I don’t just want to be an advocate, I want to help redefine what that means.
ad•vo•cate – noun ?ad-v?-k?t, -?k?t
: one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
: one that supports or promotes the interests of another
: to plead in favor of
If your company, store, restaurant, or other business or organization would like guidance, tips, an accessibility audit, or for me to speak to members of staff, management, or other team members, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy to discuss reasonable rates and travel arrangements directly, rather than trying to book engagements through impersonal third-party representation. I’m frequently requested for speaking engagements, so I already have a myriad of topics covered, but I’m always delighted to personalize the topic to truly help it resonate for your specific needs.
I have been advocating for my rights as an individual with a disability since 1994, and since that time I’m proud to say that I’ve made some actual strides and differences.
In the community, in stores, in municipalities, and on an individual basis.
For starters, I’m that irritating person who will actually askpeople to move when they’re parked illegally in “our” parking spots. Failing that, yes, I will go inside the stores and have the offender paged. Should that not work, I’ll gladly call the cops and wait. Why?
Why, you ask, do I waste my time?
Because it’s not a waste. Because every little win is a victory for ALL of us.
I’m a proud expert in the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), as well as other laws protecting the disabled commmunity. I prefer working with businesses, organizations, and even individuals directly instead of inundating the legal system with civil lawsuits. Sure, my appoach isn’t the most profitable for me, but I’m certainly not mercenary when it comes to advocacy.
I’m trying to make a difference in the world… not just in my bank account.
I’m not afraid to speak up wherever I see rights and laws being violated: hospitals, shops, grocery and department stores, restaurants, and even the actions of whole cities.
Then, when those laws are actually put into action, individuals, business owners, and lawmakers are suddenly faced with the realities of legality. Quite often, they don’t like the fact that we (as persons with disabilities) have actual rights, enforceable by law or civil suit, and yes, we might just act upon them.
I believe it has nothing to do with melevolence toward our community, just a general lack of knowledge, a dislike of being called out on offences, and generations of beliefs that any efforts made to help the “handicapped,” have access to the community are done out of “courtesy,” or “kindness,” not legal requirement.
And they are also usually under the misconception that bringing their establishment or organization up to code is financially prohibitive. The cold, hard fact is that it’s going to cost a whole lot less to install grab bars in your washroom and build a ramp outside than getting sued and then STILL having to make the necessary changes.
As an added bonus, most provinces, states, and the US federal government all offer tax breaks, incentives, or even outright credits for increasing or maintaining accessibility. On top of that, the business has now also added an important demographic to their customer pool, so in short…
It pays to be accessible!
- I am proud to say that I’ve helped an entire city modify their festival permitting procedure to ensure accessibility.
- I have worked with several major department store branches to embrace access issues.
- I have worked with a major North American Fashion Week to ensure accessibility ad infinitum, and also trained hundreds of their workers and volunteers in sensitivity and other issues pertinent to the disabled community.
- I have worked with hospitals to ensure all rights were afforded to psychiatric patients who were previously deprived of guarenteed basic and civil rights.
- I have worked with several multi-billion-dollar corporations to embrace diversity in all locales. This includes, but is not limited to: comprehension of spiritual/religious piercings or tattoos, adhereing to a basic religious neutrality in the workplace, and other tenets of non-discrimination. My work has not always been popular with the general populous (many people like to feel powerful over minorities through mass intimidation), but I subscribe to the belief that, “What’s popular is not always right, and what’s right is not always popular.”
- I have worked with more restaurants, shops, and businesses than I can even begin to name here. I have also worked directly for persons with disabilities, victims of discrimination on the basis of sexual or gender orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, or any number of other concerns.
Sometimes the enforcement of our rights comes quietly, seemingly with welcomed arms. Some restauraneurs and business owners just don’t understand the nuances… but they genuinely try.
One example: I was at a local chain restaurant in New York state and the cubicle door in the women’s washroom swung inward, completely obliterating any wheelchair accessibility in the “Wheelchair Accessible” stall. I immediately spoke with the manager who assured me it would be remedied within 45 minutes. It wasn’t, so I was forced to use the men’s room (which was perfectly accessible). I checked back in the next day, but the manager told me the repairman had been delayed. Undaunted, I told him I would be back the very next day. Apparently, my message came across, and when I returned the next day, the door swung outward, and I could finally use the women’s washroom.
Unfortunately, there are other times where ignorance rears its ugly head, and I’m forced to escalate to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Another example: While in the D.C. metro area several years ago, my friends and I decided to visit a local ‘pancake’ chain restaurant for a fun supper. When I went into the ladies’ washroom, I could not get into the otherwise accessible “handicapped”-labelled cubicle because of an inward-swinging door on the stall. (This is a frequent problem, along with trash receptacles blocking the roll-under sink, the soap being too high, etc.) As usual, I approached the manager with my concern. Instead of being helpful, hopeful, or even apologetic, he became hostile. He threatened me and my friends for being “troublemakers,” because I explained the error of his logic: he said that the door swung inward deliberately so it didn’t inconvenience women in the main part of the bathroom. I explained to him that was NOT a valid excuse for depriving disabled individuals the right to use the facilities, and then brought out a copy of Title III of the ADA to show him. After I recited the exact specifications and showed him the diagram, he became enraged, screamed in my face, spattering me and my clothes with his foamed spittle, threatened to hit hit me, and then threatened to call the police. I encouraged him to do so.
Needless to say, the police were on my side, and my friends and I left. When I called the corporate office with my scenario, they sent me hundreds of dollars in gift cards for their franchise. Naturally, since I have never been back to any branch of the ‘international’ pancake chain, I donated all of the gift cards.
I hope they were used in earnest.
Two scenarios; the same infraction. Very, very different reactions, but I held fast and got the same result: in both cases, the door was fixed.
These are both small examples of what I do on a daily basis.