What does the future hold for young disabled people?

A crystal ball reflecting a cityscape with blue skies in the background

I don’t think Andrew Pulrang could have posted this recent article on young people with disabilities at a better time, as I have recently been having similar thoughts on what the future holds for disabled children & youth and, much like Pulrang, I honestly feel really optimistic.

Yes, there are still huge barriers facing disabled people of all stripes and the pernicious effects of ableism are experienced in tangible and intangible ways on a daily basis. But if I consider how things were when I was a kid compared to how things are now, how can we not be excited? Provincial and National accessibility laws are (slowly) moving forward. Public and private spaces are becoming more accessible—sometimes even by choice and not because of a fear of punishment. More disabled students than ever before are entering post-secondary education, which points toward a promising future of employment and financial independence for these young ones.

But the reason I am MOST excited is not because of the work happening external to the disabled community, but the work happening within. When I was younger, I struggled to integrate within the disabled community of my peers. I was frustrated by the amount of self pity and self loathing. I was saddened by how many were already defeated, even with their lives just beginning. I didn’t understand why everyone just wanted to talk about their most recent surgery or the latest ‘miracle cure’ or the latest fundraising award they had won. Couldn’t we just talk about sports, music and dating like other teens?

Young disabled people I am meeting now are different than when I was young. Many of them have this sassy fire, brimming with self confidence in their right to be a part of this world. Many of them are organizing, online and offline, to fight for the things they and their peers need now and in the future. Some are even dreaming of (and achieving) adult lives that don’t (only) revolve around disability—choosing to just live life on their own terms and not “being” disabled all the time.

In my experience, young disabled people are dreaming a big, spectacular future of disability justice, inclusion and acceptance. Now the rest of us need to buckle up, join them and support them in making their vision come to fruition.

Thinking about families and home care in Canada

Older person, wearing a hospital gown, using a walker to get out of bed

Of all the challenges facing Canada over the next two decades, one issue that regularly get pushed into the background is the increasing home care needs for aging loved ones.

As Angus Reid identifies in a recent report, a not insignificant number (a quarter of the +30 Canadian population) are currently delivering care to parents and in-laws as they age in place. That number will increase as Boomers continue moving through retirement and experience age-related impairments. As someone who struggles to hire new support workers every year, this is already a problem for those requiring in-home care – if we don’t have enough workers to fill the need now, a rapid growth in need will leave a LOT of people in precarious situations.

While many will frame this problem through a simplistic dichotomy of limited resources versus lazy millennials refusing to care for their elders, the causes and effects of in-home care shortages are far more complex. There are labour force issues, as people with important skills and competencies step out of the labour pool to care for relatives. There are burnout and mental health issues, as personal care is a tough job that not everyone is cut out to perform. And there are equity issues, as few families have the capacity to eliminate an income source from the household and stay afloat. Simply put, there isn’t a single sector of our social and economic spheres that remains untouched by in-home care.

We often complain about how the government spends our money and that our taxes are too high but shifting more resources into the health care sector is kind of a no-brainer. Increasing funding to quality in-home care is not just the right thing to do for citizens, morally, but it can also lead to economic benefits, including good paying jobs for those entering the field at various levels as well as freeing up others to bring their talents to other sectors of the labour market. It means thinking of health care as more than just doctors and nurses. And, of course, paying the non-doctors and nurses a fair, living wage.

To get out of the Great Depression, FDR’s New Deal created work opportunities, paid by the government, for those who were ready, willing and able. Perhaps it is time for a New Canadian Health Care Deal, aimed at providing viable, stable work both within and outside the hospital. Instead of factories that make “things”, maybe we should focus on creating jobs that enabled people. Instead of building what we hope people might want to buy, why not invest in services we know everyone will need?

To be honest, this might be the most Canadian solution yet to the challenges of globalization.

Are ride share apps like Uber & Lyft really accessible?

Yellow cabs lined up on a NY street at night

I’ve always found it frustrating when we refer to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft as positive “disruptive” forces that are changing the way we think about transportation. Generally speaking, these are organizations that have exploited policy loopholes to subvert controls and regulation placed on the taxi industry, for better and/or worse, to give themselves a competitive advantage over those who play by the rules. But are they accessible for everyone? Apparently not, as seen all too clearly in a recent ABC story about a women in San Francisco who regularly has drivers cancel her rides because of her service dog.

Ride sharing programs may be a novel way to diversify our transportation marketplace, but relying on the virtue of untrained and unpoliced operators to “do right” by disabled customers is to set ourselves up for failure. We have seen this through failed charity model experiments throughout the US and are sure to continue seeing this behaviour in the ride share space. I have yet to see an accessible Uber vehicle in London, ON and the one time I used an accessible Uber in Toronto, I was picked up by an off-duty cab driver who was using their adapted cab to make a bit of extra money on the side.

The opportunity for drivers to “self select” out of accessibility (in official and unofficial ways) means we are unlikely to see adequate servicing of disabled riders through ride share programs and, if these services continue to impact the traditional taxi industry, could see reduced accessible transit options in the future if cab companies start going under.

The apps may be pretty snazzy. The prices might (seem) better. The service may be convenient. But in the end, is it any surprise that things like this happen when these companies were essentially founded on not follow the rules?

University of Toronto approves Mandatory Leave policy

High contrast image of University College building at the University of Toronto at dusk

Over the past year, the University of Toronto has been working on a Mandatory Leave policy that would allow them to ‘suspend’ students experiencing mental illness. Late this week, that policy was finalized.

Mandatory leave policies like this set us back decades on naturalizing disability on campus and efforts to destigmatize accommodation services. Students are just starting to ask for the help they need but now may be too afraid to self identify for fear of forced leave. Disability is already horrendously under represented at the university level and this policy may well drive disability further underground. That’s a real problem when seen in the context of unemployment among DPs, a number driven in part by a lack of access to education.
Continue reading “University of Toronto approves Mandatory Leave policy”

Accessible Canada Act (ACA) enters first reading

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities logo with "Ontarians" crossed out and "Canadians" written in red marker

Today was a historic day in Canada. No, not just because marijuana is about to become legal, but because the Trudeau Government also released for first reading the “Accessible Canada Act” (ACA) which seeks to codify and enforce accessibility standards for federal agencies and organizations.

It is perhaps an understatement to say that today is a big day to be a disabled Canadian. When I was younger, I was assured a national disability-focused act (like the Americans with Disabilities Act) would never be possible because of federalism – provinces would never consent to the federal government interfering in their business, even if it is for the greater good. But where many have failed before, Trudeau has now embarked on the long climb toward royal ascent with the ACA being submitted for first reading today.

The following are some of my scattered thoughts upon first read. Continue reading “Accessible Canada Act (ACA) enters first reading”

Microsoft Releases New Accessible Gaming Controller

New xbox controller attached to multiple buttons configured in different ways to increase access

I always kind of dreaded playing sports with nondisabled people as a kid. I feared that inevitably there would be that awkward moment when, either compelled by feelings of pity or desires to be inclusive, the players on the other team would oh so carefully miss a pass or stumble while making a save to allow me to score a goal. I would participate in the pantomime, I felt I had no choice, because it felt wrong to chastise these kids for doing something they felt was an expression of their compassion or appreciate of me. Clearly, these moments were designed to make me feel included despite my limitations, but often it just left me feeling more isolated.

I didn’t want to score a special goal. I wanted to score a real goal! Continue reading “Microsoft Releases New Accessible Gaming Controller”

Where do the disabled belong in London?

A sun-light forest with winding dirt pathway

Dear Mayor Brown and City Councillors,

I was deeply concerned by the rhetoric heard both in and out of public session on Monday evening regarding the proposed Medway Valley conservation plan and felt it necessary to write in and provide some opinion and insight. As you can probably imagine, I was heartbroken by the repeated characterization that disabled people in this city are less deserving of using public spaces simply because we may access them in different ways or that we, as a people, are some sort of annoyance or burden because of our differing needs. Lurking behind many comments, made by both the public and some councillors, were some insidious implications that disabled people do not have the same value as the nondisabled, that we cannot possibly make an equitable world that is accessible for everyone or that the drive to become more accessible would inevitably lead to an ecological catastrophe. I feel there are some important clarifications and explanations missing from this debate and hope to fill some of those gaps with the following letter.

It is my interpretation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its subsequent accessibility standards that the municipality will eventually have an obligation to provide access to all municipal services or infrastructure otherwise being provided to people who are not currently disabled. The light in the darkness, so to speak, of the AODA is that disabled people have the same right to exist in our city as everyone else and it is our duty, both the public and the private sector, to begin tackling the structural, architectural and attitudinal barriers that functionally disable people. The AODA states it is the obligation of our world to change, not the duty of the disabled themselves to fit within a rigid normative hierarchy of ability. And best yet, the AODA states unequivocally that Ontario must be fully accessible by 2025.

From this interpretation, and based on Part 4 Section 80 of the O. Reg. 191/11: Integrated Accessibility Standards, the municipality has an obligation to “ensure that any recreational trails that they construct or redevelop, and that they intend to maintain” follow a set of technical requirements, including ensuring the surface of recreational trails are “firm and stable.” The Standard also states that the requirements do not apply to wilderness trails, backcountry trails and/or portage routes (O. Reg. 413/12, s. 6) and Section 80.15 outlines exemptions from compliance in instances where there may be “significant risk” to ecological integrity and at-risk species (as scheduled by the Endangered Species Act, 2007) in direct or indirect ways.

When looked at in the context of the Medway Valley plan, I think the critical point here to note is not necessarily the exemption on ecological grounds but the phrasing around creation and maintenance: I am of the opinion that the AODA does not require the creation of new pathways, especially into areas that are ostensibly not intended to be accessed by anyone, disabled or not, such as ecologically sensitive areas. Given the spirit of the AODA, to provide equitable access for disabled people, the requirement seems to indicate that if the city intends on creating new and/or maintaining existing pathways, places where members of the public are welcome, then there is an obligation to ensure pathway access for diverse means of ambulation.

Which brings us to my point: this discussion is not and should not be about the accessibility of pathways. Non-exempt recreational paths must be accessible going forward. Full stop. Building off comments from one city councillor on Monday, debating accessibility is actually “moot” because that debate already happened at Queen’s Park and now it is the law – we don’t really have a say in that anymore, unless we’re interested in going to court.

The actual choice here is about whether or not to provide publicly useable pathways. Not who will use them, what they should look like, but whether they should exist at all.

Which is where this screed began: do the disabled deserve to access a “natural gem” in the city? If the nondisabled are able and facilitated by the municipality to experience it, then yes, absolutely we do. Morally, ethically, and legally yes, we do.

Living with a physical disability has meant that I only get to explore a small portion of London. Many places Londoners take for granted, staples of the community, I have never visited because they are inaccessible. Most of my life opportunities have been decided not by the things I want to do or the places I want to go but based on the arbitrary patchwork of accessibility that has resulted in a minuscule list of places I can physically access. Before I go out with friends, before going shopping, before applying to university, before applying for a job, I have to call ahead and ask if the space is wheelchair accessible. All too commonly, the answer to this question is “I’m so sorry, but no.” Polite as the response may be, what I really hear and see is a city that intentionally or otherwise does not believe people like me are worth, fiscally or physically, the cost of accommodation. I hear and see that I do not belong. Frankly, at times on nights like Monday, I felt like I am not particularly wanted nor welcome.

I can access a mere fraction of the freedom enjoyed by the approximately 84% of Londoners who do not have a disability. This is, by and large, because of choices we’ve made about how to imagine our city and who we presume are its residents. Worse still, these are choices we regularly make without asking disabled people about how these decisions will continue to marginalize their experiences and prevent full citizenship. Ultimately, we are not people with disabilities, we are people disabled by system of ableism that prefers to assume disabled people either have everything they need already (we don’t) or that they simply do not exist (we do…and our numbers are growing).

And the continued vacillating on tackling the systemic and attitudinal barriers faced by disabled Londoners validates that belief. Every “we can’t afford it” or “now is not the right time” or “this is not the right place” makes us all complicit in this oppression based on bodily formation.

London may or may not need city-provided access to Medway Valley. That is ultimately something you will need to decide on Tuesday. But if you do not believe disabled people “belong” there, then I implore you ask where do we, disabled people, belong? If Medway Valley is one of the few spaces that we cannot accommodate, and you genuinely agree that the disabled do in fact belong in London, then I urge you to make up for this one ecological limitation by committing to resolving some of the countless other barriers that we can remove – we just have to stop finding excuses not to.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

 

Jeff Preston, PhD
Assistant Professor, Disability Studies
King’s University College @ The University of Western Ontario

Social Media, Public Relations and What Not to Do

Screen shot of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker saying "Damn!" in the movie Friday (1995)

Screenshot of tweet reading "Bye Felicia! Large gathering at [red redaction line] broken up. #dontinviteus2urparty #StPatricksDay #LdnOnt #lpffa" and two images of revelers and police
Screenshot of the deleted “Bye Felicia” tweet, address omitted.
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the London Police took to social media, spending the day tweeting out funny images and updates around their “Don’t Invite Us” campaign to curb student rowdiness in the city. This was all well and good until mid-afternoon, when one tweet boasting the shut-down of a student party used the phrase “Bye Felicia” and included the street address of the house party. Upon seeing the tweet, my reaction went from “hehe” to “cringe” to “…yikes, that’s offensive” in the span of about five seconds.

While this may seem like an innocuous (cute? sassy?) inclusion of a popular meme, the tweet raised eyebrows around the city, largely rooted in the racial origins of the “Bye Felicia” meme and the flippant public shaming of people being fined by police. Intentionally or otherwise, this tweet is wrapped up in some complex racial history that left many with a bad taste in their mouth. Shortly after posting, the tweet was deleted.

Now before you get all huffy about PC culture, censorship, buzzkill-a-trons, this isn’t a blog about naming and shaming bad behaviour (…well, not exclusively). I think there is a more interesting story here about digital public relations and the pitfalls of meme culture in social media market in a nonprofit/government environment. Continue reading “Social Media, Public Relations and What Not to Do”

Accessibility Review: Microsoft Surface Pro vs Surface Book

A silver Surface Book sitting on table beside Surface Pro with red keyboard

Tech reviews can be a bit dime-a-dozen online, with everyone and their mother writing blogs, recording vlogs, making podcasts and sending up smoke signals about their experiences with all the latest gadgets. Despite this copious swamp of opinions, there remains a relative dearth of tech reviews focused specifically on experiences of accessibility and adaptability (outside, of course, some of the wonderful work done by the AbleGamers Foundation).

Late last year, Microsoft Canada contacted me to see if I would be interested in partnering with them to fill this gap, testing out some of their devices and software to provide (public, and private) feedback on my experiences.

What follows are some thoughts on tech accessibility generated after spending a some time doing a head-to-head comparison of (relatively) new Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Book!

Editors Note: this content was generated as a result of my partnership with Microsoft and should be viewed as such. Having said that, Microsoft has promised I would be able to provide my unfiltered opinions, good or bad, without fear of @MajorNelson annihilating me on Fortnite Battle Royale as retribution.

Continue reading “Accessibility Review: Microsoft Surface Pro vs Surface Book”