New Year, New Name

As part of CAN’s ongoing decolonialization work, we have decided to rename our organization.

When we started in 2005, we wanted the CAN acronym because we believed that “we CAN make change”. I founded this organization after unsuccessfully trying to work through the system via local government and I thought of the word citizens because I felt like it was up to us citizens to take on the responsibility and find solutions when government couldn’t or wouldn’t. As CAN grew, we realized that the word citizen was limiting as the accessibility we create and seek to create is for all people, regardless of citizenship. We helped/help people who are visiting, tourists, here unlawfully, and we help Indigenous people who do not identify as citizens of Canada. Last year we made the commitment to change our name. I, along with our board, and with input from members, thought long and hard about what we wanted our new name to reflect and how it would shape our 15th year. We did the paperwork, the government approved the change, and we can finally announce that we are now Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods.

We are keeping the acronym, CAN, that was so important to the originating board and members. We feel the new name is more action-oriented which fits well with our plans for 2020.

This year is going to be an exciting year for Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods:
• We continue to work with Vancouver Pride Society on making Pride events more accessible.
• We will soon have a brand-new website with increased accessibility (stay tuned).
• We have three workshops we will be doing throughout Metro Vancouver: Intro to Disability Justice, Queer 101, and Imposter Syndrome.
• CAN is working with Growing Room: A Feminist Literary Festival to assess the accessibility of their locations and events and to create an accessibility protocol so that all participants, speakers, organizers, and volunteers know that accessibility is a core value.
• We continue to facilitate Chronically Queer meetings in Vancouver and Burnaby and, this month, we are adding an online version for those who are unable to leave their house, for those not near a meeting, and for those not yet ready to join us in person.
• We are facilitating the Burnaby Pride Community Action Network (PCAN) group to ensure that local residents have a voice in the organizing process.
• And we have a year-long campaign to encourage others to make social media more accessible by including image descriptions, ensuring hashtags and @HandleNames have the first letter of each word capitalized (so screen-readers can read them), and that those who create videos include captioning and transcripts.

And those are just a few of our current projects. We are excited and proud to be doing this work and we will continue to work hard Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods (CAN).

(Image: CAN’s orange logo, the top is two heads with their arms stretching to the side and down to make a half circle, centered between and under the top two heads is another head and arms to the side and downwards, there is another head at the bottom with its arms to the side and upwards towards the other arms, creating an image of embrace. Text: Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods (CAN) (new website coming soon) 604.437.7331))

Disability Justice

As a queer, nonbinary, disabled person, I understand the intrinsic need to recognize and honour people’s intersecting identities. We are never just one identity, just one issue, and yet society often addresses us with one narrow image in mind, leaving many unseen, unheard, unconsidered. My experiences with ableism, cissexism, and anti-queerness are very much rooted in capitalism. An Indigenous’ person’s inability to access the medical system is very much rooted in racism and colonialism. A Deaf person’s failed attempts to interact with a medical system is very much rooted in ableism and audism (anti-Dead/hard of hearing). We never easily fit into only one box.

One of the most important precepts of Disability Justice is the valuing of lived experience, the leadership of those most impacted. Well-meaning people can try to help those who live in poverty but no matter how hard they try to imagine life in poverty, they will not know what it is actually like to live under the crushing weight of poverty, thus they should seek counsel, understanding, and lived experience from those who do live the reality, day in and day out. As a person with a disability, I can tell you that the majority of perceptions I encounter about my life are wildly off track. I don’t want someone guessing what my life is like, I want someone to ask for my expertise and listen to what I say, respect my hard-won knowledge, and work with me to address the issues.

Ableism encourages the centering of “normal” and “productive” and devalues disabled bodies, brains, and senses, seeing them as “invalid”, “unnatural”, and “unworthy”, leading to exclusion, isolation, and oppression. Disability Justice recognizes our inherent worth and sees us as whole beings with differing strengths and needs. People should not have to prove they are worthy of assistance, to jump through hoops set up by people who don’t truly understand what they are going through, in order to access what they need. We need to respect each person for their experiences, history, and knowledge and not because they fit a certain image.

Part of honouring people for their inherent value is working against isolation and this is deeply rooted, for many, in accessibility. We should not exclude disabled people because their body, brain, or senses are different. Currently, society is quite comfortable excluding disabled folk. Even when accessibility is considered, it is often incomplete, only for one type of disability, or offered in a way that expects gratitude or the accessibility is snatched away. Often, a person’s disability is not actually what restricts them from accessing their community, it is the negative thoughts, misperceptions, and judgements of others that keeps them excluded, isolated, and feeling unwanted.

Disability is a natural part of life. One of five people self-disclose as having a disability, that number increases as we age. There has been no point in time when disability did not exist but our current systems of oppressions prefer us to believe that there are valid and invalid bodies, brains, and senses, and we are taught in small and large ways to only honour those that fit a certain image. Did you know that 93% of these disabilities are invisible? Most likely, you did not know this, particularly as the International Symbol of Accessibility is an image of a person in a wheelchair. The system itself is rooted in the notion that disability must look one way and it severely impacts people’s lives, how they are treated, and their emotional and mental health. One place this plays out is the designated accessible parking. There is more need for the spaces than spaces themselves, and some people try to protect those spaces by harassing those who “don’t look disabled”, except there is no one look for disability and so they often harm the very people they say they are trying to help. This is just small example in the much broader scale of ableism that is played out on a daily basis.

Instead of seeking to divide, disability justice, however, is rooted in our interdependence. It understands that no one person ever goes through life unaided, unsupported. We need to strengthen these relationships, these connections, the basic understanding that we are all in this together. We will only achieve liberation by working collectively. We must commit to leaving no one behind. Ask yourself: Who is missing from your work? Who is present with your work but doesn’t have a voice? Who has a voice, but that voice is not valued or respected? We must continually ask these questions. We must seek connections and relationships that expand our part of the collective nature of our work.

When we recognize that everyone has the right to exist exactly as they are, with any or many intersecting identities, we will begin to move forwards. When we join that belief with collective action, we will gain momentum. As we gain momentum, we must constantly seek people being kept from our gatherings, watch for missing, silenced, dismissed, and/or devalued voices and work to do what we can to raise them up so that their existence and voices ring out strong and clear and unavoidable. Together we can utilize disability justice values and practices to work towards building cross-movement organizing that moves away from segregation, isolation, and ableism towards accessibility, inclusion, connection, and interdependence. Collectively we can challenge our way of thinking and fundamentally shift the way we organize and fight for social change.

Far from Free: The Canadian Medical System

There is a notion of “free health care” in Canada. That is far from the reality for many, our system remains well beyond the reach of various demographics, particularly those living below the poverty line and the working poor. We do, indeed, have a more open and accessible health care system and there is much to be said about our system but all too often the costs of health are overlooked with the idealized notion that everything is free.

It is extremely frustrating for people with chronic health conditions to see medical professionals who suggest products and services without thought to cost. Much of what is suggested is unaffordable except to a select few. Some patients would rather not even hear about the options that could improve their quality of life than know they exist but that you cannot access them.

There are so many costs associated with our medical system it can quite overwhelming. Even before you get into a hospital, you have to pay for parking, and that alone is a deterrent to getting the help you need. Then when you see a doctor, they make suggestions without the knowledge of what it costs. Often, when one tries to talk to a medical professional about the barrier of affordability, they get responses of judgement and being told that they just aren’t prioritizing their health or don’t want to get better, neither the truth. The problem with “prioritizing your health” when you live in poverty is that there is no savings, whatever you use for medical issues is taken from other necessities like house, food, or medications; this leaves you stressed, with poor nutrition, and/or inadequate housing, all of which worsen chronic health conditions.

This disconnect between the reality of the financial abilities of patients and what doctors and specialist suggest needs to be improved. Poor health is not fixed by will alone, there needs to be services and products but there also needs to be affordability. For those who are working poor, the stress is increased because getting the proper medical care can actually cost them money; they have to take time off work to make appointments, losing money to see medical professionals who then expect them to pay for therapies and supports. Some don’t seek out the medical care they need because they know they can’t afford it.

One of the key tenets of accessibility is options. We need to have a medical system with options. Currently there is some government funding, but doctors have to fill out forms, which costs money, so we once again get stuck in a cycle of not having money to pay for what is needed. Doctors should be aware of the costs of what they are suggesting and know cheaper options.

Our health care has a lot of issues to address and affordability is one of the important topics, but it is very rarely discussed. Money is an uncomfortable topic; people don’t want to talk about living in poverty in case it affects the care they receive. Experiencing poverty bias is real and frustrating and keeps some from trusting or turning to medical professionals when in need of help.

Medical students should be taught that there are many intersecting identities that they will encounter: sexuality, gender, religion, income level, race, disability, etc. They should be given lessons and basic information about the various demographics of their patients and learn how to interact with those patients. Health care does not start and stop at the body, brain, and senses, we need to consider the entire person, their environment, and their financial limits.

It is estimated that one in 5 Canadian have precarious jobs. Not only does this affect one’s finances, it affects their health, their stress levels, their mental health. Being given medical solutions or suggestions that further stigmatize and stress people in poverty, or working poor, is not the answer. Being more mindful and respectful about finances and how that affects a person’s ability to access health care is one step we can take towards a future where patients aren’t offered hope only to have it snatched away when they see the price tag. Medical professionals becoming aware of the costs of therapies, medications, support, etc. is another step that is vital to bridging this gap. Doctors should ask patients whether their medical decisions will be reliant on what they can afford, and if that is the case, it should be marked in their chart.

There are ways we can work to support both patients and medical professionals in being more aware of the costs of our medical system and how that affects those in need. Poverty, unfortunately, is shamed, and many are not comfortable talking about it, but dialogue is vital. Thank you for reading this. Please continue this conversation where you can.