Category Archives: advocacy

Take it all the way to the Bank

Sometimes, it pays to persevere. For years, I and other individuals have requested, pleaded with, and even demanded that the Halifax Shopping Center branch of  RBC (formerly known as Royal Bank of Canada) install an audible  banking machine. This branch has gone through several managers over the years, and all were less than responsive to the suggestion that accessibility  in banking would be “a good thing” (to borrow a line from Martha Stewart). The branch  went through a major retrofit last year, (INCLUDING INSTALLATION OF A NEW BANKING MACHINE), and despite reminders to the deadheads in charge of the dough (AKA the last manager) to order and include an audible machine, the branch ended up putting in a new, regular INACCESSIBLE machine. People who can’t see the keypad and display, cannot use it for quick, everyday banking, like other bank patrons. Instead, our options included going to the stand-up tellers while trying to juggle papers, guide dogs and privacy, or the grim death march-like wait with the ‘seniors’ at the sit-down service. The latter is the default choice of most blind people who bank alone.  Many a time, I have sat…and sat, and waited for my turn to come. It  irritated me beyond belief to wait endlessly for the privilege of depositing money into the coffers of an already obscenely profitable bank. Tic-toc! My time is valuable too! And to boot, any blind person in need of cash or depositing funds to cover bills etc after banking hours? was screwed! So one day, as I sat vacantly at  the ‘sit down’ service,  eavesdropping on some old geek’s long winded  financial and personal history (in excruciating minutia) , the new branch manager came over to introduce herself. A big sigh went off  in my head, but a cordial greeting coming out my mouth…and within  two minutes, I redirected the conversation. I asked her if  we might open  the dialogue about accessibility problems with this RBC branch one more time.   Result?  Darlene, the new manager, just telephoned  to announce  (a mere three weeks or so after  I sent her a detailed e-mail  about  accessibility, Accommodation, rights and obligations blah, blah, blah), that the RBC Halifax Shopping Center branch will, by April, install AT LEAST THREE AUDIBLE BANKING MACHINES AT THE BRANCH ITSELF AND WITHIN THE MALL!

Now, I can  look forward to cruising  over to the mall at any time,  and being able to go the bank machine (the audible ones) , slip on my headphones, plug in, and listen to ‘bank guy’s’ voice croon his instructions to me, thereby allowing me to conduct transactions quickly….such as depositing my money…. into the coffers of an obscenely profitable bank. Nice going, though,  RBC. 

Remembering Rosa Parks Today

53 years ago today, just 19 days before my mother gave birth to me, she would have sat quietly with  bulging belly, and listened to a New York City station on the radio. (Mom loved to tune in New York City because of the great dance tunes). She would have heard the following item on the evening news report that night;

“A colored woman in Montgomery, Alabama was arrested by police today, after refusing to give up her seat to a white person. Mrs. Rosa Parks faces a fine for breaking the segregation law. It is not the first time that Mrs. Parks , a seamstress who works at the Montgomery Fair department store, has defied the law on segregation. In 1943 she was thrown off the bus for refusing to leave by the back door reserved for black passengers. She became known to drivers who then would refuse to let her on. Ironically, Mrs. Parks recognized James Burke today, as the same driver who threw her off the bus some 12 years ago. Mrs. Parks is a youth leader in a local branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Her husband, Raymond takes part in voter registration drives. The NAACP and Mrs. Parks have been  involved in raising money to help defend 15 year old, Claudette Colvin, removed from a bus earlier this year for a similar segregation law-related refusal.”

Five days later, (just two weeks before I entered the world) mom would have heard another related news story on her radio, about the thousands of black citizens of Alabama participating in an organized boycott. A young man, named Martin Luther King spoke to the crowds that night and urged them to continue with the boycott. Almost all of Montgomery’s 40 thousand black residents did so for 381 days, crippling the city’s transportation system and signaling the start of the modern civil rights movement in the United States. On December 20th of 1956 (my 1st birthday), the Supreme court upheld a lower court decision to end segregation on Alabama busses. Mrs. Parks was fired from her job and  then moved to Detroit in 1957 because of harassment. She worked for Democratic congressman, John Conyers until her retirement in 1985. Rosa Parks died in October of 2005.

One Seat, One Fare…Many Victorious

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected an application by Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, and Westjet for permission to appeal the new policy imposed by the Canadian Transportation Agency in January of this year.  The CTA  had issued an order to the airlines to adopt a policy of ‘one person, one fare’. In the past, passengers with disabilities and those that are deemed disabled because of obesity, could sometimes be charged two  fares if they required extra space to accommodate their wheelchair, stretcher, or if they required two seats because of their size or if someone required an attendant.  The airlines argued that the CTA order would cause “undue hardship” (implementing this directive would be too costly…the CTA did not buy it and suggested that costs would be recouped by charging an additional 79 cents per ticket).  The airlines will no longer be allowed to charge a second fare to accommodate anyone who requires two seats because of a disability or obesity. This only applies to flights within Canada.

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians president, Robin East, won a  victory complimentary to the “one seat, one fare” decision in a CTA ruling against Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz in June of 2008.  I know this man. He stands over 6 feet 2 inches tall. He travels a great deal…with his guide dog. He explained to me that sometimes, the airlines (Specifically Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz) would not provide him with adequate space for his guide dog when he traveled. (Airlines would  provide an extra seat (or bulkhead seating on Westjet) as a courtesy, only when the flight was not sold out. (I have flown at least once on all three airlines with Opal. Twice I got the extra seat, once I did not. The time I did not? Not too comfy for us…and I’m 5’2″)  Often, Robin would end up scrunched into a center section seat with his dog wedged between his legs, sometimes for hours. This is a horrendous hardship on the dog, the handler and the adjacent passengers don’t care for it much either).  As a result of the ruling, these airlines must now provide sufficient  floor space for registered service dogs who fly with their handlers (within Canada) on all aircraft that have over 30 seats.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being…Poor

Czech writer, Milan Kundera, wrote the 1982 novel, “The Unbearable  Lightness of Being”…hence the origin of this blog title.  I honestly don’t remember much about this book, except that I bought it because I liked the title. I give  Wiki credit for this synopsis: {His  novel is set in 1968’s Prague and centers on the idea that existence is full of unbearable lightness, because each of us has only one life to live. “whatever happened once may not have happened at all”; Therefore each life is, ultimately,  insignificant, every decision, ultimately, does not matter. Since decisions do not matter, they are light, they don’t make us suffer. They do not bind, yet simultaneously, the insignificance of our decisions-our lives, our being, is unbelievably  light }

I try to focus on such heady Kundera-like  thoughts when I start to fall into that occasional, uncomfortably dark and stressful worrying pattern,  typical of a Canadian living in poverty.  I qualify my ‘poor person’ status as Canadian because I have no illusions whatsoever that my ‘poverty’  is anywhere close to  ‘real’, like the poverty experienced by so many citizens in this world. I have safe, clean housing with running water. I do not live in a war zone. I am not afflicted with any major diseases. I have access to communication systems. I have a great dog and a nutty cat whom I both love.  Like many Canadians, particularly PWD’s,  I am not employed. That is not to say that I do not WORK. I probably commit more hours of work in the service of the ‘community’ in one year, than most people with ‘real jobs’ would, in a lifetime.  I spend long hours working on all types of unremunerated jobs, some that carry a significant amount of responsibility. My work is valid and many thank me for it. I know this in my heart and in my rational mind… I  just can’t help but feel, that the burger- flipper at Mickey D’s who gets an authentic payslip at the end of the week, is perceived as the ‘real worker’ by Joe Canuck, regardless of how many hours I put in gratis. Such is our societal standard.  I understand this. The complication sets in, during times, (like this week), when I must  seek donations of food to ‘get through the month’.  How unbearably heavy it is to be poor, or so it feels to me these days. The word ‘humbling’ is one I don’t have great affinity for.  Being poor is perceived as an adventure when you are you are a struggling student, or a newly wed, or a young traveler. It is not in any way so exciting or interesting to live in poverty as a middle-aged woman who is already eligible for some  types of ‘senior’ discounts. It gets to be a major drag.. until I hear the echoes of my late mother’s voice saying, “There are others worse off, we are so lucky”. Still , it’s a bitter pill to swallow… And I missed the anti-poverty event in Halifax on Saturday. Shame on me.

Halifax City Council Jumps…to the tune of 1.2 Million

I am fascinated with how things get done here in Halifax through Council. I am equally interested in what does NOT get done. Our transit system for example, just scored 1.2 million dollars from HRM City council. How so and what for, you ask? The money is for a ‘security camera system’ on transit buses and ferries. It arose after a number of drivers were ‘attacked’ while on the job and the subsequent outcry from their union, as well as the press around it. I think the media attention on this whole thing is what really propelled HRM Council to move the money through to Metro Transit like greased lightning. After all, the city does not want  to appear negligent or uncaring about the safety of bus drivers. The teary radio interviews (I bet TV stuff was even more melodramatic) with the female compadres of the driver who was attacked,  really cinched it. I don’t  have any objection to driver- safety initiatives or union representation. The problem is, the idea of  cameras on buses for protection, is silly. My informal survey of female drivers has found that they don’t think security cameras  on buses will be effective in keeping them safe from the truly crazy, drunk and doped-up nuts who are the most likely to go spontaneously  berserk and attack them.  These types of live-wire attackers will not pause and reflect on the presence of a camera over their heads before they punch out a driver for not accepting their transfer or refusing to ‘make out’ with them.  It could be that grainy images of an attack, after the fact, will be moderately helpful in getting a conviction in court or  compensation  from the maimed driver’s employer (HRM).

My complaint is that our transit system gets funded, under funded, or not funded at all, in a way that is a  knee-jerk reaction to situations, trends  or public pressure. Spending seems to be totally unprioritized. We STILL, after one year of testing,  do not have a functioning ‘real time go-time’ service.  I can’t recall the price tag on that, project,  but whatever it was, it was huge. It should be given priority to get it WORKING at all costs, over some of  other recent add-on expenditures, like security cameras.  For example the city also purchased  some hybrid diesel  Transit buses last year  because of the push from the HRM’s official environmental geeks (I am a non-official geek supporter). They moved so quickly to tender the purchase of the buses,  that they scored vehicles  which apparently have proven to be defective.  I hear they are going back to the seller. We have no critically-needed voice enunciator system in Halifax,  and apparently no plan to find money for it any time soon. The list goes on.

Hey Bus Driver…Are You Serious?!!!

Com’ on! Give me a break! When I get on your bus next time, and say ” I want  Spring Garden and Summer street please” in a loud and clear voice, do not think for a minute that you can blow my stop again (like you did today) and YELL AT ME, “You didn’t ask!”, as I get off the bus. Sheesh! Even the guy in the back row heard me tell you where I wanted to get off. Next time, you will ANNOUNCE MY STOP, ’cause if you don’t… I (that is, WE, an entire organization of blind, and partially sighted advocates) will REALLY be inclined to use the incident as the basis for a Human Rights Complaint. I have had it. Metro Transit is spending another million + bucks on security cameras on their buses, because the dirivers’ union told them to?  My bus is held up twice this week for 25 and 45 minutes because the RCMP were asked to board the buses by a nervous driver, to remove some cursing kids from Halifax West Junior High?  Are you serious?  The new microphones pick up sound  on buses (how much did THAT cost?). Give the drivers Tazers and get on with it! You will save a bundle, and I bet the kids will behave a lot better. Not only that, but the buses may be remotely close to being on time!

Run Opal, Run…and I REALLY Mean It This Time!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, service dog handlers, dog lovers, friends and readers; I am pleased and proud to announce that HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) has approved funding (via a recommendation from the HRM Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities) in the amount of $20,000. towards the creation of an off leash dog park which service dogs and their handlers will have priority use of.   What does this mean? Guide dogs, hearing dogs, special skills dogs, other service dogs and their mums and dads will have a safe, fenced place to go and exercise OFF LEASH. An existing site, already partially fenced has been secured.  The funding will allow for total fencing,  clearing of the area, addition of some seating and refuse bins and posting signs. The location is more than suitable, with bus and ferry service routes nearby. Service dog handlers who require parking will be accommodated as well. Use is not exclusive to service dogs, however signs will indicated that pet dog owners must vacate when a service dog handler wants to use it. A public awareness and education campaign will  hopefully ensure that this is a workable stipulation. The parks department will take care of maintenance.

I have worked on this proposal through its various incarnations over the last two years that I have been on the ACPD, and more so in recent months as the committee’s chairperson. When this dog park is finally established, it will be a first in Canada.  We are the city to watch. We will be the model for all other initiatives seeking  to establish similar facilities in Canadian cities.

When I finally pronounced the outcome of the motion today, Opal rose and stretched. Sure, I know that she was bored, but I like to think that she was showing a little interest. I KNOW she will when I take her to the dog park next year (hopefully fully functional by then) and let her free run. She will go foolish!