Thursday, August 30, 2012
Three months ago, we went to see Cavalia's Odysseo and it was blissful. I claimed to be full, didn't need to go back again, but The Boy knew better. He'd occasionally drop a hint and finally, I knew, too.
I couldn't let these beautiful horses leave without seeing them again. So we did. It kicked off the Birthday Weekend celebrations and as before, the level of bliss was out of this world.
It's possible I was vibrating with excitement as with waited to go into the stables. because of course we were going to the stables.
While we waited, four of the performers came out to chat and meet. The big difference this time was that the horses faced us and were willing to be touched. Notice the beauty on the right - I've named him Mr. Nuzzly (because I didn't catch his real name) and he'll return in a bit. Very friendly horse.
I didn't name this one, but he had the softest nose
I know this because I got to touch it
Off we went to the stables to commune and the smell was divine. And so were the horses. I think this is Silver and and had a bit of a chat
David also found a friend
Some of the staff were kind enough to open stall doors so I could see better
There was frequent mentions of "please don't touch the horses!" No mention, however, of what to do when the horses insisted on touching you
At the end, we saw the two lovelies who'd stayed late to chat with the audience get a shower. Mr. Nuzzly was very fond of the water and insisted on getting sprayed in the face
We moved on into the stables and a few minutes later heard a call of "horse coming through" and moved to the sides. Mr. Nuzzly came up behind me and as he passed, stuck his head in my lap.
I'd happily pay for the privilege of mucking out their stables, if only I could run away with Cavalia and their beautiful horses. I hope they come back to Toronto soon.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
For the last 30 years, I've battled against the prevailing North American belief that Copenhagen is the capital of Holland and that coming from Denmark makes me Dutch. However, thanks to Marianna, I will today claim some kinship with that other small Northern European nation.
Because today is what the Dutch would call my Sarah Birthday. It boggles my mind that I can claim that many trips around the sun, but the idea of it representing the gaining of wisdom makes it something to be happy about.
This weekend we celebrated with a lovely party and more photos will be forthcoming. Later in the week. Today, I plan to do nothing. Maybe Nothing. But I'll leave you with a photo of me and the singing telegram organized by my family and friends. Nothing at all like the Miss Piggy they'd expected, but that just made it even more fun.
Monday, August 27, 2012
This might be my last rant about Buskerfest. Despite it having become an annual tradition to which I know you’re all looking forward with bated breath (no?), it may be time to close the series (2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011). Not because Buskerfest has magically become a paragon of accessibility – were it only so. No, it’s because I'm starting to think that it might be healthier to ignore the blasted thing. Not accessibility itself – I’ll continue to advocate for it – but accessibility in the context of Buskerfest. I believe the adage about not being able to control what happens applies. The adage that continues that you can control how you react to things. And after today, I will react by focusing on something that doesn't aggravate me quite so much. So, for the last time I present: the annual rant about accessibility issues at Buskerfest.
On the plus side, Buskerfest has an accessibility plan and a stated commitment that they are "working to ensure that all visitors enjoy this festival with ease." On the plus side,they have accessibility tent where " visitors are provided with assistance." On the plus side, such assistance can include "an escort to one of the accessible stages" (according to the map, there seem to be two of these. I don't know how many stages are in total, but I think at least eight). On the plus side, these escorts are provided by their "accessibility volunteers, who are easy to spot by the accessibility symbol on their shirts" (none of which I saw during my two separate visits to the festival). On the plus side, they have several helpful signs pointing to accessible workarounds
Most of which didn’t seem to have been put into place the first two days of the festival (and weren't by every one of these behemoths covering electrical cords). Also, despite the curbcut and the helpful sign, this
is not accessible.
It's not that the donation boxes are located at shoulder height of a standing person, making it look like you don't assume there will be disabled visitors (maybe they've read my posts?)
It's not that it's crowded. Is not that is pretty much impossible to pass through a street during one of the performances
it's not that the sidewalks on streets leading to the main festival area are randomly blocked, requiring you to double back to get down to the street (it should be noted that a lot more ramps had appeared by Sunday, the second time I went to the festival)
it’s not that several of neighbourhood restaurants that expand onto sidewalk patios during the festival do not include a gate in their picket fences, which is an interesting business decision given how many people with disabilities live in this area (Hank's, The Great Burger Kitchen and LePapillon). The restaurants that you make their premises and sidewalk patios accessible – The Jersey Giant, The Sultan’s Tent and many more- will therefore get more business.
It’s not the noise, the inability to go grocery shopping, being told by officious idiots that you can't use the sidewalk or that my neighborhood - one of the most accessible in the city - becomes virtually impassable for the duration of Buskerfest. It’s not even the endless sea of butts. Or that this always happens on my birthday weekend.
It’s that it’s four days. I could hack two days of feeling unwelcome. I could put up with not being able to go by orange juice for a couple of days. I have no problems with keeping away from the madness for 48 hours. But four days??
And it’s that an event that supports Epilepsy Toronto, an organization that works with and for people with disabilities makes it well-nigh impossible for people with disabilities to be part of it. On the one hand I appreciate that they have accessibility volunteers - it's a decent solution to the problem of… Well, almost everything about Buskerfest when you have a disability. But if that niggling sensation in the back of my head that reminds me accessibility isn't about being given a minder. Accessibility is about dignity and independence.
So as I close this last in the series on accessibility at Buskerfest, let me ask the organizers of it this: if I can't enjoy your festival independently, how accessible is it?
Friday, August 24, 2012
The universe is continuing the theme…
There's a bit of a celebration going on this weekend and although I normally don't partake of alcohol (it gives me headaches), I decided to go in search of a particular product. I first learned of Woody's pink grapefruit cooler when it was handed out free on the street (yes, really). It's delicious, refreshing, and because I don't normally partake of alcohol, I was tipsy within three sips. My four-pack is going to last me years. So… I went to the local LCBO, which is a brand-new store just opened. Once inside, you can tell that they might still be cleaning up after the construction or are not quite finished, but there is stock and employees and that was all I needed.
This brand-new store is on the ground floor of an old building and was completely gutted and renovated prior to opening. You’d figure it out what with the relatively new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the even newer customer service regulations that, as I mentioned on Tuesday, came into effect in January of this year, that such a brand-new store would be a paragon of accessibility, right?
How many of you just sighed?
There are several doors one can use to get in and each has an automatic door opener. There’s a lip of an inch or two by each door and cement has been applied making a bit of a ramp. One’s fine, the other’s too steep. Fine. At least I have a choice of doors. I push a door opener. It didn't work and was in fact blocked by the display on the inside, but that could be due to them not being quite organized yet. I try another button which was just fine and I entered the store.
Just inside the door, I am directly by various signage that the way to enter the store itself is on my left. I turn. And swear, not quite under my breath. Remember the anti-theft gate that Metro installed? The one that consists of two horizontal bars that the customer has to push through in order to enter? Said horizontal bars being at a height where a person in a wheelchair would have to force them with their chest? You guessed it. The new LCBO store has one.
I turn around and look behind me. The access from the cash area to the little vestibule before the entrance/exit is open and I go through that, slightly cranky already. Once inside the store, I am impressed with the width of the aisles and the general lack of clutter, which makes it easy for me to move around in the store. I meet a very helpful employee who finds my four-pack of Woody’s and head towards the cash. At the cash, I am pleased to discover a fairly low counter and - get this! - a detachable pin pad!! I am now considerably less cranky.
And now for getting out. I go into the small vestibule-ish area to get to the entrance/exit and look for the automatic door opener. And swear again. Problem #1: the automatic door opener is placed at about my eye height, which assumes that I have full mobility in my upper body. Which an awful lot of people with disabilities do not. However, as the Ontario Building Code specifies that this height is okay, I'm going to cut the LCBO a bit of slack. When it comes to Problem #2, I am decidedly not going to cut them any slack. To illustrate part of the discussion of Problem #2, I messed around in Photoshop to provide a pictoral aid (most of which is admittedly a terribly bilious green colour, but that sort of matches how I feel about the whole thing. Also, dimensions of door openings are not scalable because… Well. I needed to move on with this post)
The blue lines are doors - along the top are the entrance/exit separate by a wall (black line) and the tiny green lines in the upper left and upper right corners are the automatic door openers. Do you see the problem?
Uh-huh. They are placed all the way up against the 90° corner, right next to the front door. Imagine you are using a wheelchair or scooter. How would you reach these buttons?
Who in their right mind would decide to put the buttons there?? This placement assumes that you can lean forward really far, have completely normal mobility and dexterity in your arms, not to mention that said arms resemble those of an orangutan in length. Because otherwise how would you reach the button, which is located at about the height of your head?
And do you want to hear the really, really ridiculous thing? On the LCBO website, there is a comprehensive section on the LCBO and accessibility. Yes. Really. In this section, right at the top, they outline their commitment to accessibility:
"In fulfilling our mission, the LCBO strives at all times to provide its goods and services in a way that respects the dignity and independence of people with disabilities. We are also committed to giving people with disabilities the same opportunity to access our goods and services and allowing them to benefit from the same services, in the same place and in a similar way as other customers."
I have bolded the terms that are really important. And it makes me want to bang my head against the wall again, because they have clearly tried in so many ways. Aisles are nice and wide, staff is incredibly helpful, they’d even thought about low cash counters and detachable pin pads (trust me, this is huge). But here's the thing - and I'm going to do this in a separate paragraph and bold it for emphasis:
If I cannot enter or exit your store independently or with dignity (hint: pushing open an antitheft gate with my bosom is not dignified), I do not have the same opportunity to access your store in a similar way as other customers.
Considering that the store is located in a neighbourhood that has a much higher than normal rate of people using mobility aids, this is bound in losing customers. Not to mention there might be a little problem with any claims of being in compliance with AODA.
Maybe Carrie is right. I need to hire myself out as an accessibility inspector.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Writers across many HealthCentral sites are doing posts related to the theme of back-to-school. We're interpreting it widely, discussing not just going back to school, but also educting kids about various medical conditions. My contribution was to write about bullying of kids with chronic illnesses froma personal point of view:
"I flew across the schoolyard, adrenaline blocking out the pain in my ankles. Behind me I could hear the pack of five or six girls chasing me. As I ran, harder than I'd ever run before, I could feel them getting closer and closer. The bike racks were in view and to be safe, I just needed to get there, grab my bike and ride home. And then it happened. One of the girls lunged and sank her teeth into my right shoulder. I don't remember what happened next or how I got home. My next memory is of sitting on my bed, shaking."
You can read the rest of the post here.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Weirdly coincidentally, the universe has conspired to push me in the direction of a follow-up. If you've been reading for a while, you may remember my experiences with some interesting accessibility issues at Winners about a year ago and the grocery store Metro in late fall 2010 (as well as the very satisfactory resolution of both). Shall we check and then see how things are going?
Let's start with Winners. After I wrote a very irritated post about their lack of accessibility, I had a lovely and very productive chat with Charmaine at the company who told me about their commitment to accessibility and the customer service regulations of the Accessibility forOntarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which came into effect in January 2012. Their efforts included a consultation with people with disabilities, more space between racks and detachable pin pads at all cash registers being planned for early 2012. Given my experience related to not being able to pay by debit card for my purchases, she also committed to having at least one detachable pin pad at the stores until the big rollout six months after our conversation.
I popped into Winners this past weekend and picked up a top. Meandering around, I decided to go up to the mezzanine area on the ramp handily built for this purpose. At the top of the ramp, two displays of clothes were placed in such a way that a wheelchair or scooter would have to turn while still half on the ramp. This is not very safe. This is actually very unsafe.
Sighing deeply, I decided to take it as a sign that I was done shopping and proceeded to the front to pay for my purchase. At which time this happened:
I stand in line for a little while, then move up to the cash. Because I'm a suspicious bitch, I cast a critical eye on the pin pad and notice it looks really solid.
I ask the cashier if the pin pad is detachable.
She says it isn't.
I ask if any of there are any detachable pin pads.
She asks a senior staff at the next cash register and tells me that, alas, there isn't.
Smoke starts coming out my ears.
I consider leaving the tops, but remember that very shortly after last summer's conversation with Charmaine, the detachable pin pad in the jewelry area got a much longer cord. And I do like the top and want to keep it.
I go to the jewelry area.
I wait for a really long time but while the only sales rep on duty serves another customer.
I hand her the top and indicate I would like to buy it.
Sales rep asks if there was a long line at the front, looking like she's about to tell me she's not going to let me pay at her counter.
I explain the problem and she tells me that she can sell it to me, but since she sells jewelry and not clothes, she doesn't have the thing he that removes the antitheft device in the top, so I'll have to return to the front to get that removed before leaving the store.
I sigh deeply enough that the jewelry case rattles.
I pay for the top.I return to the front and wait in line.
When it's my turn, I am served by the more senior staff. She apologizes for the inconvenience, explaining that they are due to detachable pin pads on all checkouts.
I bitterly mumble something about how this was supposed to happen 8 months ago.
I leave, fuming.
Yet again, has taken me approximately 4 times as long to pay as an able-bodied customer would. The appropriate way to deal with this would be for the clerk to remove the antitheft devices in the clothing and take me to the accessible pin pad, to cut way down on how much extra work went into me paying for my item. One calls me the most is that I have gone through this before and the company made a commitment to fix it. Why do I have the same problem paying that I did a year ago?
Moving onto Metro. They responded beautifully to my complaint about the accessibility isues in my local store. Implementation of the corrections went very well in terms of the anti-theft gate and mostly well in terms of the accessible checkouts (the commitment was for one of them to be staffed at all times, i.e., 24 hours a day). I usually do my shopping in the morning and early afternoon and more often than not these checkouts are staffed. Every now and again when there is no cashier on one of these, I'll pay at the Information desk and a usually told that the person is on break. I always wonder, usually to myself, why they don't make sure someone else covers this break, as there are only two accessible checkouts, but since they’re staffed more often than not, I’ve let it slide.
In the last two months or so, I've noticed that the two accessible checkouts are staffed less and less often. I initially wondered if I always came at someone's break, but it has been about 40-60% of the time, any time between 10 AM and 2:30 PM. I may be a suspicious bitch (see above), but it has not yet occurred to me that they keep an eye out for me entering the store and immediately remove people from the accessible checkouts. Y’know, just to mess with me.
I’ve been waiting to bump into the manager and a couple of days ago, I did. I explained the situation, he suggested that maybe it was due to people being on break, I explained the situation some more. He promised to look into it, commenting that they always opened at 9 AM.
Because apparently people with disabilities don’t shop before 9 AM?
I also recently needed a prescription filled and decided to try the Metro pharmacy. I handed over my prescription and placed myself by the lovely cutout in the counter designed for people to have a seat while they wait. As I perpetually bring my own seat, I just pushed their chair out of the way. After about 10 minutes, something occurred to me.
"Is the pin pad detachable?" I asked, nodding at the item in question located on top of the pharmacy counter. The counter that is about the same height as the top of my head. It wasn't.
Because apparently people with disabilities don’t buy medication? Or is it assumed that we’re all on social assistance and get a drug card? I'm not sure which assumption is more offensive.
(Let me clarify that there is nothing offensive about receiving social assistance because you have a disability. What is offensive is able-bodied people assuming everyone with a disability are)
Shortly after that experience, I ran into another of the managers and he promised it would be faxed. I should go check if it's happened.
These two examples illustrate what accessibility is. Physical design is not enough. Accessible features in the built environment must be supported with accessible policies and practices. You can have as many ramps, braille buttons and visible fire alarms as you want, but if your staff are not trained to serve customers with disabilities as well the able-bodied, you are not accessible. Having accessible checkouts doesn't work if they aren’t staffed. Having a ramp doesn't work if it is blocked by displays. Understanding that your pin pads need to be detachable to meet the customer service regulations of AODA isn't enough if you don't actually install them. Not training your staff to know where the detachable pin pad is and act accordingly means you might as well hang a sign on your front door saying "we don't want people with disabilities as our customers."
And that's what it comes down to: loss of business. If you make your store accessible, the 15% of the population who have a disability - a number which will only go up, by the way, as the baby boomers age – will shop there. This means your profits increase. If you discriminate against people with disabilities, we won't shop in your store. And sometimes, neither will the family and friends we tell about our experience.
It is up to you. Be accessible and make money. Discriminate and lose business.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
For the past few weeks, I have been immersed in Being Human: The Complete First Season, a wonderful little British series about three roommates who happen to be a vampire, werewolf, and a ghost. I’ve been
nagging encouraging everyone I
know to watch this series, not just because of how good it is, but also because
I need to talk to people about it! I'm so delighted with having found this gem
that keeping my mouth shut about the details in order to not spoil it for
anyone is getting really, really hard. So. Go get it. You won’t regret it.
I love Being Human for many reasons, but mostly I think because of the questions it asks. Such as: What makes you a human being? How does human beings act and believe? What does it do to you when you do certain things that are viewed as unacceptable? What does it do to you if you tolerate such acts? How does it change you? Does it change you? What do you do to atone for it? And this is not in the Christian sense of atoning for sins, but in a deeper, humanistic understanding of right and wrong. The series tucks all these questions into some really solid entertainment that allows you to ignore the bigger questions if you so choose. Perfection.
But this post is not about Being Human, but more about being human. It's come about because of my choice of entertainment when I finished the third season of the British show and found that Netflix doesn't yet have Season 4. After a few moments of grieving this, I set about finding my next bit of Tb delight and settled on Damages: The Complete First Season. I've heard much about its excellence and know that Glenn Close is supposed to be amazing in it. So I queued it up and found it to be terribly addictive, so much so that I've watched two or three episodes a night.
And this is where it gets a little weird. Because I feel dirty.
Damages could not be more different from Being Human and please forgive me, there might be a spoiler or two in the next few paragraphs. The story is framed in a case against a billionaire named Arthur Frobisher who allegedly bankrupted 5000 of his employees by some nefarious corporate malfeasance. The employees have hired Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), a brilliant and ruthless lawyer. Ellen, a newly minted lawyer, has been hired by Hewes’ firm and is working on the case.
It took me a while to get over what Glenn Close has allowed a plastic surgeon to do to her face, but once I did, the story is fairly compelling. It cuts back and forth between the present when Ellene is talking to police about what happened before she discovered her fiancé murdered in their bathtub and in the six months before that following the progress of the case. And there is an astonishing amount of layers upon layers of duplicity and manipulation by both sides, all in the name of winning this case. Patty Hewes seems to be omniscient, always three steps ahead of everyone else and engages in some rather interesting tactics to get people to testify. For instance, she get someone to kill a dog, making it look as if it's done by the opponent so it's owner will be motivated to testify against Frobisher. And that's just one example. And this is all supposedly in the name of getting justice for 5000 employees who have lost all their savings.
And by the time I finished episode 7, I felt slimed. To the point where I felt that continuing to watch this series would somehow condone these actions. That accepting this as entertainment will somehow damage me.
Being Human is about people trying very, very hard to retain their humanity while their instincts (werewolf and vampire) push for something entirely different. Damages seems to be about people abandoning their humanity and reveling in something that comes pretty close to evil, while claiming it’s about justice. And maybe it's because I watched this two or three episodes a night instead of one per week, but I started to feel as if continuing to watch it means that I was tolerating or maybe even condoning this behavior and what does that say about me?
Where do you draw the line? What is justifiable and what isn't? I thought some more about this in relation to the Chick-A-fil craziness that's currently going on. On Friday, I read this post on Jezebel, which points out that fighting ant-gay bigotry with anti-fat bullying is just as bigoted and hateful (not to mention besides the point). I got pushed even more on this in a conversation on Facebook where a friend pointed out that the Jezebel post had some antireligious bigotry in it. I read it again and thought two things.
First, that if someone uses their religion to be bigoted and hateful whether in deciding who can rent an apartment or donating tons of money to anti-gay organizations, I am entitled to vehemently disagree with them and to point out that they are indeed a bigoted arse. And then I thought that the anti-religion point of view was pretty well hidden in the Jezebel post. In fact, I'm not sure that the post is against a particular religious view, but rather opposed to actions made in the name of that religion. In short, our discourse has changed and it now seems much more tolerable to be unfiltered and uncivil in a debate and I wish that were no longer the case. But here's a question: if certain statements qualify as hate speech, how tolerant should we be of that? If certain actions qualify as discrimination, how tolerant should we be of that?
Which brings me back to the questions asked in Being Human. What does it do to our humanity if you discriminate or say hateful things to others? What does it do to us when we tolerate such actions and statements? How vehemently should you oppose it? Can you oppose it with love and kindness? Are strong words or actions ever justified?
I don't have the answers, but I'm thinking about it. And this poem by George Eliot is keeping me company while I think.
(and I did finish Damages, although I'm pretty sure I won't go beyond Season 1)
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
I'm very excited to share this news. Today, RAHealthCentral has launched a new awareness campaign for RA called RA2day. It's got real potential to pull us all together and give a realistic view of what it's like to live with RA:
"What does your experience with RA look like today? Is it an intimidating pile of medication, a swollen joint or testing a new mobility aid? Is it playing with your kids in the backyard, getting back into a kayak or baking a cake? Are you having a good day or a bad one? What do you want the world to know about RA? What do you want others with the disease to know about what is possible?
We are excited to announce the launch of RA2day, an awareness campaign for rheumatoid arthritis! We hope that it will help increase knowledge about RA - what it is, what it isn't and what it can be."
You can read the rest of the launch post here and see my first RA2day post on the RAHealthCentral Facebook page here. Please join us in raising awareness about RA!
Monday, August 06, 2012
Friday, August 03, 2012
Dear Ambulatory and Ablebodied Public At Large,
Four years ago, I posted a guide to walking geared to assist the clueless perambulating public to not be an annoyance (or danger) to those who travel seated in wheelchairs and scooters. Recent events when I’ve been out and about have led me to believe that this is an appropriate time to revisit this issue. Herewith some helpful hints to navigate public spaces.
Say you're in a large downtown mall and on your travels come to significant grade change. In front of you are two choices: a perfectly lovely set of 3-4 steps and a ramp. Do try taking the steps instead of the ramp, which after all is designed for people who use wheeled contrivances. Should you have a chronic illness or pain issue, you should of course use the ramp. The able-bodied are also more than welcome to use the ramp, provided they do not block the access of people using mobility devices (it’s considered rude). And no. I don't believe that a herd of more than 20 people streaming down the ramp while two people in wheelchairs wait at the bottom like salmon about to swim upstream are all in possession of an invisible illness or disability.
If you are assisting someone in a manual wheelchair by being the person in charge of pushing said wheelchair, please think when you have to park them while waiting for e.g., an appointment in a busy clinic. Assume they’re a human being and try not to place them out of the way in a corner where they can't interact with you (unless that’s what they want). On the other hand, consider the environment and how others use it. Parking the chair in such a way that it obscures half of the entrance will only allow other able-bodied people to enter while blocking the way for those who use mobility devices, parents with strollers and delivery people.
Let's talk about texting. Cell phones themselves require some degree of etiquette in public spaces and it’s certainly a good idea to pay attention to your environment in order to avoid falling off a subway platform or accidentally meandering into traffic. Admittedly, it’s easier – or should be, anyway - to look at your surroundings when you're talking on the phone as opposed to texting. This is why I suggest that you take a moment to stand still on the outer or inner side of the sidewalk to complete your text while out of the way of other pedestrians. Walking while texting puts your fellow humans at risk of you walking into them. This is very uncomfortable and especially so for those of us who are seated. Also? It's just good manners to not require aforementioned seated individuals to be hypervigilant. It requires all of our attention to navigate the sidewalk full of people without having to also risk getting a crick in our neck looking up to check for those insane enough to text while walking.
This next one isn’t technically about walking, but is often done by those who are ambulatory, so we’ll squeeze it in anyway. Should you for some mysterious reason decide to ride your bicycle on a sidewalk as opposed to the side of the road, please do so slowly. Whizzing along at max speeds might be fun and get you where you need to go when you need to get there, but it’s bloody unnerving for the rest of us. There’s a reason they call it a sideWALK, y’know.
To summarize: pay attention and remember what your parents taught you about courtesy. A lot less people will be swearing in your wake.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
This week, I used National Tickling Month as a jumping off point to talk about how to get happy when you have a chronic illness:
"When you are in the midst of RA, with all that comes with it, can you still be happy? When you’re juggling pain, exhaustion, a dizzying amount of meds and doctor’s appointments and wondering what happened to your life, is there still room for joy?
You bet! It might not always be quite as effortless, but with practice, you can get into the habit of being happy. To mark the occasion of July being National Tickling Month, here are six steps to finding happiness with RA."
You can read the rest here.