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Expanding conceptions of accessibility in Montreal

As part of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill’s annual event ‘Social Justice Days,’ Aimee Louw and Gift Tshuma of Accessibilize Montreal led an hour-long interactive workshop on February 11 that challenged conventional views on accessibility, and disability and explored different ways to fight for accessibility in Montreal. Throughout the workshop, Louw and Tshuma encouraged participants to share their experiences with and personal views on accessibility.

“Disability is viewed as a problem and it’s viewed in individualistic terms, not in terms of let’s try to make our community open and accessible.”

After participants discussed their perceptions of accessibility and disability, Louw and Tschuma showed a video of Tshuma and his friend during a practice fire evacuation at Concordia University. Tshuma was waiting for a fireman to help him evacuate the building, as he could not access the stairs in a wheelchair.

“That was a pretty scary situation since I was waiting for 45 minutes on the eleventh floor, and everybody else had evacuated the building,” Tshuma told The Daily. “You are less important of a student for the Concordia faculty. That’s how it was like. It’s kind of scary because the whole point of the institution is to take care of student needs.”

Louw also asked the participants to voice their opinions on possible ways to build a movement around accessibility, as methods such as protests and street blockades pose barriers to those who cannot “[use their bodies] as a weapon.”

Some participants suggested spreading personal stories and information about the challenges of accessibility in Montreal. “I feel like unless you know someone, are close to someone, or work with people who have challenges with accessibility, it’s not on your mind. So maybe in [… Montreal], awareness might be the first step […] Just to get people thinking about it [and] talking about it,” said a participant.

The workshop concluded with an announcement about Accessibilize Montreal’s “Strateg-Tea” meeting on February 25 that will mainly discuss strategies to spread awareness on the movement for accessibility in Montreal.

“Disability is viewed as a problem and it’s viewed in individualistic terms, not in terms of let’s try to make our community open and accessible,” stated Louw. “It seems like there’s a cultural shift [in the meaning of disability] that’s needed in order to make things work.”