Infrastructure's Effect On Disability

When the federal government consulted Canadians regarding infrastructure, CCD held a meeting where people with disabilities answered the government’s consultation questions. CCD submitted a summary of the discussion.

Paula Orecklin, a member of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, was in attendance at the meeting. She contributed a lot to the discussion and the report. Here, she blogs about the effect that infrastructure has on her disability.
I’m from Winnipeg, where ‘pothole’ is nearly synonymous with ‘road’. It affects everyone who drives on our roads. When you have a disability, this can make a real difference to your quality of life. I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which means that the smallest touch, movement or impact hurts me very badly. Every little bump I go over causes my pain to spike.

The built environment of a city can make things easy to get around, but it also can take every problem that an existing disability causes and amplify them to an incapacitating degree.

The government, at all levels, must take a leading role in requiring and funding accessible infrastructure and must enforce the accompanying policies. Why is it that newly constructed buildings, like the Investors Group Stadium, aren’t fully accessible? Winnipeg has a building code that requires accessibility. How on earth are such inaccessible places being built when there are accessibility requirements in the building codes? When the government doesn't support accessibility, it means that a person with a disability can't go out to football games. It also sends a message to the public that the government doesn’t care about the needs of people with disabilities.

As it is, if any level of government fails to provide their services, it will severely affect the quality of life od people with disabilities. As a personal example, if the streets are not cleared by the city, I will be trapped in my own home. My mother will try to clear the driveway but she will never be able to shovel our entire street. Going over snow-packed roads in our car will hurt me badly. If there is a blizzard and we are housebound for days, I may well run out of my medications.

The smallest things have a huge impact on my health. If I ride in a car, I will be in a lot of pain. If I go somewhere new and have to look out the windows for street signs, some of them are very small. Several areas of the city have larger signs. However, the basic ones are quite small and often difficult to read, especially in poor light.

By missing one street sign, I will have to make a big turn back and will need to go on a smaller, less smooth road. Back lanes are particularly bad. It hurts me so much that I use a lot of medication to manage the pain. If I get to my destination later than I'd planned, I don't have any time to let the pain go down before my planned activity. I get to places early so that the pain of being on the road will have a chance to go down and the medication will have time to kick in. Otherwise, my appointments aren't nearly as effective. I'm definitely not the only person whose pain requires this of them.

I don't use my appointments effectively when I'm still in severe pain from every jostle and bump. After an appointment that I feel might be wasted, I won’t see my doctor again for another month or more. I depend on my mother to understand important things like medication changes. My very safety requires me to be able to go to, participate in, understand, and retain all of this information. Anything that interferes with this is a threat to my well-being.

Some might say, ‘How is this relevant to urging government to invest in and care about accessible infrastructure?’ When you have a disability, these kinds of external decisions rapidly become personal. It isn't just a line item in a governmental budget sheet. It's the ability or inability to participate in life.

Most of this is at a civic level but, ultimately, funding and national standards come from the federal government and filter their way down. The tiniest details can truly affect someone. If missing a turn because there wasn’t a sign can affect me, consider how much the larger things will. Without an engaged, supportive government at all levels, people with disabilities will suffer needlessly. By supporting disability rights, you fight for us to live as all other Canadians do.

I can only hope that our governments will be more considerate.