Category Archives: Lisa’s Story

Here’s to the Doorbuilders

Do you ever have one of those moments when you’re utterly humbled by the unselfish acts of others?

Yeah, me too.

Last Friday, I gave up part of my afternoon to collect information on wheelchair access and legislation. This was unpaid work. I’m helping an administrator to comply with the law. Full disclosure: My husband, a wheelchair user, stands to benefit from increased accessibility at this venue.

Here in Ontario, we’re in a years-long process of phasing in legislation that will strengthen the rights protection of people with disabilities. It’s a funny sort of situation, because these rights are already protected – have been for decades, in fact, under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

It’s just that no one seems to know about it.

When people with disabilities go shopping, eat at restaurants, go to the theatre, their rights are routinely violated. They can’t browse in a store, say, because a huge promotional display for maxipads is blocking the aisle. Only people who can stand up can squeeze past. Or they’re told they can’t have a table inside a café, even though there are empty tables available, because their wheelchair would be in the way. Or they’re told they can’t sit anywhere but in the very back row of the theatre. Think this never happens in the 21st century? In fact, all these things have happened to our family in recent memory.

Most of the time, it’s unintentional. And by that I mean that the shopkeepers or eatery owners who don’t treat all their patrons equally are completely clueless that they’re breaking the law.

That’s where the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) comes in. While human rights legislation gives a sort of general guideline – “hey, it’s uncool to discriminate and stuff” – the AODA explains exactly how one must go about providing fair and equitable service to people with disabilities.

This was all very useful in my research last Friday. If I’ve done the job right, the next time my husband patronizes this facility, he will (fingers crossed) be treated fairly. But hopefully this work  will also benefit the many others who come after him. And that’s the critical part. Why should these future customers have to experience the humiliation we did, just because they happen to have a disability?

This wasn’t a brief exercise by any means. I got a bit antsy. The other work I’d hoped to complete that day went on hold. Plus I had friends coming over in a few hours, and there was still vacuuming to be done, laundry to be folded, dinner to be started.

In fact, by the time I hit the Send button and looked at the clock, I admit I was mildly resentful of the time I’d devoted to this.

But then I did a reality check. And I was instantly humbled.

How can I complain about giving up an hour or two of my time to look up some laws? The only reason we have rights legislation and landmark court decisions in the first place is because other people, much more tenacious and persistent than me, have devoted hours, days, even years of their time. Not to mention sweat and tears. Possibly even blood. I can’t rule that out.

So, shut my mouth.

Every time we refer to legislation to prove our right to participate in Canadian society, it’s because steadfast advocates have dedicated themselves to fighting for these laws. They’ve fought for enforcement, too, and for awareness.

They’ve done it not just for themselves, but for all those who come after.

We owe them immense gratitude. And the least I can do is blog about it. So for all the David Lepofskys and the Barbara Turnbulls, and all the others who have made sacrifices to make a difference, we’re indebted to you.

And as for all those who don’t consider themselves longtime accessibility advocates… you know what? If you’ve ever made an effort to make a person with a disability feel welcome at your place of business, your restaurant or your theatre, then that matters a whole lot, too.

Milton Berle said: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” I’m grateful to everyone who makes that first cut into the wall.

WelcomeMat

Photo by John Kawasa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good Will Driving

It was a Friday afternoon, I was headed downtown for an event, and I was standing at the bus stop silently cursing myself for leaving the house at 3:00 p.m. instead of 2:55.

See, in my neighbourhood, those five little minutes make a very big difference. At 2:55, you can count on a bus to stop for you. You can trust you’ll be accommodated fairly comfortably while riding said bus.

At 3:00, however, you enter the twilight zone. Instantly, you’re competing for bus real estate with hordes of students freshly dismissed from four area schools. At this point, there’s no guarantee that any of the passing buses will stop or have room for you. If a sympathetic driver does let you squeeze on, you’re resigned to standing as thinly as possible amid a crush of loudly gossiping adolescents, each one wearing a school backpack the approximate size and weight of a Toyota Corolla.

The truth is, I like teenagers. I happen to have one and I used to be one. I enjoy their enthusiasm, and I admire their energy. One can only hope that the driver who is forced to transport a busload of tightly packed teens feels the same way, instead of dreading the portion of her route that takes her past hundreds of waiting students, and resenting the part of her job that compels her to pick them up. One can only hope she sees their charm.

On this day, though, it was the driver who was charming. As the bus ride came to an end she got on the loudspeaker and made this unexpected but endearing announcement: “Okay, folks, we’re just pulling into the subway station. You’ve been a great bunch. So enjoy your day, and have great weekend.”

How did the kids respond? These are enthusiastic people, don’t forget. Naturally, they rewarded the driver with a round of applause.

Positivity all around. I love those kinds of rides.

BusCrowded

By comparison, this bus is practically deserted.

Prejudice, Pooh

I have something to confess. I’m a poopist. Yes, I am guilty of discrimination against poops.

Doggy poops, that is. Specifically, I am prejudiced when it comes to choosing when and where I pick them up.

It goes without saying that I pick up after my own dog. But, you know, not everyone picks up after theirs. And therein lies the opportunity to do a good deed, as I’ve written in previous blog posts.

Because I’m a poopist, and also kind of squeamish, I don’t collect every neglected steamer that I see. I take a lot of walks, and trust me, I see plenty. Especially since I got my prescription glasses updated.

But I’m selective. When the dog droppings are far from my house, when they’re on the properties of people I’ve never met, when they’re not close to garbage bins (hence extending the length of time I’ll be required to hold onto the malodorous collection bag), most of the time the über-ick factor seems to outweigh any urge to do good.

But when I notice a poop pile near my house, when I personally know the neighbour who lives there (and let’s face it, we also know which neighbour is the one who’s not picking up), I don’t hesitate. I clean that nasty stuff off my friend’s front lawn faster than you can say, “Sit, Ubu, sit!”

I feel guilty for disregarding so much of life’s waste. But we all have our limits. And we probably shouldn’t be measuring our self-worth in terms of what we aren’t doing, but by what we are doing. I’m sometimes picking up neighbourhood poops. I’m sometimes doing people favours. I’m sometimes donating to charity. And sometimes I’m absorbed instead by a good book, a great glass of wine and my favourite spot on the couch.

Can you relate?

DogGuilty

I didn’t do it…”  (Photo by Photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

A Touch of Magic

Everyone loves a good mystery. Years ago, my husband and I booked tickets to see a well-reputed magician. It’s not that I’m a huge aficionado of this entertainment genre, but the event happened to be bundled with a fabulous lunch – and for that, I will fall hard.

Now dear hubs, as many of you know, uses a wheelchair. And one of the mostly weird and occasionally wonderful ways in which this detail impacts on our social life has to do with theatre seating. We don’t sit where we choose; we sit where we’re put. Once in a while, the designated wheelchair seating area turns out to be prime real estate. That’s a party. More often, though, it’s in the fringes. Off-off-off Broadway, if you will. On this particular occasion, we were made to sit up front but on the extreme periphery of spectators – at such an awkward angle relative to the stage, in fact, that we were able to discern all the magic behind the magic. We saw through all the smoke, mirrors and sleights of hand whose success depended on a very specific audience viewing angle.

Sure, it was interesting. Mystery solved. But it also spoiled the magic.

In a way, that’s how I felt last week when I finally discovered the identity of one considerate, yet perpetually mysterious, neighbour. Long-time readers of this blog may remember “The Case of Citizen Stealth.” This story centered on a certain unknown, unnamed individual in my community who regularly retrieved our garbage bins from the curb for us after they’d been emptied on pick-up day. From my seat at the computer I’d hear the big plastic bins being shuffled and moved, but I never saw anything, never caught anyone in the act. And I always wondered which of my countless kind neighbours could take the credit for this good deed.

Then suddenly, mystery solved. Last week I spotted her walking past my office window, and seconds later the bins were rolled up the driveway. I hadn’t guessed it was her. I suppose I could have or even should have, because she’s the type who does many favours, and frequently. But she doesn’t even live on my street, although she walks along it, so her name hadn’t crossed my mind.

Is the magic spoiled? In a way it was nice not knowing. It left all possibilities open. It could have been the grumpy guy across the street. It could have been the reclusive pair nearby. They could have all been taking turns. Until last week, the potential was there.

But nothing has changed, really, has it? The potential is always there. And almost every person possesses a drive to do good. This week, especially, we have to remember that. This week, especially, I am thinking about the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

It’s called dilution, and it’s not magic. It’s a basic law of chemistry.

I’m grateful for the ocean. And my neighbours.

GarbageBin

I like big bins, and I cannot lie…

Screen Test

I’ve been out to the movies a few times this summer. (The Gift: Really good. Inside Out: Really good. Trainwreck: Really good. Thanks, online review aggregator, for making sure I never waste my money at the theatre… notwithstanding, of course, the twenty-dollar drop for the popcorn combo.)

I guess I like getting the most out of my entertainment buck, because I’m one of those individuals who enjoys the preshow and the previews before the main feature. If you pay attention to those, you might have seen the Cineplex Cinemas ads with theatre courtesy tips, namely: turn off your phone (“Don’t be a Tommy Texter”), refrain from kicking the chair in front of you (“Don’t be a Suzie Seatkicker”) and go for economy when you’re saving seats for friends (“Don’t be a Harvey Hogger”).

Last week, a Suzie Seatkicker actually sat behind me at the movies. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her. Tap, tap, kick, kick, bump-bump-bump. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t do it. It’s distracting. It’s irritating. I admit that initially I harboured mean-spirited thoughts towards Miss Suzie. Why couldn’t she keep her lousy feet to her lousy self?

But partway through the film, somewhere between the comedy and the tragedy, I changed my perspective. Sending Suzie mental ill-will certainly wasn’t enhancing my movie experience. And wasn’t it possible Suzie wasn’t doing it on purpose? That perhaps she had unfeasibly oversized legs, that maybe she was cramped and just really, really uncomfortable? I decided Suzie might have a legitimate reason to seatkick. So I let it go. And from there, my movie concentration skills improved.

Once the credits were rolling, I naturally couldn’t resist turning around to get a look at Miss Suzie. Or rather Mister Suzie, as it turns out he wasn’t a woman but a thin, tall young man. And as such, he was endowed with very long – hey, get your mind out of the gutter, readers – legs.

Coincidentally, two days later a friend posted a message on social media: “The true mark of maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation instead of trying to hurt them back.”

Was it maturity that compelled me to try putting myself in Mister Suzie’s (size 13) shoes, instead of turning around to throw popcorn at his head? I don’t know about that. I just know that adopting a more understanding perspective did help me enjoy the movie. It was a win-win. I got to focus on the big screen, and Mister Suzie didn’t have to fish corn kernels out of his ear.

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Heat is On

For almost a decade, I have spent part of every summer at a certain magical place. It’s fully described in this earlier post, so I won’t go into detail again now. Suffice it to say that, this year, we happily enjoyed the usual fun, food and frolic. Each day brought us remarkably perfect weather – save one. On our second-last day, the temperature dropped, the sky turned grey and a dismal rain fell all day, stopping just long enough for my daughter to take out a sailboat, fall into the water, and soak the four layers of clothes she was wearing.

Apart from the sailing, this particular vacation day was mostly made for sitting around: relaxing, reading and chatting, instead of the usual swimming, windsurfing and kayaking. So by early evening, the combination of low activity and abundant cuisine had us feeling antsy. My daughter and I decided to burn a few calories by speed-marching through one of the buildings, up stairs and down hallways, up hallways and down stairs.

It was thus on our travels that we almost ran over Grace, an eightysomething woman staying here for a family reunion. When we met her, she was pushing a walker slowly down the hall to her room, delicately balancing two cups of tea on her mobility device.

“Can we help you carry those?” I asked her.

“No, but you can help me with something else,” she said. “Do you know how to work the heat in these rooms?”

“Actually, we do!” I replied. I explained that we’d just worked it out for ourselves, as my daughter’s dunk in the lake had necessitated a drying out of various garments.

Grace, who’d thought I was a staff person, exclaimed, “Oh, you’re a guest here! You don’t even have to help me!”

As you know, it’s my personal policy that we all certainly do have to help each other, and I freely told her so. The three of us walked at a slug’s pace together, introducing ourselves and chatting. Once we reached her room, I showed her how to adjust the heat.

Grace promptly put it up to 90, the extreme upper limit. “That’s going to feel like a hot summer day,” I warned her. “That’s just the way I like it,” she countered cheerfully.

“Well, enjoy your sauna,” I joked as we turned to leave.

“You’ve been so kind,” Grace remarked. Then she added with a grin: “I hope someone is as kind to you, when you’re as old and stupid as I am.”

For the record: When I am indeed old and stupid (a case could be made that I’m already nearly both), I’m counting on all you younger whippersnappers to be kind to me.

And please remember, always, to book my annual summer vacation.

We had lake, we had dock, we had Muskoka chairs. It was all the makings of a quintessential Ontario summer getaway.

We had lake, we had dock, we had Adirondack chairs. It was all the makings of a quintessential Ontario summer getaway.

Garden-Variety Good Deeds

Anyone who shops at garden nurseries on a regular basis knows that the bill adds up faster than you can say “variegated sedge.” That’s one reason why gardeners get so much joy out of dividing and sharing their own perennials. All those flowers, ferns and other freebies can save you a pile of cabbage.

Another reason is more fundamental. It seems to me that gardeners like finding new places for our plants because it means we’re spreading a little bit of beauty to one or two more corners of the world.

Last week my hubby and I visited a private garden where the homeowner and resident cultivator invited us to browse through her flowerbeds, point at perennials that caught our eye, and bring parts of them home to start a new life. She’d never met us before – we were introduced by a mutual friend. She may never see us again (although I did promise we could return the favour, anytime she wanted!). But thanks to her, new patches of sweet woodruff, tall woodland sunflower and green lady’s mantle are now taking hold in our own back yard.

I could go on and on about the good deeds that constantly crop up (hee hee, “crop”) among gardeners. In fact, I’ve discussed this in other blog posts, here and here. But for now I’ll just share this woman’s parting words, as we loaded up our van with pots large and small:

“Gardening is a lesson in generosity.”

It certainly all felt very generous to me.

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that's front-and-centre in this pictue, we'd love to hear from you...

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that’s front-and-centre in this pictue, we’d love to hear from you…