poverty

Privacy has a bit of a different meaning for me than most people. I hire people to help me shower and help me dress. This is not something I am ashamed of, or that makes me less than anybody else. I’m ok with it, partly because I’ve always had to live with it, but mostly because I get to choose who I am vulnerable with, this has not always been the case.

As I grew up with my disability this vulnerability was most often not within my control, and that was always difficult, always. When I was in elementary school more people had access to my body and its functions than I can count. I remember reading a poem about a butterfly pinned up in a shadowbox, and people were looking at it, checking it for flaws, and realizing how much I felt like that butterfly. I was told this was normal, I’m sure my parents were told this was normal, but it never felt normal. I was told it made things easier. I wonder if any of those professionals thought about how all of that public access to my body was going to be viewed by the teenaged me as she tried to claim her body as her own. How do you claim sacred space after years of no one asking your permission?

When I got older and on social assistance, privacy became even less tangible to me. To go on social assistance you sign over access to your bank records and your medical information, so you can maybe have enough money to cover rent and a little bit of food. Again I was supposed to be ok with this, because I have a disability, and there was nothing I could do about this for a long time, because I have medical costs, and it took ten years to find a job that someone hire me for. I signed over my life, and promised to live alone, so I could eat; we all do. I’m now working, and have for a few years, but it’s hard to shake that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder.

Many disabled men and women have experiences similar to these, and the chilling effect these experiences have is immense. We don’t need whistleblowers to tell us how the loss of privacy silences our voices. The worst part is that many of us who can speak out distance ourselves from those who are more marginalized, and we forget what it’s like. Then we wonder why we have leaders who fight for tax breaks and building codes while people sign over their privacy so they can eat and shower.

Today on the sidewalk there was a man in a wheelchair like mine singing for change. I gave him a toonie, what I wanted to give was my solidarity. If my life had different circumstances that could be me, and I can’t forget that. If we don’t hold each other up we will all be pushed down when they tell us what we disabled people should expect.

“…If we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others – and for their use and to our detriment.”
~ Audre Lorde

On October 13th, 2012 the disability community once again made their voices heard on the streets of Toronto. They marched with a goal to bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression, but they also marched to celebrate and take pride in themselves as part of a community of people with disabilities.

The Toronto Disability Pride March began in the fall of 2011, inspired by the events of Occupy Toronto, and the marches against cuts to disability services that were happening in the UK. The March was also intended to raise awareness to cuts and events that were impacting the disability community locally, such as cuts to social housing and incidents with the Toronto Police. In that first year one hundred people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square and marched down to St. James Park.

The UN has noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society. Many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed against their will. Though people with disabilities are seen as less or not exploitable by the owners of the means of production, they are further oppressed by being left out of it. To put it in terms of the occupy movement, they are often the lowest 1% of the 99%.

This year we are noticing this oppression in the form of cuts by stealth, and a political scene that not only divides us by our various disabilities, but also by other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, etc. In September, the provincial government put forth a draft standard to make parks and the outdoor environment accessible. This sounds great until you consider that the same government is eliminating Community Start Up and Maintenance funding to people living on social assistance, which many people rely on to find and keep their homes. They might as well call making these parks accessible the new Home Modification Program.

The accessibility legislation may get out foot in the door for changes in Ontario, but at what cost, but letting our government choose which barriers to eliminate and which to ignore, are we setting ourselves up for future discrimination? Where are the standards to benefit those with chemical sensitivities or mental illnesses? Who says it’s acceptable to leave them out.

The way the March was built also changed this year. Without a solid Occupy Toronto base to build from, we were basically starting from scratch. We discovered some of the perils and perks of grassroots group organizing. We came up with a new route, and made new allies that helped make our March a success.

We also discovered that for some people in our community the concept of disability pride is scary, the concept of the oppression of people with disabilities is still too hard to face, and connections between different movements in the disability community are something they are not ready to build. We need to work on that.

A question I often get asked about this March is what is disability pride. I think we can find it in a great many things. Being in the march, and making ourselves visable is one example, the solidarity we find in marching with each other is another. Another way I think we show this pride is by recognizing and fighting oppression. There are some people with disabilities who will try to tell you that oppression of people with disabilities, otherwise known as ableism, does not exist, that all we need is to eliminate a few barriers and we’ll be fine. I’ve actually gotten emails suggesting that. We know that’s not true. Anyone who’s on ODSP can tell you that’s not true, anyone who’s been asked to leave a disabiility grassroots organization because of a mental health issue knows that’s not true, and any parent who has feared having their child taken away because of their disability knows that’s not true. We can do better. For too long, the rights and oppression of people with disabilities have been discussed behind closed doors, or not at all, but through actions like the Toronto Disability Pride March we find our voice, and make ourselves heard in the chorus of movements.

It’s no mistake that the Toronto Disability Pride March brings out a call to build connections within the disability movement. It’s a call for equal access and equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or what disability they have. This is something that seems to be lacking from the mainstream organizations and movements, and why the March will continue to forge its own path.

We call on our allies, people of every ability from the labour movement, the student movement and beyond. We call on those whose struggles have long been supported by people with disabilities to join our struggle and prove that we are stronger united. For more information you can find us on Facebook, or check out our website http://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/. We look forward to seeing you next year!

 

It’s one in the morning as I write this, I’m waiting to post it until morning because I’m pretty tired, but I wanted to get this out. I’m sitting here trying to drown out this rushing water sound in my ears, no doubt caused by listening to my building’s fire alarm for a half hour, waiting for it to shut off, or some (hopefully attractive) firemen to come rescue. Whoever designed this building didn’t really think through the painfully loud fire alarm when deciding to put the accessible apartments on the eleventh floor with no balconies.

This brings me to my point in writing this. While my neighbours were outside waiting out the situation in the freezing cold, I was trapped on the eleventh floor and at risk of damaging my ears. I’m grateful that I at least have the mobility to turn the lights on, and let the firemen know that I’m here. A lot of people don’t have that luxury and are stuck in their beds at night.

Maybe it was the creepy movie I’d been watching, or just the stress of the situation, but I started thinking of what I would do if this were a serious fire. I decided that if I saw smoke coming through the door I would grab my winter scarf, some towels, or anything else I could find to block it with. I was hoping that adrenaline would take over for my disability and make that happen quickly.

Then I got scared when I thought of my poor little cat hiding under the bed. She’s been through hell and back with me, but there’s no way I could save her like that. Nevermind all my things, and the wheelchair I’m dependent on. Like many, I’m too poor to afford renters insurance, let alone replace what I’d lose.

Thankfully it’s all over now, and everyone seems safe (terrified cat included). Still, I can’t help but wonder if anyone has died this way. We need better emergency standards, or at least some way for emergency workers to know that people like me can’t get out.

Find out about the march

It’s not a question of if austerity will impact Canadians with disabilities, but a question of when.

We need only look over to the UK for proof. Coalition proposals with see the Disability Living Allowance cut in that country by 20%, pushing those people into increasing poverty. Hate crimes against people with disabilities are also on the rise. Some 47% of people with disabilities say attitudes towards them have worsened over the last year. A recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report concluded that “people with disabilities in the UK face harassment, insult and attack almost as a matter of routine, while a collective denial among police, government and other public bodies means little is done to challenge the situation”.

If you’ve been following disability-related news here in Canada, this situation might seem eerily familiar. With recent provincial elections in Manitoba and Ontario, there is a heightened awareness that healthcare, housing, and disability benefits in those provinces might be headed for the chopping block as the recession drags on. Consider the case of Ontario’s Special Diet benefit. When people started using the benefit regularly to bring their income to a slightly less impoverished level, McGuinty cut it back, making it much more difficult for people with disabilities to access.

In the Ontario provincial election, it was not only social assistance programs, but also accessibility legislation that came under threat. During their campaign the Tories refused to commit to advancing the cause of making Ontario a fully accessible province; they refuse to agree not to cut existing legislation, or to effectively enforce it. Municipal politicians are also unafraid to cut on the backs of people with disabilities. In Toronto, Rob Ford and his cronies have considered putting the accessible transit system and social housing on the chopping block, crucial services for people with disabilities in this city.

Much like people with disabilities in the UK, Canadians have faced high profile disability hate crimes in the past few months. In August, a man who used a wheelchair died four days after being viciously assaulted in his Winnipeg apartment. Toronto has experienced two situations involving police interaction with people with disabilities. In July, Police used handcuffs to restrain a nine-year-old disabled boy who they say “became uncontrollable” at a Toronto daycare centre. Around the same time, a man with a disability was killed during interactions with Toronto police. No one should be dying in police interactions in Toronto!

Perhaps it’s time to take a hint from across the ocean, and fight austerity before it has already won. The situations in Canada and the UK may not be the same, but they are similar. Not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99%. A major reason why we don’t have decent accessible housing is that the Canadian government would rather focus on things like corporate tax breaks…And the fact that 70% of people with disabilities in Ontario can’t find a job while ODSP continues to be the most steadily increasing item in the province’s budget…well that’s a more complicated issue that is partly bigotry and discrimination, and partly that disability organizations that are supposed to be helping us fight back have been pacified, their attention has been too focused on government imposed accessibility standards. We have Canada’s first women with a disability in the official opposition, but people with disabilities are still feeling powerless. History has shown that it’s movements, not legislation, that end discrimination. Since when is a government supposed to tell us which rights to fight for?

In the past two weeks, occupations have sprung up across Canada in support of similar movements in the United States and around the world in solidarity. People with disabilities are among both the occupiers and people who support them. Everyone can play a role in this movement. People with disabilities are bring given accessible supports within the occupation in Toronto that would normally take months to receive in their day-to-day lives.

We’re living in a system that really only pays lip-service to people with disabilities, and doesn’t want people realizing that their struggles are connected, so if this movement wants to change the system, and is putting the needs of people with disabilities on par with the non-disabled, then whatever the outcome, I feel that’s a movement worth supporting.

Please join us on Saturday October 29th, 12pm at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto for the Toronto Disability Pride March. Torontonians with disabilities have a voice, and it’s time we used it.

When: Sat, October 29, 12pm – 3pm

Where: Nathan Phillips Square to Occupy Toronto (St. James park)

Join us at the square, & come down to

Occupy Toronto if you can!

disabled protestors marching

Why Disability Pride?

As a recognition of recent injuries and deaths of people with disabilities in interaction with Toronto Police. This march is not against police services, but recognizes the need for increased disability awareness training. No one should be dying in police interactions in Toronto!

Under the administration of Mayor Rob Ford, the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities Celebrations, which recognizes the achievements of people with disabilities in Toronto, has been cancelled without community input.

It is also to recognize that when cuts happen, people with disabilities are often the first to be hit. Under the Rob Ford administration, Wheeltrans services were almost on the chopping block, and social housing still is.

Not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99% – even in Canada

Torontonians with Disabilities have a voice, and we will not be sold out or discriminated against!

Find us on Facebook


Ethno-racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario

Invites you to attend a community meeting to talk about the Social Assistance Review in Ontario on:

Monday August 22, 2011

1:00 – 4:00 P.M.

Ryerson University, 99 Gerrard St. East, Room EPH 222

AT THE COMMUNITY MEETING: You will learn about the commission the provincial government has set up to review all social assistance programs in Ontario. We will talk about the review and ask you to share your views on how these programs can be improved. The feedback you provide will be included in a report that will be sent to the commission. All identifying information will remain confidential. If you are an ODSP/OW receipt or a community member who is concerned about the future of these programs, we would like to hear from you!

WHO WE ARE: ERDCO is a small non-profit organization working to promote the rights and interests of ethno-racial people with disabilities. We work with other agencies in the community, sit on advisory committees, write briefs, organize events, undertake specific projects, etc. We receive funding from the City of Toronto and through Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

RSVP by August 19 to: coordinator [at] erdco [dot] ca 

Light refreshments, attendant care and TTC tokens will be provided

From Dignity for All: The Campaign for a poverty-free Canada

On Thursday, June 17, NDP MP Tony Martin tabled private member’s Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada. Not only does this bill speak to a tremendous need in this country, it also reflects significant civil society consultation and multi-party collaboration. Congratulations to Mr. Martin, and thanks to MPs Mike Savage (Liberal) and Yves Lessard (Bloc) for their support of this legislative initiative.

Built on a strong human rights framework, the bill emphasizes income security, housing and social inclusion as core priorities. “The purpose of this Act is to impose on the federal government the obligation to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion by establishing and implementing a strategy for poverty elimination in consultation with the provincial, territorial, municipal and Aboriginal governments and with civil society organizations.”

The introduction of Bill C-545 marks a significant step towards fulfilling the second goal of the Dignity Campaign (a federal poverty elimination act). The campaign and all of its supporters now have the summer to begin rallying public awareness of and support for the Bill, prior to its reading in the fall legislative session!

DfA support continues to grow. 350 groups and over 5500 individual Canadians have endorsed the campaign. Among these supporters are 57 MPs and 12 Senators, representing 17% of all Parliamentarians. Special thanks to Alderman Joe Ceci and the City of Calgary for leading the effort to secure the recent endorsement of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities!

For more information on DfA please follow this link: www.dignityforall.ca/