Break the Circle in 2011

By Victor Schwartzman
May 2, 2011

A recent issue of the Accessibility News Weekly Newsletter (it could have
been any issue) featured more articles pointing in the same direction:
nowhere. Why?

The problem is not the Newsletter but the news. The news’ direction, as usual, is a circle. 2011 must be the year this circle is broken.

Recent articles reflect ongoing problems in fundamental rights. Voting, to cite one example. To cite another, a few months back an article noted that the Fire Department in a key Ontario city was finally developing an
evacuation plan for people with disabilities. Is the federal government still pushing our Provinces to sign up so we are signatories to the UN human rights document?

Does any new piece of paper matter, given how the old pieces of paper ended up?

There are pushes for Provinces to write new laws on disability rights.

Given the Provinces have a poor record on the old rights, what reason is there to believe the politicians will, first, agree to new laws? And, second, to implement new laws any better than the old ones?

There is every reason to applaud the motivations and energy of disability rights activists, and every reason to question which road is the right one to take. Of course, no single road leads to the solution.

Such efforts can and should continue. At the very least, they ring alarm bells for politicians. Of course there appears to be a profound hearing impairment among politicians, given their response to such alarms.

Yes, there have been improvements, and by golly that is great.

Getting out of the house has long been possible. The stuff that would not be swept under the rug-dips in curbs, ramps into buildings, talking elevators-was done years ago. It is so entrenched there is no worry about
backsliding. There is even a version of ‘public’ transit, although there is so little of it you must build your schedule around it rather than the other way around (around and around: ‘handy transits’ are their own circle.)

Why has all that been done? Because that type of accommodation is a lot less expensive and involving than pursuing accommodation inside the building. Has any city or Province met, regularly or otherwise, its
affirmative action target for employing people who have a disability? How many cities and Provinces do not even have a plan to increase the employment of people who have a disability?

The pat-yourself-on-the-back stuff is easy. The stuff that costs something, that’s a lot harder.

It is hardly a secret that most governments pursued community living not because they truly believed in the philosophy but because it enabled them to save a lot of money. It was far less expensive to pay people minimal amounts of money to living in substandard rooming houses than it was to
maintain expensive facilities.

The evidence that governments cheated?

Where is the network of services necessary to assist people with physical and mental health challenges who live in the community (as they should)?

Was not the community living concept to be supported by extensive services for those who needed them?

If you are asking where the services are, we are back to the circle analogy.

Not only were services not improved, they are now being cut back or being threatened with cutbacks.

More pressure must be put on politicians. And in different ways than have been tried before. Yes, pressure for better laws should continue, along with pressure to better implement laws already on the books.

What would a politician walking into the office each morning think if, every day, there was a person with a visible disability sitting in the waiting room? Not asking for an appointment exactly, but when asked, saying he or she is waiting for their rights?

And what if each City Councillor met with the person, thought it was done, and the next morning there is another person waiting?

And what if that also happened with MLAs?

This commitment does not call for much. Just showing up every day. But this author has enormous faith in the shameless use of Guilt for the Better Good. And the politicians are capable of feeling guilty. And after a few weeks, they’ll start to do something.

Maybe it is only to give those people with visible disabilities some rights so they will become ‘invisible’ again.

Who cares? Politicians may not be reasoned into proper action, but they can be shamed. Break the circle in 2011!