A Wonderful Evening. Or Not.


I've had the most delicious opportunity. I subscribe to a magazine called Canadian Living. Terrific magazine with helpful articles and really wonderful recipes and a few weeks ago, I discovered another good thing about it. Because that's when I got an e-mail with a special offer for subscribers that was out of this world. An evening with Jann Arden. Who I adore. And who gives terrific interviews – John/TinkPapa has interviewed her on his show and she’s just wonderful.

The even will be held in an intimate old church which is walking distance from where I live and sounds like it’s essentially a high-end pajama party. There'll be a chat between the magazine’s Life editor and Jann, there'll be tea and snacks (which I probably wouldn't eat because of the nut allergy), hand massages (which sounds lovely for RA hands, but I probably wouldn't do that either if the lotion was scented. The asthma, y’know. And yes, I’m aware I’m a wreck) and Jann will sing songs from her new CD. And then those attending will get sent home with a care package of chocolates, a signed copy of her new book and the new CD. Perfect girlfriend evening, right? So naturally, I called Michele and we were both very excited. Not only that was this a perfect girlfriend evening, but it was a perfect evening in the context of our friendship. So I bought tickets right away.

A couple of days later, I decided to check if the venue was accessible. Normally, I’d check such things before I’d buy tickets, but all I knew was that it was held in the Berkeley Church and in my experience, churches tend to be accessible. Even if it means retrofitting an old church, because… well, they like to be as inclusive as possible. And besides, between the event being held in a church and hosted by Canadian Living, of course it’d be accessible, right?

Nope. It isn't.

That'll teach me to make assumptions.

It did, however, give me another opportunity to be advocacious. I don't seek these things out, really I don’t. Mostly, I just try to live my life and in the process, find them. Or maybe they find me?

Now, the Berkeley Church isn't used as a church, anymore, it's been remade into an event space and y’know? That just makes it worse. Because someone transformed this beautiful building into a space to be used for weddings, parties, meetings and what have you, but assumed that no one using a wheelchair would ever want to have such an event or be a guest at one. This is what Dave Hingsburger meant when he calledsuch design "purposeful exclusion." That this might be a heritage building doesn't really matter, because as far as I know, the Ontario Human Rights Code supersedes all other legislation. And besides… I recently attended a wedding at another venerable old Torontolandmark and that had been made accessible while respecting the integrity, age and character of the building.

Accessibility is not just about physical design. It’s not just about making sure that people who use wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility aids can take part as well as their able-bodied friends can. Accessibility is also about including consideration of all your potential customers in, for instance, event planning. Because when organizations develop policies that mandate their events should only be booked in accessible locations, more locations will become accessible. And I'm not going to talk about why it's important to include people with disabilities - or even breathe a word of Dave’s phrase above - because most organizations make their events open to women and racial minorities as a matter of course, don't they?

There’s the frustration of encountering a place designed with accessibility in mind, yet not being usable because the Ontario Building Code assumes that having a disability means having just as much mobility as everyone else, except you’re sitting down. And then there's the frustration of not being included in planning at all. Of being invisible. And this is the one that moves from happening mostly in your head to hitting your heart.

It hurts. To be so irrelevant as to not even be thought of.

Right after that emotion hits you, you get angry. So you decide to use the anger in a constructive way and in a fit of advocaciousness blog about it and send a letter to the organization or place about the issue. And all the rest of it. And sure, you know that you're doing your bit to nudge people to be more inclusive in the future so that others like you won't have this experience. And it's a good thing.

But at the end of the day, I'd rather: have gone out with my best friend to spend an evening with Jann Arden.