I’ve often wondered what it would be like to life in a truly accessible and inclusive world, but as I sit and ponder what my point of view of perfection looks like, I have to settle for the fact that at this time it is nothing but a pipe dream.
Proper curb cuts, maintained proactively, transit equity and building access; not only entering and exiting the building but being able access the information, services or amenities that building provides with independence, dignity and respect is the key message here. But those are only a few of the tangible asks, there is more, much more to it.
It’s time that people with disabilities raise our voices in Hamilton and cause ‘good trouble’ and ruffle some feathers along the way in an effort to make it clear that people with disabilities are here for more than just mere existence, but to make an impact.
As we say in the disability community, “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” This is a message I amplify to you this National AccessAbility Week (NAAW). Beginning the final Monday in May, this federally sanctioned week is an opportunity for people with disabilities to be brought to centre stage; to share our hopes and dreams to you. to celebrate the important contributions of Canadians with disabilities. An opportunity to appreciate the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively working to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion.
According to the most recent stats from Statistics Canada (2017) for residents aged 15 and up (as that is the legal age for which information for residents can be gathered) the percentage of persons with disabilities in Hamilton (including me) is at an astounding 166,500 per capita or a percentage of 27.7 per cent as compared to Ontario which sits at 2,616,170 per capita or 24.1 per cent for Ontario residents and Canada which sits at 6,246,640 per capita for a percentage of 22.3 per cent.
These numbers, not only important at the federal level, but one could argue more locally; they are staggering. In Hamilton, city I call home I will do everything in my power to ensure that Hamilton is a great place to live, learn, work, and play for everyone of all abilities. In order to do so, we must alleviate stereotypes and stigmas, attitudinal barriers, presumptions and assumptions and project voices loudly and proudly! We can’t be afraid or too humble to ask questions because questions lead to answers, answers lead to conversation, conversation leads to understand and the hope in understanding will lead to less ignorance and even further a call to action by our leaders in government, respected stakeholders and shareholders, in business and more. We must take accessibility and inclusion in every aspect of decision-making; this can no longer be an afterthought or a retrofit. We can no longer seek information or data from other local jurisdictions. Our numbers indicate the highest rate per capita of persons with disabilities in Hamilton. We must be able to shine our light on those numbers, look at these numbers as not a negative, but an opportunity.
For education and action plans in our city become priority and not an afterthought. Access and inclusion for people with disabilities should not be a bargaining tool, a negotiation, or a compromise, but the right thing to do each and every day. Budgeting is a moral statement of value and when we discredit access in those statements, we are demeaning those in our communities in which in Hamilton is represented by over a quarter of our population.
National AccessAbility Week is a time to pay homage and respect, but it’s also a time to reflect about where we are as Hamiltonians, our successes but more importantly our opportunities, because it must expand beyond this week. This week must turn into a month, a year and finally a lifetime. My goal is and always will be to leave a legacy, to leave this world a better place better than I entered it. As a person with a disability myself and during this National AccessAbility Week — Motivate, Inspire, Innovate, Celebrate, Educate and Empower one another and let’s trailblaze toward a Hamilton in which we can all live, work and play together.