I wish to share something with you. I hope you are able to take a few moments to read it.
The past week and a bit have been very challenging. I have been hearing things, things that have left me feeling very weary and troubled.
It all started with Pickleball Courts.
Normally I would be excited to hear about people participating in sport, but this story has been soured. It has been soured by a Mayor and Council who continue to look for ways to remove vehicles from the city’s beloved park. A by-product of this is that some people with disabilities and limited mobility no longer have access to several of the areas of the park they once did.
At the beginning of COVID-19, the City of Victoria Mayor and Council closed the majority of roads through Beacon Hill Park citing the need for social distancing. This was touted as a temporary measure.
One of the roads closed was Arbutus Way; a road that lead to the Arbutus Way Parking lot which is a gateway to several of the park’s popular amenities. It is a few steps from the bandstand, lake, kids park, washrooms, alpine garden and family picnic area. It is a very important access point for people with limited mobility, including some seniors.
Over time some roads in the park re-opened, but not Arbutus Way. The community protested their lack of access. Determined to keep Arbutus Way and the parking lot closed, Councilor Ben Isitt personally designed a route for people with limited mobility to drive into the park from Cook Street, park, pee, and then leave – all in the name of accessibility.
A year into the pandemic, a group of citizens launched a class action Human Rights claim against the city for taking away the access they once had. The case is currently in the queue with the BC Human Rights Commission.
Several months later, I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Mayor Lisa Helps. During that conversation the topic of Beacon Hill Park came up. I explained the challenges the community was having with not having access to the parking lot. She clearly understood and suggested that the city look into re-opening the road, and replacing the road parking with a protected bike path and walkway beside it – just like in other areas of the park. I was promised it would be on the list for the fall for planning.
Enter the Pickleball players.
Last week, the city announced that displaced Pickleball players would be granted access to the Arbutus Way Parking where they could establish a pilot project with at least two courts. Pilot projects are not temporary, but rather ways of testing if what you are trying to achieve works. If you are not questioning why the city has set a pilot project up in a parking lot that is at the centre of a Human Rights case, you should be. Personally, I take this as a direct assault on people with disabilities. I also find it mean spirited to place the Pickleball players in the middle of the controversy.
But this is not what has left me feeling weary and troubled. I am accustomed to the City of Victoria Mayor and Council behaving this way. And I am never surprised when they toss those with disabilities aside to achieve their goals – they did this with the bike lanes leaving visually impaired citizens at risk of injury.
I am feeling weary and troubled because of some of the comments I see on social media from the community.
Living with a disability is exhausting. You have to plan all aspects of your life in ways that others don’t. And you often have to plan to overcome the obstacles that have been placed in front of you by able-bodied designers who have not really considered your experience or needs. Think of what it is like for someone who uses a wheelchair to cook dinner. The cupboards are unreachable as is the stove – and there is often no room to maneuver your wheelchair around your kitchen. Now think of what the rest of the day might be like.
Consider what it is like when no one thinks to include you – not just from a loneliness perspective, but from one of self worth. I know that when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, my doctor dismissed me, telling me to go home and basically do nothing. I felt I was going home to die. Because of my experience and how I see others with disabilities treated I was not surprised last week when I learned of a woman in Ontario requested medically-assisted death after repeated failed attempts for better housing.
I consider myself fortunate as I have managed to remain able-bodied (although I have todo a myriad of things to stay that way). I have however come to learn through others in the community what some of their daily struggles are like.
When I share with others the need for access to a park, and what that access needs to look like and I am met with an endless chain of tweets that tell me I am naïve, wrong, selfish, lying, irrelevant, elitist, condescending, and a prop to preserve the driving status quo I feel weary and troubled. I was tired before I ever came to the table because of all the of things I have to do to manage my disability. The endless barrage of compassionless messages and constant accusations of a hidden agendas are soul sucking.
I question if you’re actually the one connected to the disability community: or just the middle class and richer disability community.– tweeter
What is most troubling however, is that those who are doing this, are doing the very thing they are accusing mobility advocates of – using people with disabilities to further their agenda.
Here’s a sample of some of the messages I received. I’ve organized them into a few categories.
1. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do what the rest of us do?
I don’t get it.Why can’t they go through the park? Where can people not go?
Have you connected with the Victoria chapter of Cycling Without Age
Thanks, but we can’t always get what we want. That’s life.
2. You are part of a car lobby or being used by one – suggesting this is why we shouldn’t have access to the park
The point is there are always lots of bad-faith arguments put forward every time there’s a move to reallocate road space. Anywhere. It’s self-interested, ideological opposition from a privileged group of road users and it needs to be called out and properly dragged at every turn.
…people who drive everywhere can’t bear to give over any of “their” road space to other uses. It’s as simple as that. It’s ideological and political, nothing to do with reality…
Nice story. What does it have to do with the topic being discussed here, which is the exploitation of people with disabilities by the car lobby to influence public policy, street design, and accessibility?
People with disabilities are used as human props by the car lobby all the time – they use them in their attempts to preserve the status quo, further their agendas. It’s cynical as hell.
It’s incredibly naive of you to think that people with disabilities aren’t used as human props by the car lobby.
My quarrel is not with people with disabilities making the case for car access. My quarrel is with people who aren’t disabled who use people with disabilities as props to preserve the driving status quo. Happens all the time.
The narrative you should be focusing on is not the one pushing for mobility equity but the one pressing to preserve the dominance of private vehicles.
3. Most disabled people can’t drive anyway
Considering disabled people are less likely to drive than able bodied people, and the lanes provide pretty good infrastructure for mobility scooters: this argument is just nonsense.
Agreed. But, the system currently in place prioritizes the privileged by default. The fact that many disabled people don’t drive, or even have access to cars, is “new” to many – and it’s a fact actively opposed by the car lobby – so we need to break down century-old assumptions.
The first step is to acknowledge that car-centric planning and design is exclusionary and serves primarily the privileged. Any genuine efforts to address inclusion and diversity will necessarily have to challenge the prevailing status quo.
4. You should take the bus because not everyone can afford a car or….
In the current transportation system, who is most accommodated – people who can afford customized vans and caregivers or those who can’t?
What I see is so much bad faith about clover point or bhp but nothing about lack of transit for low income people with and w/o disabilities
It’s not for me to understand why some “accessibility advocates” only ever seem to care about being able to drive places and nearly never mention public transit…
5. Most of you have access, why should everyone else suffer for a few?
Check your logic! I see many people with walkers, scooters & wheelchairs in the park. It is only a few that can’t park and travel on the walkways.
Yes, I am ok with that. There are only a few people who can’t access the park without a car. The rest of us should not suffer the ‘abuse’ of cars in the park to accommodate a few.
There are other places to go! OMG such a fuss over one place! If the park is open to more cars there will be a parade of driving through. Should we all have to suffer that? The park is a quiet refuge. Those who want more cars in the park are being narrow minded and selfish.
It’s unfortunate that some people are unable to access more of the park unless they travel by car. However, we should not destroy the peace of the park by allowing a parade of noisy, polluting vehicles in to serve a few people. Call me ableist- it’s old news.
And the clinchers:
I had posted an article trying to bring balance to the conversation. It talked including people with disabilities in planning, decreasing cars and making the car spots most available to those who with disabilities who need them. Here’s what was tweeted back. Note the absence of preserving car space for those who need them and how he is quoting only part of what furthers his agenda – same thing many of these people accuse the car lobby of doing.
Thanks, great article. “Disabled people should be asked what we want, not be unilaterally drafted in by petrolheads . . . if the same number of cars remain on the roads, the built environment will still be disabling to us”