(EDMONTON SUN – JUNE 30, 2018)
Talk about an early Canada Day present: having the City of Edmonton do a 180 U-turn on the Epark issue was the right thing to do.
The City issued word the week before last they were making changes to Epark parking stalls designated for people with disabilities. The free parking for folks with blue and white placards hanging from their rear-view mirrors, would end in July.
The decision echoed that the society we stumble around these days isn’t driven by compassion and understanding. It also exhibited greed — and targeting Edmontonians with disabilities, many of whom are on fixed incomes. An extra 10 bucks for parking now and then would tug even more on a tight budget.
To the city’s credit, administrators heard and read the reaction to their proposal. They did a spinnerama, and said free parking would remain.
Tait’s translation: they screwed up, but admitted it.
But perhaps there’s a bigger issue out there.
People with disabilities, for my liking, have become far too pacifistic. When that happens, services and programs have the potential of becoming eliminated because there isn’t enough push-back.
Admittedly, bringing out megaphones and organizing demonstrations wouldn’t work in 2018. That radical way of garnering attention for people with disabilities had its place in the 1960s and even the ’70s.
It worked. People with disabilities became consumers of programs and services to enhance and improve their quality of lives.
They still are. But somewhere along the way, the fundamental voice from people with disabilities advocating for better programs and services has faded away into a whisper.
Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King sums up the thesis of the issue when he said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
How profound.
It’s highly doubtful the City of Edmonton would have even consider re-jiggling the Epark issue if they realized they would come under such criticism. It would have never come to be if there was more of a watchdog presence from people with disabilities.
Now, that isn’t to say we create lobby groups and consider assuming a Big Brother philosophy.
But, any minority has to keep their foot on the gas to, ever so subtly, remind people they appreciate accommodations and how such concessions are essential for everyone to participate fully in the community.
And, perhaps most significantly, discussion with stakeholders is absolutely essential before any program and service is altered, let alone cut.
As a person with a disability, I encourage you to share your concerns with me on my website, We, the disabled community, need to be more vocal — not to create anger; but to make damn sure stories like the Epark doesn’t happen again.
We need to hold all three levels of government accountable.
We need to have a seat at the policy making table.
We need to show how, with the right support, anything can be accomplished.
If not? The hard work of the  tireless pioneers with disabilities will sadly be lost, and the ripple has the potential to be endless and damaging.
We need to strongly think about that this Canada Day. And every day.

 Cam Tait of Edmonton is a columnist with the Edmonton Sun, the special project advisor for Challenge Insurance and the community content coordinator for the Oilers Entertainment Group. He began his newspaper career in 1979 as a reporter and columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Cam has cerebral palsy and has made connections with disability groups around the world through his writing, speaking, volunteerism and comedy. He wrote extensively about people with disabilities and spoke to countless groups on disability, volunteerism, and in 1995, he competed nationally in 1995 for Canada’s Funniest New Comic and in 2015 published his autobiography, “Disabled? Hell NO! I’m a Sit-Down Comic”.  Cam has been a member of the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities since 2014 and currently serves as vice-chair. He is also a member of the Lieutenant Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Addictions. Cam has honorary degrees from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and MacEwan University.

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