Creation by Everyone: A Mandate for Building Inclusive Community?

Filed Under (Inclusion, Uncategorized) by Estee on 29-09-2012

I love my City of Toronto where I was born and have lived for most of my life. I’ve lived on the outerskirts and downtown and midtown and I never loose interest or discover new pockets of Toronto. I never liked “bedroom communities” and I don’t thrive well in them. As an art curator, I used to cite the many aesthetic issues as well as social consequences of bedroom communities when I had my own newspaper column, even though most of us don’t have any choice to live in them, as was the situation with my family. Others claim they prefer not to live in “the big city,” and that’s fine too. For me, however, I enjoy being able to walk out the door and take a few steps to the corner to get what I need, to walk or bike to, and be among people. When I talk about my city, I’m really talking about community and there are many notions of community that are important in discussing inclusion and people with disabilities.

After a divorce, I had to move back uptown. My partner and parents live downtown and I am backing-and-forthing. I’ve envisioned Adam’s future downtown, where transportation is accessible, where the chances of having employment could be easier because of accessibility to them; where support in the way of people may be more readily available, and for him to also feel a part of the daily pulse of life among his fellow citizens. I take it for granted, perhaps as a matter of necessity or as a premise unto itself, that he is a valued member of this community, even though we encounter many barriers and prejudices — sometimes subtle and other times overt. It’s an ideal, of course. At some point in the near or distant future, when our lives don’t demand the need to be uptown, I will move us mid or downtown again. Accessibility and being with people is key for me, my vision for Adam, and for our growth as a family that fit with my values.

Along Christie (it’s a street in Toronto), a quote from Jane Jacobs remained unfinished graffiti on a cement partition along the sidewalk. For nearly a year, only half the sentence was written, waiting for someone to bring a can of spray paint and fill it in. “Cities have the capability of providing something …” I felt compelled to drive up and down Christie for the past several years not only because it seems to be one of my favorite areas in Toronto, and one of the first points of arrival when my dad immigrated to Canada, but also because I wanted to see if the sentence would ever read complete.

About this time last year, someone filled it in, but it was incorrect. A few weeks later, it was erased. I waited again and kept driving. In the true Jane Jacob spirit, the practice of finishing the sentence, albeit a quote from her, had to be accessible and inclusive. (Thank goodness Mayor Rob Ford’s attempts at erasing all graffiti from the city didn’t strike this wall). Finally, a few months ago, the sentence was completed:

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

The notion of creating and including everybody is appealing to me, and I gather for this reason, an idea was germinating. How can we cooperate and create our communities that support and include autistic people? Is there a way to use Jane Jacob’s model and discuss the pitfalls and possibilities of creating what we need for ourselves, outside of the systems that can sometimes oppress us? Is there a value to doing both? These are some of the questions I have in disability policy. I’d like to use this blog as a little laborartory for discussing these ideas, and for practicing them.

In Michael Prince’s paper, Inclusive City Life: Person’s of Disabilities and the Politics of Difference (Disability Studies Quarterly), he highlights some of the issues raised by a citizen in an open letter to Canadian politicans:

I used to adore Toronto. As an able-bodied person, it was relatively simple to get around and I appreciated having access to all Toronto had to offer. I didn’t pay attention to the lack of elevators, escalators and ramps. I am 30 years old and have multiple sclerosis now. I am no longer able-bodied but disabled. These days I use a cane or walker to aid my gait, making uncomplicated things more demanding. I now despise Toronto due to its lack of accessibility. I miss the things I once loved and want to enjoy them again but I cannot because establishments are inaccessible. Why am I being penalized for a disease that caused me to become disabled? Why is this kind of discrimination allowed?

His article highlights the ideas of various civic leaders and thinkers and some of the issues that confront people with disabilities in cities. One of them he cites is Iris Marion Young, the author of Justice and the Politics of Difference to present a series of interesting premises’ in the creation of accessible cities/communities:

“In the city,” writes Young, “persons and groups interact within spaces and institutions they all experience themselves as belonging to, but without those interactions dissolving into unity of commonness” (1990: 237). Several premises are contained in this statement. One is that people, as individuals and in groups, have the capacity and opportunity to participate and interact with other people. A second is that sufficient and accessible public spaces and institutions exist throughout cities to enable the being together. A democratic politics, Young stresses “crucially depends on the existence of spaces and forums to which everyone has access” to participate — to speak, listen and bear witness (1990: 240). A third premise is that such interactions generate common experiences of belonging, a basic component of citizenship according to most commentators on the topic. Certainly, for people with disabilities, these public spaces require supports, services and likely adaptations to enable all to speak, to listen and bear witness, regardless of their abilities and capacities. The fourth premise is that individuals and groups participating in such public places and institutions are able, at the same time, to maintain a sense of their own distinctiveness, special status or group identity. Perspective 4 therefore contains, as do the other perspectives, a number of empirical perquisites, behavioural expectations and normative claims.

While the ideals of Jane Jacobs may not as of yet have reached our cities and communities, I think her notion of “creation by everyone” is a vital link to thinking about how we build them.

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.