The election has come and gone, and the Liberals, who are forming the next governement, promised that they will introduce CDA (or a National Disabilities Act) as part of their manifesto. Excellent! Now we have to work to keep this issue alive admist all of the other issues competing for attention.
It’s important not to get hung up on the nuts and bolts, in this mish-mash of Federal versus Provincial, who’s responsible for what. The first step is to raise the tone of the conversation. Raise the expectations. Raise the bar. Raise the sense of what is fair and equitable and what equal access actually looks like.
There are many examples I could use, from “real life”, from every day struggles, but instead I’ll explain it with Star Wars. And the nuts and bolts of going to the movies on opening night in a wheelchair.
I love Star Wars. I was 11 when I saw the original one. (Quick claim to fame, and a tenuous one. My mum has a friend who was Luke Skywalker’s stunt double and did a load of other amazing stunts in the original trilogy and a lot of other incredible movies. I’ve spoken to him on phone…) Anyway, Star Wars VII approaches! I got a tear in my eye when Han Solo said “Chewie, we’re home” in the trailer. I have bought a dress just to go to the movie in. You can say I’m excited.
In the days before MS and the wheelchair we would line up to see movies on their opening nights. James Bond, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and of course, the second Star Wars trilogy to come out. We still talk about the moment we turned to each other when they first use the “evil” music behind Anakin in Star Wars II. Get the idea? I’m excited!
In parts of the world people are already reserving tickets online for the opening night. I don’t even know if it’s possible here yet, but it’s not possible for me. I could reserve tickets, but they’re not specific for anywhere. They’re for the whole auditorium. All of those seats that I can’t get to. I can’t reserve the spot that I need. I’ve emailed Cineplex to ask them about it. Resounding silence in return.
Neither can I line up for hours in advance. It’s in December. Me outside in the cold for all that time? Me lining up for that amount of time, ever? Just not going to happen. And if I do buy tickets and get inside, there’s probably 2 places I can put my chair and Ian can go next to me. What if there are two people in wheelchairs who got there before me, and I have no way of knowing that? And, even worse, what about that awkward shuffle when someone who isn’t with someone in a wheelchair has sat in those seats with the blue badge on them – and you have to ask them to move? And they don’t want to, because all of the “good seats” have gone and they’ll end up down the front, craning their necks???
I can see people rolling their eyes and thinking “Just how important is it? Why not wait until all the fuss has died down? Going to the movies is a treat not an essential.” True, so what you’re saying is why don’t I compromise? Sure, I’m an expert at that! I compromise on everything I do, every single day! What’s one more compromise?!? And I’m really good at doing just the basics, not the icing on the cake, because that’s what my life is, doing the basics as well as I can. So, sure, what’s one compromise more?
Yes, that’s the point. Another compromise. People with disabilities, all types of disabilities, compromise all of the time. We compromise in our expectations of work, travel, employment, income, education. We compromise on what we can achieve every single day – “If I don’t ask my neighbour to help me tidy my yard, then perhaps they won’t mind when I have to ask them to change a light bulb for me.” “If I use all my energy to buy groceries today, then I’ll have food at home for the next three days, because I’ll have to rest from the effort that I used shopping.” “I will watch the Easter service on the tv because there’s no accessible bus service on Sundays to get me to church.” And I am so so lucky but none of those situations apply to me, because my husband is my full time carer, for which I am extremely thankful.
And these are the easy ones to compromise on. We are strong, resilient, independent people. We cope with all manner of physical and mental indignities that the vast majority of people could never imagine, thankfully. And we do it over and over and over again.
We need the bar raising on the conversation in Canada about the barriers faced by people with all kinds of disability. We need the expectations for accessibility for those of us with disabilities – physical, mental, developmental, invisible, episodic – to be the same as those people who don’t have disabilities, so that people with disabilities can achieve the same outcomes as everyone else, with whatever changes need to be made to make that happen. Society should not expect us to compromise, society should demand that these accomodations are built in, no matter the cost, effort or effect.
This photo made the news this week – Justin Trudeau carrying a man in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. I wonder what was going through his head as he did this? “I’m glad I was able to help him down these stairs.” “I wonder why he has to be carried down these stairs.?” “What must it feel like to be put in this position?” “How many other people all over Canada are stuck today because the public transportation is not accessible to them?” “What can I do to raise the bar on expectations in all areas of life in Canada so that people with disabilities do not have to face these barriers?”
I hope he was thinking all of them, but particularly the last one.