Tuesday, November 4, 2014



This grand occasion has been happening since 1993.  I have always had awe and respect for the wonderful people whose names enter this pantheon of achievement in the daily struggle.
Strides have been made in this battle for access and inclusion. Yet more has to be done. The clues were everywhere at the luncheon. A nice celebration but all there in the Royal York have a wish list of needs that have still not been met.
David Crombie has chaired the selection committee from the start. The founder and inspiration for it all is Vim Kochhar, the retired senator, who was honoured to his surprise by the Hall this year. Together they say that by promoting the accomplishments of the inductees, a broader message is  spread about all those striving to succeed - to work and play and go to school and raise families - just like those of us without physical disabilities.
We must all do more to remove the barriers, and believe me, hurdles are there despite decades of supposed caring.
If you think this is just rhetoric from a creaky editor who has been a committee member since it began, consider what this year's inductees faced, these shining examples of not letting adversity shove you into a corner. And then think of what their next generation still face!
Sudarshan Gautam has no arms but climbed Mt. Everest without prosthetics. Mark Wafer has only 20% hearing and struggled before becoming a success with Tim Hortons outlets and hiring more than 100 people with disabilities. Elisabeth Walker-Young was a paralympic swimming champion and is now a major sports administrator despite being born with partial arms. Chris Williamson is virtually blind but is one of the most decorated in para-alpine skiing. (The audience was not told but what wowed the selection committee was he told his vital guide skier the day of a major event it was  OK to partner with another skier who had just lost his helper.)
They join a richness of names and successes. Edwin Baker who founded the CNIB. Athletes like Whipper Billy Watson, Bob Rumball, Jack Donohue and Vicki Keith who moved beyond wrestling, football, basketball and marathon swimming. Jeff Healey in jazz, Cliff Chadderton with the War Amps, Linc Alexander, Rick Hansen, Chantel Petitclerc...
All this is captured in a colourful book titled Glowing Hearts V  - A Celebration of Excellence, which should be in every Canadian public library. I'm going to check that it is, and if I don't, I'm sure one of the co-authors, Jeff Tiessen, who is also in the Hall, will.
But let's return to my theme that much more has to be done despite politicians paying lip service to this since 1980. (Can you imagine how much more would get done if we had more disabled people in politics? They would concentrate on issues rather than just re-election.)
Joanne Smith was an apt choice as MC of the luncheon because she has been inducted into the Hall and was host and producer for 10 years of a CBC TV program called Moving On.  At 19, her spinal cord was damaged in a car accident and her career in modelling and broadcasting was shadowed. She rode on into the sun sitting tall in her wheelchair and became a popular figure with the CBC and other media.
Smith insists that we have to get to the point where a disability is noticed and accepted as just another "individual difference." She told me about her battles to get ramps even when Toronto refuses to allow one because of the building code. For six years she couldn't get an accessibility ramp at her local coffee shop, not because of the shop but because of red tape.
My experience is trivial compared to hers but three years ago I was hunting for ramps too. My three months in four hospitals left me not even able to stand. The Ex almost ended my first steps. Even though the CNE loaned me a power wheelchair as a past president,  I was continually being trapped by not enough ramps and too many heavy doors. Several times I manoeuvred  into positions on elevators from which I needed help to extricate, much to open anger of mothers with strollers.
So I had a tiny experience for a few months with what Smith and the others in wheelchairs face daily.
She told me about her terrible experiences with her crucial accessible parking permit because her car is racier than the usual vans and sedans with the permits.
She is so fed up with getting parking tickets, despite her displaying the accessible permit that allows her wide latitude in parking, that she no longer fights them. Last time she renewed her licence she had to pay $600 in fines.
She told me of the time she returned to her car and found a tag on the windshield and her permit sign stolen from inside. She drove around and around and found the offending cop who not only admitted he gave her the ticket and that he broke in and stole her permit, he wouldn't cancel the ticket or give the permit back.
I told her that years ago I was having lunch with David Onley  (honoured in the Hall ) and kidded him about the permit that allowed him to park right in front of the restaurant. There was nothing funny about the response of our former lieutenant -governer.   He told me about when his car had been towed because cops didn't check his windshield and about the difficulty for him and others in retrieving cars from the pound when their vital wheelchairs are in the trunk.
I told the then police chief who ordered a second check of the windshield for a permit before a vehicle is towed.  There was also a constable whom disabled people could call to have tickets cancelled. But he died and according to Smith has not been replaced.
You would imagine that police and parking officers would go out of their way not to screw around with cars with accessible permits because the permits are of such a help to disabled people that some wouldn't be able to move around the city for jobs and medical appointments without one.
I know. Because of Mary's difficulty with walking, we have had one for years. I made a great effort to learn exactly where we couldn't park - finding out wasn't easy - but only found out that the permit didn't allow you to park in a "No Stopping" zone when I received a $60 ticket marked 5.59 p.m. when the parking prohibition expired one minute later.
The cops at 22 division said they could no longer do anything about tags but agreed with me that some mean jerk had written the ticket.
I was telling Smith that Mary the other day ventured forth with a walker to go from Yonge and Bloor to Bay and Bloor and found it an exhausting obstacle course. I told her that when I was learning to walk again, I found that many major streets were filled with fiendish obstructions strewn there by a stupid city and stupider merchants.
But then, I now have put the wheelchair and walker aside. There are many of our neighbours who can't. We should do more to help them. And it would be nice if the police service - if it really wants to be called a service and not a force - were of service to the disabled and not target them when they want to complete their quota of tickets for the shift.

No comments: