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ThisAbility #37: Simply People, I Wish it Were that Simple

aaron broverman

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The Simply People Festival shows there's still more to be done.

If the LGBT community can have Pride Week, complete with parade, then the world’s most undervalued minority — people with disabilities — can have at least one day to come together for disability pride.

That’s the idea behind Simply People.  Canada Wide Accessibility for Post Secondary Students [CANWAPSS] had its 6th annual Simply People Festival yesterday. It’s an opportunity  for Toronto’s disability community to gather under the shadow of city hall in Nathan Philips Square and listen to performers like Justin Hines or, as most people know him, “That guy in the wheelchair from the Ontario Tourism Commercial,” and bask in all they’ve accomplished — except Ontario has ensured they still haven’t accomplished much of anything.When David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act [AODA] Alliance and fellow disabled traveler, has to start his speech to those attending the festival with, “I’m going to give you good news, bad news and hopeful news,” you know that the disabled community is getting about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield.

He was talking about the AODA. It’s that small piece of legislation the able-bodied population has largely no idea exists, which stipulates the province has to be fully accessible. If you don’t read past that sentence it is the good news he mentioned, but McGuinty runs Ontario like an infommercial so, “Some restrictions apply.” One of them being, and this is the bad news, that Ontario has until the year 2025 to get the province up to snuff when the law can actually be enforced.  Oh, and Lepofsky informed the attending audience that with five years already passed since  the law was enacted, the province is already behind schedule. If I live to 2025, I’ll be almost 40 and now with 100% accessibility even more behind schedule, who knows if any of us will live to see it.

His hopeful news was his hope that the larger disabled community would all get involved in pestering the provincial government even more than we already have, just to make sure our representatives stick to a commitment they already made. Well, as a member of the disability community, I am not a babysitter and I refuse to have a parent/child relationship with a politician. The most dangerous part of Lepofsky’s suggestion is that if this commitment falls through, disabled people may blame themselves and suddenly politicians can turn around and say, “You didn’t lobby us enough to make accessibility happen.” Whatever happened to doing something simply because it’s the right thing to do? Fundamentally, priority one of any government in Canada should be to  stay in line with our  Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Part of this general malaise for the causes of the disabled in Ontario, that puts any action toward improvement consistently on the back burner, is the fault of the disabled community.  Ironically, that was on display underneath the celebration Simply People was supposed to be.  Yesterday was supposed to be a celebration of disability pride, but there were too many empty seats to give you the sense that the majority in the community are prideful. If many of us won’t care to show up, there is no way an Ontario politician is going to care about our issues.

Looking to the stage, Justin Hines looks like a leader and a symbol of a person with a disability making a larger impact for all of us. The Justin Hines Foundation benefits people with disabilities. However, he is known to perform frequently at Hugh’s Room, one of the most inaccessible venues in the city and they don’t make it any more accessible for those times he’s performing. In fact, if you phone them up and ask them, they will tell you that they have no immediate plans for making the club accessible — yet, Hines performs there.

Also at the festival, Mayor David Miller emphasized that Toronto will finally get accessible street cars in 2011 as if he expected all of us to stand up and bow down.  Then my friend Saburah Murdoch turns to me and says, “In the 25 years I’ve lived in Toronto, I’ve never been able to ride a streetcar.”  I ‘m asking on what planet is waiting 25 years to ride a streetcar acceptable? Mayor Miller also pointed out that when Toronto’s media covered and debated the new streetcars, they neglected to mention that they were accessible.

If that doesn’t show that Toronto doesn’t give two shits about its disabled population, I don’t know what does.

Living in Ontario often makes me feel like I’m Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner and I’m the only one who realizes that there’s a world outside The Village that I’m desperately trying to wake others up to.

I grew up in Surrey B.C., a suburb of Vancouver, where much of the activism and political heavy lifting that Ontario is going through now, had already happened in the mid-80s. For much of my life, accessibility was simply normal and if something wasn’t accessible, Vancouver got right on that without so much of a hem or a haw. B.C. will be fully accessible by 2010.

Is it wrong for me to assume that Canada’s largest city and the province with the largest disabled population should be setting the standard, not getting its ass handed to it by a province on the other side of the country? Toronto has been established much longer than Vancouver and yet disabled Torontonians still have 16 more years of waiting to do.

I came here and suddenly, I had to get used to the new “We’re working on it” status quo. I meet frustrated disabled residents so used to waiting, that they’ve basically given up hoping for anything big in a timely fashion.  I saw it at The Simply People Festival: there were respectful claps, but there were no whoops and hollers. Just like the disabled community seems fine with waiting and nobody is willing to mobilize and get angry.

So before we celebrate disability pride, before we toot our own horns about how much we’ve already accomplished, why don’t we get something done for accessibility that won’t take 16 years to become reality.

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