Monthly Archives: July 2010

Solidarity: Disability Pride Parades

The city of Chicago has been holding a disability pride parade for seven years, and San Jose recently followed suit; they held a parade celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act last weekend. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos from that parade online, but I did find other photos of disability pride events, so I thought we’d spend today having a little virtual parade!

There are two things in this world I adore more than almost all others: Hanging out with fellow people with disabilities, and parades. Having the two in one spot sounds absolutely super.

Speak Out: Dancers. An integrated dance troupe performs.

This is Momo Dance, an integrated dance group from Calgary, performing at a disability pride event in 2006.

Speak Out: Better service for seniors. Seniors with disabilities at a disability pride event. One person carries a sign saying 'better service in the community for seniors! keep our dreams alive'

Disabled seniors at the same event.

Louder and Prouder: A wheelchair user with a sign reading 'louder and prouder.'

Another disability pride event in Calgary, this time in 2009.

Promoting a new perspective on disability: People marching with a banner for an independent living centre. There's a wheelchair user, and at least one service animal.

Photos from the same event.

Disability Pride Parade '06 in Chicago: people with disabilities seated in colorful floats in a Chicago street.

Chicago, 2006.

Disabled & Proud! A person holds up a sign reading 'We have a disability, but we can work and do other things. We are people with great dreams to live in our own apartment and have an active life.'

Chicago, 2007.

A wheelchair user and a walker, both wearing matching cowboy hats and pink feather boas. The walker is wearing a gay pride flag as a cape.

Finally, these women are in the Brighton Gay Pride Parade; ’cause disability pride can show up anywhere! I adore their matching cowboy hats.

Guest Post From Jesse the K: 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month.

I’d hoped to have a delicious thinky post about the difference 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made for the world, the nation, the state, and me. Meditating on those topics proved so depressing I didn’t even leave the house yesterday. Ha! Depression is the gift that keeps on stepping on my toes.

So: the ADA and what it enabled today. In my zippity, comfortable power chair I zoomed to a “regular” bus stop and thence to my accessible health club where I swam for 40 minutes. I used half of the seated showers (what the staff insist on calling the “handicapped stalls.”) Most of the people I encountered treated me respectfully and without patronizing me. I saw at least 10 other people whose impairments were readily evident to me. Another bus to the next stop. I had no worries about crossing a six-lane 45mph road because my chair goes fast enough (but not, alas 45mph). There were curb ramps which almost met ADA specs almost all the places there should have been — the speedy chair simplifies crossing the street via driveways when necessary. I stopped in three stores during these errands. At one store the counterperson dramatically jumped back and performed the Vanna White maneuver to demonstrate that there was room to move in the shop. (Oh really?) The other stores gave me exactly the same attention as the evidently enabled* people who entered at the same time.

OK, that’s all about assistive technology, and there’s more AT-related items I could enumerate (built-in enlarging features in apps and OS simplify computer use; cordless phones; I’m stopping now).

The biggest change has not been in my body but in my perspective. In the late 80s, I’d been educating myself on social-model, disability-rights reading, but my impairments were not yet evident to others. That disabled people’s rights had been enshrined in law was hugely important to me. That the ADA used “mental illness” as an example finally tipped me into considering therapy.

So, thanks for my life, ADA: many mundane things, and a few great big ones.

The law is not enough; as Cal Montgomery taught me:

Discrimination is always illegal; only activism makes it unwise.

So thanks to these real-world colleagues and teachers, who enabled me to learn advocacy:

  • Caryn Navy, who was infinitely patient with my AB privilege, remade a corner of the world at Raised Dot Computing, and demonstrated dignity through snark
  • Chris Kingslow, who taught me that mental illness isn’t the end of the world
  • Catherine Odette, who published Dykes Disabilities & Stuff, founded Able Lives Theater, and gave me permission to take as long as it takes
  • Cal Montgomery, who decoded the disability studies stuff I couldn’t follow, made me laugh, and taught me that there is dignity in “behavior management,” as well as potential for abuse
  • Mike O’Connor, who held my hand while I took my first steps into the public square
  • Fayth Kail, who cranked open many minds as she served as an Assembly page in the state legislature while also campaigning for abortion rights, reminding me that advocacy has a life cycle

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If CNN Won’t Do It, I Guess I Will: Transcripts of CNN’s ADA Coverage

As I discussed yesterday, CNN apparently doesn’t think captioning online content is important. When that content is coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that’s pretty offensive. Since CNN hasn’t responded to repeated requests for captioning, I decided to help them out with full transcripts of their content. I know they’re busy folks over there, and I’m sure they have a lot to do! Clearly, since they’ve been asked repeatedly since Monday for captions on this content.

Feel free to reprint/distribute these transcripts with a link back to the original source.

Continue reading If CNN Won’t Do It, I Guess I Will: Transcripts of CNN’s ADA Coverage

Recommended Reading for 30 July 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

abstractions of chinchilla: HAND HOOKS. HOOKS FOR HANDS

Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the most giftedly bad book I have read in the past year and possibly ever, and if you fail to acknowledge its disastrous triumph, I will punch you in the speen. $10 million not enough to restore justice and dignity to Indigenous women in Canada

After 600 Aboriginal women and girls go missing or are found murdered in Canada, the federal government decides to throw-a-bone and give $10 million dollars. In March, the Canadian Minister of Justice budgeted $10 million over two years to address the issue of murdered and missing women in Canada, however, they have yet to figure out how to use the money.

The Neon Season: Never make friends with people who have more problems than you

I was talking (separately) to both sartorias and faithhopetricks about a peculiar YA and middle-grade genre which proliferated in the 70s, 80s, and to some extent 90s, which I think of as the “friendship is pointless” novel. This may overlap with the dog/horse/falcon/best friend/sibling/ALL the dogs die genre, but death is not essential in this genre, and many dead hamster/etc novels don’t belong to it.

In this story, a young person meets a Person with a Problem: they are mentally ill, developmentally disabled, physically disabled, dying, very old, or being abused. The young person befriends them. Catastrophe ensues. The young person, sadder but wiser, learns the valuable lesson that you can’t ever help anyone, and people with problems are doomed. Women-to-women PTSD: Post-traumatic support

“I asked them how many women from Vietnam they had treated, and he said I was the first,” said Evans, who now lives in Helena. “The first thing I saw, hanging on the wall, was a naked woman wearing only Harley chaps and a helmet. It was a place for the guys, very unwelcoming for women.”

So last August, Evans set out to establish a group specifically for military women, whether in active duty, the National Guard or the Reserve, where they could confide in one another and share their fears, their symptoms, their triumphs and their pain in a safe setting.

She knew the need existed for a women-specific program, since nationwide, 1.8 million women are military veterans, which includes almost 8,000 women in Montana. They make up 14 percent of those in active duty, and 15 percent in the Reserve and National Guard.

Serotek Blog: What is the Future of Screen Readers Anyway?

Serotek hopes wholeheartedly that in 2015 we can say the screen reader space has vanished. This change will be brought about through our efforts as a company, and through advocacy by consumers, to encourage universal accessibility in all mainstream products. When screen readers were invented in the early 1980’s they were essential tools to make an inaccessible digital world accessible. They were never meant to be a business, only a means to an end. They were developed by private companies aided by government funding to correct an inequity and make it possible for blind people to use digital tools to become economically viable again. They were for vocational rehab, helping us get off the dole and back to work as contributing members of society. Unfortunately this wonderful leg up soon became a barrier for blind people. Digital technology raced ahead but without universal accessibility built in. Screen readers lagged behind and rather than leveling the playing field, they tended to add extra cost and training while restricting access to the most advanced mainstream software features. Companies producing screen readers were more concerned with preserving the government funding cash cow than with helping the blind community achieve total equality. Fortunately that business model is finally disintegrating. We’ve been a part of the push to change the model from day one of our existence, but truthfully it didn’t really start to shift until mainstream companies like Apple embraced universal accessibility in their core product design.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone.]

This post is about the book version of Wicked, not the musical (they’re quite dissimilar). There’s one minor spoiler for the musical, and I’ve tried to minimise the spoilers about the book, though this is a book review so watch out!

Wicked is concerned with the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, which is a fabulous premise, I’m sure you’ll agree. Well, having seen the musical previously, I was a little apprehensive about social justice concerns in the book. And we get off to a flying start with this section of the first scene:

‘[…]What a Witch. Psychologically warped; possessed by demons. Insane. Not a pretty picture.’

‘She was castrated at birth,’ replied the Tin Woodman calmly. She was born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.’

And the ‘patronizing speculations,’ as the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, thinks of these remarks (she’s spying on them in this scene) don’t end there. So, naturally, I was wary from there on out. Look, there’s lots I could talk about in this review: what I found to be a half-baked treatment of race, the truly gorgeous worldbuilding, many “what the pancake” moments, some of the most rounded characters I’ve found in fiction. But I think the treatment of Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, in terms of her being disabled, needs a whole review to itself.

Before I get to her, though, I should point out that Nessarose is not the only disabled character in Wicked. There’s one memorable paragraph in which Elphaba remembers the last time she sees her old school friend, Tibbett. She’s nursing him and it’s the first time she sees him since he became an “invalid”.

Then, a year ago, pale invalid Tibbett was carted to the Home for the Incurables. He wasn’t too far gone to recognise her even behind her veil and silences. Weak, unable to shit or piss without help, his skin falling in rags and parchment, he was better at life than she was. He selfishly required that she be an individual, and he addressed her by her name. He joked, he remembered stories, he criticized old friends for abandoning him, he noticed the differences in how she moved from day to day, how she thought. He reminded her that she did think. Under the scrutiny of his tired frame she was re-created, against her will, as an individual. Or nearly.

So he’s portrayed as one of the “Incurables,” far gone into hopelessness, an object of pity. Yet still with his inner strength – which, while it is conveyed with tenderness and some depth, is ultimately a vehicle for a Very Special Lesson for Elphaba. And we never get to hear his voice; he’s just here, briefly, portrayed through the voice and memory of his carer. Which is something we’ve all encountered before.

So, to Nessarose, who is described by her sister as having been ‘horribly disfigured from birth’ as she doesn’t have arms. Whose movement is described by the narrator in sinuous, snake-like terms, bizarrely fascinating to look at. Who is conveyed as so pretty and charming, but so helpless and unfortunate, poor dear. Who just can’t get a man because who wants to be with someone like her?

No. No no no no. No. And I thought the sickly sweetness of the character in the musical was bad. It’s like Maguire was trying to cram as many disability tropes in as possible.

But that’s not all there is to Nessarose. She’s a major political figure, which is pretty cool. However, she’s a tyrant, which is… on the one hand, a powerful disabled woman? That’s pretty cool. On the other, another disabled villain? Are you quite serious? What really ties the characterisation of Nessarose into a complex ball of flat out ableism and confusing hints of marvellousness is how her religiousness is treated. There is likewise a little more nuance here. All the way through reading, I was constantly wondering how it was going to play out: was she going to be the unfortunate disabled person of faith who gets manipulated into being a Very Special Lesson to one and all? Was she going to turn into a dangerous figure, driven by religious extremism and her rage about her unfortunate (unfortunates in this paragraph are sarcastic, by the by!) disability? I certainly wasn’t expecting either her faith or her disability to be treated respectfully. And you know something? I was right. She ends up being a theocratic tyrant who has some pretty nasty effects on her people. A thousand points if you too were betting on an evil disabled dictator.

I want to touch on some of the discrepancies between the book and the musical. Anyone who has seen the musical will remember the scene in which Nessarose arises from her chair in one of those “It’s a happy piece of popular culture and I can walk!” moments. Which is bad enough, but, hang on, she doesn’t use a wheela chair in the book! I’m just wondering why on earth the makers of the musical decided Nessarose should be changed to a four-limbed wheelchair user. It’s as though impairments are interchangeable and a wheelchair is a universally applicable marker of disability. I think it would have been great if they’d decided to be true to the book and employ actors who don’t have arms for the musical. I guess we can dream!

In conclusion: skip the book unless you are really into quality worldbuilding and some pretty beautiful characterisations.

Question Time: Creativity

Question Time is a series in which we open the floor up to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.

Do you do any creative things (artwork, web design, creative writing, photography, playing a musical instrument or instruments, crafts, knitting) for fun? If so, what are they, and what do you enjoy about them? Please feel free to share links if you have them!

Alternately, are there any creative things, works, or folks that you’ve been inspired by as of late [please warn for TV show/movie/book spoilers in comments]?

Quick Hit: CNN: Celebrating the ADA With Uncaptioned Content

For the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act on Monday, there was a big ceremony at the White House, where President Obama gave a speech. A number of people with disabilities attended, including Marlee Matlin, upon whom I have a huge crush. Matlin is an awesome actress, and she’s also a tireless crusader for captioning, including online and offline.

Many news outlets covered the event, including CNN. ‘Obama marks 20th anniversary of landmark disabled rights law‘ features not one, but two videos.

Guess how many of them are captioned.

You know what’s a really bad idea? Not captioning stories about the Americans With Disabilities Act. You know what’s an even worse idea? Not captioning stories about events attended by Marlee Matlin. Matlin’s on the case on Twitter:

@CNN – ironic that your coverage of ADA ceremony with @barackobama at @whitehouse ISN’T CAPTIONED!

Feel free to Tweet @CNN and ask why their story about the ADA WASN’T captioned! FAIL!

@KyraCNN your story on ADA & its future WASN’T captioned on CNN on line. 🙁

Still no word from @CNN about lack of captions on their internet story about accomplishments of the Americans with Disability Act.

The points Matlin is raising are important. Especially given that a bill improving media accessibility just cleared the House of Representatives, this is more important now than ever, because the government is actually starting to think seriously about these issues and it’s taking steps to improve media accessibility. As Matlin points out, that bill doesn’t mandate captioning for web-only content. If content hits the airwaves, it has to be captioned, and when it is displayed online, those captions have to be made available. But if content is developed specifically for a website? No captions needed, under the bill’s terms.

We need Internet captions. We need them now.

CNN has a feedback form and they say they welcome comments. Internet, you know what to do.

ETA: I posted full transcripts of CNN’s content, for those who wanted to access it and couldn’t. And to make a point. Accessible content: Not that hard to provide, CNN.

Recommended Reading for Thursday, 29 July 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Marathon de Paris 2010:  A wheelchair user closes in on the finish line. The image is very dynamic and filled with motion.

Sandra Graf (SUI) nears the 20km mark during the 2010 Paris Marathon. Photo by Flickr User, Creative Commons License.

Alex Nesbitt at Digital Podcast: USA Network Uses Fake Blind Guy to Celebrate Americans With Disabilties Act (h/t Media dis&dat)

A sighted person is playing a blind person, and there are not any real blind actors on the show that I know of.

What does that say about their real respect for the ADA.

If they wanted to make this about people with disabilities why not extend the principles they claim and find a blind actor to play the part. After all, if the CIA can do it why not Hollywood.

ephemeralhope at If I was walking through a sad art gallery…: You Know You’re Blind When…

I am sixteen years old. Many people believe that I am too young to instruct my elders in how they should be treating people. However, I have lived all my life with a disability that has affected the way people perceive me, I know how it influences the way I feel about myself and choose to live my life. I will not judge you for your point of view towards me and my disability; I will only say that I respect those who see me before they see my disability more than the people that only see me as the blind girl. I do not deny my blindness, nor do I deny my independence and determination to prove that there is more to a person than their disability.

Remember this: if you ever became disabled you would still want to be treated as the person you are today, so do I.

Rhianon Elan Gutierrez at PGA Diversity: We Are the Audience Too: Responsibility as Creators

I am a filmmaker and I have a hearing loss. I understand both sides of the experience: as a creator and as an audience member.

I know how difficult it is to raise money to have the equipment you need, the actors you want, the location that’s beautiful, and the crew you know you need to feed and pay. I’m passionate about the process but what makes it challenging (and ultimately more rewarding) is the responsibilities that I have not only to my goals, my craft, and to my team, but to my audience. During the process of making my films and even afterwards, I make a commitment to be respectful of the access and communication needs and abilities of my cast and crew. I learn new things every day from them and about them. When it comes to my audience, I think about the one person of two hundred. It’s easy to forget this person, but I’ve been this person so I know that I must remind myself of those moments. I love the experience of making films and I especially love to see the impact that my films have on others and the difference that it makes when they can follow the story. I know I am not alone in sharing this sentiment.

Steve Kolowich at Inside Higher Ed: For One, for All

When advocates for students with disabilities asked Stephen Rehberg, an associate academic professional at Georgia Tech’s Center of Enhanced Teaching and Learning, to help create workshops to teach science and technology faculty members how better to accommodate disabled students, Rehberg’s answer was simple: “No.”

“Trying to teach faculty about accessibility is a dead end,” Rehberg said last week, during a session as Blackboard’s annual user conference here. “They’re not going to come to the workshops, and [if] they get there, they’re going to glaze over. I said, ‘I’m not going to waste my time or the grant money.’ ”

kissestokashmir at Your fucking culture alienates me: Something I have been thinking about a lot

And what a weird thing to care about. Who would mourn the loss of their birth defect? (Syndactyly is the official name of my condition.) I would most likely feel different about this if it was located on a more visible part of my body, such as the hands, or actually impeded my functioning. But it didn’t. It was just something unique about me, something that set me apart from everyone else I knew and I enjoyed having something that was unique to me and didn’t know that I enjoyed it until it was gone. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no point in robbing people of what makes them different or unique and they may very well end up resenting you for the imposition into their lives. What you may consider a defect or an oddity, they may consider a vital characteristic of their personality. And you do not have the right to take it from them or to characterize what it means for them.

Astrid von Woerkom at Astrid’s Journal: Autistic Student Denied Education, Loses Court Battle

This is sad. What is sadder, is that quite a number of students with disabilities are left without education for reasons similar to A.’s. School distritcts excuse lack of education by the argument that they don’t have the resources to educate “difficult” students. Even in countries like the Netherlands, where school attendance is compulsory – I don’t know about the UK -, students are left behind to sit at home.

Today in Journalism: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…SUPERCRIP!

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good Supercrip narrative, which is why I settled down with a bowl of Chex Mix to enjoy this delicious piece, ‘Provo woman finds blessing in hardship,’ originally published at Mormon Times. This delightful local profile of a woman with disabilities who doesn’t let her disability stop her! has got it all.

Tragedy struck! She’s inspirational! She refused to give in! Miracles! Determination! You can do anything if you try! Seriously, I think this article managed to hit every single square on the disability bingo card. I’d like to commend Doug Robinson for coming up with a tough act to follow. I’m sure I couldn’t possibly find another article even close to the amazingness of this one. It is just not possible. The world would collapse if there were two, you know what I’m sayin’?

Writing about the Supercrip stereotype at Bitch, Annaham said:

The myth of the Level Playing Field holds that American society gives everyone—no matter what their background or present circumstances—equal chances to succeed, and that most of the problems that marginalized groups have traditionally faced have already been solved. All folks have to do is work hard, have a good attitude, and their success will be imminent! Therefore, if there’s a Level Playing Field, there is no reason that people with disabilities can’t do superhuman things and succeed. Of course, the Level Playing Field is not real (hence its mythic status). Yet, many people who are effectively not marginalized regularly tell those who are that they, too, can “make it” if they just work hard and/or visualize their success. And so Supercrip remains the exception that many abled folks like to bring up; using similar logic, non-fictional Supercrips throughout the ages—along with many other people from marginalized groups who have “made it”–supposedly “prove” the existence of the Level Playing Field.

This profile of a woman with disabilities hits all of these issues right on the nose. Readers are reminded again and again that she refused to give up, refused to listen to doctors, insisted on doing things ‘the hard way.’ She used a manual chair instead of an electric one. She pursued a degree in singing even though her mean voice teacher said her voice was ugly. She won’t sit back and live high on the hog of government benefits, nosiree, she’s not the handout-taking type.

If you just try hard enough, you can accomplish anything. You just have to want it enough. These narratives are particularly pervasive in US society, where we are trained from a young age to believe in the American Dream and Bootstraps and other cultural myths so internalised, we often don’t even recognise them when we express them. Many of us believe, on some level, that people who work hard get what they deserve, and people in trouble got there because they didn’t work hard enough. These attitudes contribute directly to resistance when it comes to combating discrimination, because apparently if we just tried harder, ableism and discrimination would go away.

Curiously enough, she doesn’t mind handouts from G-d, just things like antidiscrimination laws and government benefits. This emphasis on spirituality is not a terribly surprising thing to see in a Mormon publication, but the piece is rife with references about how ‘blessed’ she feels, and it sets up a classic and unbeatable narrative: Why can’t you be more like her? She’s not angry and bitter like you! Why can’t you just get a job already? She did it!

“I was told a long time ago by a friend that feeling angry will stop your progress,” she says, “that if you feel sorry for yourself, if you’re going to feel bad, just give yourself 10 minutes, and then it’s over and you go on. Some things you can’t change.”

Quotes like that never get used to beat us up and remind us we’re being bad people, of course. They never are weaponised in the form of demanding questions asking why we can’t be more like that nice, inspirational lady who doesn’t let her disability get her down. Women like this are never pointed to as role models and are never used to abuse the rest of us for not just being better good cripples.

Depictions like this are actively harmful. As Annaham pointed out, Supercrip narratives are also extremely common. The media loves stories like this and eats them up, presenting them to readers and viewers with a pre-packaged narrative that everyone knows and understands because they have seen it before. When nondisabled people encounter the same story over and over again, they expect all people with disabilities to be like this, and they find the reality, that we are unique individuals with different types of attitudes and bodies and approaches to disability, highly unsettling.

These narratives hinder conversations about disability discrimination, and for many disabled readers and viewers, they are highly alienating.

Celebrating Us: Notes for an address at the 7th Annual Simply People Celebration

John Rae is a disability rights activist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and a member of The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. This speech was delivered by Rae on July 20, 2010 as part of the Simple People celebration, which is in turn part of Toronto’s Disability Pride.

Tonight is for us, and about us! Tonight is a time for us to celebrate our accomplishments and to redouble our efforts to bring about true equality for all persons with disabilities in Canada and around the world.

This year, Canadians with disabilities are celebrating Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). While it may not provide us with a lot of new rights, it sets out in far greater detail than any human rights code or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ever did what a truly accessible and inclusive Canada can look like, in important areas of life that are critical to our participation in the economic, political and social life of our communities – transportation, employment, education, communications, access to information, etc. The Convention also requires Canada to collect and disseminate data and to submit a comprehensive report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations within two years after ratification and every four years thereafter on measures taken, and civil society is to be directly involved in the development of these reports. This means involving us!

The development of this Convention traveled a unique path. It took the least amount of time of any UN Convention to be concluded, and it involved far more participation from civil society than ever before. That means involvement by us, and many groups representing persons with disabilities participated actively in the negotiations at the UN that resulted in this Convention. There are important lessons to be learned from having this kind of direct participation in developing any new initiative that directly affects our lives.

Last year, the President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Robin East, developed a new way of addressing our needs and aspirations. He coined the new phrase, “rights holders.” We are Rights Holders! What does he mean?

Too often, governments like to lump all of us, consumers, parents, service providers, etc. under the same umbrella of “stakeholders,” and while all of these groups may very well have a “stake” in the outcome of a new piece of legislation, policy or program, we are the ones most affected. We are different, and must see ourselves as “rights holders,” and not just another group of mere stakeholders. What this means is that we must occupy the primary and preeminent place at any table that is discussing anything that directly impacts our quality of life.

You are all familiar with the favourite phrase of the disability rights movement, “Nothing about us without us!” Now that Canada has ratified the UN Convention, it is critical that we rights holders participate as directly in its implementation as we did in its design, to ensure that it makes a tangible difference in the lives of all Canadians with disabilities, to make it become Canada’s national disabilities Act.

By contrast, the much heralded Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) continues to move at a snail’s pace. After over five years, only one of the initial five accessibility standards has been issued as a regulation, though more are expected later this year. It is hard to imagine that Ontario is even close to being on track to achieve full accessibility by the far off date of 2025, and it is hoped that Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention will spur some renewed commitment and action to the AODA.

It is too often argued by representatives from governments and the obligated sectors that they “would like to do the things we wand and need, but these changes will simply cost too much.” We have countered that the real barriers are not cost, but a lack of political will and a question of priorities.

The Ontario Human Rights Code has covered persons with various disabilities since 1982. Governments, the public and private sectors have had over 25 years to make their premises, websites, products and programs fully accessible. How much more time do they need? If they have ignored their responsibilities and dragged their feet over all these years, stop blaming us – stop blaming the victims. It’s simply not our fault.

After the preposterous expenditure of an estimated $1.3 billion (that’s billion) on security for the G-8 and G-20 Summits, and countless millions of dollars on our involvement in the war in Afghanistan, persons with disabilities never want to hear the cost excuse ever again … never again! Resources are not unlimited, but whenever a government really wants to do something, it seems to magically find a way to finance its priorities.

So what am I asking you to do?

1. Write letters to the Editor of your local newspaper, raising disability issues;

2. Ask all candidates for Mayor and Council in the upcoming municipal election about their platforms, and what they commit to do to advance our agenda;

3. Get more involved in the disability rights movement. Join a group like the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), Citizens With Disabilities Ontario (CDWO) and sign up to receive updates from the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act alliance, or find the consumer organization in your area that best represents your issues and ideas.

In closing, I want to mention just one more point. Many of us who have been on the front lines, in the leadership of our movement for many, many years are getting old and growing tired. We need you to get more involved. We need your energy, skills and new ideas. We cannot expect the system to hand us our rightful place, our history teaches us that it rarely does! Moving our agenda and achieving our goals is up to us. We must make it happen.

Some of you will be familiar with the phrase “Full Participation and Equality.” It’s an excellent phrase. It’s not a new phrase. It was the theme of the International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP) way back in 1981.

Since then, we have come a part of the way up this road, but we still have far, too far to travel. Today, we seek legislation and new programs that will lead to that elusive goal, but today we must spend far too much of our time preventing the introduction of new barriers.

It’s time governments, the private and public sectors recognized our value, and commit to work with us to realize the IYDP motto.

We want our rights. When do we want them? Now!