*Important Update at bottom.
I would first like to thank Peter Cruise for bringing this to my attention on Twitter.
CITY OF NEW WESTMINSTER, BC ANNOUNCES EXCITING NEW SERVICE DESIGNED TO EXCLUDE, MARGINALIZE AND DISCRIMINATE AGAINST DISABLED PEOPLE.
Not to worry, they say it’s all fine because it’s only some disabled people and it’s only for a while and besides they had to.
Another day, another opportunity for some non-disabled person to recycle the ‘accessibility is hard’ excuse, wave the ‘we’re trying’ flag and dangle the promise of a better tomorrow.
The particulars this time:
The City of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada has introduced a new ferry service.
“The ferry can carry up to four bikes per sailing on a first-come, first served basis. Although walkers, strollers and bicycles are permitted on the ferry, the use of wheelchairs and scooters is not supported.”
The excuse this time:
The ferry has a step and there are tides – apparently tides are not something anyone in a coastal city has any experience with designing for?
Pretty sure I am going to run out of new ways to explain why accessibility is a must not a ‘if we can, we’ll try to squeeze it in’ thing – and I really don’t know how many more times I am willing to patiently attempt to navigate around barriers they built while holding the hand of a reluctant non-disabled person and guiding them out from their overgrown trail of excuses, but…
Let’s try this. If you design, approve, operate a service, institute a policy, run a program, authorize, fund or construct an object, product, place or space in a way that is not accessible, you might as well hang this sign on you and whatever it is you made:
That is what you are saying and more importantly that is what you are doing. Do you see it as discrimination now? Does that make it more clear?
But it’s only temporary?
There are multiple layers of flaws to this excuse.
The first is the lack of principle it rests upon.
Accessibility is not about decorating; it’s about my rights as a disabled person and a citizen of this country.
Accessibility is as foundational to my equality as a secret ballot is to democracy. Without the former the latter is simply not possible.
It is well understood that disability rights, of which accessibility is an integral part, are human rights.
This links you to the Federal Government of Canada webpage with links to relevant current legislation.
As well, the federal government is currently working on a Canadian Accessibility Act to govern those things within its jurisdiction. Similar legislation exists in various countries including but not limited to the UK, the US (American Disabilities Act is celebrating it’s 27th anniversary) and India (2016).
Human rights are a high priority. No one, let alone the government, should be allowed to violate the human rights of an individual, let alone an entire segment of the population, simply because upholding those rights would be inconvenient.
Rights are often difficult and inconvenient.
As a government, or as a business or individual, you do not get to deny another person or persons, let alone an entire group of persons, their human rights for ANY length of time without very specific and solid grounds to do so.
‘It’s hard NOT to deny those people their rights’ should not be ever be accepted as a valid excuse.
The second problem is the process.
How in the h___ did this get the green light to move forward? In 2017? In New Westminster, BC?
Why did no one say, ‘If we want to do this it has to be accessible for everyone otherwise it simply doesn’t happen?’
I know why. Every disabled person knows the answer why.
Because accessibility is seen as ‘special’ thing, an ‘it would be great if we could include them’ thing, a ‘well we sure will try’ thing or at the very least a ‘sorry, it’s not always going to be perfect’ thing.
Imagine if they designed a staircase in which each step was 3 feet high. Would the decision be ‘well, it’s not perfect but some people could use it?’ Or would they say, ‘back to the drawing board, this isn’t going to work.’
Disabled people exist in a world that was designed for and by non-disabled people. We are regularly excluded from workplaces, doctor’s offices, friends’ homes, restaurants, schools, parties, weddings, graduations, recreation, community…because many were designed and built at a time when ‘people like me’ were put in institutions.
Changing old buildings, infrastructure, policies, and the bias that is written into every profession’s textbooks, is a daunting, (arguably all the more reason to get moving on it and not add to it), but not insurmountable task.
What I can’t and will never tolerate is actually now, in 2017 creating new places that, by design, exclude me and other disabled people.
The third problem– the design of the trial undermines, if not invalidates entirely any potential value the trial could have for future design.
Whatever information gathered from this trial will be flawed because the trial itself is flawed. The City of New Westminster will have no idea how well large the need for this service is, because it has, by design, excluded an entire segment of the population who may or may not want to use it.
Are these the best times? Intervals? How do bicyclists, people pushing strollers and wheelchair and stroller users interact with other pedestrians? Should boarding be prioritized? How effective is our wayfinding?
And finally the fourth – The ‘better future’ that will never be.
If the City of New Westminster decides to make this service permanent and, as promised, attempts to make it accessible, there is a good chance it will require after the fact modifications.
Wheelchair and scooter users need to be involved in the trial and planning in order to get it right. Evidence of what happens otherwise is not hard to find. You need only look as far as TransLink’s multi-million dollar upgrade, which actually made the Skytrain less accessible, and not only has created a prolonged period of inaccessibility but additional costs to alter the system to make it accessible after the fact .
The future is constructed by the actions we take in the present. The repercussions of our decisions today will echo into the future. How are we not grasping that yet? Current injustices are not erased just by saying ‘we’ll be better in the future.’ The harm we perpetrate now doesn’t evaporate.
And, let’s be clear, the harm happening today is being done knowing it is wrong and harmful.
We want a better future – we start now. Today. This moment.
No more excuses.
NOTE: I had a discussion about this with Patrick Johnson of New West City Council on Twitter. If you open this tweet you will see it in the replies.
I also received these replies from the Mayor of New Westminster.
Alice Cavanagh on Twitter pointed out that accessibility wasn’t included in the RFP for the ferry service. In accordance with City of New Westminster policy it does require Living Wage, and the Terms of Reference are quite specific about the number of bikes and passengers that the ferry must be able to carry.