Monday, May 27, 2024

A Double Header Kind of a Day


May 13th was a double header kind of a day for me.

First of all, it would have been Rob’s 61st birthday today.  That was hard for me, because I miss him so much. Days like this overwhelm me with sadness and reflections of our past together. Besides my mother, Rob knew me the best and loved the very bones of me!

Because of this, I felt like cancelling out on going to the Ontario Court of Justice today, where I was supposed to give a critique of the building and the attitudes of its workers, from the viewpoint of a person who was nonverbal and physically disabled. 

However, I didn’t cancel out on this important opportunity.

There were other people who came to share their opinions as well. Some had different types of disabilities, while others were representing the Court of Justice. We were all there, though, voicing our opinions on how to make improvements to how things were within the building.

The automatic doors, by which to enter and exit, were laughable. To enter the building, there were double doors, but only one door opened;  someone else had to manually open the other one.  This made it difficult to wheel my chair inside. When I went through the first set of doors, the second set had the same problem. Not only that, but a button had to be pressed to open the door, and there was a time limit on how long it would stay open.  I mentioned to the coordinator that if I had been by myself, without my PSW/communication facilitator, I might not have been able to go through the doorway before it closed.

Once inside, we were all expected to go through a security checkpoint, which meant showing the guards our possessions, such as our I.D.’s, bags etc.  For many people who use wheelchairs, such as myself, we tend to securely attach our bags to different sections of our chairs so they don’t fall off, and the things that are important to us don’t get stolen. Providing my I.D. was simple, because I always carry it around my waist, inside of my fanny pack. However, I was unable to put my duffel bag and briefcase into the examination box (or whatever it’s called) because they were tied up too tightly.  So, the security guards waved their  electronic wands over everything and seemed satisfied that I wasn’t carrying a bomb or anything.

After that, we went to the information desk to ask where we could find the washrooms and elevators. The woman behind the desk answered those questions easily.  However, when one person in my group, who had issues with anxiety and was unable to read, asked her 1) were there any other places from which to get information other than the intensely noisy area that we were currently in, and 2) were there any sort of signage that had symbols instead of words, she looked blankly at him and said she didn’t know how to answer either of his questions.

I then asked my own question for the woman behind the desk. I explained that sometimes I went to places on my own, without a communication assist me. There have been many, many people who have picked up on how to read my communication board easily.  Did she think that she, or any of her colleagues, would be able to communicate with me, one on one?  Flustered, she said that she didn’t know.  She had just started working at the court.

Discouraged upon seeing the lack of knowledge and training that this new person received regarding the needs of people with disabilities, I continued onwards with my group to check out how accessible the washrooms were.

Ridiculously, there were double doors just to get into the hallway where several washrooms were situated.  Mentally, I groaned and rolled my eyes at how, once again, obstacles were being placed in our way.  And, like the doors at the main entrance, I wondered why they couldn’t have fully automated ones, the kind hospitals, grocery and drug stores have, where they simply slide open, without having to press a time sensitive button.

I won’t say much about the accessible washrooms, because I rarely use any when I go out for the day.  I will say, though, that it was incredibly roomy, especially since there was only one toilet in the room!

After this, a man escorted us up to the 4th floor, via one of the elevators, so we could take an actual look at one of the courtrooms.

I can’t remember what his name was or what position he held, but he seemed nice - that is, until he began talking about me in the third person to my communication facilitator! With the help of my communication facilitator, I spelled out to the man that I’d  prefer it if he’d please talk directly to me.  He seemed taken aback, and then, suitably embarrassed.  I smiled at him to show him that there were no hard feelings.  Inside, however, I was very disappointed and saddened. 

When we went into one of the courtrooms, I was truly shocked by how small and cramped the space was. I tried to envision myself sitting on the witness stand or in the jury box. It sure didn’t look like a scene from Law and Order! It was odd, because I had been in another court room about 13 years ago and it had been much larger and roomier.

After that, we all dispersed and went our separate ways. 

I went home and, in honour of Rob, I had Swiss Chalet and Crown Royal. I drank to his memory, this wonderful man who loved me for the person I am and saw past my disability!

I also drank in anger and frustration over what I had experienced that day. I thought about my age (I’m 65) and wonder if anything would ever change in how society views people with disabilities. Will there ever be a time when things would be  truly accessible and for people to understand that just because I’m non verbal doesn’t mean I don’t have a brain in my skull? I’ve been on this earth for 65 years, and I, and people like me, have been fighting for our rights and to open up peoples eyes. It’s often very frustrating, but what can I do except go on committees and love my life? I honestly think that by going out into the world and showing people who I am as a person is the best way to change the world. I can only try, anyway. 

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