Calling BS on CNE Entry Fees for People with Disabilities
Isn’t that nice of me? Instead of swearing in the title of my post, I tried to be a bit more polite. I suspect swearing will come later.
This year The Ex, the affectionate nickname for the annual Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, will cease a previous policy of free admission for people with disabilities and they will now be charged the regular amount ($18 for adults). According to the CNE General Manager Virginia Ludy, this decision was made in an effort to show “respect, treating persons with disabilities with dignity, independence, equality of access and inclusion.”
And this is where I started swearing.
Treating people with disabilities with dignity and independence? Equality of access and inclusion?
A very high number of people with disabilities rely on a social assistance program called Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The base amount of the ODSP is $800 a month, which may increase somewhat depending on whether the individual needs funding for medical supplies or a special diet.
$800. Even if the person lives in a subsidized or rent geared to income apartment, that’s not a lot of money. The rising cost of food is not reflected in this amount, neither is a need for over-the-counter drugs, pet food, transportation (a bus/subway ticket is $3.35 for a one-way ticket), and all the other expenses of daily living. Most people with disabilities I know barely make it through the month. Many rely on food banks.
For many, finding $18 for a CNE ticket is not going to happen unless they take money from something else. Something else that is necessary because ODSP does not allow for someone to buy frivolous things. By ending the policy of allowing people with disabilities free access to The Ex, the Canadian National Exhibition will in fact be placing a barrier to equality of access that will exclude people with disabilities from participating in a time-honoured tradition of going to the fair at the end of summer.
This is not about equality, it’s about equity. The difference is brilliantly illustrated in this image from the Interaction Institute for Social Change (Artist: Angus Maguire).
When you treat people equally, not everyone gets to see the game or go to the fair. When you approach removing barriers from an equity perspective, everyone gets to go. Apparently the CNE does not understand this. (Of course they do. Any major organization does)
The rate of unemployment among people with disabilities is 50 percent. FIFTY PERCENT! When you add underemployment to the mix, we are looking at approximately 80 percent of people with disabilities either not having a job or not being able to find a job that pays a decent amount. We face numerous barriers to participation in everyday life — physical, attitudinal, and financial.
In addition to the smokescreen about how this is really about creating more equal access and inclusion, Ludy also defends this change in policy by mentioning that other major Toronto attractions charge regular prices for people with disabilities. Defending creating a barrier to equal participation by saying that someone else does it, too, is not a good reason. The Toronto Zoo charges half-price for a visitor who has a disability. Apparently, it was not convenient for the CNE to model their policy change after the Zoo.
Here’s the thing… The CNE is completely within their rights to do whatever they want with their entry fees. Would it be nice if they acknowledged the financial barriers to participation in the fair experience by people with disabilities and reflected this in the entry fee? Absolutely. Do they have to do this? No, they don’t.
Well, I actually feel that all major attractions ought to adjust pricing for people with disabilities, but that is my opinion and unfortunately, I don’t have the power to make them. ‘Scuse the sidetrack.
The problem with this story is the hypocrisy of the GM of the CNE claiming that creating this financial barrier is something they do for the benefit of people with disabilities. That it will create more equal access, independence, and that it is more dignified. And oh yes, that it will be more inclusive.
And that, my dear readers, is bullshit. Pure unadulterated bullshit.
Update, July 7, 2016: after strong reaction in the community and the media, the CNE has reversed their position and will continue to enable people with disabilities to get in for free. They will also all public consultations on their admissions policy and prices. This is proof that advocating and sharing your opinion can result in a win.