Saturday, August 9, 2008

Memories of Montreal

My time in Montreal was both good and bad. I mean, partying every night with Lenny, Nora, Kim Aaron & Sarah was great and fun! And, finding out that I had inspired a young boy named Liam, who, like me, had CP and was an AAC User, to become an artist felt fantastic!

His mother explained to me that Liam had always liked to paint but decided to quit because he didn't feel that his work was as good as other kids'. However, when Liam saw me doing a painting demonstration, 2 years ago at the ICE (Independence Community Empowerment) conference, it instilled in him a desire to try painting again. In fact, since then, Liam paints every day, sometimes for hours at a time!

Isn't that a fantastic story?! I feel so overwhelmed that I, little ol' Anne Abbott, actually inspired somebody to stretch their artistic inclinations.

And that, my dear readers leads me to compare this wonderful story to the not so great stuff that happened during the conference.

Why is it that in recent months I've gone to 2 different conferences, both focusing on empowering people with disabilities and providing them with a better quality of life - and yet, the people running these conferences seem to be doing everything in their power to dissuade people with disabilities from coming and having their say.

I was fortunate. My hotel, transportation, and registration were all paid for, and I got a small honourarium for being part of 2 presentations. However, my friend Aaron, although he had friends who paid for his hotel and transportation, didn't have any funding to pay for the conference registration fees. He was told it would be $120.00 for the whole 6 days, but then he got there and he was told no, no, it's $180.00 a day! What person with a disability, who lives on the meagre amount that we receive from ODSP each month, could afford $180.00 a day? It's ridiculous!

And then, Aaron got a ticket to the "President's Reception", a special event with drinks, hors deurvs, and mingling. Great, right? Sure, except that Aaron needed his attendant (Sarah) to go in with him and help him eat. They said, no, no, your attendant needs to pay $60.00 to get into the reception. They seemed very firm upon this point, until Lenny & I yelled out how discriminating it was! Trains and buses let attendants ride for free or at reduced cost, because they know the importance of an attendant to a person with a disability. Recently, in Canada, it became law that attendants could fly free, on domestic flights, so the person with a disability wouldn't have the extra burden of paying for an extra ticket.

Yes, I know, conferences are now saying that it's difficult, financially, to do things like they used to. I say nonsense! Re-think your strageties! Nothing is set in stone. Maybe choose cheaper hotels, ask the vendors to pay a slightly higher price to show their wares, have a sliding scale for people on ODSP or little money.

My point is, people with disabilities, about whom these conferences centre around, should be encouraged to participate not discouraged. I want to inspire other people with my art, and I want to get inspired by them. This is what conferences should be: an exchange of ideas - an accessible exchange of ideas!

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