An Accesible Nova Scotia, Ambitious?…Nope. It’s Essential

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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 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?

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Our Normal: Whatever That Means

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We live a pretty hectic day to day life like most families, racing to the bus in the morning, running to evening soccer practices, homework, making time for each other, running a not-for-profit and the occasional revolving door of my husband getting home from work and me leaving for my second job, an evening part-time gig; one to three nights a week. It is what it is when you’re a family of five, but that’s only half of what has become the rest of our normal…whatever that means.

I remember back to when Olivia was a year old and we were fully immersed into a life that was dictated by weekly appointments that consisted of meetings with her pediatrician and developmental team, sessions with her physio and occupational therapists, house visits with her early intervention worker and the middle of the night hospital visits that seemed all too often in that first year. The list literally goes on, and on top of it all, trying desperately to maintain a sense of normalcy for our two older children, so that their lives didn’t become engulfed by our worries or this new medically facilitated lifestyle. Life seemed ironically chaotic despite the daily calendar I lived by, and the feeling of spinning out of control consumed me. It was like my body was suspended in air and I was desperately grasping at something to hold onto.

It took some time, but eventually the staggering amount of appointments just became what we did to give her the best shot at a happy life. Her brother and sister grew to love being the tag-alongs to each session because it usually meant a popsicle was in it for them or the chance to play on the mini trampoline in the rehab clinic.

We built a village of support through friendships with other families moving through similar journeys. The wisdom and advice gained lifted me up higher than I could have ever imagined.

The feelings and fears I had eventually evaporated and a new sense of understanding emerged.

The notion of ever having control is an illusion; I see that now. Because life is chaos; beautifully random and ever changing. It took me a very long time to learn this and to hold it fiercely within. The combination of never knowing what the future holds (and how terrifying that use to be for me), to living in today and having a deep appreciation for those moments we often take for granted got me here.

I’m writing this blog today for all those Mommas, Daddys, caregivers, whoever out there that is feeling just this exact feeling, now. Control… normal…it’s an illusion. There is no handbook or list of “7 Ways To Achieve Your Normal”. Embrace your chaos, find beauty in change, enjoy today and make memories now.