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.

 

 

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

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.

Trapped! Reporting from the Eleventh Floor

It’s one in the morning as I write this, I’m waiting to post it until morning because I’m pretty tired, but I wanted to get this out. I’m sitting here trying to drown out this rushing water sound in my ears, no doubt caused by listening to my building’s fire alarm for a half hour, waiting for it to shut off, or some (hopefully attractive) firemen to come rescue. Whoever designed this building didn’t really think through the painfully loud fire alarm when deciding to put the accessible apartments on the eleventh floor with no balconies.

This brings me to my point in writing this. While my neighbours were outside waiting out the situation in the freezing cold, I was trapped on the eleventh floor and at risk of damaging my ears. I’m grateful that I at least have the mobility to turn the lights on, and let the firemen know that I’m here. A lot of people don’t have that luxury and are stuck in their beds at night.

Maybe it was the creepy movie I’d been watching, or just the stress of the situation, but I started thinking of what I would do if this were a serious fire. I decided that if I saw smoke coming through the door I would grab my winter scarf, some towels, or anything else I could find to block it with. I was hoping that adrenaline would take over for my disability and make that happen quickly.

Then I got scared when I thought of my poor little cat hiding under the bed. She’s been through hell and back with me, but there’s no way I could save her like that. Nevermind all my things, and the wheelchair I’m dependent on. Like many, I’m too poor to afford renters insurance, let alone replace what I’d lose.

Thankfully it’s all over now, and everyone seems safe (terrified cat included). Still, I can’t help but wonder if anyone has died this way. We need better emergency standards, or at least some way for emergency workers to know that people like me can’t get out.

Canadians with Disabilities, it’s Time to Take the Gloves Off

Find out about the march

It’s not a question of if austerity will impact Canadians with disabilities, but a question of when.

We need only look over to the UK for proof. Coalition proposals with see the Disability Living Allowance cut in that country by 20%, pushing those people into increasing poverty. Hate crimes against people with disabilities are also on the rise. Some 47% of people with disabilities say attitudes towards them have worsened over the last year. A recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report concluded that “people with disabilities in the UK face harassment, insult and attack almost as a matter of routine, while a collective denial among police, government and other public bodies means little is done to challenge the situation”.

If you’ve been following disability-related news here in Canada, this situation might seem eerily familiar. With recent provincial elections in Manitoba and Ontario, there is a heightened awareness that healthcare, housing, and disability benefits in those provinces might be headed for the chopping block as the recession drags on. Consider the case of Ontario’s Special Diet benefit. When people started using the benefit regularly to bring their income to a slightly less impoverished level, McGuinty cut it back, making it much more difficult for people with disabilities to access.

In the Ontario provincial election, it was not only social assistance programs, but also accessibility legislation that came under threat. During their campaign the Tories refused to commit to advancing the cause of making Ontario a fully accessible province; they refuse to agree not to cut existing legislation, or to effectively enforce it. Municipal politicians are also unafraid to cut on the backs of people with disabilities. In Toronto, Rob Ford and his cronies have considered putting the accessible transit system and social housing on the chopping block, crucial services for people with disabilities in this city.

Much like people with disabilities in the UK, Canadians have faced high profile disability hate crimes in the past few months. In August, a man who used a wheelchair died four days after being viciously assaulted in his Winnipeg apartment. Toronto has experienced two situations involving police interaction with people with disabilities. In July, Police used handcuffs to restrain a nine-year-old disabled boy who they say “became uncontrollable” at a Toronto daycare centre. Around the same time, a man with a disability was killed during interactions with Toronto police. No one should be dying in police interactions in Toronto!

Perhaps it’s time to take a hint from across the ocean, and fight austerity before it has already won. The situations in Canada and the UK may not be the same, but they are similar. Not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99%. A major reason why we don’t have decent accessible housing is that the Canadian government would rather focus on things like corporate tax breaks…And the fact that 70% of people with disabilities in Ontario can’t find a job while ODSP continues to be the most steadily increasing item in the province’s budget…well that’s a more complicated issue that is partly bigotry and discrimination, and partly that disability organizations that are supposed to be helping us fight back have been pacified, their attention has been too focused on government imposed accessibility standards. We have Canada’s first women with a disability in the official opposition, but people with disabilities are still feeling powerless. History has shown that it’s movements, not legislation, that end discrimination. Since when is a government supposed to tell us which rights to fight for?

In the past two weeks, occupations have sprung up across Canada in support of similar movements in the United States and around the world in solidarity. People with disabilities are among both the occupiers and people who support them. Everyone can play a role in this movement. People with disabilities are bring given accessible supports within the occupation in Toronto that would normally take months to receive in their day-to-day lives.

We’re living in a system that really only pays lip-service to people with disabilities, and doesn’t want people realizing that their struggles are connected, so if this movement wants to change the system, and is putting the needs of people with disabilities on par with the non-disabled, then whatever the outcome, I feel that’s a movement worth supporting.

Please join us on Saturday October 29th, 12pm at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto for the Toronto Disability Pride March. Torontonians with disabilities have a voice, and it’s time we used it.

Toronto Disability Pride March ~ this Saturday!

When: Sat, October 29, 12pm – 3pm

Where: Nathan Phillips Square to Occupy Toronto (St. James park)

Join us at the square, & come down to

Occupy Toronto if you can!

disabled protestors marching

Why Disability Pride?

As a recognition of recent injuries and deaths of people with disabilities in interaction with Toronto Police. This march is not against police services, but recognizes the need for increased disability awareness training. No one should be dying in police interactions in Toronto!

Under the administration of Mayor Rob Ford, the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities Celebrations, which recognizes the achievements of people with disabilities in Toronto, has been cancelled without community input.

It is also to recognize that when cuts happen, people with disabilities are often the first to be hit. Under the Rob Ford administration, Wheeltrans services were almost on the chopping block, and social housing still is.

Not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99% – even in Canada

Torontonians with Disabilities have a voice, and we will not be sold out or discriminated against!

Find us on Facebook

This Monday: Free Social Assistance Review hosted by ERDCO | #Disabilities #Toronto #li


Ethno-racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario

Invites you to attend a community meeting to talk about the Social Assistance Review in Ontario on:

Monday August 22, 2011

1:00 – 4:00 P.M.

Ryerson University, 99 Gerrard St. East, Room EPH 222

AT THE COMMUNITY MEETING: You will learn about the commission the provincial government has set up to review all social assistance programs in Ontario. We will talk about the review and ask you to share your views on how these programs can be improved. The feedback you provide will be included in a report that will be sent to the commission. All identifying information will remain confidential. If you are an ODSP/OW receipt or a community member who is concerned about the future of these programs, we would like to hear from you!

WHO WE ARE: ERDCO is a small non-profit organization working to promote the rights and interests of ethno-racial people with disabilities. We work with other agencies in the community, sit on advisory committees, write briefs, organize events, undertake specific projects, etc. We receive funding from the City of Toronto and through Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

RSVP by August 19 to: coordinator [at] erdco [dot] ca 

Light refreshments, attendant care and TTC tokens will be provided

#Poverty Elimination Bill Introduced

From Dignity for All: The Campaign for a poverty-free Canada

On Thursday, June 17, NDP MP Tony Martin tabled private member’s Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada. Not only does this bill speak to a tremendous need in this country, it also reflects significant civil society consultation and multi-party collaboration. Congratulations to Mr. Martin, and thanks to MPs Mike Savage (Liberal) and Yves Lessard (Bloc) for their support of this legislative initiative.

Built on a strong human rights framework, the bill emphasizes income security, housing and social inclusion as core priorities. “The purpose of this Act is to impose on the federal government the obligation to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion by establishing and implementing a strategy for poverty elimination in consultation with the provincial, territorial, municipal and Aboriginal governments and with civil society organizations.”

The introduction of Bill C-545 marks a significant step towards fulfilling the second goal of the Dignity Campaign (a federal poverty elimination act). The campaign and all of its supporters now have the summer to begin rallying public awareness of and support for the Bill, prior to its reading in the fall legislative session!

DfA support continues to grow. 350 groups and over 5500 individual Canadians have endorsed the campaign. Among these supporters are 57 MPs and 12 Senators, representing 17% of all Parliamentarians. Special thanks to Alderman Joe Ceci and the City of Calgary for leading the effort to secure the recent endorsement of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities!

For more information on DfA please follow this link: www.dignityforall.ca/

#Amputee Has His Artificial Leg Ripped off by Police and Is Slammed in Makeshift Cell during #G20 Summit

by Doug Draper / July 7th, 2010

John Pruyn wasn’t much in the mood for celebrating Canada Day this year.

How could he be after the way he was treated a few days earlier in Toronto by figures of authority most of us were brought up to respect, our publicly paid-for police forces who are supposed to be there to serve and protect peaceful, law-abiding citizens like him.

The 57-year-old Thorold, Ontario resident – an employee with Revenue Canada and a part-time farmer who lost a leg above his knee following a farming accident 17 years ago – was sitting on the grass at Queen’s Park with his daughter Sarah and two other young people this June 26, during the G20 summit, where he assumed it would be safe.

As it turned out, it was a bad assumption because in came a line of armoured police, into an area the city had promised would be safe for peaceful demonstrations

during the summit. They closed right in on John and his daughter and the two others and ordered them to move. Pruyn tried getting up and he fell, and it was all too slow for the police.

As Sarah began pleading with them to give her father a little time and space to get up because he is an amputee, they began kicking and hitting him. One of the police officers used his knee to press Pruyn’s head down so hard on the ground, said Pruyn in an interview this July 4 with Niagara At Large, that his head was still hurting a week later.

Accusing him of resisting arrest, they pulled his walking sticks away from him, tied his hands behind his back and ripped off his prosthetic leg. Then they told him to get up and hop, and when he said he couldn’t, they dragged him across the pavement, tearing skin off his elbows, with his hands still tied behind his back. His glasses were knocked off as they continued to accuse him of resisting arrest and of being a “spitter,” something he said he did not do. They took him to a warehouse and locked him in a steel-mesh cage where his nightmare continued for another 27 hours.

“John’s story is one of the most shocking of the whole (G20 summit) weekend,” said the Ontario New Democratic Party’s justice critic and Niagara area representative Peter Kormos, who has called for a public inquiry into the conduct of security forces during the summit. “He is not a young man and he is an amputee. . John is not a troublemaker. He is a peacemaker and like most of the people who were arrested, he was never charged with anything, which raises questions about why they were arrested in the first place.”

Pruyn told Niagara At Large that he never was given a reason for his arrest. When he was being kicked and hand-tied, police yelled at him that he was resisting arrest. Then a court officer approached him two hours before his release on Sunday evening, June 27, and told him he should not still be there in that steel-mesh cage. So why were Pruyn and his daughter Sarah, a University of Guelph student, who was locked up somewhere else, detained in a makeshift jails for more than 24 hours, along with many other mostly young people who, so far as he could hear and see, had nothing to do with the smashing of windows and torching of a few police cars by a few hundred so-called ‘Black Bloc’ hooligans that weekend?

Why was Pruyn slammed in a cell without his glasses and artificial limb, with no water to drink in the heat for five hours and only a cement floor to sit and sleep on before his captors finally gave him a wheelchair? Why was he never read his rights or even granted the opportunity to make one phone call to a lawyer or his family – the same rights that would be granted to a notorious criminal like Clifford Olsen or Paul Bernardo?

He never received an answer to these questions and, he said, “I was never told I was charged with anything.” Neither were many of the others who were penned up in that warehouse with him, including one person who was bound to a wheelchair because he was paralyzed on one side and begging, over and over again, to go to the washroom before finally wetting his pants.

Pruyn said others in the warehouse begged for a drink of water and younger people made futile pleas to call their parents to at least let them know where they were. In the meantime, Pruyn’s wife, Susan, was frantically trying to find out from the police and others what happened to her husband and daughter. She found out nothing until they were finally released 27 hours after she was supposed to meet back with them at a subway station near Queen’s Park.

So what was this all about and why were John and Sue Pruyn arrested if they were part of the gathering of peaceful demonstrators in the Queen’s Park area?

Was their crime to dare to come to Toronto in the first place and join with those who express concerns about the G20 and whether it has any concern at all for the environment, for people living in poverty, for fair access to health care and other issues important to people around the world who fall into the category of ‘have nots’?

Pruyn wonders if the idea of the crackdown was to send a message to the public at large that gatherings of opposition to government policies won’t be tolerated. “That is (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper’s attitude,” he said. “He doesn’t like dissent in his own (party) ranks.”

Kormos said some might respond to the crackdown against the G20 summit demonstrators by saying that they should have stayed home or they should not have been there, or that if they were swept up by the police, they should have nothing to worry about if they did nothing wrong. But that misses the point, he said. It misses the possibility that this was another example of the province and country sliding down a path of clamping down on citizens’ right to gather together and express views that may not be popular with the government of the day.

Kormos stressed again that a public inquiry is needed, not only for those demonstrators arrested and roughed up during the summit, but for those shop owners in Toronto that had their stores vandalized by a horde of hooligans with little apparent presence of police officers to prevent it.

Asked if there was any possibility a few hundred black-clad vandals were allowed to run wild to make the thousands of people there to demonstrate peacefully look badly, Kormos responded; “That’s why we need a public inquiry.”

Susan Pruyn agreed. “We need a public inquiry for all of the people who went (to Toronto) with good intentions and who ended up suffering that weekend,” she said.