Category "Disability"


Opinion: A co-ordinated group of family, friends and allies key to keeping disabled safe

by admin

Florence Girard, 54, was found dead in a private home on Oct. 13, 2018. An RCMP probe alleged that the victim didn’t receive the necessities of life, such as food, shelter, medical attention and protection from harm, Coquitlam Mounties said in a statement Jan. 29, 2020.


The news of Florence Girard’s tragic death and subsequent charges against her caregivers reminds us that family, friends and neighbours have a critical and irreplaceable role in keeping disabled people safe. While the courts deal with the RCMP charges let’s not make the mistake of relying solely on formal accountability mechanisms. Instead let’s ensure a network of supportive relationships is in place for every vulnerable person in care so that no one ever has to die alone and unnoticed again.

Our comments aren’t wishful thinking. We write this as co-founders and leaders of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN.) We have more than three decades of experience developing support networks for disabled people in B.C. and around the world. One of us has a daughter who, like Girard, has Down syndrome. Research studies back up what we’ve learned. When disabled people have a network of supportive relationships they’re safer, healthier, require less paid services, have a higher quality of life, and their risk of abuse and neglect is dramatically reduced.

Caring networks create safeguards. We aren’t referring to an occasional volunteer visit, but to an intentional and co-ordinated group of family, friends and allies. Network members are companions, watchdogs and advocates. They serve as trustees. They monitor guardianship arrangements. They assist with health care, banking and everyday decisions. Because they’re in a committed, continuing relationship with the disabled person, they know when something is wrong, they spot changes to the person’s health and temperament, and motivated by love they take action to make things better.

The outcry for more formal safeguards is understandable but misplaced. Compare the difference in coverage. An occasional monitoring visit by a government agency combined with a once-every-three-years formal certification process versus a network of friends that is always checking in, visiting regularly and sharing updates with each other.

There are many ways to establish a stable network that lasts. PLAN’s approach is to hire a community connector who works closely with the individual. When there is no family nearby, network members come from neighbours, service clubs, faith groups and people who share similar interests. In our experience most people welcome the opportunity to join with others in a caring network.

We have witnessed network members identify changes in a person’s mental health, detect tumours and arrange for medical care that was missed by service providers. They have found jobs and volunteer opportunities. They have taken up the slack when aging parents or family members weren’t available. They have protected people from being exploited and abused. They have made sure they have suitable clothing and nutritional food. And they have helped people with a terminal illness die in peace and love.

Sadly, most disabled people in care don’t have caring networks. It’s time for the B.C. government to make these relational safeguards a fundamental ingredient of our service-delivery apparatus. Not as a “nice-to-have.” Not as part of another study or investigation. But as essential in keeping people safe as all the formal safeguards combined.

We recommend the B.C. government:

1. Mandate the funding body Community Living B.C. (CLBC) to ensure relational safeguards exist for every one of their clients. This will take a modest investment of money in community groups who aren’t service providers but nowhere as much as implementing yet another system of monitors monitoring monitors, monitoring contracted agencies.

2. Require all relevant government and service-provider agencies to take courses in relational safeguards. This orientation is just as important as safety and health certificates or criminal record checks.

3. Appoint a vice-president of relational safeguards at CLBC. Unless there is a senior position with power and resources nothing will change.

4. Document the difference. The added benefit of relational safeguards is that it results in happier lives for disabled people and reduced program costs. Use the data and any savings as the basis for improving supports for British Columbians with a disability.

We can’t think of a better way to honour Girard’s memory.

Vickie Cammack and Al Etmanski received the Order of Canada for their work with disabled people and their families. They co-authored Safe and Secure — Seven Steps to a Good Life for People with Disabilities. Rebecca Pauls is executive director of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network.


TransLink hopes to mitigate effects of subsidy cut for accessible taxis

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Wheelchair-accessible taxis outside Canada Place.

Arlen Redekop / Vancouver Sun

TransLink will do everything it can to make sure its customers with disabilities who use taxis aren’t affected by the Vancouver Taxi Association’s decision to stop subsidies for drivers of accessible taxis, according to its CEO.

HandyDART, a door-to-door shuttle for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, is a service offered by TransLink, and over the last two years about 12 per cent of its rides were provided by taxis. About one per cent of its rides use wheelchair-accessible cabs.

This week, the Vancouver Taxi Association, which represents taxi companies that operate in Vancouver and adjacent municipalities, said it will no longer provide incentives for drivers of accessible vans, such as waiving fees or offering bonuses, because it can no longer afford it now that ride-hailing has entered the Metro Vancouver transportation market.

It said companies will continue to serve customers with disabilities as best they can.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said they are in discussions with the association to find out what the impact might be for HandyDART and TaxiSaver customers.

“We want to do everything, working in close collaboration with the taxi association, to ensure there would be no negative impacts on our customers, so those conversations are ongoing,” Desmond said.

Association spokesperson Carolyn Bauer said on Friday that she did not wish to comment on the decision, but the province is working with taxi companies to figure out how to allocate the 30-cent per-trip fee for non-accessible ride-hailing vehicles to “support a sustained and improved level of accessible vehicles on the road.”

HandyDART Riders’ Alliance co-chair Beth McKellar said she was unsure how HandyDART users would be affected if the subsidies are eliminated and fewer accessible taxis were available, but said TransLink relies too heavily on taxis to supplement service. She was livid at the taxi association’s decision.

“This is so wrong — so, so wrong,” McKellar said. “I’ve just been so disappointed with the whole mess. We get hit hard enough with our afflictions every day, our transportation shouldn’t be at risk.”

According to a recent report on modernizing the taxi industry, accessible vehicles cost more money, time and fuel to acquire and operate.

“When a taxi licence share is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, taxi companies have no difficulty absorbing the higher cost of these vehicles and can offer drivers concessions on their dispatch fees to offset the higher costs of operation,” the report said. “However, if licence values fall, or are already low, finding willing taxi companies and drivers becomes problematic.”

B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang said most of his member companies — which operate outside of Vancouver — offer what he called incentives to drivers of accessible taxis and there is no plan for them to stop doing that.

“We are committed to providing the service to people with disabilities on a priority basis as we did before,” Kang said. “That’s our stance, that’s the association’s stance.”

Justina Loh, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said she understands the position taxi companies are in, but she found it disappointing that it has come to this.

“We’ve been trying to just push the government or the municipalities a bit to step in and maybe provide some incentives for the taxi industry so that they can continue to have an accessible fleet, just because not having one means that people with disabilities are left out,” Loh said.





B.C. ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all

by admin

Many people are eagerly looking forward to ride-hailing finally being available in Metro Vancouver, but Vince Miele is not one of them.

The Tsawwassen resident, who uses a wheelchair, said he and many others who have disabilities and use mobility aids will be left behind when services like Lyft and Uber begin operating, because they will be unusable by those who can’t get in and out of a standard vehicle.

“There’s been a erosion of access for people with disabilities, and I think this move to ride-hailing is just another step in this erosion,” said Miele. “It’s erosion because here’s another mode of transportation that’s being offered, and there’s a segment of the population that won’t be able to take advantage of it. I really feel that it’s a form of discrimination.”

Since last fall, the Passenger Transportation Board has been reviewing applications from ride-hailing companies that want to operate in B.C. To date, only one application — from a company planning to operate in Tofino and Whistler — has been approved.

When services do eventually start operating, ride-hailing drivers will use their personal vehicles, which means that few, if any, rides will be able to accommodate people who are unable to transfer to a vehicle seat or use mobility aids that can’t be easily stowed in a trunk or back seat.

Taxi companies are required to have wheelchair-accessible taxis in their fleet. According to statistics from the Passenger Transportation Board, about 14 per cent of taxis in the province are accessible, and about 19 per cent in Metro Vancouver, though it can still be difficult for people with disabilities to get an accessible cab.

There is no such requirement  for ride-hailing companies.

“It’s quite insulting and disheartening and really makes you question whether our society is moving forward at all with any intention of greater accessibility when we continue to have things being introduced that aren’t accessible,” said Gabrielle Peters, who uses a manual wheelchair.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Transportation, “Drivers of ride-hailing vehicles must take all reasonable steps to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities,” including those with service dogs.

The only nod to “protecting accessibility” in provincial regulations is a 30-cent-a-trip fee for non-accessible ride-hailing vehicles. According to the provincial government, the fee will “support funding for accessibility programs,” but those programs have not been defined.

“We’ll be working on how to allocate these funds once applications are approved, companies start operating, and the per-trip fee revenue is collected,” the Ministry of Transportation said in an emailed statement.

The lack of clarity around how the money will be spent has been criticized.

“There should be a plan, there should be a timetable. Saying that is their mitigation of this is patently ridiculous. It’s an insult to people with disabilities, pure and simple,” said Greg Pyc, who has paraplegia and has used a wheelchair for more than 40 years.

It took the City of Ottawa almost two years to decide how to use the money it raised through the voluntary seven-cent-per-ride accessibility surcharge it implemented in late 2017. It lowered the cost of taxi coupons for people with disabilities, increased the number of coupons allowed per customer, and funded community agencies providing transportation in rural areas.

Toronto just implemented its fee, the proceeds of which will be used to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis.

Some believe a fee is not enough or is the wrong approach altogether.

“Accessibility is a conscious decision to create a society and things within it — systems, ideas, places, services, policies — that include everyone, not a surtax. That’s almost like charity, like tithing. It’s insulting,” said Peters.

Terry Green, chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ transportation committee, said the easiest way for governments to make services accessible is to build requirements into the licensing scheme, as they do with taxis. The reality, he said, is that governments are reluctant to do this for ride-hailing, because ride-hailing drivers use their own vehicles.

“My response is that this is a transportation service that is being offered to the public and it’s supposed to be offered equally to our citizens with disabilities. Consequently, they should be at least, in the spirit of the legislation, required to provide accessibility to the level of other transportation providers,” said Green.

Jutta Treviranus was distressed to hear that B.C. had not written accessibility requirements for people with disabilities into its regulations for ride-hailing, beyond charging the per trip fee.

“This is a human rights issue,” she said.

Treviranus is the director of Toronto’s Inclusive Design Research, and was involved, along with many others, in the development of ride-hailing regulations in Toronto, which include a requirement for companies with more than 500 vehicles to provide wheelchair-accessible service, and for drivers of accessible vehicles to go through training.

She said that without regulations and conditions on licensing, there is no obligation to do anything to make the service accessible. She doesn’t think it’s too late to do better in B.C.

“If Uber is not yet licensed, and they’ve been successful in keeping Uber out of the province, and Uber wants to get in to the province, now is the time to negotiate, and the negotiation should be to get equivalent service,” Treviranus said.

The lack of accessibility is not unique to B.C. Ride-hailing companies have faced backlash, including lawsuits, from people with disabilities and advocates. For instance, Uber has been sued for discrimination in New York and Lyft has been sued in California.

Uber’s head of Western Canada, Michael van Hemmen, was not available for an interview, but in an emailed statement he said when Uber first hits the road in Metro Vancouver, he does not anticipate wheelchair-accessible vehicles being available on the app “because drivers will be using their own vehicles, and most vehicles are not wheelchair accessible.”

However, he said Uber has written to the province to ask for access to revenue from the 30-cent per-trip accessibility fee to make wheelchair-accessible vehicles available on the app.

A Lyft spokesperson said in an emailed statement that accessibility is important to the company, and drivers are required to make every reasonable effort to transport passengers and their wheelchairs.

The two companies have services or features to accommodate people with disabilities — Uber has WAV and Assist, while Lyft has “Access Mode” — however, they’re not available in all markets.

Vince Miele with his vehicle, which is modified for wheelchair access.







Broadbent pushes B.C. government for justice-based accessibility law

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Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, at a community consultation session for new accessibility legislation in Vancouver on Nov. 2, 2019.

Gerry Kahrmann / Postmedia News Files

As the B.C. government develops accessibility legislation, a left-wing think-tank is calling on policy-makers to consider how historical injustices and continuing discrimination have led to a society that still excludes the deaf and disabled.

From Sept. 16 to Nov. 29 of this year, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction collected public feedback to help develop the new legislation it says will “guide government, persons with disabilities and the broader community to work together to identify, remove and prevent barriers.”

A framework shows how the legislation could work by including standards for service delivery, employment, information, communication and transportation. Minister Shane Simpson said he wants the legislation tabled in the fall of 2020.

The Broadbent Institute commissioned consultant Gabrielle Peters for its submission, which she said is focused on justice and rectifying decades of oppression and discrimination.

“I wrote this because we’re doing it wrong,” said Peters, a Vancouver writer with chronic health issues who uses a wheelchair.

“We have to change how we think about accessibility. We have to change who we think about in terms of accessibility, in order to start doing it right.”

The Broadbent submission first discusses the historical impacts of colonialism, eugenics, institutionalization and sterilization on deaf and disabled Canadians.

It then looks at how those experiences have led to deaf and disabled people being disproportionately represented among the poor, homeless and as victims of violence. They are excluded from education, employment and public and community life, and face barriers in the health care system, the submission says.

“Nearly half of all Human Rights complaints (49 per cent) in Canada are disability related,” Peters wrote. “Discrimination against disabled people is rampant while simultaneously being almost entirely invisible in the public discourse about discrimination.”

Broadbent makes 16 recommendations it says will help repair that damage, the first being the legislation should consider the phrase “nothing about us without us” by including “deaf and disabled British Columbians” in its name.

“Decisions about what was best for disabled people made by the province’s respected leaders resulted in the worst outcomes and a shameful period in this province’s history,” Peters wrote. “This new legislation must spell out whom it is for and what it is intended to begin to rectify and prevent.”

The second recommendation urges government to write legislation that goes beyond making B.C. “barrier-free,” and works to fight oppression. It recommends that government name ableism as the source of systemic oppression of disabled people and the cause of inaccessibility.

The third recommendation calls for the legislation to be intersectional. This would mean recognizing that class, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other aspects of a person’s identity and life experience are linked to various other systems of oppression that marginalize disabled people and make parts of B.C. society inaccessible to them.

The full submission can be read at broadbent.ca. Peters said she hopes it shows to readers that accessibility “isn’t a gift” to be handed to deaf and disabled people, but a human right that they’ve been denied.

The submission also features contributions from harm reduction policy specialist Karen Ward and from urban planner Amina Yasin, who write about racism, ableism and the built environment.

Maria Dobrinskaya, B.C. director for Broadbent, said the submission’s justice-based approach could guide other ministries in their approaches to housing policy, municipal bylaws, transit and other issues.

Government may choose not to implement all 16 recommendations, Dobrinskaya said. But she is pleased the submission will reach the desks of Minister Simpson and other policy-makers, adding that “it’s important that it’s on the record.”

“I think it is very broad in its scope,” she said. “I’m hopeful though, that the comprehensive nature of the approach that we took helps to inform more specific focus on policy that the ministry will be looking at.”

The federal government passed Canada’s first national accessibility legislation in May, meant to “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. Those include built environments, federally run programs and services, banking, telecommunications and transportation that crosses provincial lines.

That legislation, however, doesn’t address barriers within provincial jurisdiction. Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have passed accessibility laws, and Newfoundland and Labrador are developing their own, too.

But B.C. — where more than 926,000 people older than 15 have some form of disability — has lagged behind.



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British Columbians pack meeting to help develop accessibility law

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Thousands of disabled British Columbians are contributing ideas for legislation to make the province more accessible, including a large group that packed into a community meeting Saturday in Vancouver.

More than 150 people turned up for the public consultation session at a downtown hotel where Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, asked them about the barriers they have experienced, what they think about framework proposed for the legislation, and how his ministry can improve it.

The province’s framework shows how the legislation could work by including standards for service delivery, employment, information and communication, and transportation, according to the document.

At Saturday’s meeting, Olive Olajide and Esther Wien, friends who live in Vancouver, said they came to hear how the legislation is progressing and what barriers it will remove.

Olajide, 78, uses a power wheelchair and said transportation is a major issue for her. She is mostly satisfied with the accessibility of public transit in Vancouver but said newer buses have been “terrible.”

She can’t use her right arm and must rotate her wheelchair to scan her Compass card, so a second scanner left of the door would help. The buses have less space, so she suggested bus drivers be given a pre-recorded announcement to play when a person using a wheelchair needs to board or disembark.

“People get on when you’re trying to get off, everybody has to be first,” she said. “Sometimes I have to fight with people.”

Olajide lamented that many public buildings in the city do not have automatic door openers, including her doctor’s office.

Wiens, 64, said people with invisible disabilities like her tend to be ignored in discussions by government about accessibility.

She suffers illnesses such as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome, but is not allowed to move into an accessible unit, of which there are far too few in the city, she said.

“People say, ‘Look, you look totally able-bodied, therefore you can handle stairs,’” she said. “I cannot.”

Home-support services for disabled people have also been neglected, Wiens said.

“Right now, they are geared only toward frail, elderly seniors, not physically disabled (people),” she said. “That’s a big oversight, as far as I’m concerned, because we have rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which are being totally disregarded.”

Bill Conway, from Sechelt, said he even faced barriers in the hotel on his way to the meeting with his guide dog, DA Chief, including hallways packed with trolleys.

Conway said he has visited hotels with elevators which do not have Braille labels on their buttons. Grocery and drug stores have replaced human cashiers with self-checkout machines which have touchscreens he can’t use. Businesses have refused to allow DA Chief to enter, breaking the law.

Strong enforcement is key to making the legislation work, said Conway, who is the 2nd vice-president of the Canadian Council of the Blind’s B.C.-Yukon division.

“The District of Sechelt where I live has adapted an accessibility building code and we are finally getting contractors to recognize it, but to have the government enforce it, that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

B.C.’s framework says the legislation could require an accessibility directorate responsible for overseeing progress and helping organizations comply with the legislation and standards. A standards development board could be responsible for development and revision of the standards. An accessibility commissioner could be responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcement.

Those who fail to comply could face monetary penalties. In Manitoba and Nova Scotia, the maximum fine is $250,000.

The federal government passed Canada’s first national accessibility legislation in May, meant to “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. Those include built environments, federally run programs and services, banking, telecommunications and transportation that crosses provincial lines.

That legislation, however, doesn’t address barriers within provincial jurisdiction. Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have passed accessibility laws, and Newfoundland and Labrador are developing their own, too.

But B.C. — where more than 926,000 people over the age of 15 have some form of disability — has lagged behind. The government here says the legislation would help it work with disabled people and everyone else to identify, remove and prevent barriers.

Simpson’s ministry began collecting feedback by phone, online and at public meetings on Sept. 16, 2019, to guide the development of the legislation, and will continue to do so until the end of this month.

Simpson, who is attending all 10 community meetings, said his ministry began groundwork on the legislation about a year ago, in anticipation of the federal legislation passing. They’ve received thousands of surveys since consultation began and gained valuable knowledge.

“We’re starting to hear that education probably needs to have a bigger role than we had originally thought,” said Simpson, MLA for Vancouver Hastings.

Businesses and local governments are showing that they will commit to the legislation and want it done right, he said.

“I think that the time is right to make these changes that will create an opportunity for people to have a better life, both in terms of their standard of living but also their opportunity to take advantage of all the things that you and I take advantage of every day, in our day-to-day lives, that aren’t necessarily available to people with disabilities,” Simpson said.

Simpson said he wants the legislation to be tabled in the fall of 2020.

The next in-person community meeting is in Kamloops on Nov. 12. Public consultation is open until 4:00 p.m. on Nov. 29, 2019, and details about providing feedback can be found at engage.gov.bc.ca/accessibility.

— With files from The Canadian Press



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North Vancouver woman says some disabled Canadians feeling left out of discussion during election campaign

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Amy Amantea tuned in to the English-language federal leaders’ debate with modest hope there would be at least some discussion of issues relevant to disabled Canadians.

The first half of the campaign had passed with barely a reference, even from the party that had delivered a historic achievement in national disability policy. Earlier this year, the Liberals made good on a 2015 campaign promise when the Accessible Canada Act received royal assent, marking the first time any government had enacted accessibility legislation at the federal level.

The government estimates one in five Canadians over the age of 15 is disabled, and Amantea, who is legally blind, hoped leaders would use the Oct. 7 debate to address some of the many issues they face. But those hopes faded as the debate progressed, giving way instead to doubts about how Canada’s disabled residents would fare after the Oct. 21 election.

“We have a lot of very unique needs and circumstances in our community that don’t get addressed,” Amantea said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. “Just a nod, just a mention would have been kind of nice, but it was not to be.”

Amantea said that relative silence has persisted into the final week of the campaign, giving rise to concerns throughout Canada’s disabled community. Many fear that parties who fail to make mention of key issues facing disabled Canadians while courting votes may prove even more dismissive once those votes have been cast.

They point to party platforms and public pledges, most of which make scant mention of either the Accessible Canada Act or disability-specific measures on issues such as infrastructure, health and affordable housing.

The Liberals response to questions on disability policy largely focused on past achievements. Spokesman Joe Pickerill did offer some future plans, including doubling the disability child benefit, establishing a $40-million-per-year national fund meant to help disabled Canadians find work, and simplifying the process veterans use to access disability benefits.

The Green party did not respond to request for comment, and the People’s Party of Canada said its platform contained “no policy related to disabled persons.”

The NDP did not provide comment to The Canadian Press, but made several commitments to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act in a letter sent to an Ontario-based disability advocacy group.

The act, while widely acknowledged as a significant milestone, was also broadly criticized by nearly a hundred grass-roots organizations across the country as too weak to be truly effective. Such critiques continued even after the government agreed to adopt some Senate amendments sought by the disability groups, who hoped future governments would continue to build on the new law.

Only the NDP agreed to do so when approached by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which contacted all major parties in July.

“The Liberals hailed this bill as a historical piece of legislation. But without substantial amendments, it is yet another in a long line of Liberal half-measures,” reads the NDP’s response. “New Democrats are committed to ensuring that C-81 actually lives up to Liberal party rhetoric.”

The Conservatives, too, pledged to “work closely with the disability community to ensure that our laws reflect their lived realities.” Spokesman Simon Jefferies also noted party members pushed to strengthen the act but saw their amendments voted down by the government.

The vagueness of these commitments troubles Gabrielle Peters, a wheelchair-user and writer.

“Canada’s approach to accessibility has been to grant it as a gift they give us rather than a right we deserve,” Peters said. “Now that we have the ACA, the concern is that the broader public and the government think the issue is resolved when this law is, at best, a beginning.”

Other disabled voters expressed concerns about the handful of relevant promises that have been put forward on the campaign trail. In addition to pledging expanded eligibility for the disability tax credit, the Conservatives have said they would implement a $50-million national autism strategy focusing on research and services for children. The NDP and Greens have followed suit with similar proposals and larger pots of cash.

While widely lauded among parent-led advocacy groups, some autistic adults view the proposals with skepticism.

Alex Haagaard, who is autistic and uses a wheelchair, said that while much modern disability policy including the ACA tends to apply a social lens, discussion of autism is still framed through the outmoded medical model that positions the disability as an ailment to be cured rather than a part of a person’s identity.

Haagaard said action is clearly needed to help parents seeking supports for their children and teachers working to integrate autistic students into their classrooms, but said current attitudes at the heart of the campaign rhetoric are troubling.

A national strategy, Haagaard said, also risks undermining the goal of broader inclusion for other disabled populations.

“That is counter to the goals of disability justice to silo autism as this individual condition that warrants this level of attention compared to other disabilities,” Haagaard said.

Like Amantea, Peters felt let down by the leaders debates, citing the prevalence of discussion around medical assistance in dying over other issues that affect disabled people. The subject is polarizing, with many advocacy groups and individuals asserting such legislation devalues the lives of disabled people and places them at greater risk.

Such a narrow focus, Peters said, shows all parties’ failure to reckon with or address the diverse, complex needs of an overlooked demographic.

“What strikes me as missing in policy and in this election is us,” she said. “Disabled people. The not inspirational, not motivational, not middle class, not white, disabled people of this country. In other words — most of us.”


Thousands of academics in social sciences and humanities meet at UBC

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Salamander is a workshop/participatory performance for disabled people and their allies led by Petra Kuppers. Kuppers is giving a Salamander workshop in the water at the Aquatic Centre at Congress 2019 of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of B.C.


Academics from across the country aren’t going to jump in a lake at the University of B.C. but they’re going to do the next best thing: they’re going to jump into the pool.

They’ll be doing that as part of what’s called a Salamander workshop at Congress 2019.

Petra Kuppers, a disability performance scholar, has led the water-based events since 2013 in public pools and other bodies of water around the world to challenge ableism and celebrate the full diversity of human experience and embodiment.

“In the water, interesting intimacies happen,” Kuppers said. “People get to see one another in very open and vulnerable way.”

Public pools can be fraught with anxiety for many people, she said. If they’re a transgender person, it can be over what change room to use. If someone is disabled or has a body that’s different or is missing a limb, it can be about the difficulty of negotiating stairs.

One of the exercises Kuppers uses to build community is what dancers call ‘fish swish.’ It involves one person gently pulling another person’s feet from side to side.

“It’s a beautiful release for the lower back and lovely care we can give each other,” she said by phone.

Kuppers said she first started doing Salamander in Berkeley, California with the performance artist Neil Marcus.

Salamander is being organized as part of the meeting of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research at Congress 2019, the 88th annual meeting of Canadian academics in humanities and social sciences.

The event is one of several open to the public at the congress. Salamander is from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, June 3 at the Aquatic Centre which is a fully accessible pool. To take part, members of the public have to register with the Congress and for the event at Eventbrite. There is no charge for Salamander.

About 450 members of the public have registered for a free pass for the Congress.

Kuppers said she loves doing Salamander in public because of the reaction it provokes. She said people often notice what’s going on in a workshop and wonder: Why are they having such a good time?

“It doesn’t look like straight exercising or therapy. It look like people doing magical stuff together,” she said.

“I love when people get drawn in and it often happens. They get incorporated into it.”

On Sunday, 9,910 academics and researchers were registered to attend the 2019 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. About 5,000 academics from 73 scholarly associations are presenting papers at the congress which is the largest gathering of its kind in the country. The congress ends Friday.

Events open to the public include those in the Big Thinking Speaker Series which are in the Frederic Wood Theatre:

• David Suzuki and Ian Mauro, the co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre, will screen their latest film Beyond Climate which links climate change with the human activities that are creating heat waves, melting glaciers and burning forest. Tuesday, June 4, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

• Indigenous storytelling in theatre features a panel discussion with Sylvia Cloutier, Margo Kane, Lindsay Lachance and Corey Payette. They’ll talk about a variety of issues, including using personal experiences in their work, identity and cultural practices. Wednesday, June 5, 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Stan Douglas, visual artist, will talk about what it means to recreate moments from history and recording them with a camera. Douglas, one of the country’s leading artists, explores the boundaries of narrative and photography in his work. Thursday, June 5, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.


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