Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Noble Disabled

I just got my annual dose of why I should be humble by attending the 30th luncheon of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. I have been a member of the selection board since the start and have always been awed by the noble accomplishments of the 126 inductees.

Thanks to the hard work and adroit stewardship of a former senator, Vim Kochhar, and everyone's favourite former mayor, David Crombie the hall has flourished in a time that accessibility is still too often a promise rather than a reality. The people we have honoured have been stalwart warriors but the cause is slippery because too often the powerful just talk a good game.

I know because even though I often have been part of the inner circle, I now face the daily obstacle course as an old deaf fart in a wheelchair. The luncheon was held as usual at the Fairmont Royal York, the giant hotel where I have been attending luncheons starting as a cub Telegram reporter 65 years ago. Wonderful hotel that gives only lip service to accessibility. It's a wonder they spell it correctly in the trumpeting of the claim because when you search for how to get into the fortress, how to find the solitary elevator hidden near the eastern entrance guarded by hostile valet attendants when you try to park for a few seconds. there is no info. I was dropped off because I hadn't gone to the bank to get a second mortgage to pay for the parking of $13 an hour, or $39 for an event.

As my faithful son Mark reminded me, last year we had plenty of time waiting for that elevator with David Onley, the former lieutenant governor. (David has left us, probably having to argue about accessibility at the Pearly Gates.) He recalled during the wait our lunch where the police towed his car despite the handicapped sign in the windshield.

The food, as usual, was great. And so were the three new inductees. Stephen Harper was a solid PM, considering the present dog's breakfast, but often forgotten are the changes he accomplished. He couldn't attend the ceremony but what he did for the disabled lives on in a country that is tired of his successors. Chantal Benoit, the wheelchair basketball megastar, and Michelle Stilwell, in athletics, wheelchair basketball and provincial politics, were world champions proudly wearing their international medals and honours. If only we were blessed with more such achievers.

The location of the luncheon reminded me again of how careless the world is when dealing with the disabled. Downtown is a mess. The streets around the Royal York are so bad, I was almost hit by a motorcycle roaring down the sidewalk to get around the stalled traffic where the cops and the lights seemed to be competing to make things worse. I am not a novice in dealing with the public or events. I have been president of national, provincial and municipal bodies, ranging from the CNE to university and hospital boards, and delegate to international assembles. And now, with dulled senses, I make the rounds of five hospitals and various health offices and the daily battle with traffic in a city where council can't seem to do the basics without costly posturing.

Let me warn you as your address book fills with the names of departed friends and your neighbours vanish, it is only going to get worse. Because Canada is aging, and the candidates for the Disabled Hall of Fame are going to multiply.

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