Thursday, December 9, 2010

What century is this?

I have spent hours on the phone trying to organize the zoning of a handicap parking space across the street from my children's school. I have also decided to request a handicap parking space be placed on the street in front of my house. I finally realized that I can no longer manage to park my car on my own street if I can't park where the boulevard has been shoveled. Trying to walk through shin high snow means subjecting myself each time to the possibility of falling and then having to crawl the rest of the way home because I can't get back up on my own.

Handicap parking spots take up more room than what I actually need, and I haven't wanted take space away from my neighbors to park but it has come to a point where I will have to apply to change the zoning in front of my house as I have a neighbor who moved in this past summer and she and her family don't seem to understand that by parking in front of my house. My husband shovels the boulevard in front of our house. She has unknowingly created a situation that causes me frustration and anxiety each time I come home because I am convinced that there won't be anywhere accessible to park where I can get up the curb without trying to climb a mound of snow.

This realization came a few week ago when the City announced that it would be sending out snow plows to clear the residential streets, which means that there is a parking ban between certain hours. That evening my neighbors van was parked in front of my house and unfortunately the bulldozers came early. The parking ban wasn't until midnight but the bulldozers started early. They plowed around my neighbors van and in doing so they left a huge mound of snow all around her vehicle. She was able to drive through it and I was also able to drive through it too.

But because of that mound of snow I now struggle to get up and out of the drivers seat because the ground is elevated where I step out of the car. I have to lean my head against the side of the door to push and pull myself into a standing position. This is a new problem and I have realized that I am finding it harder to do a lot of the simple things that able bodied people wouldn't give a thought to.

And now here is where the by-laws, and access policies in my City suck the big one. After putting in an application for the two handicap parking spots, one for my children's school and one for the front of my house, I was phoned by someone working for City Parking to discuss applying for a loading zone. I said that there must be some mistake as I don't need a loading zone, I want to be able to park at my children's school so that I can continue to volunteer there occasionally. I want to park in front of my house where I can walk the shortest distance, especially in the winter when it is bitterly cold, and where even a gust of winds can blow me over.

Unfortunately a handicap loading zone must be implemented for a certain length of time before an actual parking spot will be considered. As Henry, the nice fellow from the City informed me that if I had a loading zone in front of my house then I would be able to make brief stops at home and then go and drive somewhere multiple times throughout the day in order to avoid being ticketed for parking too long in a loading zone in front of my house.

Of course it doesn't make any sense at all. The purpose of a handicap loading zone is for people with disabilities who are picked up and dropped off by either Handi-transit or family and friends.

There seems to be no comprehension of the realities and complexities of persons with disabilities within any of the government departments that I have dealt with so far. The idea that every person with a disability is chauffeured from one place to another is completely unrealistic and profoundly sad, at least to me, because the right to equal access and opportunities is legislated and yet it isn't enforced.

What happens when the main caregiver of a family is the person with a disability? Aside from driving my children to school, and lessons and to friends house, she is also likely to be the one to work at home for the most hours out of everyone in the household. I clean the house, prepare the breakfasts, lunches and dinners (although admittedly I try to avoid making dinner when ever possible), puts away every one's laundry, works on one or two volunteer committees, schedules doctors and dental appointments for the children and herself. Especially for herself, since she has a disability. And then what if she also has an art practice, as in a whole other job, actually a profession that she also needs to work on in between everything else?

So, in what way would a loading zone work for me?

And yet the rule is that before a handicap parking space can be implemented a handicap loading zone must be put in place first. And of course after having a loading zone for who knows how long you are informed by the Parking Overlords that you are deserving of a handicap parking space to be installed on the street in front of your very own home, you will then be allowed a four hour parking limit, in front of your house.

When I spoke with the friendly fellow, Henry, who's job it is to take care of any disability issues related to city parking I asked "Do you mean I cannot park in front of my house for a 24 hour period or 48 hour period"? No. But as Henry said "you can just go and run some errands" multiple times a day every fucking day of the year.

To be fair Henry is a nice guy and he doesn't act like your typical bureaucrat. He seems genuinely interested in finding solutions. But he has a livelihood to make and because he cannot do anything else he offers me two phone numbers. The first contact number is with the City's Street Engineer and the second is with the City's accessibility coordinator. My thinking at the time was that the Street Engineers hands would be tied until the regulations have been changed. I called the head of Accessibility for the City and I left her a message. Ten days ago.


Eleven days later, as the kids and I are racing around the house trying to get dressed and out the door for school, the Accessibility Coordinator phoned me! We have a good conversation, although would she didn't know that applying for handicap parking was a year and two month process, that an assessment would be made first to confirm whether or not there was a genuine need for a handicap parking space on my street or in front of my children's school and that assuming the assessment showed a need for zoning then it would be up to a year before the signage would be put in place for a handicap parking space to even exist.

I also told her that my children's school turned down my request for railings to be put up on the exterior stairs and that I was turned down because there are only three stairs and therefore the school division and in fact my entire City can continue to say no to placing railings on stairs if there is only a minimal amount.

I have a degree from the faculty of architecture in interior design, and even as a student I couldn't help wondering what the difference was between having three steps and having five steps which would then mandate that a railing be installed.

And I am still wondering what the difference is. What it comes down to is that there is no difference at all, except that someone arbitrarily decided that although a stair is a stair is a stair, a railing is probably more of a safety feature meant for keeping people from falling over the edge of a staircase as opposed to being there to also help people get up the steps.

What century is this?

Am I living in a developing nation where the challenges are so much more significantly basic such as clean water, access to medical treatment and to medication, equal rights for men and women?

Perhaps I am living in such a nation. I live in a province that does not provide clean water for everyone, does not provide equal access to a decent education and a government that only listens to people with strong voices and the energy to pursue change.

I am not equal. I am not equal because I have a disability, I am a woman, I am a mother and I have the audacity to question authority as to why we are still living in a place too racist, too cheap and too afraid of spending money to improve the quality of its people. It's so much easier to spend our citizens taxes on building bigger and better arenas and stadiums which boosts the image of our City as growing and thriving. It's easier to create public campaigns that say we have a great city and that we are tough on crime rather than making a great city and addressing the reasons why our crime rate is so high in the first place.

It is easier to build a National Human Rights museum in this City than to actually improve human rights in this City. It is so much easier to offer rhetoric than it is to solve the highest rate of child poverty in the entire country. And it is far too easy to deny human rights for people with disabilities because most of the time we are too busy trying to live our lives as best we can, picking up the pieces after each illness, each surgery, each time we are denied our right to participate in society because there is no where to park our cars, or walk up the steps, or find an entrance that is wheelchair accessible, because no one thought that signage was necessary. It's easy to over look an entire culture of people (those with disabilities) when so few have the energy and means necessary to demand something better from their city.

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