Trudeau’s ‘accessible Canada’ includes unpaid work

Marchers holding signs at the Toronto Disability Pride March
Marchers holding signs at the Toronto Disability Pride March. Featuring Beverly Smith.

Back in 2015, before the Canadian federal election, a movement of disabled people was building across the country. The call for a barrier-free Canada was built in that time by a small, dedicated group of people who reinforced their message daily through social media and on the ground action. Their methods were so effective, that what began as a grassroots call for national solidarity grew into a campaign promise by Trudeau….

Instead of reaching out to offer paid work to disabled people, they paid consulting firms to find disabled people to consult with. They are doing market research rather than accepting the expertise of disabled people in designing policies or programs.

Read the full article I wrote for Socialist.ca.

The 6th Annual Toronto Disability Pride March Saturday, September 24, 2016

Starting at Queens Park (111 Wellesley Street West) and marching to the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson (99 Gerrard Street East) from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Please note: accessible washrooms are not available at Queen’s Park. Please see information on accessible washrooms on the route page.

Why we’re Marching:

  • To bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression.
  • To be visible and show that we have a voice in our community and a right to be heard by taking to the streets.
  • To celebrate and take pride in ourselves as a community of people with disabilities.

Be Loud, Be Proud, Come March with Us!

Find us on Facebook and Twitter @DisabilityPM

We need volunteers and marshals for the march! If you have experience that is great, if not we still want you! If you aren’t sure what a marshal does, here’s a brief description. Please fill out the volunteer form if you are interested.

Some  things you should know if you plan to attend.

The Toronto Disability Pride March aims to promote a cross-disability atmosphere, that also recognizes other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, sexuality, sanism, etc.  We believe the disability movement is strongest in a harmony of voices, not one homogeneous voice. We ask all those who plan to attend the march to respect this approach and the other people within the space of the march.

Have Questions? email us at torontodisabilitypride@gmail.com.

Air Canada Discriminates Against Wheelchair User

Disability advocate Tim Rose is attempting to fly to Cleveland to deliver a presentation on the importance of accessibility. But, ironically, he can’t get there because a major airline is refusing to accommodate – or even brainstorm possible ways to meet – his needs. Although Air Canada is the only airline to fly there direct (and thus Tim’s only reasonable option), they are refusing to transport his wheelchair because it is too difficult for them. Despite the fact that he has flown this exact route with Air Canada on a similar plane before (not to mention flown many times around the world). Despite the fact that their own accessibility policy commits to transporting mobility aids that do not fit on smaller planes by another method. and despite the fact that they have almost two months to come up with a solution. They are saying Tim wanting to fly with his wheelchair is the same thing as trying to bring an oversized bag. Tim and his wheelchair are not baggage.

This is hardly the first time people with disabilities have received inequitable treatment by Air Canada, see this article from 2009, and this article from 2015 for just a couple examples.

A while back I also started a petition related to this issue.

See Tim’s video below. Apologies this video is not yet captioned. I will post a captioned video when it becomes available.

 

 

Disabled People have better stories to tell

My proposed line-up of disability-themed movies:

  • A group of crip sisters sharing stories of their struggles through the years, and how their crip sisterhood helped them through it.
  • Maybe those crip sisters are on a spaceship, as part of a rebellion.
  • Two young disabled people from divided houses fall in love. In an act of rebellion against family pressure, they don’t kill themselves, but instead start a family of their own.
  • A disability activist searches for meaning in their own life while fighting for safeguards in assisted suicide laws.
  • A group of disabled/Mad friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. They wake up the next morning to discover one of their friends is missing, and encounter various shenanigans while looking for them.

Ok so maybe I should stick with writing blogs, but I still think these films would be better than what’s on the table.  See this review of Me Before You if you’re not sure what I’m referring to here.

We know why ableist films and messages continue to spread, as do sexism, racism, and homophobia.

We have a responsibility to call out these stories, so that their toxic messages do not spread.

I’ve been seeing posts and messages that “it’s just one story” or “they don’t mean you”, but I think those posts miss the point.

I grew up in an area without many other disabled people. I had no disabled role models until I left home. Despite the privileges of being a white, middle class kid, I grew up with a lot of discrimination, but I didn’t know that’s what it was. I thought it was me, that I was broken. I was surrounded by sometimes well-meaning able-bodied people who saw my disabledness as something to mourn, or to mould into something more acceptable. They didn’t have better stories either.

Ableist stories were all I had until my twenties. Yes, I’m still here, but they’re woven into my formation, that’s just how it is.

Growing up in that environment still impacts me, some days I still feel broken. Some days ableist attitudes from others convince me for a time that I don’t belong, that I am less of a person.

I am fortunate now, that I have a strong community of disabled folks around me, but not everyone does.

Ableist stories and messages might not impact all of us equally, but they do cause harm.

We need to tell our own stories. We need less suicide and more solidarity.

Preferably with rebel forces on space cruisers.

Disability Rights and Physician-Assisted Dying   – Saturday April 23rd

Saturday, April 23rd 2016 | 4:15 p.m.

Multifaith Centre | 569 Spadina Ave (north of College)

Speakers
Melissa Graham  Fighter for social justice, public speaker, writer, researcher, and proud disabled woman working with youth, women, & other disabled people in Toronto. One of the organizers and founder of the Toronto Disability Pride March. 
Maureen Aslin , Facilitator and educator working with community groups to support end of life planning. Advocate for patient rights.

Speakers list is now online at:
http://marxismconference.ca/speakers

For full program details click here:
http://marxismconference.ca/program

To register online click here:
http://marxismconference.ca/register

part of MARXISM 2016 | ideas for real change
$10 or pwyc
info: marxismconference.ca

The Privilege of Niceness

Confession: The label of “nice” has benefited me as a woman and a disabled person. A smiling face has literally opened doors for me. I’ve pretended to be fine to get things I’ve needed or just to avoid confrontation.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, perhaps we should reward “niceness” is society, but what happens to people who get labelled “not nice” or “difficult”?

Where do these labels come from? What are their consequences? Do we lose something by silencing people who don’t follow the status quo?

I’m not talking about someone who oppresses others. There are many forms of “not niceness” with power. I’m talking about marginalized oppressed people who carry these labels around before they even speak.  Who’ve been judged against Robert’s Rules of Order, or any system used to separate Others from professionals and decides who has a greater right to speak.

There are consequences on an individual level, with many examples. In advocacy groups made up of people labeled “professionals” and “community members”, those community members are more likely to be heard if they back up the professionals and keep their emotions in check, and speak when it’s their turn. A disabled person looking for services is more likely to get what they want when they’re articulate, and faces greater marginalization when they are not.

At a systemic level, it’s showing up in policy, through people who think social change can be brought about with legislation. Those fighting for accessibility legislation say it is the answer to our problems. Others want to introduce anti-poverty legislation, claiming income is an equalizer of fairness and respect. Sometimes activists are encouraged to play along, and keep quiet any talk about ableism or other forms of oppression…lest it disrupt sunny ways.

Don’t get me wrong, these groups are doing great work, but there’s a big piece missing. Accessibility and income cannot make up for those situations that leave us disadvantaged and devalues our humanity. Ableism and sanism are ugly truths, but we do ourselves a disservice by painting over those truths. It’s like trying to solve the wage gap between men and women without acknowledging sexism, or calling for an end to carding without acknowledging racism.

If we want change, it’s time to stop working within the same old rules and hierarchies.

It’s time to end the silencing of the uncomfortable.

 

 

Disabled People making more waves than Election Candidates?

For those of you who might not know, we’re having a federal election here in Canada. I’m not a huge fan of electoral politics. I think there’s much more that we can do to influence social policy than cast our votes, and let’s be honest, the choice between three white one-percenters in 2015 says a lot about the level of change that needs to happen in this country.

Aside from that, it is a great time to push for change, while the public eye is on politics, and surprisingly disabled people are making space in election time.

There are some really exciting things happening in the disability movement in this election, and you need to know about them.

First is the Toronto Disability Pride March, happening tomorrow Saturday October 3rd. Full disclosure I am the founder and a co-organizer of this march, but even if I weren’t I would still be shouting from the rooftops, because this is going to be an amazing event and you all should be there. It starts at 1:00 pm at Queen’s Park at 111 Wellesly Street West, and wraps up at 99 Gerrard Street East with a post march celebration at 4:00 pm

We have some great speakers lined up including David Lepofsky of Barrier-Free Canada and the AODA AllianceDiem LaFortune, myself, and Kevin Jackson. This is not just a time to raise disability issues, but also a time for disabled people who are not often involved to have their voices heard, and take to the streets as part of the community of disabled people. You can find the march on Facebook, and on Twitter @DisabilityPM hashtag #tdpm2015.

In Toronto, there was a election debate on disability issues earlier this week, you can still see the video.

There have also been some exciting developments with Barrier-Free Canada’s efforts to encourage all federal parties to commit to enacting a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

They’ve introduced a letter writing tool that makes it easier than ever to join the campaign. All you need to do is fill out a short form, and a prewritten letter will automatically be addressed to all the candidates in your riding.

You’ll have the option of changing the letter or sending it as is. And you’ll have the ability to easily share through email and social media.

The beauty of this tool is that there’s no need for you to look up candidates or to try to find their email addresses. We take care of all of that. You simply fill out the form, and you’re ready to go!

There are still a few hiccups with this tool, but I encourage you to check it out.

Please take two minutes to let candidates in your area know that you support the call for a Canadians with Disabilities Act. Then invite your friends and family to join the campaign. So far the NDP and Greens have promised to enact it, but we need more than a press release, we need action. Visit www.barrierfreecanada.org/campaign/. They are asking people to promote the campaign on social media with the hashtag #canadiansdisabilitiesact.

Elections are a great time to raise our voices as a diverse disability community. I will be raising more issues to not in the coming days, but until then I hope to see you at the march tomorrow!

 

“Here in Canada, we won’t see your disability”…unless we can profit from it.

The Parapan Am Games, August 2015. I was at the Torch Relay a few weeks ago, and one of the speakers, a well-known member of the disability community, and founder of a disability organization said, “Here in Canada, we won’t see your disability”.

My jaw dropped. I wanted to believe that he hadn’t just said that like it was a good thing, but he did. In fact he went on about it for another few minutes with great enthusiasm.

I doubt anyone has gone from shameless fan girl to outraged disability activist as fast as I did in that moment, but it was an uncomfortable transformation that went something like this:

“Wait, what?”… “Are you kidding me?”… “Ok, any minute now he’s going to turn around and tell all the politicians behind him that they need to step up”… “Somebody must’ve put him up to this.”… “Nope, no, please just stop”.

He meant this as a positive statement I’m sure, I mean who wouldn’t want to live in a country where ableism doesn’t exist. I think the PR department forgot to tell the white guy with the microphone that Canada isn’t that country. If that country exists right now it probably has unicorns, wizards flying on brooms…and much better Games.

I want to believe this speaker meant well; he’s a Canadian icon. Maybe he’s just speaking from his lived experience.

Maybe he doesn’t realize that there’s disabled people still fighting for accessible transportation, like RAPLIQ in Montreal. Maybe he doesn’t realize people are fighting to keep their existing accessible transportation, like Save Handydart in Vancouver.

It’s not like Canada’s a country that still euthanizes disabled people, but it does do research to screen genes for disabilities, and let’s not forget the ableism in assisted suicide.

It’s a country were disabled people can move freely…unless you’ve have been forced to live in an institution (another example), or have a suicide attempt on record that prevented you from crossing the border.

It is a country where disabled people have free will, unless compliance with medication is forced on you, someone decides you’re too disabled to parent, or you’re a refugee seeking healthcare.

Perhaps it’s easy to be misdirected by the billions of dollars that was spent on the Games and forget we’re in a province that underfunds social assistance and social housing, still has high unemployment for disabled people despite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the Guy Mitchell inquest.

If I may, let’s take a lesson from our Prime Minister on what not to do, and stop trying to make problems go away by pretending they don’t exist. Disabled people exist in Canada, and not seeing that is part of the problem. Shielding our eyes from oppression is not something to be proud of and it won’t make ableism disappear.

How about we focus on making Canada a country that sees disabled people, and sees them as an asset. That sounds like something to shout into a microphone.

For more on ableism see The Invisible Backpack of Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist.

Support a Barrier-Free Canada.

This election, it’s time for an Canadian Disabilities Act

This election, it’s time for an Canadian Disabilities Act*. From coast-to-coast across Canada, disabled people and organization have been breaking down barriers without the support of or federal government, the individualized “solutions” miss the mark; access to society and quality of life is not created through tax breaks and savings plans.

Now is a time to call for change. It’s time for bold policy that benefits all disabled people living in Canada. It’s time to call on our MPs and perspective MPs for a Barrier-Free Canada.

The following is taken from a letter written by the Barrier Free Canada Committee:

Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not have a comprehensive nationally legislated Disabilities Act. It is imperative to have the rights of disabled people legitimized, recognized, and protected and we believe that an initiative such as ours can make this a reality.

What’s in it for me?

Disabled people who are not currently covered, or who are insufficiently covered by their province or territory; people who care for their disabled family members; people who are forced into poverty because their disability has prevented them from being employed; aging Canadians, Veterans, and the extended family and loved ones of all of the above can be benefited by a national act.

Even the individual who is not affected by disability directly or indirectly can enjoy knowing that as a caring country, we are advocating for all our people.

How will it help?

Enacting national legislation will ensure that disabled Canadians will not be prevented from pursuing goals, achieving dreams and otherwise living independent lives.

What is the end goal?

A streamlined law that defines civil and human rights for all disabled Canadians and that encompasses all provincial and territorial legislation.

We need all the support that we can gather and your participation is crucial in this regard. Our initiative has already obtained the endorsements of such organizations as the CNIB, March of Dimes, the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Hearing Society, and Accessible Media Inc.

Please take a moment to visit us at http://barrierfreecanada.org/contact-us/ to add your name to the list of citizens and organizations that have already endorsed our cause. As well, we are urging you to contact your local Member of Parliament (MP) to let the Federal Government know that Canadians wish to have this law adopted now.

Follow us on Twitter @barrierfreeca and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/barrierfreeca.

Also make sure you’re registered to vote!

*Note: I deliberately used Canadian Disabilities Act rather than Canadians with Disabilities Act used by Barrier-Free Canada. This choice reflects the inclusion of non-status disabled people living in Canada who would be impacted by this Act as they are currently impacted by Harper’s cuts to healthcare for refugees and immigration policy.

Why Canada needs more Disability Stories

I grew up in a small town of about 6000 people in rural Ontario. There were a few of us with disabilities in the area, but a small enough number that it was possible for those of us within that group to be at least vaguely familiar with each other. One I remember very clearly was a young man I’ll call Ted*.

Ted and I were not friends, in fact we had never met, but he was very much the nemesis of my childhood, by no fault of his own. At some point his parents had met my parents, where they heard all about his story and from that gleaned grand visions for my future. Ted used crutches, had plans for his future, and was a poster child for a disability organization. I was a rebellious, struggling stubborn kid in a power wheelchair. We were not close in age, and we had different disabilities. I was nothing like Ted, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be.

My parents just wanted what was best for their child, and with very few stories to draw from I can see why Ted’s story gave them hope. Eventually I carved out my own pretty awesome story, but there’s still something to be learned from Ted’s impact on my parents.

When I did interact with other children with disabilities, it was usually at summer camp. There, for a brief but blissful period of time all labels seemed to disappear. Of course there was still discrimination between kids, but there was also comradery in those shared experiences that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Brothers and sisters who knew what it was like to constantly be seen through the eyes of able-bodied people, and the loneliness that creates.

I moved away from that small town, and into larger urban areas where I met disabled adults who taught me important things about disability history. These were people who started disability organizations, and had protested for disability rights in their younger years. I was fortunate to have them as role models.

Not everyone is so lucky. Recently I saw a post on Facebook, in the picture a mom was sitting next to her physically disabled son in a public transit station, and she was crying. The post explains that she and her son were treated badly by fellow commuters while trying to use a public washroom. They felt her son was in the way and taking up space. It reminded me very much op my parents. What were she and her son to take from this experience? How would she use it to arm him for the world ahead?

The stories we share as disabled people might not be passed down through families, but they are still an important part of disability culture. Sharing stories of our leaders, the people who made it possible to where we are today, is an important part of how disabled people see themselves, as it is for the society that looks back at us.