When This Day is a ‘Day’ No Longer

It’s here again. December 3rd, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Here’s the theme for 2015:

Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities

“The estimated one billion people living with disabilities worldwide face many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

Persons with disabilities must be able to fulfil their role in society and participate on an equal basis with others. It is important to focus on the ability and not on the disability of an individual. Often, the societal image of persons with disabilities is impacted by attitudes based on stigma and discrimination, as well as archaic ideas about disability and persons with disabilities that are often the greatest barrier to their full and equal participation in society and development on an equal basis with others. It is important to note that disability is part of the human condition, and that all of us either are or will become disabled to one degree or another during the course of our lives.

By promoting empowerment, real opportunities for people are created. This enhances their own capacities and supports them in setting their own priorities. Empowerment involves investing in people – in jobs, health, nutrition, education, and social protection. When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities.”

Nice words, eh? But they don’t mean much to me. Neither does having a day that focuses on disabled people.

They’re just words. It’s just a day.

I don’t want there to be a ‘day’ for disabled people. I don’t want a light shone on disability as something to be celebrated, or marvelled at. I don’t want a day that urges the world to take notice, take action, and suddenly care. I don’t want a day that is designed to leave people momentarily motivated, inspired or guilty.

I don’t want a day makes me angry, and sad and frustrated and diminished and confused.

I believe with all my heart that accessibility and inclusion and the breaking down of barriers should be as natural as breathing. Simply having a day that points out the need for this only serves to raise awareness for a brief time, and then, it disappears.

It’s not what we need.

Here’s what we need, people.

We need a world where accessible, affordable housing isn’t an impossibility for too many of us, and we are relegated to living arrangements that restrict our movements and severely erode our quality of life.

We need a world where we can get hired for any job we want. There may be a glass ceiling for some, but for us, it’s a glass door. You don’t see it’s there until you run smack into it.

We need a world where we can go into any building, without discovering that no one thought to install an automatic door opener, or the ramp is too steep to manoeuvre, or the ‘accessible’ bathrooms don’t accommodate a power chair or a scooter, or someone had put the Braiile labels in the elevator in UPSIDE DOWN.

We need a world where we don’t have to go through the service entrance, or the back door or through the underground parking to access an entrance to a theatre or arena – only to find that we have the worst seats in the house.

We need a world where accessible parking isn’t hogged by those who don’t need it, and where we can actually REACH the parking meter from wheelchair height. We need a world where accessible transportation isn’t a privilege or luxury, but a right.

We need a world where we’re not yelled at because our speech disabilities or our hearing impairments or our cerebral palsy make us automatically stupid or incompetent or drunk.

We nee a world where our guide dogs or service dogs aren’t refused service at a restaurant, or a ride in a cab.

We need a world where we can read a menu in large print, review a document on our computer in a format that will work, or get have interpreters at an event so we can fully participate.

We need a world where everyone who requires caregivers have enough compassionate, competent workers who accommodate our schedules and needs, not theirs.

We need a world where none of us are questioned for our desire to have a family, or our ability to raise kids.

We need a world where our disabilities, mental, physical, and environmental aren’t second-guessed just because they appear invisible to others.

We need a world where we don’t have to push, cajole, beg and badger governments to protect our rights through legislation.

We need a world where being different doesn’t make us the object of bullying, exclusion, condescension and discrimination.

We need a world where all of us are accepted for the smart, talented, beautiful, sexy and valuable people we are.

As I write these words, tears form in my eyes. I know I am lucky to have a disability that doesn’t limit me that much. I can travel, I can take care of myself. I can live anywhere I want because I’m not encumbered by stairs or doors that are too narrow or bathrooms I can’t get into. Hell, despite my lack of sight, I can fake my way into most situations. I can write, I can bring my world to life with my camera. I am loved and appreciated.

It’s still hard, though. I was bullied as a kid and as an adult. I was denied the chance to pursue a teaching career. I’ve had people refuse to hire me. It’s a struggle to find paid work.Maintaining self-confidence is a constant struggle.

But I continue to try. I continue to show the world what I can do in the hopes that it not only helps me, but others, and especially kids. I continue to fight with and for my community.

I’m only one person. But if enough of us fight, and persuade, and influence, and prevail, we won’t have to ‘celebrate’ this day again.

Will you help?

Busy Brain – From Nostalgia to Pet Peeve

It’s funny how the brain works. I started the day feeling nostalgic, and ended up a wee bit peeved.

It started with an exchange I had with a friend on Facebook about A Charlie Brown Christmas turning 50, which then had me going down memory lane about all the major events that are forever etched on my mind as a kid growing up in the 60s.

The assasinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luthor King. The civil rights movement. The Vietnam War protests. The (first!) Trudeaumania. The first moon walk.

For me, all of them are in black and white – because in the 60s, our TV set was small, boxy and certainly not colour.

It’s memories like this that are burned in my brain…

As I look over at my big flatscreen TV, it seems hard to believe. So many things have changed in my lifetime. So many things we take for granted were unheard of when I was growing up.

There were no fax machines, no voicemail, no PCs, no email, no Windows, no Macs, no cell phones, no iPads – and no digital cameras.

There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, no Snapchat, no Pinterest.

Wow. When you actually list everything, it’s amazing, and daunting. Ancient history to so many people who’ve simply grown up with everything I’ve been lucky enough to adopt as they happened!

Our society has gained so much. I know for myself that technology has helped me navigate the world in ways that I could never dream of as a kid. My photography is a testament to that. And I absolutely love my gadgets. I can’t picture my life without them.

But there are downsides to everything, even amid such incredible progress. One pet peeve in particular has been gnawing at me lately, and that’s where my mind took me next.

I fear we’re losing our awareness of the world and people around us. I see downcast eyes glued to phones and ears stuffed with earplugs of every variety. What I’m not seeing is as much direct interaction between people, and because of that, I fear we are at risk of losing compassion and empathy for others. I see it on our transit system all the time. I just hate it when I see elderly, pregnant, and disabled passengers standing because people refuse to look up and offer their seat.

And you know what? This distraction can also be dangerous. Aside from the real and constant danger of texting and driving, people on foot are also in danger of hurting themselves and others. I’ve almost run into several people on the street or even worse – on a flight of stairs! – who stop dead because they’re texting on their phones.

I’m not alone. I’ve had a few conversations about this lately.

Believe me, I can get preoccupied with my iPhone too – but I’m making a very concerted effort to limit my use when I’m with others, and I never use it when I’m walking. I wish other people would do the same.

OK, rant over. I have no idea where this busy brain will take me next…