Saturday, September 07, 2013

What Inclusivity Means

A couple of years ago I asked to writing a piece called "Leaving the Gathering Place" for Canadian Press. Writing that article fundamentally changed my understanding of personal safety in public buildings. I learned, writing that piece the people with disabilities, in the twin towers on 9/11 did what they were supposed to do, did what the disaster plan told them to do ... go to the gathering place. They did. They died.

Now, when I check into hotel's I ask about disaster planning as it pertains to disabled guests and, more often than not, I learn that there are either 'no plans' or 'ridiculous plans'. One tiny little woman, working at the front desk, said that she would carry me down five flights of stares. She said it in all seriousness and was a little offended when Joe and I got the giggles. I can't imagine a person of any stature carrying me down the stairs. Really.This all means that Joe and I think about where we are staying, how high up the room is and now we stay, typically, on the ground floor or at a max, three floors up. The responsibility suddenly became ours and we do what we can to make ourselves feel secure.

So when we went to the George Stroumboulopoulos Show we had a great experience. The only thing that bothered me was that when given the safety directions, in a hysterically funny manner, by Fraser, a comedian who welcomes us and then makes us laugh while waiting, he didn't mention any safety strategies for those of us who couldn't follow the plan as outlined from the stage. I asked, but didn't get much clarification. OK, not too much of a surprise.

However, I was emboldened both by my brief chat with Mr. Stroumboulopoulos with and by my dealings about accessibility with Lise, our contact for getting tickets to the show. I got a sense that George, I can call him that because we've met once, cared about the experience of people with disabilities as guests. I also got a sense of the shows sensitivity because there have been numerous guests with disabilities in the interview chair, all treated with tremendous respect.  Moreover, Lise's whole approach was, which can be rare to find, completely inclusive in nature.

So you all know what that means. I called and spoke with Lise about the opening monologue and how it left out those with visible and invisible disabilities, none of would know what to do. She said that she would bring it forward and things would change. People say that all the time, it gets you off the phone, but I suspected she might be straight up in her dealings with me.

Yesterday we were lucky enough to get seats again. As I pulled into place Joe leaned over to me and said, "Well, do you think they are going to include, in the safety part, something about disability." I said that I was fairly sure that they would. The fellow jumped on stage, began to talk about safety, he truly is a funny man. Then, suddenly, he was talking about what to do if stairs weren't an option, and he made a good joke in the mix. He had managed to change his monologue, keep it funny AND make it inclusive all at the same time.

What mattered though was that my feedback mattered. It was good to be listened to and it was good to see some action taken. What I asked for wasn't something huge - in my mind - but making change, no matter how small, can be huge in the minds of others. It was great.

I do not exaggerate when I say, that those few words that told us that there was a plan, that our safety had been considered, made a difference to the quality of my experience. Starting the whole show with inclusive safety information  - we care for and include all guests - is as much informational as it is political. It makes a statement.

What's the political statement: The lives of people with disabilities are equally worth considering.

George, Lise and Fraser, you were all open to feedback and you managed the change process gracefully. Thanks. Big time.


clairesmum said...

Another victory....another truly welcoming place...YES!

Anonymous said...

And let's see this roll out everywhere....

Mary said...

Without wishing to diminish an excellent post on how good it is when people and organisations follow up on promises of action for accessibility, because it is, and yay, and more of this sort of thing...

... that was the first time I'd seen your piece on the "gathering place" and that really struck home for me. I'm fortunate to have never yet been in that situation, but you write so well that (in the most complimentary way) I felt a physical sensation of horror.

I use a wheelchair outdoors or in large buildings, and walk, slowly, painfully, with a stick, in domestic settings. However if I believe the building to be on fire, I am entirely happy to leave my chair to burn, and to shred whatever clothes I am wearing to slide down the stairs on my bottom, and indeed to crawl away from the building on my hands and knees. I honestly don't think I'd have the nerve to sit still in the gathering place, waiting and hoping for rescue.

Jody Kilpatrick said...

I realize this is not the very same thing as you described in your post, but I was moved when I read this as my son has a invisible disability. I began to take notice in what precautions and explanations places use to inform everyone about their safety plans. For example, my son is in elementary school and it is a great school, but even in his class room there is a small map with a red arrow pointing to the fire exit. Well my son is very literal and began to look for the little red arrow in the hall, to show me where he was to go if there was a fire. Umm there was no little red arrow in the hall. I then realized that yes, I am sure if anything happened, that he would simply follow everyone else, but if he was alone or unsure, would he know? If inclusion is the way we are heading shouldn't that include basic safety instructions