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August 14, 2009

The End of the Beginning?

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end, may also be the beginning.
- Ivy Baker Priest

Many people breathed a sigh of relief when HRM Council voted Tuesday to continue free Metro Transit passes for blind Haligonians. I attended the meeting, and it was remarkable how eager Councilors were to put this issue behind them. Councilor Blumenthal made a brief and emotional comparison of heroic blind bus passengers and Sidney Crosby before moving to ignore the staff recommendation to terminate the passes. The rush to second the motion, the lack of discussion and the near-unanimous vote in favor made it clear that Council was anxious to put this episode in the rear view mirror. It was gratifying nonetheless.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first floor washrooms in City Hall are being renovated to make them accessible. This has been on my list for years - citizens ought to be able to pee after they pay their taxes.

Wheelchair users will be impressed with the spiffy new ramp at MLA Leonard Preyra's constituency office at the corner of Young Ave. and Inglis St. He is apparently doing more renovation inside so that a disabled person can actually see his or her democratically elected representative. A disabled person could apply for a job in Leonard's office. Good for Leonard.

These are good signs, but the problem is that they are isolated, voluntary events. There is no overarching policy or even a promise to include people with disabilities in everyday life. We have repeatedly had the lesson that HRM staff is not required to consider accessibility as it plans and executes the business of the city. MLAs can maintain offices upstairs or behind narrow doors, and do it at your expense.

Problems faced by people with disabilities, such as unemployment and isolation are not the inevitable consequences of the limitations imposed by the disability itself. That crazy argument about recalling the bus passes because of "informal complaints" from other groups with disabilities is like "Obama Death Panels" - untrue, cynical and specious. People with disabilities know that it is the system that is stacked against them, and do not begrudge the few benefits received by other people with disabilities.

Just before the council meeting was called to order, I overheard a Councilor lamenting the presence of dogs accompanying blind audience members. She said "What are all these dogs doing here? I hope I don't end up in the hospital", thereby confirming the impression that, for her, being a Council member has nothing to do with you and me, and everything to do with her.

Be vigilant and carry on!

Gus Reed

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