Cleveland Reflections

This week, I had the opportunity to bring the Disability Positive message south of the border with a speaking engagement in Cleveland, and it was a huge success. Although it was only four days, it was a trip that stirred up a few thoughts in me that I feel are ideal for a blog as I get caught up with life around me. Let’s call these thoughts the Cleveland Reflections…

The first is physical access and the strength of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In one of my early blogs, I put out my position that Canada needs and deserves a federally backed National Disability Act. After spending four days surrounded by the ADA, I believe that now even more than I did. No, it’s not perfect, but it is far superior to anything we have here. All restaurants but one were accessible, not a single person balked at my service dog and the accessible hotel room actually had enough space to COMFORTABLY fit my wheelchair and accompaniments. All of these things are not unheard of in Canada, but they are certainly more rare. I chalk that up to disability being a part of the national consciousness since the days of George Bush senior. It has had time to evolve and that evolution has led to success.

My second thought is that in 2015, we really should be far better equipped for plane travel in wheelchairs. I mean the amount of bureaucracy, confusion and hesitancy that accompanies me getting on a plane is reminiscent of the comedy classic Airplane! No one quite knows what’s going on, the chair draws more quizzical looks than a live reptile and there is a lot of blank “Huh?” looks. Surely, in today’s day and age, we can do better. Whether it’s training or a culture shift in the airline industry I’m not sure, but something is needed. Think about it; they can break the sound barrier but get stumped by a mobility device? Hmmm…

My final thought is the most exciting one. It was reaffirmed to me in Cleveland that Disability Positive ideas are both revolutionary and desired. My wife and I spoke to a room of around 200 medical professionals, and they were engaged from the first word. I could tell that our ideas resonated in a big way. Afterwards, several people came up to us and told us that we had opened their eyes to a new way of thinking about disability. That is, in short, exactly why I do what I do. There is a new way to view disability and difference, and people love it when they hear it. The farther we broadcast the message, the more society can change, and that is an incredibly powerful idea.

So Cleveland was a huge success on many levels. A big thank you goes out to the team at MetroHealth Hospital for giving us the opportunity to share our story. It showed me that Canada is lagging behind in accessibility, made me wonder about Disability Positive approach to airlines and – most importantly – changed some minds. Cheers for that, Cleveland!