Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Your Accessibility Conscience

People with Disabilities Aren’t Quite ‘Out from Under’

Filed under: Advocacy, Living with a disability, Vancouver Winter Games — by Glenda at 5:10 pm on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Out From Under exhibition sign Presented as part of the Cultural Olympiad, Kickstart Disability arts & culture is hosting the groundbreaking exhibition “Out From Under: Disability, History & Things” that pays tribute to “the resilience, creativity and cultural contributions of Canadians with disabilities”. The exhibition is on now until Sunday, March 21st at the University of British Columbia’s Robson Square campus.

Darrell and I took in this display while at Robson Square for the Paralympic Torch Relay. I found the display to be a sobering reminder of people with disabilities were treated or, more accurately, mistreated in the not so distant past.

I found the display case with three shovels to be most jarring. The written explanation read:

Every object has a history. And every history has some relationship to disability. One simply needs to dig for it a little.

Take the ordinary shovel.

Shovels have been used in conditions of forced institutional labour and to bury disabled people in unmarked graves.

Fancy shovels with commemorative plaques have been used at sod-turning ceremonies for rehabilitation facilities, as a way of recognizing charitable benefactors.

Shovels adapted for accessibility today enable disabled people living freely in

communities to do whatever garden or yard work they choose.

As disabled people find and claim their power, they take hold of the tools once used to push them under.

(From: The exhibition text)

The ordinary shovel was accompanied by a photo of the mass grave site at the Woodlands School in New Westminster. That could have been my fate had my parents listened to the medical professionals and had institutionalized me because I “wouldn’t amount to anything”. Chilling!

Ironically, after viewing this historical display of how people with disabilities have struggled to overcome oppression, I had to wait for an UBC employee to unlock the wheelchair washroom. The men’s and women’s washrooms were unlocked, but the wheelchair accessible washroom required a key. WTF? I couldn’t believe it! What happened to freedom and independence when I need to wait for someone to come to unlock the door so that I can pee?

However, this was nothing compared to what it took for one of the exhibition’s curator and disability rights activist Catherine Frazee to travel from Toronto to Vancouver to be at the show during the Paralympics. Unable to fly due to her disability, Catherine decided to spend four days and nights to travel by train; historically the railway united the country and she was looking forward to experiencing that part of Canadian history.

But Via Rail insisted Catherine and her customized wheelchair had to travel separately; not a possibility for her. Catherine and her assistant/life partner were forced to drive down to Chicago to board the Amtrak with an accessible sleeping car  to travel to Seattle and rent a van to get to Vancouver. 

Can you imagine denying Canada’s top disability rights activist the use of her wheelchair when traveling by train?

Perhaps a wheelchair accessible washroom key and a Via Rail ticket will be added to the “Out From Under” exhibition years from now.

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a cafe mocha. Thanks kindly.

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  1. A Look Back at Disability History: Canadian and American Museum Exhibits | ChildRC.com Blog

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