solidarity

I’m going to get right to the point here. An increased minimum wage is not harming disabled people. It is however doing a great job at highlighting the ableist and saneist bias that continues to exist within employment in Ontario and social services.

When Bill 148 was still being debate, there were some who used disabled people to make a shameful and disgusting argument against raising the minimum wage, because they felt that employers would not want to pay a disabled person $14 or $15 per hour. Mark Wafer is one such person.

People in the disability community might remember Wafer. He received a number of accolades and significant publicity for hiring people with disabilities at his business (which just happened to be a Tim Hortons franchise). He now works as a public speaker encouraging employers to hire people with disabilities. He just doesn’t think they’re worth the new minimum wage.

Today I was reading in the Toronto Star about how injured workers are getting less support from WSIB, since the rise of the minimum wage. This is true. Once a person is deemed “eligible to work” by WSIB, their supports are reduced by what that person would receive at a minimum wage job, whether or not they’ve actually found work. Finding work is difficult enough these days when you’re not injured or living with a disability. WSIB’s formula is hurting injured workers. This isn’t a new problem, but it’s one that needs to be resolved. Injured workers need our solidarity on this.

I have a full-time job that I have held for almost six years. I’m fortunate now, but it took me a long haul to find that job. As most disabled people who’ve looked for work have discovered, it may be illegal for employers to discriminate against someone with a disability, but there’s plenty of ways to avoid hiring someone with a disability.

Not so long ago I went for a job interview at a non-profit social service agency. I read the job description and felt well qualified for the job. I did well in the interview, but at the end of the interview they showed me a new description, one that had added snow shoveling, and asked me if there was anything on that list I couldn’t do. I wish that I had come up with some clever remark about converting my wheelchair into a snowplow, but instead I felt shamed. That story is not unique. Similar situations happen all the time.

We’d like to forget that until recently we still had sheltered workshops in Ontario, that there’s a whole industry around subsidized employment for disabled people, and that social assistance rates still haven’t recovered from the Mike Harris years.

Disabled people seeking employment are often blamed for their employment woes, but the reality is the job market is set against disabled people. Despite all the talk from governments about finding disabled people work, disabled people are still an often exploited and undervalued labour force, living in a system that would like continue to exploit us.

Disabled people are not the problem, and neither is the minimum wage. Disabled people have the same value as someone with the same job or skills. Disabled people are not responsible for the ableism in the job market.

Disabled people do need to start coming together, we need to start showing solidarity and stop letting ourselves be used as a wedge by those without our lived experience for their own gain.

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.

I grew up in a small town of about 6000 people in rural Ontario. There were a few of us with disabilities in the area, but a small enough number that it was possible for those of us within that group to be at least vaguely familiar with each other. One I remember very clearly was a young man I’ll call Ted*.

Ted and I were not friends, in fact we had never met, but he was very much the nemesis of my childhood, by no fault of his own. At some point his parents had met my parents, where they heard all about his story and from that gleaned grand visions for my future. Ted used crutches, had plans for his future, and was a poster child for a disability organization. I was a rebellious, struggling stubborn kid in a power wheelchair. We were not close in age, and we had different disabilities. I was nothing like Ted, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be.

My parents just wanted what was best for their child, and with very few stories to draw from I can see why Ted’s story gave them hope. Eventually I carved out my own pretty awesome story, but there’s still something to be learned from Ted’s impact on my parents.

When I did interact with other children with disabilities, it was usually at summer camp. There, for a brief but blissful period of time all labels seemed to disappear. Of course there was still discrimination between kids, but there was also comradery in those shared experiences that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Brothers and sisters who knew what it was like to constantly be seen through the eyes of able-bodied people, and the loneliness that creates.

I moved away from that small town, and into larger urban areas where I met disabled adults who taught me important things about disability history. These were people who started disability organizations, and had protested for disability rights in their younger years. I was fortunate to have them as role models.

Not everyone is so lucky. Recently I saw a post on Facebook, in the picture a mom was sitting next to her physically disabled son in a public transit station, and she was crying. The post explains that she and her son were treated badly by fellow commuters while trying to use a public washroom. They felt her son was in the way and taking up space. It reminded me very much op my parents. What were she and her son to take from this experience? How would she use it to arm him for the world ahead?

The stories we share as disabled people might not be passed down through families, but they are still an important part of disability culture. Sharing stories of our leaders, the people who made it possible to where we are today, is an important part of how disabled people see themselves, as it is for the society that looks back at us.

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!

 

Electro-Motive, a subsidiary of U.S. industrial giant Caterpillar Inc., wants to strong-arm workers at its London plant into a pay cut of over 50 percent, dropping hourly wages from $35 to $16.50. It is also imposing devastating cuts to benefits and pensions on members of CAW Local 27 at a time when the company has enjoyed multi-billion-dollar profits and a 20 percent boost to production over last year.

A day of action has been called by the OFL in solidarity with these workers: http://www.ofl.ca/index.php/html/index_in/stop_caterpillar_london_day_of_action_sat_jan_21_11_am/

UofT PUBLIC FORUM
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 5PM
OISE room 2214 (252 Bloor St. West)
The 1% are undermining accessible public education
by increasing tuition and class sizes, cutting funding
and corporatizing campus. Join a discussion about how
the 99% on campus–students, TAs, staff and faculty–
can unite to support upcoming campaigns, like the
February 1 Day of Action and a possible CUPE 3902 strike.
Organized by Occupied UofT, in solidarity with UofT General Assembly,
UofT Students’ Union, UofT Association of Part-time Undergraduate
Students, UofT Graduate Students’ Union, Unite HERE 75 and CUPE 3902
For more info contact occupieduoft@gmail.com   @occupieduoft   #Occut

People have been asking me for more information on disability and climate change.  I’ve found an interesting and recent article that isn’t to long to read.

The article explains how people with disabilities have largely been left out of climate change discourse, by referencing both disaster relief plans and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It also discusses how this has effected people with disabilities.

When reading this article it is important to also take into consideration that many people with disabilities are indigenous people and/or find themselves situated in some of the poorest areas of the world.  As you may know it is people like these who are being hit hardest by the effects of climate change.

As much as I found this article informative I would like to note two things.  First, this article offers no concrete suggestions on how to build linkages between the climate change and disability movements.  My hope is that by sharing this article I can encourage you to move in that direction.

I would also like to point out that I found this article through Disabled Peoples International. As someone who is against the current model of foreign “aid” I feel it’s necessary to point out that they support building partnerships with the World Bank,. They seem to have a very neoliberal focus of what equality and inclusion means if you look at their strategic plan, and considering the great harm that the global model of neoliberalism does to marginalized peoples, I feel it’s necessary to point out that contradiction.  I would also like to say that while I don’t support their values, they do have great resources.

Speaking of which, I should give you the link to the article: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/173

Please share your thoughts constructively!