Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Disability Does Not Remove One's Humanity

'Accessible latrine features (Tanzania)' photo (c) 2011, SuSanA Secretariat - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/



I don't often read our local paper because the news is recycled, and I can better info online, but the unhusband emailed me the following article.
When the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay tour arrives in Niagara Falls Monday, Greaves said it will be coming into a city that is progressive in the way it thinks about accessibility.

In a tour of the Gale Centre earlier this week, he pointed out that Niagara Falls had a disability advisory committee in 1997, four years before the province mandated it under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
"That's quite significant and it indicates the attitude in this city — both politically through the city councillors, and through the staff, who really put it into motion," he said.

Both Greaves and Brian Kon, who also serves on the committee, said the Gale Centre is a good example of how buildings should be designed.

"Some of the things you see would never be built into a building like this 10 years ago," Kon said. "Niagara Falls was ahead of the game. A lot of places only implemented them when they had to."
Municipal buildings are now designed under the Facility Accessibility Design Standards (FADS) document, which takes accessibility a big step over and above the rules outlined in the Ontario Building Code.

"Often times people will say, 'Well it meets the code,' but buildings like that aren't accessible. FADS is a good start," Kon said.

Among the accessibility highlights at the Gale Centre are wheelchair-friendly viewing areas; lower water fountains, sinks and counters; automatic doors; proper railings in the washrooms; an elevator big enough for large power wheelchairs; and an entirely separate handicap parking area.

Most of those features were in place when the arena complex opened last year, but Steve Hamilton, the city's manager of recreation facilities, said it's a constant work in progress.

"I think every time we get presented with a new guideline for enhancing accessibility, we look at how we can do that here," he said. "I think it's just progressive change."

As Greaves points out, private businesses often lag behind what municipalities are doing with their buildings.

"We can access some places easily, and others we can't get into at all. There can be some very nice places that you can't get into and that's frustrating," he said. "We're talking about enabling people to enjoy life to the fullest."

But with only about 3% of all disabled Canadians needing the use of wheelchairs, Kon and Greaves said accessibility needs to go a step further.

"We can't just focus on the physical – things like ramps. How do we deliver healthcare properly to people with disabilities? And a very high level of persons with disabilities are unemployed, even though they're well-educated," said Greaves.

"It's frustrating that people assume certain things about the disabled community," added Kon. "But things are progressing. At least the thought process is there."
Between disability activists who are willing to sell out with the whole, things are getting better routine, and businesses and the government who are unfeeling, and unwilling to promote real accessibility for disabled people, I am frustrated beyond belief.  I have written repeatedly about my experiences with my scooter in the city in which I live, and hearing "it's getting better," does not help me, when I can't take a city bus, cannot enter business, or my personal favourite, cannot even cross the damned street because of a lack of curb cuts.

After reading this article, I wrote a very nasty letter to the editor, but I feel that even if they do publish it, that it won't change a damn thing.  The only reason The Niagara Falls Review decided to focus on disability in the first place, is because Rick Hansen, plans to be in town today for his 25th anniversary relay. Instead of taking the opportunity to raise hell about the ways in which the differently abled community is disenfranchised everyday, we get things are getting better.  CRUMBS, that is exactly what we are being offered.

Business have no incentive to make real and lasting change. Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act 2005, had  more holes in it than a slice of swiss cheese. The truth of the matter is that even with this law, things are not going to get better for people living with disabilities, in my city, or in my province.  Just the fact alone that the government thinks that 1000 dollars per month as a disability pension is sufficient, when it is a well known fact, that there are extreme barriers to employment, is enough for me not to put any faith in their empty promises. For the record the average one bedroom apartment in Ontario is 800 dollars per month, and so I feel to see how a disabled person can pay rent and buy food in the same month.

So, I suppose it would be safe to say, that when it comes to the ableism that I have personally experienced and viewed, I am angry.  When I first became disabled, I thought it would be just one more site of oppression, because I had a very cavalier view of disability politics, but after years of living as a disabled person, I know what this oppression can create, and how it feels to be targeted.

At the very least, I hope that these toothless disability orgs. will step up to the plate and be inspired by even the possibility of real change to do some real world activism.  We pay taxes in this area and we deserve better than how we are being treated. The Niagara region is one of the least accessible areas in the province and this results in poverty, discrimination and unemployment. I am sick and tired of the paternalistic belief that because we offer a larger social safety net than the U.S. that we don't need real social change. 

It is absolutely ironic that the Gale center is being touted as so accessible when the area around it is not. In fact, on Bridge St., there are intersections with no damn curb cuts. I fail to see how one building can represent a real change. We need to stop saying thank you for nothing.  We need to stop believing that we are not entitled to better, and finally we need to answer our oppressor back. I have taken to being very vocal every time I have faced disableism, as well as pointing out a lack of access to business owners whenever I see it. I know that this is exhausting, especially because we are negotiating disabilities, but waiting for politicians and business owners to decide to make real change is a ridiculous plan of action.  We need to stop giving cookies for the barest human recognition.