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Disabled community left in the cold

At the International Day for People with Disabilities, Jaisa Sulit tells the Star how her life outlook was transformed by her disability.
Francine Kopun, Staff Reporter
Published On Sat Dec 3 2011

The blind and those in wheelchairs gathered on a cold corner of Nathan Phillips Square Saturday to stage their own celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities after the annual event was cancelled by the City of Toronto.

“It’s pretty shocking that it wasn’t recognized. That’s just not right,” said Michele Gardner, 45, who has cerebral palsy and attended the event in a wheelchair.

“Then again, with Mayor Ford, anything goes.”

About 60 people gathered for about two hours in the cold to share their stories of challenge and fortitude and forbearance.

“In the midnight hour, when you really are alone and feeling depressed, I want you to reach back to the energy and spirit here today and let it catapult you forward,” said Beverly Smith, 58, who has arthritis and uses a wheelchair.

In the past the International Day of Persons with Disabilities — a United Nations event held around the world — has been supported by the city at locations like Variety Village and the CNIB, and attended by city officials, including former Toronto mayor David Miller.

This year the City of Toronto posted a notice to its website saying the annual Dec. 3 event, which honours unsung heroes who struggle against adversity, would not be held.

Instead, the event will be recognized with a proclamation by Mayor Rob Ford, on Dec. 8, at an evening event celebrating Human Rights Day in the council chamber of city hall, according to the city website.

“I’m certainly not happy with it,” said Ann Kennedy, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event, who also braved the cold in her wheelchair. “I think we’re owed a lot more than that. It’s not just about the disabled community. It’s an internationally recognized day. It should be building, not shrinking.”

Elizabeth Hurdman, who is legally blind, attended the event when it was held at Variety Village and supported by former city councillor Adrian Heaps. She heard through word of mouth that it had been cancelled and attended Saturday’s meeting with her guide dog.

“It’s always a disappointment when an event is cancelled, and I think for this particular community, which is often overlooked, it’s devastating. There are very few events that address this community. It’s almost personal.”

City Councillor Adam Vaughan said he had no idea the event had been cancelled even though he is chair of the accessibility advisory committee, one of 21 citizen committees Ford tried to shut down this summer.

Ford had to back away from shutting down the accessibility advisory committee after it was pointed out to him that having one is a requirement under provincial law, said Vaughan.

“There’s been a drift, if not a concerted effort, to move away from support of people in this city with disabilities,” said Vaughan. “The mayor’s office has been silent on this stuff. They’re walking away from democratic input and they’re walking away from supporting people that have needs.”

Vaughan said he is trying to get the committee back up and running.

“It’s not like I’m walking into a turnkey operation here. It was wound down, it was drifting. We’re trying to reestablish it now.”

Reproduced from http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1096684–disabled-community-left-in-the-cold