Hi all, as some of you know, things have been a little tough for me lately. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with the ILC stuff, and trying to get the second Starkeeper installment out as soon as possible, whilst trying to find a way to improve the sales and promotion of the first. (I’m currently making a dollar or so a month, but in June, July and August, I didn’t make anything at all. This is why I entered Shell’s essay contest.) With all the things that were overwhelming me at the forefront of my mind, I was really looking forward to a week in Toronto with my family! It was supposed to be fantastic – my mum had it all planned, she bought tickets for us to go see WICKED for my birthday, which is one of my favourite plays. She even booked a hotel room, so that my younger brother and I would have a day or two to rest before we visited the land of Oz. (My brother and I both have Cerebral Palsy, albeit varying forms. Though, neither of us can tolerate sitting in our wheelchairs for long periods of time.) However, what followed was an extremely infuriating and disappointing experience.
We went to see the 1:30 matinee performance of WICKED on the Wednesday, (the 10th,) and I was super pumped until two of the ushers at the Ed Mirvish Theatre kicked my younger brother out! Now, allow me to elaborate, my brother is “nonverbal,” (I hate that term, because he isn’t mute,) with a more severe form of CP. He was making his contented sounds, and even though they weren't loud by any means, the usher thought they were disruptive. However, others in the audience did not; as they approached us during the intermission, and were upset that he was sent out. I could have stayed for the whole performance, but I was/am extremely livid!! You know, WICKED is about embracing differences, but sadly that was lost on some of the Mirvish staff!
We left the theatre – I was so mad and spastic that I could barely talk! Then when we got back to our hotel, my dad filled us in. He said that even before the play began, the one usher was hinting to him that he should take my brother out of the auditorium, which enraged my mum and I further. My parents sent emails to Mirvish explaining the situation when we got home.
The following is the response that my mum received:
“Dear Ms. Campbell,
Thank you for writing, and for your patience as we worked to look into this. We hope you will accept our sincere apologies for this unfortunate experience. Our theatre strives to be hospitable and welcoming to all patrons of all levels of ability. As such, all our staff are trained as per the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarioans with Disabilities Act (AODA). As per this Act, a company (or theatre) may offer alternative measure by which our patrons can enjoy our shows. In the case of the Ed Mirvish Theatre, this alternative measure is the option to enjoy the show from a comfortable location in the lobby, where the production can be viewed from a television monitor. We have been in conversation with the Accessibility Directorate about this particular measure, and they have assured us it is entirely acceptable. While perhaps not perfect, we have found it to be a feasible solution that is sensitive to the abilities and expectations of all our many and various patrons. In the past we have observed that some patrons with disabilities may inadvertently cause a disruption to nearby patrons' enjoyment of the show, and sometimes to the performers themselves. Once this occurs it is at our discretion to ask these patrons to come to our lobby to enjoy the show for a short time on one of our monitors. The Ministry is aware of this alternative measure and is supportive of it. Having said that, we are sincerely sorry for the disruption and inconvenience we caused you and your family. We are happy to offer you a full refund and want you to know that you are always welcome at any of the four Mirvish Theatres.”
This was blatant discrimination on the ushers’ part, which wasn’t recognized and addressed. Instead, Mirvish is making a HUGE generalization about its “patrons with disabilities,” we’re not all loud and inadvertently disruptive, which is an attitudinal barrier right there! They’re trying to justify their generalization by mentioning the AODA. Therefore, I decided to google the act to refresh my memory, because I couldn’t recall any part of said act stating that segregation is an acceptable form of accessibility. In fact, the AODA states the opposite. (Please see the AODA, Part I, section 2.) Furthermore, the act and the OHRC, (the Ontario Human Rights Commission) both favour inclusion, and inclusive design, as well as respect for the individual. (Please see OHRC’s “Applying Human Rights” video and narrative.) Now, the AODA does say that other accommodations may be necessary for some people, and a separate viewing area may well be a good alternative in extreme cases, but my brother’s case wasn’t extreme. I think that this alternative should be an option, not an automatic requirement for those of us with different levels of ability. It should also be offered in a way that is sensitive, and doesn’t discard our dignity.
Anyway, since the initial emails to and from Mirvish, my parents have sent several emails to various organizations such as the OHRC about this issue. However, I want to do my own part, because I love my brother, and I feel very strongly about this whole situation! I also feel that it is super important that we (people with disabilities) continue to advocate for ourselves, because we are still human after all, and we have the same rights as our “able-bodied” counterparts.
What happened to my brother could happen to anyone. Therefore, I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that no one else is disrespected, and so blatantly discriminated against.
You know, maybe Mirvish employees, and all employees of facilities open to the public should have regular, mandatory sensitivity training workshops – similar to the inclusion workshops that I speak at through Extend-A-Family.