The topic surrounding accessibility; and what that means, wasn’t a topic we discussed (or even thought about) prior to Olivia’s birth. And I think it’s safe to say many people never think about the importance of accessibility because, well, they have never struggled with physical, environmental or societal barriers personally, or there is no one within their circle who they’ve witnessed struggling with such barriers. I can understand that, but here’s the thing; disability affects everyone. Disability can impact our lives at any given moment. An individual can be born with a disability, a severe sickness can attribute to loss of mobility, speech, bodily functions, you could be involved in a serious accident that leaves you permanently disabled, or the natural progression of aging and our body’s own deterioration. Knowing this is the first step in recognizing why accessibility should be important to you.
Lastnight, my husband and I participated in a public discussion regarding the province’s plan to make Nova Scotia fully accessible by 2030. A plan the province is calling “ambitious”.
We spoke with other families and individuals within the disabled community, listening to their personal stories and challenges they have faced most of their lives. One gentleman shared his story, he was serving with the Canadian Armed Forces and was injured during a training exercise. He told us, “Accessbility punched me in the face. I never thought about it prior to my injury. I’ve been in the chair twenty years.”
Another young woman shared her story of going through grade school. She has Cerebral Palsy and uses a power chair. She shared how she was sexually assaulted over and over again, while attending school. Most of the incidents occurred while she was in the Learning Centre, but due to the lack of supports, she didn’t have an EPA with her during certain times. She was left vulnerable.
Another family shared their struggles with locating an accessible apartment for their daughter and her family. Because present guidelines state that apartment buildings require a certain number of accessible units, most owners build one bedroom units, thus eliminating the potential for families with a disabled member to require one.
And the story that hit hardest with me was shared by our lead presenter. A young woman who he had been mentoring, who had obtained her Master’s Degree and was enthusiastic to join the workforce, had committed suicide; all because she was throttled by huge societal barriers surrounding her disability. The young woman distributed over 200 resumes. She had letters of support from professors and her mentor, she graduated top of her class and had excelled in her ambitions. She felt the need to include her being disabled in her resume. She never received a single response. Her mentor advised her to eliminate that detail and as a result, she was given one interview. A year went by, she was unemployed and fell into a deep depression and then ended her life.
Accessibility isn’t just a “something”, it’s so much more. Accessibility is a frame of mind, it’s the environment we live, it’s everything that acknowledges we are all the same, despite our differences of abilities. It’s the validation that my needs are just as important as yours.
Amongst those in attendance who shared their stories and experiences were those who work with members of the disabled community; health care workers and teachers. Some shared the challenges that lie within their workforce, both physical and educational. They spoke about the heartbreak they felt for clients who weren’t getting the care they required, whether that be someone waiting for a bed in a long term care facility (many die on the wait list before ever receiving one), or the lack of professional health care workers to fill the voids.
Our province has ignored the importance of an accessibility standard for far too long. Implementing this action plan will hopefully establish a policy that has enough teeth to hold both public and private sectors accountable. We also need to hold our governments at a high standard of accountability. Decades have gone by and those who were elected to pursue the best interest of the people of this province, failed. From here on out, we as Nova Scotians can’t allow that to happen. When I here politicians repeatedly using the word “ambitious” in regards to this plan’s implementation, I hear, “this is our back door in case we don’t meet all the strategies.” Like they can go back and say, ” well yes, we didn’t get this and that completed, but look at a we did! We were ambitious to think we’d get it all done in twelve years, and did the best we could.”
I hope to never hear those words. I’m tired of words. I want to see it with my own eyes and touch it with my own hands. I want to go to dinner with my family, park in the well painted, well labelled accessible parking space, enter through the easily accessible power doors, walk my daughter through the wide, easily passable aisles, and take her to a fully accessible washroom equipped with a proper adapted table; NOT a baby change station. Is this really too much to hope for?