By CAM TAIT, Edmonton Sun
Let me roll a few words at you: accessibility for people with disabilities.
Close your eyes for just a few seconds and what do you see? Perhaps, a ramp going up a building which has stairs. Maybe you see grab bars in a washroom cubicle. Or braille lettering and a friendly voice in a public elevator to inform people with visual disabilities.
Or, how about this: a listening device for people who have hearing loss to be able to communicate.
And, if you pictured any of those things, you’ve done a good job and need to be commended for having such vision.
But accessibility is … so much more than bricks and mortar. It’s so much more than private business owners installing a ramp, or accessible washrooms — first, in many times, viewed as a cost. But when they see, for themselves, some of their customers who are wheelchair users are, indeed, consumers, the word cost quickly fades away to investment.
Accessibility is so much more.
This is National AcessAbility Week, which ends Friday: a week that, frankly, I have been critical of because of its optics: that if we really want to include people with disabilities into communities, why then do we need a ‘special week’ to highlight and showcase disabilities.
I thought it was sort of contradictory.
But maybe it’s an age thing.
I now see a greater need for the week more than ever. Because with the aging population and medical advances, the numbers of Canadians with a disability is going to skyrocket as time rolls by. The world’s population, too, is expanding and, for everyone to have a fundamental opportunity — not so much to ask for, is it? — we’re going to have to ensure services and programs are adequately in place for people with a disability.
In doing so, we will be enabling people with a disability to proudly be members of the workforce and be taxpayers. Rather than tax recipients which, sadly, comes with a societal cast, often wrapped in pity and guilt.
Accessibility is attitude.
A pub owner who builds a ramp for customers using wheelchairs has to treat them as any other consumer — see that word again? — with dignity and respect.
Accessibility is so far-reaching.
Thursday the main lobby of City Hall hosted the Mayor’s Awards on accessibility. Business leaders, community groups and individuals were highlighted and properly saluted for their in their vision, leadership and, honestly, kindness for citizens with a disability.
They are community leaders and set a great example.
And, here in Alberta, there is a wonderful opportunity to boldly turn an important corner when the province, the first in Canada, when an advocate for people with disabilities is appointed later this summer.
The future is, indeed, bright.
But we need everyone to buy into accessibility — structurally and, more importantly, attitudinally.
As a person with a disability, I encourage everyone to re-examine their perception of accessibility for people with disabilities. If we collectively do that, the potential for everyone is endless.