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.

Have your say on the future of the Canadians with Disabilities Act

The Federal Government will be hosting a public forum to get input from the public on what the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act should include.

where and when this takes place:

When: Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Time: 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Where: Chelsea Hotel Toronto – Churchill Ballroom, 33 Gerrard Street West, Toronto, ON

If you would like to attend this event, you will need to contact the Office for Disability Issues in advance so they can send you a short form with your contact information and accessibility needs.

Pro-Tip: Go with a group and plan the questions you want answered.

Would you like some suggestions of what you might say to the Federal Government at these consultations?

Here are a few starting points from the AODA Alliance.

Here are a few points that I’ve made regarding an Accessible Canada for All.

  • The need for accessible, affordable housing. People can’t be expected to find decent work without decent housing that meets their access needs.
  • Protection of the rights of parents with disabilities.
  • Accessibility in healthcare and all stages of education.
  • Including Indigenous Peoples and refugees in the discussion, and allowing them the same or greater accessibility as the rest of Canada.
  • Police training in effectively and sensitively working with disabled people.
  • Distribution of Health and Social transfers to address the inequities in the systemic barriers that exist between provinces and territories.

This is an opportunity for disabled Canadians to have equitable status as citizens and residents of this country. We need effective enforceable legislation that works for all of us.

Disabled Canadians are more than consumers and potential employees. The Federal legislation must have a broader scope to create equitable rights for disabled people with effective enforcement.

Other ways to Participate:

  • Write to your MP
  • Submit your thoughts to be gathered by SCI Ontario.
  • Participate in the online questionnaire until February 28th, 2017. The questionnaire is also available in an accessible PDF version.
  • Submit your feedback in the language of your choice (English, French, American Sign Language or Langue des signes québécoise) and preferred format such as online, handwritten, video or audio submissions. You can provide your input to the Office for Disability Issues via:

Phone: 1-844-836-8126

TTY: 819-934-6649

Fax: 819-953-4797

Email: accessible-canada@hrsdc.gc.ca

Mail:
Consultation – Accessibility Legislation
c/o Office for Disability Issues
Employment and Social Development Canada
105 Hotel-de-ville St., 1st floor, Bag 62
Gatineau QC K1A 0J9

All of the feedback we receive will be incorporated into reports that will be made available on the consultation website and in alternate formats, on request.

You can also consult the Discussion Guide for more information.

 

Mountains to Climb

An image of a mountain in Calgary

 

Above this post is a picture of a mountain. This is where I was lucky enough to spend my Canada day, with my family. I remember a weight lifting off my shoulders as I gazed at the sight, feeling comparatively small against this massive reminder of how the world is shaped. Sometimes changing the life around it abruptly, sometimes subtly and slow.

Social movements can feel like that too. Sometimes change happens fast, you can get caught up in the momentum and sometimes confused, forgetting that things must slow down again. When things do slow down, you wonder if anything you’ve done, or continue to do, is making any kind of difference.

I’m feeling a bit like that myself right now. The Toronto Disability Pride March is now entering its sixth year, mark your calendars for September 24th. I look back at that first year, and it would be easy to convince myself that nothing has changed, with so many of us still struggling against oppression, with low social assistance rates, inadequate accessible housing, lack of accessibility, and now it seems we even need to prove our very lives have value.

Then I think about the small group of organizers who’ve kept this march going for the last six years, even when the weight of it seemed almost too much to bear. The people who’ve been inspired by it, the voices that have been heard, and I know why we do this. Like the mountain, slowly emerging towards the sky, we’ve claimed this space, and our world must change with us.

I think this year may be time to give that ground a shake.

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.

 

 

Real Change means an Accessible Canada for All

#On December 3rd, let’s remind Trudeau what an #AccessibleCanada4All looks like.

Canada has a new government, and with that new opportunities for change, new potential, new possibilities. Among those possibilities is the Canadians with Disabilities Act.

It seems that Trudeau has taken up the call, and made this potential Act a part of the mandate for our new Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough.

But what does this mean in terms of real change in the disparity of equity that disabled people face across this country?

There are some promising points here, Minister Qualtrough has a background as a human rights lawyer and Paralympian; this suggests that she is familiar with the struggles we as disabled people face.

Unfortunately, this potential legislation is already being framed in terms that will favour some of us over others. There are people who firmly believe that this national idea should follow in the path of provincial legislation that came before it, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This legislation was not so much focused on preserving our rights, as it was about getting disabled people involved in the economy, employment and industry.

These are still important points, but sometimes the more privileged disabled people tend to forget the many other hurdles that keep so many more of us behind.

  • The need for accessible, affordable housing.
  • Protection of the rights of parents with disabilities.
  • Accessibility in healthcare, including Indigenous Peoples and refugees.
  • Police training in effectively and sensitively working with disabled people.
  • Distribution of Health and Social transfers to address the inequities in the systemic barriers that exist between provinces and territories.

These are just a few examples, I’m sure there are many more.

This is why I’m asking all disabled people in Canada and their allies to make their voices heard.

Thursday December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is also the day before Prime Minister Trudeau’s Throne Speech.

That is why on December 3rd I’m asking all of you to show our new Prime Minister and his Cabinet what an Accessible Canada for all looks like.

Using the hashtag #AccessibleCanada4All please take to social media and remind them that real change is not a continuation of the status quo, where only the most advantaged of us move forward.

This is our time. Let’s make it count.

Please share the #AccessibleCanada4All campaign with your networks.

Voting not for our pocketbooks, but for our future


There’s been a lot of talk in this election about what we don’t want, but what about the kind of country we want for our future. I promised a post about this election, but it’s been challenging to wade through the bitterness, anger, and shameful outbursts of hate to find something worth writing about.

For the past decade this country has suffered the consequences of a paternalistic, patronizing leader who has been telling his citizens that they are mere taxpayers, and that he knows best. He’s wrong.

That said, there is a ray of hope.

There are pockets of people taking up space and raising their voices this election, Barrier Free Canada’s call for a Canadians with Disabilities Act is just one example.  There are also Canadians like Mohamed Fahmy, who spent years wrongly imprisoned in Eygpt due to government inaction, to return and remind us that we deserve better from those we elect, and we have the power to make change.

Such things are important, not just for the call to action itself, but for bringing back the demand for more than the status quo.

When Canada was first branded into being, many were denied the right to vote. Women, Aboriginal people (who paid a price in treaty rights), people of colour, disabled people all fought for that right. They fought for the right to vote, not so they could line their pocket books with less taxes, but so they too could be represented in a society they envisioned more equitable and just.

Regardless of who wins today, let’s take a lesson from those movements who dared to take up space, who called for a better world. Let’s not just vote, let’s honour them, today and all the days after that.

“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.

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.

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.