maybe people need to hear more about who disabled people really are. There are many disabled people doing great things, and most of us are pretty quiet about it. I think it’s time we got louder, but more importantly, it’s time for the non-disabled to start listening.

Some thoughts on Disability, Privacy, and Privilege

Privacy has a bit of a different meaning for me than most people. I hire people to help me shower and help me dress. This is not something I am ashamed of, or that makes me less than anybody else. I’m ok with it, partly because I’ve always had to live with it, but mostly because I get to choose who I am vulnerable with, this has not always been the case.

As I grew up with my disability this vulnerability was most often not within my control, and that was always difficult, always. When I was in elementary school more people had access to my body and its functions than I can count. I remember reading a poem about a butterfly pinned up in a shadowbox, and people were looking at it, checking it for flaws, and realizing how much I felt like that butterfly. I was told this was normal, I’m sure my parents were told this was normal, but it never felt normal. I was told it made things easier. I wonder if any of those professionals thought about how all of that public access to my body was going to be viewed by the teenaged me as she tried to claim her body as her own. How do you claim sacred space after years of no one asking your permission?

When I got older and on social assistance, privacy became even less tangible to me. To go on social assistance you sign over access to your bank records and your medical information, so you can maybe have enough money to cover rent and a little bit of food. Again I was supposed to be ok with this, because I have a disability, and there was nothing I could do about this for a long time, because I have medical costs, and it took ten years to find a job that someone hire me for. I signed over my life, and promised to live alone, so I could eat; we all do. I’m now working, and have for a few years, but it’s hard to shake that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder.

Many disabled men and women have experiences similar to these, and the chilling effect these experiences have is immense. We don’t need whistleblowers to tell us how the loss of privacy silences our voices. The worst part is that many of us who can speak out distance ourselves from those who are more marginalized, and we forget what it’s like. Then we wonder why we have leaders who fight for tax breaks and building codes while people sign over their privacy so they can eat and shower.

Today on the sidewalk there was a man in a wheelchair like mine singing for change. I gave him a toonie, what I wanted to give was my solidarity. If my life had different circumstances that could be me, and I can’t forget that. If we don’t hold each other up we will all be pushed down when they tell us what we disabled people should expect.

“…If we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others – and for their use and to our detriment.”
~ Audre Lorde

New Toll-Free Number for Reporting AODA Violations

We need to send a clear message on the importance of AODA Enforcement by using this toll-free number when we see a violation of the Act. To report an AODA violation to the Government, call 1-866-515-2025. TTY: 1-800-268-7095

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) became law on June 13, 2005. Under this landmark legislation, the government of Ontario has developed mandatory accessibility standards that identifies, removes, and prevents barriers for people with disabilities.The AODA applies to all levels of government, nonprofits, and private sector businesses across Ontario who have one or more staff.

Ontario plans to conduct fewer compliance inspections this year, even though more than 60 per cent of businesses are still in violation of the province’s landmark accessibility legislation, according to new government data. We need to send a clear message on the importance of AODA Enforcement by using this toll-free number when we see a violation of the Act.

The following is from the AODA Alliance:

The Ontario Government has  established a toll-free phone number for the public to report violations of the AODA. This is an interim victory for us, on the long road of our ongoing effort to get the Government to keep its promise to effectively enforce the AODA.

Use this line if you encounter an organization in Ontario which you believe is violating the AODA.

To report an AODA violation to the Government, call 1-866-515-2025.

TTY: 1-800-268-7095

Take the steps we describe here, and then tell the Government operator you reach the specifics of the AODA violation, including what happened and when, and the name of the organization that violated the AODA.

When you call this number, it is not immediately clear from the Government’s audio announcement that this is the number to call to report AODA violations to the Government. Stick with it!

To reach a human being in order to report a violation of the AODA, first press 1 for English or 2 for French. The automated phone system will then offer to press 1 if you are an individual, or 2 for a business. Press 1, if you want to report an AODA violation.

You will then hear a longer audio announcement. At any time during that audio announcement, just press 0, to reach an operator. Tell the operator you want to report a violation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The first operator you reach does not take that information down from you.
Instead, that first operator is supposed to then connect you with a second operator, one who works at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, located at the Economic Development Ministry. That second operator is the person to whom you can report an AODA violation.

We encourage you to:

* Call this toll-free number if you know of a situation where an obligated organization is violating the AODA, or any accessibility standards under it.

* Ask the Ontario Government operator you reach what the Government will do with the information you give them. Ask them to be sure that the obligated organization is notified that you have contacted the Government with this report of an AODA violation.

* It is not necessary to yourself first notify the obligated organization of your concern that it has violated the AODA. However, it is quite worthwhile to first let that obligated organization know about the accessibility problem. When you call the Government’s toll-free number, you can include in your report any information on your efforts to get the obligated organization to fix the problem, and the response you received from the obligated organization.

* Encourage your friends and family members to also use this toll-free number to report violations of the AODA.

* Widely publicize the availability of this toll-free number. Include it in newsletters, letters to the editor, Facebook pages, etc.

Let us know what happens when you call this number. You can give us your feedback on your experience by emailing us at aodafeedback[at]gmail[dot]com