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ThisAbility #42: New Year's Revolution

aaron broverman

I've chosen my sport and you'll be glad you did too.

I've chosen my sport and you'll be glad you did too.

I’ve often complained here about how disappointing it is to see a general malaise of silent acceptance among Ontario’s disability community when those in power again brush our issues to the side, or only deliver half of what they’ve promised. A fully accessible province? Sure, you’ll just have to wait until 2024. Accessible streetcars? Of course, but the first model didn’t fit on the tracks and the second one won’t be here until 2012 at the earliest. Money from the government to offset the realities of my employability? Why yes, just don’t have over $7,000 in assets and please declare everything you make so that you remain dependent.

It isn’t just governments that we accept excuses and technicalities from — it’s businesses too. How many times have you asked somewhere why they don’t have a ramp or an elevator and they tell you it’s just too expensive to put one in? They could occupy a heritage building  or, as one planner at Toronto City Hall once told me, their building could’ve been erected prior to accessibility being put into the building code. Non-profits aren’t any better. Free the Children helps disabled children all over the world, but, at last check, their Cabbagetown headquarters is completely inaccessible. Do you really want to give such a hypocritical organization your “10 for 2010?”

Sure, these places bear the brunt of the responsibility, but they do these things because they know they can get away with them. Business owners believe that the disabled population isn’t a big enough market to be concerned about, yet disabled people in North America spend an average of $700 billion US a year. (The cost of the American bailout package). Still, when subjugated by these groups, most of us look the other way or smile and nod while we accept these excuses as yet another consequence of living with a disability. Until we feel like we matter, they’ll all keep rolling right over us, so I thought I’d make a list of  small resolutions every disabled  community member can do to reclaim their personhood, advocate for themselves and stir the pot for the betterment of us all.

  1. Take up a sport I’m sure this seems as far away from balls to the wall activism as one can get, but there’s a reason so many newly disabled indviduals find solace in a sport after the trauma and loss of capability and independence. Sports are the one activity that have been perfected long enough to be seamlessly adapted and intergrated into disabled life like no other activity. They help reaffirm that as a disabled person you are still a relevent and contributing member of society who deserves to be listened to, which is the core belief you need if you’re going to raise a little hell.  Sports foster leadership qualities  and force independence and self-determination when your at a tournament with the team and have to take care of yourself away from your usual support system. Besides, the Paralymics are just around the corner and there are so many options: rugby, sledge hockey, skiing, snowboarding, shooting, tennis, wheelchair basketball, etc.
  2. Get involved The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance is an organization chaired by David Lepofsky (The prominent disability rights lawyer) and all they do is hold Ontario politicians to account in fulfilling the obligations they set out when they signed the act into law. They write letters, they make phone calls and generally annoy the establishment with their unrelenting dedication to their cause.  Sure, they don’t get a lot of results and the responses they do get are filled with doublespeak and political spin that I suspect are dictated through pasted smiles, but I can’t help but think that’s because not enough disabled people have cared to add to the campaign.  They’d rather a courageous few do their dirty work for them. Did you know the TTC has an accessibility advisory committee? They’ve asked for our opinions before in improving their accessibility, yet they struggle to reach quorum.
  3. Do not patronize inaccessible businesses This is probably the simplest thing we can do, but for me, as a person who can rise from the chair and walk, also one of the hardest. Even I choose to buy from a store I wouldn’t be able to get in if I couldn’t walk, I try to at least make a point of telling the clerk or manager that their stores are inaccessible. The better option though, is to show up and pretend you’re confined to the chair and watch the employees squirm. I’d recommend sending a friend in to point out there’s a disabled person outside who can’t get in and then proceeding to make the situation as awkward and embarrassing as possible for the employee. The hope is that having an inaccessible building becomes more inconvenient for them than having an accessible one.  But none of this works if disabled Canadians don’t get out and do things. I’m sure clubs don’t make their establishments accessible because they assume disabled people will just stay home. I’d one day love to see a group of disabled people growing in number and showing up at the same inaccessible place week after week until they can no longer be ignored. The more you stay home, the more you hurt the bigger picture for the rest of us.

I just hope that as disabled Canadians we stay engaged in our community in 2010 and we start believing that our issues are worth considering long enough to try and do something about them. When are we going to start lobbing those ideological pipe bombs at the able-bodied establishment?  We have to get out of the medical model mentality that says someone will come and rescue us from our circumstances. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. If you don’t, you just get wide grins, syrupy attitudes and a patronizing pat on the head.

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