I’m gonna warn you right away–a LOT happened today and I likely can’t even begin to encapsulate all of it so if I’ve missed some details I apologize. The readers digest version is that things went amazingly, we met some great people, made some great headway, and now I’m about ready to slip into an over-eating-induced coma.
Now on to the details…
This morning began with a moment of pure and uncontrollable panic. After getting ready (Early for a change! I was so nervously excited I woke up like every 30 minutes after 4am) I flipped on my MSN and got a message from Christina asking “What’s wrong with the website?” I logged in to see what she meant to find everything had reverted to sometime in April–all the blogs gone, all the itinerary information, all the routes. Now the itinerary and route information isn’t a problem because all of that stuff is triple-backed up on my laptop and external hard drive, but all of these blogs (until about 5 minutes ago) were housed exclusively online without any hard or electronic copies existing. Panic began to set in, I had absolutely no idea what to do. Pete calmed me down pretty fast, logically deducing that the service provider who hosts my website likely has back-ups just in case their servers crashed–sure enough, I discovered a note on the host’s website saying they were having server problems and most websites had been rolled back to early April files by accident, but would be back online, right as rain, sometime in the afternoon. Pewf!
It was around this point that Pete and I discovered that I had somehow forgotten to grab my dress shoes–leaving me with only white sneakers to go with my classy dress suit…perfect. After another piece of hyperventilation, we managed to find a pair of my dad’s dress shoes that he had left behind in his condo. Now I know what you’re thinking and no, clown shoes have not come into fashion (that I know of). It’s funny because when Pete first broached the idea of wearing oversized shoes, one of the first things I began to wonder is if anyone would really notice. Do people spend time looking at feet? What about looking at the feet of people in wheelchairs? Is that a social faux pas? As I was debating whether or not people would be too uncomfortable staring at my basically superfluous feet, Pete had already gone to work adjusting the shoes and positioning it cleverly under the seat of my chair, making it nearly impossible to see that I was wearing shoes big enough to fit half of Russia inside. I was totally amazed! Likely these shoes would have been wicked uncomfortable (and totally unusable) if I could walk–score another one for the wheelchair!
So we arrived at Queens Park in really good time: literally. The moment we arrived the skies opened up and rained fiercely for about 5 minutes. It would be the first and last rain shower of the day in Toronto that we saw and finally I got to remain dry. We met up with Lisa and Matt from Leeanna’s office and got a private tour of Queens Park, checking out the Speaker’s office and some of the collectibles scattered throughout the building. I honestly was in no way prepared for how epic Queens Park is. The cavernous hallways lined with portraits of previous Ontario leaders, embedded in deep and rich stained wooden walls and banisters were pretty incredible and I’d advise anyone reading this that if you are ever offered the opportunity to buy Queens Park, do not hesitate, it’s worth every penny!
Before we knew it, it was time to go into the Legislature. I have never been to Queens Park before and as I set wheel in the legislature for the first time I can only assume it would be like to enter Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Now, I’m not attempting to make the claim that the legislature is a place of ultimate bliss and candy, but the room is not only quite beautiful, but is also unbelievably well light…eye-scorchingly well lit. When the big oak door opened to let us into the Members Gallery (no public Gallery for us! Perfect range for aerial peanut bombardment of the NDP and some of the Conservatives if you have a good throwing arm), I was greeted by a security guard with a huge smile who waved me in, welcoming me to the legislature, with a glittering and overpowering light blazing radiantly behind him. It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen.
Just before Question Period began, the Speaker introduced me to the members of government who were in attendance, explaining who I was and what I was doing, followed by lots of applause and smiling faces from the MPPs. After that it was straight to duty, with the two opposition parties taking turns questioning (and interrogating) the Liberals. Honestly, Question Period was really exciting and something I think all Ontarians should see at least once. Whoever said politics is a blood sport was dead on and the MPPs were definitely on their game today, debating their way through some tough (and important) legislation on everything from pesticide use to smoking bans. There was also a large contingent of individuals there today to pressure the government into providing more support for parents with youth with intellectual limitations–interesting but opportune timing.
Immediately following Question Period we were whisked away to the 2nd floor of Queens Park to sit down and chat with MPP Joe Dickson from Pickering/Ajax. Joe was an absolute hoot with a great sense of humour. It was a lot of fun joking around with him and he brought along a special guest with him–the one and only Leeanna Pendergast, who I was yet to meet in person. After snapping some photos and taking a deep breath after some jovial laughter, it was time to get down to business. Joe and I had a great chat about transportation and accessibility and he definitely had some great tips about how to go about working within the mandates of the AODA to push for change. He also was happy to tell us all about the Durham region and what they have been doing about accessible transportation. This was really important for me because leading up to the launch of the March I had been hearing about Durham and some of the unique things they have been doing to get transportation working in their community. Following the meeting, Joe expressed an interest in helping us to link up with some other MPPs while we’re in Toronto and moments before writing this blog I received a mass-transmitted email from Joe to the MPPs letting them know who I am and explaining, quite distinctly, why they should sit down and chat with me this week. I’m excited to see who responds from this personal request. The more people we can talk to the better–education is the first step to making change.
After this meeting we ran a few blocks north to grab some food before meeting with the folks at Baker Law. Baker Law is a tremendous group of lawyers and disability advocates who specialize in disability rights issues. While I have spoken with David Baker on the phone and had extensive conversations with Kate Sellar, it was nice to finally put some faces to names and voices. We had a great chat about what their firm has been doing over the past few years to open doors for the disabled. If there is anyone out there who are in need of lawyers who are well versed on disability rights issues, especially when dealing with the Human Rights Commission, I highly recommend the people at Baker Law. Not only is their professionalism and customer service second to none, this is a group of people dedicated to the advancement of disability rights and are active members of the independent living movement. You can find them online at: http://www.bakerlaw.ca/
Although I was just about ready to collapse after this whirlwind tour, we weren’t quite finished yet. The rest of the day was spent making phone calls and networking to solidify our plans for the rest of our stay in Toronto. We have a packed day ahead of us in Georgetown tomorrow and Wednesday is shaping up to be pretty exciting as well.
All in all, a tiring day with lots of progressive. I may not have driven the chair any closer to Ottawa today, but I have certainly taken a giant leap toward achieving my goal.