Sometimes you don't know whether laugh or cry. Last week, Toronto city planners called a public meeting to discuss accessible and affordable public housing.
Where was the meeting scheduled to take place? In a legion hall that can only be reached by climbing a staircase.
What did they do next? They moved down the street to a café. A café where the washrooms were in the basement -- down a long flight of stairs.
Come on, folks! This is 2016 -- nearly 2017. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is ten years old. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be 70 years old in two years. What are we all waiting for?
Even a few minutes of putting oneself in another person's shoes (or wheelchair) could make a big difference.
We need to start thinking in truly inclusive ways. This means we need to acknowledge that systemic discrimination is all around us. Each of us needs to understand that, while it may not be our fault, it IS our problem and our responsibility. The scheduling of that meeting was a fine example of systemic discrimination.
It is not always easy to understand or recognize systemic discrimination. This is because it is rarely deliberate or caused by malice. I am confident that no one in the city's planning office went out to find an inaccessible meeting place -- or two. They just didn't think.
It reminds me of stories about office parties held in restaurants that specialize in barbecue pork ribs when the office has Jewish and Muslim staff members. No one intended to exclude their colleagues. They just didn't take the time to think about the effect their restaurant choice would have on people whose lives were different from their own.
(Photo: MRCMOS VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Even a few minutes of putting oneself in another person's shoes (or wheelchair) could make a big difference. Accessibility is a right. Just by being born we all have human rights. We don't need to do or be anything special. Equality is -- or should be -- ours, just because we exist.
So here is a new way to think that might help the city planners and the rest of us. Some of us have disabilities. And the rest of us don't have disabilities YET. People with disabilities are not "the other." They are all of us. Even if we are perfectly healthy and able-bodied today, not one of us can guarantee what our lives will be like in the future. Doesn't it simply make sense to set up our institutions, indeed our lives, to anticipate changes that very well could, in fact WILL, take place?
Are you renovating or building a new facility? Put grab bars in the washrooms and make the doors wide enough for mobility devices! Don't forget ramps that comply with the needs of wheelchair users -- your customers and clients with children in strollers will thank you, too.
Let's get rid of systemic discrimination. We need to reach for systemic inclusion.
Public transit? Everyone benefits when the stops are announced and visibly displayed in every vehicle. I can hear today -- but tomorrow? And my vision is deteriorating, too. And there are benefits to many of us -- children and newcomers travelling on public vehicles whose literacy and familiarity with their city is daily assisted by these announcements and signs.
Are you putting up signage in a museum or gallery? Braille, talking labels and audio guides make a difference to many people, not just those who are currently disabled.
I am asking everyone to think in a new way. Let's get rid of systemic discrimination. We need to reach for systemic inclusion. Only then will we be able to achieve the equality that we are all guaranteed.
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Seattle is continuously ranked as one of the most disabled-friendly cities in the U.S., thanks in large part to its condensed downtown area and public transportation system. Since the city did not begin operating its first rail system until 2009, it is entirely built to comply with ADA standards, unlike older major railway transits in cities such as New York and Boston. The Emerald City also has tons of entirely accessible attractions such as the Seattle Museum, Pike Place Market and even the Space Needle. Stay: Hyatt at Olive 8 This hotel is not only known for its chic and eco-friendly decor and design, but also for its great downtown location and variety of assistance services. The hotel has just about every feature offered in Braille, along with audio-visual smoke detectors and ADA-approved rooms.
As Canada's second most-populated city, Montreal, has a great public railway that offers seven (and counting!) wheelchair-accessible stations. The city also has plenty of wheelchair-friendly attractions, including a beautiful botanical garden, a fine arts museum and classic European-style cathedrals, many of which are entirely accessible. Stay: Fairmont Queen Elizabeth The Fairmont is located right downtown, and has 13 rooms that can accommodate wheelchairs and are equipped with teletype phones, vibrating alarm clocks and door sensors for the hearing-impaired.
With an economy centered on tourism, Las Vegas is a city that caters to all travelers. In addition to the city having great ADA-standard transportation services and lodging, many casinos have ramps, wheelchair-accessible slot machines and gaming tables and hearing devices at live shows. Stay: Treasure Island Treasure Island is one of Sin City's most accessible hotels, offering 71 ADA-approved rooms, lift equipment for the handicap-accessible pools and hearing kits that include a door knock light and bed shaker. Plus, the resort's location right on the Strip makes it easy to get from attraction to attraction.
Though London may have an old-time feel, the city has plenty of modern conveniences and assistance services for the impaired. Though it's a town full of history, London is up-to-date on accessibility, with attractions like St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and even the London Eye all boasting services for the disabled. Stay: DoubleTree by Hilton: Tower of London At the DoubleTree, special-needs guests are able to book one of the 29 accessible rooms, which include roll-in showers with handrails and wide doorways, among other supportive features.
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