Activism

The 7th Annual Toronto Disability Pride March Saturday, September 23, 2017 Starting at Queens Park (111 Wellesley Street West) and marching to the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson (99 Gerrard Street East) from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Why we’re Marching: To bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism … Continue reading About the March

via About the March — Toronto Disability Pride March

Presentation at the Canadian Disability Studies Association Conference 2017

Thank you to my fellow organizers and panelists. Before I get started, I’d like to identify myself within this conversation, as a white, employed person with a physical disability that is easily identified with, and the privilege that comes with those things. I also identify as a radical disability activist, knowing that I’m someone who has the privilege to be able to identify myself in that way without much repercussion. The presentation I’m giving today and the research behind it are given in recognition of that privilege, and knowing that the knowledge I share has built on the knowledge of others who may not have these privileges.

I’m also the founder and co-organizer of an annual event called the Toronto Disability Pride March, now in its 7th year. For those of you who may not be familiar with the march, it is a grassroots event lead by a small team of dedicated organizers. We highlight issues facing the disability and mad communities, and by prioritizing the voices of those of us who are the most marginalized. We recognize that the mad and disability communities are as diverse as the communities we come from, while turning privilege on its head. This is reflected in the speakers we call upon each year, but also in our organizing team. Our social media discusses subjects ranging from accessibility standards to Black Lives Matter and Idle No More to labor struggles, the lack of housing in Toronto, and the struggles faced by the many people living in poverty. It’s an amazing bubble of disability justice organizing that we’ve been fortunate to steep ourselves in for the last eight years without any government funded restrictions on the activism we do.

Like many such social justice bubbles, it becomes seductively simple to forget or overlook the reality that most disabled and mad people in Canada do not have these spaces. If these spaces do exist are often much less diverse and harder to plug into, they may seem detached or elite, or simply don’t connect with the day-to-day realities of people’s lives. Many disabled and mad people are connected in small local networks, but a great many others are on their own and left to tackle issues of oppression and discrimination in an individual way.

I’m going to be exploring two main groups of disability organizations today what I refer to as grassroots disability organizations and legacy disability organizations. Grassroots disability organizations are smaller, local organizations with minimal funding or structure, with a focus on a particular disability issue or event. The organizations have a short history, and they often make use of intersectional discussions and social media to increase public awareness to build political pressure in creating change. Legacy organizations tend to focus more on policy and programs, they have a long history usually spanning over decades, and have built strong relationships with governments, and potential funding organizations.

While grassroots disability groups have difficulty connecting with older legacy organizations, the reverse is also true. Legacy organizations seem to do their work outside of what’s happening on the grassroots level. It is the segregation between these two groups that brought about the research I present here. Some time ago I was asked to participate in a research project by legacy organization, asking why younger disabled people weren’t participating in activism. I don’t have my response, but it started with something like “perhaps we should re-examine this question”, and so I am.

To illustrate the bias in the research question of why younger disabled people aren’t participating in activism, allow me to use the example of a poverty group that I worked with back in the early 2000s. The group had a board structure, and was comprised of 50% community members who were people living on ODSP, and 50% service providers such as legal clinic workers and social workers. I sat in both categories as a social work student living on ODSP, and within a few years I was asked to Chair the group. By taking on that role I came to realize why the group had such difficulty communicating. While both sides of the table shared the goal of eliminating poverty, the two sides were not equal. There was a clear power imbalance between the two sides that the structure of the committee could not address. Different priorities in both the structure and goals of the committee were very clear, and both sides looked to me, as the Chair, to prioritize the needs of their group.

The bias is that legacy organizations have failed to acknowledge that a conflict between grassroots and legacy disability organizations exists, or that they may have some role in the conflict. While each group is passionate about disability rights, they end up competing for talking points within larger institutions, rather than working in tandem with each other, and this has led to a decreased effectiveness of the movement as a whole.

To understand this better, we need to have a look at the power structures that make up these groups. When we look at the structure of legacy disability organizations at the national and provincial levels we see a few common traits, a hierarchal board structure, members are voted in by other members of the organization. To become a member, you may have to submit a resume and letter of interest, or be in good standing with another organization. There is nothing inherently wrong with this process, but it is vulnerable to biases of power and instutionalization of historical beliefs about structures of power without much consideration for intersecting oppression.

Grassroots disability organizations do not have a very transparent structure. Their membership is not publicly posted as it is with legacy organizations, there’s no staff time, or experience staff changes with new projects. Members have their own vetting system, and much of the communication happens online or is not open to the public. For the Toronto Disability Pride March, our four-person organizing team was vetted by its members based on their past activities and skill set. The advantage grassroots groups have is in the fluidity of their structure, and their nimbleness for dealing with on the ground shifts in the movement. The recognition these groups gain comes primarily out of their collaboration with other groups.

When we look at other movements like Black Lives Matter and Idle No More, and the disruptions they’ve made; these are the types of struggles that legacy organizations were built on. Many legacy disability organizations were built on a history of struggle, and when those struggles succeeded, those projects became government funded organizations who could no longer advocate against their main funder. This has allowed strong disability projects to be co-oped outside of a disability lens.

Consider the case of the Canadians with Disabilities Act, as I discussed in a recent article I wrote called “Trudeau’s Accessible Canada includes Unpaid Work” (Graham, 2017).

Back in 2015, before the Canadian federal election, a movement of disabled people was building across the country. The call for a barrier-free Canada was built in that time by a small, dedicated group of people who reinforced their message daily through social media and on the ground action. Their methods were so effective, that what began as a grassroots call for national solidarity grew into a campaign promise by Trudeau.

What was mandated was more conversation, in the form of a seven month long cross-country consultation process with Canadian with disabilities. Consultations like these are a favored trend in the current federal government. Perhaps this is because they act as public evidence of some kind of action, regardless of how effective it is.

These events were heavily managed conversations. They seemed designed to give the appearance of consent, rather than provide opportunities for consensus and moving forward. At the public consultations, any participant that was given time to speak was restricted to a two-minute limit; a method that was inaccessible for many participants. There was the impression that the people who spoke were expected to be grateful for the opportunity to share their perspective, even when it’s only taken in limited amounts.

There were impressions that a lot of what was being said was being filtered out, and reframed to fit an agenda. Any comments referring to issues of discrimination in immigration, affordable housing, poverty, or anything involving active redistribution was notably left out. There was some potential raised for amending some existing regulations, but little else. The focus was clearly centered on employment, while carefully avoiding much of what keeps most disabled people in poverty.

This isn’t something new of course, in 2001 Michael J. Prince took a look at the state of Disability policy in Canada, and noted something he called deja-vu discourse as a government tactic in working with issues of disability policy. It included strategies like stressing gains made on the surface while overlooking structural gaps, consciously not taking action on particular measures, and promising additional action at some unspecified time in the distant future at which point the whole process would begin again. (Prince, 2004).

So why is this a problem? We are a country that still celebrates advocates that suggest our society would be better if we didn’t see disability. We see this during presentations at International Events like the Toronto Pan-Am Games when Rick Hansen proudly championed “Here in Canada we won’t see your disability” (Graham, 2016) This is also evident in many advertising campaigns where disabled children are framed in battle with their illnesses, or frames people as not disabled because they have other skills (Sick Kids Hospital Foundation, 2016), (Easter Seals, 2017). The dominant narrative is to bring disability into Canadian society rather than having it embraced as part of that society already.

For some of us this may be true, particularly those of us that are white, male, and cis gendered, perhaps these barriers are all they see of disability oppression. For the rest of us, disability is a construct and culture that impacts many aspects of our lives. It’s difficult to have an investment in structural change when working with those who are still invested in that system.

During the consultations I spoke of earlier, instead of reaching out to offer paid work to disabled people, they paid consulting firms to find disabled people to consult with. They were doing market research rather than accepting the expertise of disabled people in designing policies or programs. Disabled people were brought in as volunteers to act as champions, panels and facilitators, and provide unpaid consultation. This is a significant problem, and one that many disabled people are familiar with; recognition of expertise without status or compensation. Volunteers were put in a position of either feeling exploited or declining their knowledge, while government representatives proclaimed the need for more jobs for disabled people within the consultations.

The contrast between our political language around disability and the lived reality is most clearly seen when we can see past our privilege. The Excessive Demand clause in Immigration and Refugee Act is a strong example of this. I have many privileges in my life, but the one I’ve taken is for granted was my citizenship. If I had not been born a citizen of Canada I would not have been able to become one. My disability could be seen as an excessive demand on the health and social services system. This clause also impacts people with disabilities who are already citizens of Canada. As long as this exception is law, then our citizenships remain socially exceptional. It is impossible for Canadians with disabilities to find equitable treatment in this country when that which sets us apart bars other people from obtaining citizenship. We’re still sitting at the separate table.

Being a disabled person has power. Over the years since de-institutionalization, a lot of that power has been eroded by shame, doubt, striving for normalcy, and the idea that disabled people should either go to great lengths to hide this part of themselves or see disability as all that they are. During this time our political, societal, and economic structures have benefited from an invisible contributing force of disabled people. In the margins, we support economic structures though our spending habits and an intricate web of services that maintain the oppression of disabled people. By forgetting our power and hiding ourselves we remain invisible, or at least give society little reason to see us.

Policies and programs alone will not provide the systemic change that grassroots disability organization call for, and legacy organizations work to legislate. Change can only happen when a community recognizes its true power and collaborates with the community’s people live in to create that change.

In closing, I would like to finish this talk with some comments from disability activists I spoke with across the country, some from grassroots and some from legacy organizations. I asked them what they would like to see in creating a stronger disability movement.  Some suggested a greater use of technologies like slate, and conferencing systems, others pointed to a greater diversity of members that’s more representative of the communities we come from, still others pointed to great successes in working with labor, as in the struggle against community mailboxes back in 2015.

In all of these conversations there was a common thread. Grassroots and legacy organizations do see a place for each other, and to collaborate. There is also a realization that the disability community is not yet fully aware of its own power.

Yet that power still exists, as a people, we with disabilities show the world that there is no normal way; conventional ways were created by human beings, and they can be unmade. This is our shared strength. We must keep this torch lit, and visible to all who would challenge it. We can and we will take our power back.

Flyer for IWD 2017

2017 INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY TORONTO

STOP THE HATE – UNITE THE FIGHT – BUILD THE RESISTANCE – UNITY IS POWER

Saturday, March 11, 2017
NEW starting location – UofT Medical Sciences Building, Auditorium (1 King’s College Circle)

Rally: 11:00am (1 King’s College Circle)
March: 1:00pm
Fair: 2:00pm (Ryerson Student Learning Centre – Yonge/Gould)

The event is wheelchair accessible and there is ASL interpretation at the rally.

Details on the UofT Medical Sciences Building’s accessibility in pdf.

For tables at the Fair, contact womenandtrans@rsuonline.ca

Rally and March organized by Women Working with Immigrant Women and IWD Organizing Committee.

Funding provided by United Steelworkers, Unifor, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Federation of Students Ontario and Society of Energy Professionals – IFPTE Local 160.

International Women’s Day (March 8th) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

IWD has been celebrated for more than 100 years. In Toronto, IWD has traditionally been a rally and march, and is organized by the IWD Organizing Committee, Women Working with Immigrant Women and social justice, labour, health and women’s rights activists.

The Federal Government will be hosting a public forum to get input from the public on what the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act should include.

where and when this takes place:

When: Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Time: 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Where: Chelsea Hotel Toronto – Churchill Ballroom, 33 Gerrard Street West, Toronto, ON

If you would like to attend this event, you will need to contact the Office for Disability Issues in advance so they can send you a short form with your contact information and accessibility needs.

Pro-Tip: Go with a group and plan the questions you want answered.

Would you like some suggestions of what you might say to the Federal Government at these consultations?

Here are a few starting points from the AODA Alliance.

Here are a few points that I’ve made regarding an Accessible Canada for All.

  • The need for accessible, affordable housing. People can’t be expected to find decent work without decent housing that meets their access needs.
  • Protection of the rights of parents with disabilities.
  • Accessibility in healthcare and all stages of education.
  • Including Indigenous Peoples and refugees in the discussion, and allowing them the same or greater accessibility as the rest of Canada.
  • Police training in effectively and sensitively working with disabled people.
  • Distribution of Health and Social transfers to address the inequities in the systemic barriers that exist between provinces and territories.

This is an opportunity for disabled Canadians to have equitable status as citizens and residents of this country. We need effective enforceable legislation that works for all of us.

Disabled Canadians are more than consumers and potential employees. The Federal legislation must have a broader scope to create equitable rights for disabled people with effective enforcement.

Other ways to Participate:

  • Write to your MP
  • Submit your thoughts to be gathered by SCI Ontario.
  • Participate in the online questionnaire until February 28th, 2017. The questionnaire is also available in an accessible PDF version.
  • Submit your feedback in the language of your choice (English, French, American Sign Language or Langue des signes québécoise) and preferred format such as online, handwritten, video or audio submissions. You can provide your input to the Office for Disability Issues via:

Phone: 1-844-836-8126

TTY: 819-934-6649

Fax: 819-953-4797

Email: accessible-canada@hrsdc.gc.ca

Mail:
Consultation – Accessibility Legislation
c/o Office for Disability Issues
Employment and Social Development Canada
105 Hotel-de-ville St., 1st floor, Bag 62
Gatineau QC K1A 0J9

All of the feedback we receive will be incorporated into reports that will be made available on the consultation website and in alternate formats, on request.

You can also consult the Discussion Guide for more information.

 

All People, All Access: Living with Disabilities and D/deafness for a Barrier and Violence Free World

55 Gould St. Ryerson Student Centre

Friday, September 16, 2016

Community Fair 4pm
Community Dinner 5pm
Rally 6pm
March 8pm

This event is TRANS INCLUSIVE.
ASL interpretation provided – ASL Poster
Tokens provided
Attendant care provided
Childcare provided

For more information visit takebackthenighttoronto.com

From their website:

Take Back the Night is a community based event to protest the fear that women and trans people have of walking the streets at night safely. Take Back the Night is also a grassroots event that honours the experiences of survivors of sexual violence; sexual assault, childhood sexual violence, domestic violence and survivors of state violence such as police brutality, racism, sexist oppression and other forms of institutionalized violence.

At the event, we demand our rights to safety, and lives free of the fear and perpetration of violence, Aboriginal rights, equal status for all women, safe affordable housing, rights for sex trade workers, de-criminalized prostitution, safe shelters, health care, child care, education, employment, raising social assistance rates by 40%, immigration status for all and raising the minimum wage now. We as survivors demand lives free of sexual violence, murder, living in poverty, police injustice and any violence that is directed towards women and children. 

Take Back the Night has been held in Toronto for 35 years. It has been co-hosted by several organizations such as the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, Council Fire, Anne Johnston Health Station, Parkdale Community Health Centre, the Redwood, George Brown College (Assaulted Women and Children Advocate Program), Women Abuse Prevention, Regent Park Community Health Centre, No One Is Illegal, Streethealth, Black Lives Matter, Native Women’s Resource Centre Toronto, Native Youth Sexual Health, Nellie’s, and many, many more.

Take Back the Night is an evening event and protest. It includes a community fair, rally with community-based performers and speakers and a march. It also includes a community dinner, childcare and media presence.

 

Starting at Queens Park (111 Wellesley Street West) and marching to the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson (99 Gerrard Street East) from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Please note: accessible washrooms are not available at Queen’s Park. Please see information on accessible washrooms on the route page.

Why we’re Marching:

  • To bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression.
  • To be visible and show that we have a voice in our community and a right to be heard by taking to the streets.
  • To celebrate and take pride in ourselves as a community of people with disabilities.

Be Loud, Be Proud, Come March with Us!

Find us on Facebook and Twitter @DisabilityPM

We need volunteers and marshals for the march! If you have experience that is great, if not we still want you! If you aren’t sure what a marshal does, here’s a brief description. Please fill out the volunteer form if you are interested.

Some  things you should know if you plan to attend.

The Toronto Disability Pride March aims to promote a cross-disability atmosphere, that also recognizes other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, sexuality, sanism, etc.  We believe the disability movement is strongest in a harmony of voices, not one homogeneous voice. We ask all those who plan to attend the march to respect this approach and the other people within the space of the march.

Have Questions? email us at torontodisabilitypride@gmail.com.

My proposed line-up of disability-themed movies:

  • A group of crip sisters sharing stories of their struggles through the years, and how their crip sisterhood helped them through it.
  • Maybe those crip sisters are on a spaceship, as part of a rebellion.
  • Two young disabled people from divided houses fall in love. In an act of rebellion against family pressure, they don’t kill themselves, but instead start a family of their own.
  • A disability activist searches for meaning in their own life while fighting for safeguards in assisted suicide laws.
  • A group of disabled/Mad friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. They wake up the next morning to discover one of their friends is missing, and encounter various shenanigans while looking for them.

Ok so maybe I should stick with writing blogs, but I still think these films would be better than what’s on the table.  See this review of Me Before You if you’re not sure what I’m referring to here.

We know why ableist films and messages continue to spread, as do sexism, racism, and homophobia.

We have a responsibility to call out these stories, so that their toxic messages do not spread.

I’ve been seeing posts and messages that “it’s just one story” or “they don’t mean you”, but I think those posts miss the point.

I grew up in an area without many other disabled people. I had no disabled role models until I left home. Despite the privileges of being a white, middle class kid, I grew up with a lot of discrimination, but I didn’t know that’s what it was. I thought it was me, that I was broken. I was surrounded by sometimes well-meaning able-bodied people who saw my disabledness as something to mourn, or to mould into something more acceptable. They didn’t have better stories either.

Ableist stories were all I had until my twenties. Yes, I’m still here, but they’re woven into my formation, that’s just how it is.

Growing up in that environment still impacts me, some days I still feel broken. Some days ableist attitudes from others convince me for a time that I don’t belong, that I am less of a person.

I am fortunate now, that I have a strong community of disabled folks around me, but not everyone does.

Ableist stories and messages might not impact all of us equally, but they do cause harm.

We need to tell our own stories. We need less suicide and more solidarity.

Preferably with rebel forces on space cruisers.