Thursday, March 5, 2009

Transportation Barriers Prevent Choir Inclusion

I am in a choir and on Jan 25th we had an evening concert. The problem is I use a power wheelchair and I could not get a reasonable time for the Access Bus to get home. I had 2 choices - to either interupt the concert so choir members could move risers and let me off the stage to catch the only bus booking available or miss the bus and pray I could find another way home. Kingston does not have accessible taxi's so there is no such thing as an alternative unless a private citizen can help.

Well, thankfully three choir members made a decision to help. One borrowed their neighbours van, another borrowed some metal wheelchair ramps from a local medical supplier and a third came along with an offered to help in whatever way he could. I thought all was good until the following email came from a Board member of the choir. I removed the name because I would rather stay somewhat annonymous. My reply and subsequent email exchanges are pasted below that.

Just before I share the emails, I want to tell you that I accepted the ride in the accessible van to home, then the original (less bureaucratic) choir members picked me up at my home to take me to the choir "after-party." I had to use my manual wheelchair which is falling apart and is very uncomfortable, but for a few hours of inclusion the pain and risk was well worth it. I had a wonderful time thanks to the few REAL humans that still live on this planet.

I have to admit, I was shocked to be told that the kind gestures of 3 very caring individuals was not allowed to be used because of a fear of liability.

Whatever happened caring about HUMANS?

Here is the correspondence:
Hi [wheelchairdemon],

This is to confirm that the best the Board is able to do to get you home after the concert is the very generous offer that choir member [choir member] and his neighbours have made to you. This is to give you a ride directly home after the concert in the neighbour’s van which is equipped to handle you and your chair with ease and safety. The van will be driven by the neighbour and [choir member] will accompany you too. If you wish to take advantage of this very kind offer please phone [choir member who found the van].

I realize that this offer does not include an opportunity for you to go to the Portsmouth House after the concert. We cannot ask the neighbour to do any more than this, she has responsibilities for her husband who is also in a chair. I am sure you can understand this. Transporting you without this equipped van, meaning manually moving you and your chair, is not safe and therefore not something the Board should be doing.

If you need to communicate further with a Board member on this please get in touch with me directly.

Sincerely,

[(bureaurcratic, not human) Board member]

Hi [(bureaurcratic, not human) Board member],

To be honest with you, I don't know what to say. I was not expecting anyone to risk getting hurt. I had a line on some ramps and there was NO expectation whatsoever for someone to be taking a dangerous risk. How this ever got turned around is beyond me.

[Another Board member] wrote me and asked what the choir can do to help. He then added, "We want to help you have the best experience possible on Saturday including the 'after party', but at this point I'm a bit confused as to your needs for Saturday."

I took this as being very positive and I was truly thankful and appreciative that he asked. I then wrote back and gave him the best answer I could at the time. His welcoming letter of inquiry made me believe I was not being unreasonable to ask for assistance.

For the last several weeks I have also been making my own inquiries to assist by offering suggestions in hopes that, between us, we could find a safe way for me to get home. The suggestions that were made included asking for a volunteer with a pick up truck or van with the seat taken out to make room for my wheelchair and some portable ramps, that someone walk with me to a city bus stop on Union St. at 10:45 pm so I could catch a bus home, or who follow me home with their car so I could motor home safely on the road. I have motored home from concerts many a time before with a car following me, usually my Dad, in order to play it safe and not take the risk of anyone getting hurt. When I was asked about lifting my chair, I said I would not recommend it unless there were 4 strong men who could volunteer because it was heavy. I even tried to discourage it.

The tone of this letter FEELS, rightly or wrongly, like I am expected to feel grateful for someone going out of his or her way to accommodate me. Believe me, I am grateful for the offer, but I don't see how answering [other Board member] kind request to include me at both the concert and the party could have been taken so wrong. This letter makes me feel so small and as though I am the one who is being unreasonable and a real inconvenience by asking for inclusion (which, by the way, is a right under the human rights law).

I will close by saying that if the choir can afford to pay for childcare (which I know is currently not used), assist with planning a carpool ride, and state in its goal that it aims to be fully inclusive of diversity and will assist with removing the barriers to full choir participation, then I would say the choir is not fulfilling this goal. Full choir participation would include mixing with the audience after the concert and taking part in the party of celebration.

By the way, the other thing that would have worked to include me would be to meet in a bar downtown. It probably isn’t too realistic to change it now, but it may be something useful to consider in future.

Please don’t close me out. I have been in this choir since day one and devoted hours of time attempting to be a valuable contributing member doing the web and making Finale files so as to include those who do not own a piano or have a musical mentor who can help them practice between rehearsals. This was my way of helping the choir fulfill its goal of full inclusion and to augment another choir vision of providing practice CD's to help. It was my way of ensuring that all were included. There is a core group of choir members who use these files on a regular basis probably about 8, so when a board member suggested I stop making the files, I did so reluctantly. Sure enough, before long I had private requests for CD's and the files. They were put back online shortly thereafter. So if I can do this for the rest of the choir, I expect the choir to give me the same kind of respect and consideration in return. I sincerely hope that by writing this letter, it will not bring about a disrespect of me for asking for inclusion. If I did not use a wheelchair, there is no doubt that I would be quickly and easily included in everything. The playing field would be leveled by removing the barrier of a wheelchair.

Please read this to the rest of the board because I want them to think.

Hi [wheelchairdemon],

I am sorry that you seem so disappointed and upset about what we have been able to offer you to get you home from the concert. My best suggestion, which appears to be unacceptable to you, is the one that has come from [choir member who found the van] and his generous neighbours. I acknowledge that this does not get you the Ports after the concert and this is the part of this plan that is not OK with you. I know that other Board Members have also rattled their brains unsuccessfully, trying figure how to safely meet your wishes for the evening.

I spoke to a few of the other Board Members, but not all, about [choir member who found the van's] offer. Those who I spoke with were pleased and relieved that we now had a way to get you to attend the whole concert and then home easily and safely. I have forwarded your most recent email to the rest of the Board and I will forward this one to them also to keep them in the loop.

Your words at choir last night followed by the email require thoughtful response from the Board, but not now, we all need to focus on the concert. The Board will review accessibility in general and with regard to you in particular at future meetings.

If you end up deciding that your best option is to, at least, be able to attend the concert in full by making the call to [choir member who found the van], I hope you will do that and join us in the fun.

Sincerely,

[(bureaurcratic, not human) Board member]
Be sure to view my other blogs:

General Accessibility:
http://wheelchairdemon.blogspot.com
Access to Health Care:
http://wheelchairdemon-health.blogspot.com

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