Advocacy in Action

I’ve never been one to keep quiet! I’m a strong believer in taking action within your community when you see areas that you think need to change. Over time I think I’ve perhaps mellowed, or perhaps I’ve learnt to be more strategic, or perhaps I’ve learnt that you attract more bees with honey than vinegar!

This month I’ve been able to act on local, provincial and federal levels, with mostly positive results. It’s not always like that, but perhaps I’m on a lucky streak!

Locally

Earlier this month I had a disappointing experience while shopping in BestBuy, which was the second time it had happened to me there. I decided to use social media to get their attention, and sent a tweet “@BestBuyCanada. Had 2nd poor customer experience in Kelowna. Would like to offer to do disability awareness training for your staff.” That got an immediate reaction and after being connected with their regional manager and the store manager, I went to the store to meet with Bruce, the manager.

My approach was education and looking to improve things in the future, not looking back at my past experience. I gave him 3 quick tips to help to provide better service to people in wheelchairs – get to the person’s eye level so you can talk to them directly; moving between multiple products can be difficult in a busy store, so use your technology (everything is on their laptops) to show examples before moving; look to help people in wheelchairs in the areas of the store where you are meant to serve yourself with products because it can be difficult to reach. Ultimately better service means more sales, a win-win situation.

Bruce was very receptive and he said he would take the three points to his full staff meeting that week. I followed it up with a positive tweet and thank you emails. The proof will be next time I go shopping there!

Provincially

Along with Sherry, our client services coordinator, we have formed a coalition of service groups in the Okanagan to lobby for better HandyDart provision. After meeting with a city councillor and with our 3 MLAs, I finally managed to get the meeting I was interested in – with BC Transit and with the representative of the City of Kelowna who speaks on behalf of the 6 municipalities that make up the Kelowna Transit Region.

The key to this meeting was research. We had our own survey and our Call to Action, with the points we wanted to make. I also spoke to Jane Dyson at the Disability Alliance BC and learnt valuable information about their relationship with TransLink in the Lower Mainland.

The meeting had an interesting start! It was scheduled for the second floor of a building with no elevator, so I couldn’t get to it! After a quick move to City Hall, the fire alarms went off. Being on the 4th floor, there was no way to evacuate me if that had been necessary. There could have been no better lesson on accessibility issues!

My hope for the meeting was that we could agree to work together on the issues. I knew there would be no quick fixes, as we need to change attitudes to achieve some goals and get extra funding to achieve others. I’m really not sure which is the more difficult. I know that a band-aid solution to each complaint that crops up isn’t the way. It needs systemic changes, and some of them can be achieve locally while others require provincial action

We came away from the meeting with plans for a collaborative committee that would meet quarterly. The pace is slow but with sustained conversations and trying to look at the big picture rather than individual problems, I’m cautiously optimistic that over time we will achieve change. Again, time will tell!

Federally

It’s no surprise that we’re in election season, so there’s no better time to try to act federally, which is certainly the most difficult way to get attention to the needs of people with MS.

The easiest way to act was to use the Vote to #endMS email set up by the MS Society, which can be found at endms.ca. It was an easy way to send an email to the candidates in my riding, and I heard back from two of them. The purpose is to put the issues in the minds of the candidates at a time when everyone else is trying to do the same thing with the issues that are important to them. One more email is one more time that the words “multiple sclerosis” are in front of them.

In the summer, our chapter had at booth at the Okanagan Pride festival. Many of the local candidates attended and it was a great way to get to talk to them. I had one question for each of them “The ADA is 25 years old. If your party is elected, how long will I have to wait to have a CDA?” It was a great way to start a conversation and to see just how tuned in to disability awareness they were – not very much, was the answer! But the plan was to plant a seed, to raise the issue, to have focus.

My latest step was to try to have a question presented at an all candidates forum so that MS would be mentioned publically. I managed to get a question on the list at the CARP senior’s debate in Kelowna by slanting it towards the special interests of the group chairing the debate. My question was:

Nearly 80% of the 100 000 people in Canada with MS find themselves unemployed, which leads to their retirement years with low income. If elected, what will your party do to assist people to cope with the ongoing financial burden of a chronic illness?

The evening didn’t quite go as planned and a few questions were squished into one. However, I sat right at the front and wore my MS Society board member badge. Our incumbent MP recognised me, mentioned me and the MS Society and specifically spoke about our HandyDart campaign. I achieved my goal of having the MS Society mentioned at a public forum and I also heard answers to a lot of questions that reflected the concerns of people with MS. It might not have been exactly the way I intended it to happen, but the exposure of the MS Society and the needs of people with MS were still there.
As long as I am able to continue to speak out, either verbally or in written word, as long as I am able to be a visible presence, I will continue to champion the rights of people with MS and supports that we need and deserve. I see my wheelchair as a “foot” – or perhaps a wheel? – in the door to start the conversation, and with focus, research and determination, and honey not vinegar, I hope to be make a positive change.

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