A Complex Day in Monteal

Park_SunsetYesterday, we went to Montreal, a marvelous, if notoriously inaccessible, city for the day. We had planned to be in a workshop focused on using puppetry for working with businesses. Montreal is about two hours from here, so we were up early, aiming to leave by 6 o’clock. We finally made it out of the house about 6:30. The drive up was uneventful, and traffic in the city was delightfully negligible.

Usually we can find our way around Montreal with relative ease; yesterday, perhaps because we were already feeling a bit crunched for time, we were unable to find the workshop site. Even using a map, our destination proved illusive; we found ourselves driving around in circles, passing old haunts, and running into newly one-way streets and, this being the season, construction.

We hoped to have coffee and pastry before the workshop, but by the time we finally found our destination, we were out of time. We parked and hurried directly to the workshop site, only to find ourselves confronted by a dauntingly long, steep stairway!

Immediately, Jennie went upstairs to speak with the workshop coordinator and discover the location of the elevator. There was no elevator! There was also no way I was going to try to climb the stairs! Somehow, in  spite of our diligence in asking about accessibility, there had been a miscommunication, surely a matter of language, culture, and expectation. Something was lost in translation.

The coordinator, who knows both of us, was deeply chagrined; I found myself angry, then profoundly sad. The pain of the situation was heightened as this was the second time in as many days I had encountered stairs when attending meetings we were told were accessible.

Jenny, graciously decided to stay with me rather than attend the workshop. After agreeing to meet the coordinator for lunch, we decided to wander around the neighborhood as neither of us knew it well. It was delightful! Unfortunately, believing it would not be needed, we had left my disability scooter at home, meaning I walked; thus, we had to be mindful of the distance we covered. We moved along slowly, me on crutches and in a brace, occasionally stopping to shop, and found ourselves needing to head back to the site sooner than we wished.

Jennie and I believe that disability is socially constructed, and tend to take a broad view of what constitutes disabling experience. We find it useful to define disability as a lack of access to the social and/or physical environment, a lack created by the beliefs and behaviors of self, or, especially, others. While many disability activists and theorists find this definition overly broad, we believe it aids people to understand the experience of disability, building empathy and community. At lunch, we had a fine discussion with the event coordinator about language (the coordinator’s first language is French), disability, and the financial challenges of making events fully accessible (inaccessible sites are often much less expensive, a crucial factor in non-profit arts programming). We also spoke about the possibility of creating some disability focused programing for the Montreal arts community.

Later, we explored another neighborhood, discovered a new, to us, extraordinary used bookstore, had an engaged and energetic, late fueled meeting with colleagues, visited the requisite bakery, and dallied over gelato at what may be Montreal’s finest ice cream shop.  As prophesied, the line for gelato was well out the door when we arrived, and, as it was a hot day, grew even as we sat at the bar by the window, savoring our delectable treats. Not a bad way to end a complex day in Montreal; not bad at all!

22 thoughts on “A Complex Day in Monteal

  1. Raising awareness and mindfulness of social and physical accessibility seems like a continual appeal to the imagination. Keep communicating – there’s so much we need help imagining!

  2. This taught the workshop people a very important lesson, Michael. So glad you enjoyed your day.

  3. Reblogged this on Jennie kristel's Blog and commented:
    Michael shares his experience in being faced by stairs (twice in two days) and the challenges that the arts communities face in finding easy inexpensive accessible spaces. As of late, I have realized how deeply this focus is for my/our work. We look forward to your comments.

  4. My mother also lives with disability. The other day, the municipality decided to revoke her disability parking permit because her condition is “not so bad” after all, she is not bound to a wheelchair. She would have wanted to appeal in person and look the people in charge in the eye. But the staircase to the town hall is high and steep and there’s not even a handrail. She and others have already complained about this, but they don’t have the resources yet to comply with the regulations. And she was even told that it was her fault (“you, people”) that there are no public toilets nearby the city centre even though residents have asked for it repeatedly because according to regulations they should be accessible, and that costs a lot.

    1. I often just recommend folks speak with an attorney. Failure to meet minimum accessibility standards may be a basis for a successful legal challenge. The media may also be a useful tool. When politicians refuse to follow the law, they may follow shame.

    1. Amazingly, we discovered, via the bookstore owner, that our favorite used bookstore survived the loss of its home several years ago, and is alive and well. We were thrilled!

  5. This is such a crucial issue, Michael, that isolates people and often shames them in the process. Your discussion of inaccessibility reminds me of my years working on housing issues for elders. Since then, I’ve often wondered why we continue to build structures that are, and/or will ultimately become, inaccessible. M. Powell Lawton and Nahemow developed a fascinating model (in 1973!) for describing the fit between people and environments: http://aginginplace.com/aging-in-place-and-environmental-press/. Their work clearly demonstrates the structural nature of discrimination.

    1. Carol, I never cease to be amazed at the rhetoric used to blame those of us with disabilities for our problems with accessibility. Oddly, we Polios have received less blame than most groups, probably because up til now people mostly felt the virus was capricious and being stricken was not our fault. As there are fewer of us, there appears to be less knowledge about the virus in the public, and with that, there is a decline in empathy.

  6. That’s really too bad. A long way to go for disappointment. I’m glad to hear you found some positives along the way, and had an opportunity to educate others regarding your needs. Old, historical cities, are definitely a challenge!

    1. Yes, although more and more European cities are finding ways to make themselves more accessible. Padua is on track to be both one of the oldest, and the most accessible, of cities in Europe. I think it is more a matter of will and priorities. Montreal does not even have accessible transportation.

      1. Too true. We came across some innovative devices to climb stairs while visiting Stately Homes in the UK. We’ve also used the “transformer” buses in NYC. There are many ways around a problem if you look for a solution.

  7. I’ve been waiting almost 4 years for a lift to be installed in the space adjacent to my second floor office. I never would have rented the space, as wonderful as it otherwise is, had I known it would take this long, especially having a husband with PPS & NPH. The thing is, it’s not on my landlords, but on the town. It has now been installed, but apparently the architect made a mistake in the plans so it hasn’t been approved & the town has had to apply for a waiver. I wanted to ask, how do you transport your scooter? My husband has a Pride Pursuit XL, but he only uses it around town. We haven’t taken it anywhere yet. It’s getting to the point, though, that crutches or his rollator won’t be enough support for him beyond a brief walk.

    1. Hi AnnMarie, I must admit to more than a little anger and frustration when it comes to accessibility. The town of Burlington has gotten much better at imposing requirements but still much remains inaccessible. As my PPS worsens, these issues become more central. We are in the midst of looking at options re my scooter. Up to now, we have been able to simply break it down and put it into my Matrix, but that is becoming less feasible. We are looking for a new vehicle into which we can install a lift.

  8. ¡Fenomenal!
    Me parece muy acertada tu consideración sobre este tema.
    Desde hace tiempo ando algo rayado con este tema e intento
    leer mucho sobre ello. La contribución que has elaborado me
    ha parecido muy útil, sin embargo creo que se podría reflexionar un tanto más
    y de esta manera poder desenredar ciertas dudas que todavía sostengo.
    De todos modos, muchas gracias por tu contribución. Voy a estar
    observador a próximas publicaciones que realices.
    Mil gracias.
    Un saludo.

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