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?

Leaving My Lane

Watching Olympic track and field events probably did it. Suddenly, I found myself telling my good friend Lorraine about something that happened when I was around eight or nine – something I hadn’t thought about for a long time.

Because of my severe visual impairment, I wasn’t allowed in sports. It was assumed that too much contact could detach my already delicate retina and leave me totally blind. So, for the most part, I watched.

But then I discovered that I liked to run, and to my surprise, I was good at it. When it came time to participate in a small local track event, I was excited. And then, I was told that I wouldn’t be running. Despite the fact that I had been in races before, and had done very well, it was decided that I couldn’t compete because I “might not see the lines and stray out of my lane”. I was devastated, and watched as the girl they replaced me with finished dead last in the race I had been so ready for. I never ran again. And the experience stayed with me for many years. I was all too aware of my boundaries.

But now, at 58, I am learning to embrace the joy of veering out of my lane. My life experiences, both good and bad, have helped. And my photography has really set me free.

My creaky knees won’t let me run anymore. But watch me fly:-)

Photo Friday – Sharing the Spotlight

This week, I was honoured and thrilled to be featured in an article in The Daily Dot called Seeing through Pictures, which focused on how my newly-found passion for photography has affected how I literally see my world.

It’s an understatement to say that I’ve been blown away by the response to the article. I can’t thank people enough for all the Facebook posts, tweets and retweets and notes of encouragement and affection. It thrilled my family. It made me proud, and more determined than ever to take my passion and run with it. Thank you.

But the piece wasn’t just about me. So I want to make doubly sure the spotlight shines on the others mentioned in the article – because they are and will continue to be my inspiration.

First, check out the amazing Tara Miller, who’s already been featured in an earlier post. Her work is phenomenal. Then go to Flickr and discover the brilliance and diversity of the Blind Photographers group. I guarantee you will gain a new understanding and appreciation of the many ways visually impaired people see what is often taken for granted. I doubt you’ll look at us and your world in the same way.

And last, but not least, thank you to The Daly Dot and to contributor Lorraine Murphy, for giving its readers a new perspective and for giving us a voice. It doesn’t happen often enough.

Photo Friday: Nature – As I’ve Never Seen It

One of the most amazing things about my photography is the fact that my camera has allowed me to actually see the world around me in a whole new way. I am good at framing shots, and I can visualize whatI want the shot to be, but it really is an Aim, Pray, Shoot situation for me. And that makes for some wonderful, surprisingly awesome photos.

As I explained in my first Photo Friday post, I don’t see details past a few inches or so, but when I view my photos on my computer screen, I am transported to another level of beauty. I can’t tell you how incredible it is to see what so many people take for granted.

For example, this week I was roaming around my friend’s beautiful garden in California – something I do every time I’m here because the landscape is ever-changing. I was taking random shots of some of the rock garden, when I thought I detected movement. So I took a chance – and pressed the shutter. This little guy emerged from out of what I thought was simply the rock face.

Earlier in the summer, when the flowers were in full bloom, I hears a bee buzzing around me, and saw a tiny gold speck hover over some lovely purple flowers. So, I went for it. And I was astonished at what I captured, right down to the tiny veins in the wings.

My photo walks in this garden produced a photo of a white poppy dancing in the breeze that I loved so much that I created greeting cards and gave them to my gardener friend who makes all these beautiful shots possible.

Windblown Poppy

Her name is Barbara. And she’s legally blind.

Nothing is impossible, people. The creation of beauty, the nurturing of living things, and how we interpret our world for others to enjoy is as special and diverse as everyone on the planet. And you don’t need to see it all to make a difference.


Photo Friday – LA Photowalk, Pershing Square, November 2011

I’m right in the middle of my BlogWorld and New Media Expo adventure – and I have the pics to prove it! I’ll be posting them shortly after the show ends, but for this Photo Friday I thought I’d showcase the pics I took on a solitary photowalk I did of Pershing Square this past Wednesday. I had a grand time taking shots of the varied and interesting buildings and structures in this charming square.

I hope you enjoy them.