Resignation from County of Brant AAC Over Systemic Discrimination/Para Transit Scheme
I’m going to start this article with a PostScript: Within the past month, three of us serving on the Accessibility Advisory Committee have resigned, including the Chair, because of the systemic discrimination against people with disabilities. The resignations represent half of the Accessibility Advisory Committee.
December 10, 2012
To: Paul Emerson, Mayor Ron Eddy, members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, County Council, and People with Disabilities in the county of Brant
I am a disability rights advocate. I am an AODA consultant. I am an accessible document design professional. I am a Canadian delegate to two International Standards Committees determining the international standards for Accessible documents. I am dedicated to an inclusive society.
I have offered my skills and knowledge to the municipality I chose to live in and make my home. I’ve done this as part of what I believe is a civic duty to give back to the community I live in.
I am fortunate to have created a respected business with these skills and abilities and it is clear from statements made by staff and elected officials that these skills and abilities are not recognized, wanted or respected.
Moving to a more rural community had always been a dream of mine. I thought that, as a person with a disability, I wouldn’t have that opportunity. Coming from cities like London Ontario, Ottawa, Windsor and Oakville where public transit was available the only reason I was able to move to Paris was the affordable Para transit support. (As of February 1, 2013 we no longer have affordable Para transit.)
It saddened me to discover that the institutional and attitudinal discrimination against people with disabilities is at a level that I, as a person with a disability, have not encountered in decades and is, in turn, contributing to environmental discrimination.
The intentional violation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Customer Service Standards and the Integrated Accessibility Standards continue to be a profound embarrassment when I talk with and work with provincial, national and international municipalities and organizations to embrace inclusion and people with disabilities.
Other municipalities are embracing the basic and human rights of people with disabilities enhanced by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its subsequent standards. The County of Brant appears to be determined to ferret us out and get us to move somewhere else or imprison us in our homes.
The former Chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee resigned when a Counsellor stated that if people with disabilities wanted to go to work or shopping under one of the variants of the staff transportation scheme, that they “can call an ambulance.” As a community member on the dissolved then resurrected ad hoc specialized transportation service committee He had heard enough of people with disabilities being talked about without dignity and respect. That was his “last straw.”
Throughout the process of redefining specialized transportation service in the County of Brant that began with the allegations that “people with disabilities were abusing a specialized transportation service by going shopping and participating in their community” it has been clear that the County wants to eliminate Para transit. Those of us with disabilities have been told “we don’t have to do this (Para transit). It is done out of the goodness of our hearts, as a gift, and we can take it away any time we want.” This was the standard response for every challenge and question of the proposed transportation schemes.
This intimidation and bullying technique escalated at the December 3, 2012 Community Services meeting when the following question was asked by a Counsellor: “if someone files an Ontario Human Rights complaint, can we stop the service?” To my astonishment, the response was yes. This was confirmed by staff and through discussion, was agreed upon as an option for the County.
Those of us with disabilities were clearly warned that if one of us challenged the unaffordable transportation scheme through an Ontario Human Rights complaint, that we would be responsible for the elimination of Para transit for everyone.
The question should have been framed “Have we done all that we can to ensure that we’ve complied with all human rights law and the Integrated Accessibility Standards?”
The open defiance of basic and protected human rights for those of us with disabilities, was my “last straw.”
In his statements during the Community Services meeting of December 3, 2012, the Mayor was correct about the dissolved then resurrected ad hoc specialized transportation service committee not fulfilling its mandate.
The ad hoc committee was presented with a staff recommended transportation scheme that intentionally violated the Integrated Accessibility Standards and was designed to be punitive. The committee was NOT allowed to challenge the recommendations or develop it’s own recommendation.
Staff decided that there was no need for a needs analysis. People with disabilities were not invited to be part of the process through public meetings nor were they invited to attend any of the ad hoc committee meetings. No details of any of the staff recommended schemes were ever presented publically to people with disabilities for comment.
Community members on the ad hoc committee were repeatedly told that if we didn’t approve the staff recommendation that there would be no specialized transportation service/Para transit.
That is the flaw in the process. As a committee, excluding staff, we were not permitted to develop an accessible, affordable and sustainable specialized transportation service. We were consistently told that our choice was the staff recommendation or nothing.
The transportation scheme approved on the 20th anniversary of the United Nations International Day for People with disabilities is focused on doing something “to” people with disabilities rather than doing something with or for people with disabilities.
I believe that the County of Brant owes people with disabilities a sincere and very public apology for the way we have been referred to and treated throughout this entire process and for the violation of our basic and protected human rights.
To be perfectly clear: The failure of the ad hoc specialized transportation service committee was not the fault of the community members.
It is with profound sadness and equally profound embarrassment for my municipality that I submit my resignation from the Accessibility Advisory Committee.
Those of us with disabilities serving on the Accessibility Advisory Committee bring dedication, skill and experience to the table. Without being treated with dignity and respect, we are ineffective in helping our municipality move toward an inclusive society.
If, at some point in the future people with disabilities are embraced as equals and included in the community with their basic and protected human rights, I would be pleased to serve on this committee again.
Karen McCall, M.Ed.