What you can do to make Toronto more inclusive
Torontonians recently opened their collective eyes to the challenges faced by more than 400,000 of their neighbours.
A simple bus shelter, converted for a month to make it completely inaccessible, called attention to the daily hurdles Torontonians with disabilities face every day.
The glassed-in transit shelter at King and Bathurst is there for the general public to understand how it feels to be left out. When you look into the shelter a poster asks “Feeling Left Out?” and points out that’s how nearly half-a-million Torontonians with disabilities feel, too. (A poster on the exterior of the shelter is entirely in American Sign Language and other posters in bus shelters across the city are in Braille.)
Judging by the reaction to the shelter, Torontonians are open to receiving the message.
But this is just one glassed-in transit shelter on one street. To get the real experience of exclusion facing people with disabilities we would have to multiply these barriers tenfold all across the city.
People with disabilities don’t just feel excluded, we are excluded — from many areas of life that others take for granted, including employment, education, housing, civic engagement and social participation.
And continuing negative attitudes about people with disabilities contribute to the stigma and social isolation we experience: when you build a building without a ramp, we are left out; when you have an event without ASL interpreters, we are left out; when you fail to provide materials in accessible formats, we are left out.
Most Torontonians don’t even consider that we are systematically and structurally left out every day and in many ways.
That’s what this initiative — part of the City’s “Toronto For All” campaigns to promote an inclusive city — is all about.
But it’s only a start.
Our hope is this campaign doesn’t just remind you to include people with disabilities, but also invites you to be an ally and learn more about what you can do to make Toronto more inclusive.
Here are five ways you can start:
- See the person, not just their disability. Treat people with disabilities the same way you would want to be treated.
- Include people with disabilities in your conversations.
- Don’t assume people with disabilities want help, and don’t force your assistance on anyone.
- Don’t ask people with disabilities awkward and inappropriate questions about their disability.
- Speak up! When you see something that’s not accessible you can take action at sites like AccessNow and Stop Gap, among others.
These small steps can move us toward making a Toronto For All.
Wendy Porch is the executive director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT).