Last night I read the news on Hurricane Gustav and thought about my disabled friends in New Orleans. I remembered the documentary When the Levees Broke on Hurricane Katrina. There, every person in a wheelchair died, every person needing insulin died. The disabled didn't fare so well in that crisis. I have a friend living in New Orleans in a wheelchair. So I am concerned. Because while on the side of police cars it says to "serve and protect" I wonder if the police or other authorities know enough about disabilities to know how to adequately "protect."
Today, in North America is the statutory holiday, Labor/Labour Day. I woke to the sound of contractors working on the roof, under the owner's instruction. On the weekend the bylaw allows work on Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm, but none on Sundays or statutory holidays. We called the police. We weren't the first.
Over the previous weeks these same roofers repeatedly broke the bylaw, starting earlier and earlier. This ended up causing enough lack of sleep to send me to the emergency room with significant seizures (The ER report read as cause, "Insomnia and stress").
The police had promised the previous complainants that if anyone else called, they would come and shut the work down. Instead they called the contractor who promised to be done by 5 p.m. and these were "emergency repairs for rain." (It hasn't rained since Thursday, and two weeks of a growing heat wave are forecast). I don't live in New Orleans; I live in Victoria, BC.
The officer was told about my illness/disability, which requires 12 hours of sleep daily, and the recent hospitalization. The officer was informed of the owners history of other illegal acts. Why, we wanted to know, can the owner continue in such a way? Were the roofers illegal today? The officer said yes but.....
What was the solution then?
He felt that we should move.
This illustrated the difference in viewpoints. We are working with the health authority already to find the accessible housing for someone with a degenerative muscular and respiratory disease. The waits are 12 to 24 months. I am on near constant oxygen and am waiting funding for a wheelchair with head support and seizure restraint. The officer knew that an illegal activity was happening, but to them it wasn't important. I worry the same owner will "decide" with the same lack of notification to turn off electricity, which would cut off my oxygen. Having already been taken to ER by ambulance by this not so important illegal activity, I felt vulnerable and afraid. The police, instead of offering services, suggest I move. I assume he means going to another apartment instead of mocking my muscular degeneration as there are often many hours paralyzed where I wish I could "move." That's the difference in viewpoints.
I called the Watch Commander, because I wanted to see if this was the attitude of one officer or the whole police force. I wanted to believe, like so many of my friends who ended up in "battles" fighting for rights from wheelchairs to ramps, from care giving to police protection from harassment, that I be served or protected as the law requires. So I asked Sgt. Rendo, the Watch Commander, why, if the police know a law is being broken, do they do nothing? I soon had the experience of listening to him creating reasons why the building owner needs to break the law, which concluded with "the owner could have an exemption in order to do repairs on a holiday."
I asked if the officers who came to the scene had asked to see this exemption. Well, the office, which gives those exemptions, is closed today, was the reasoning on not asking for the paperwork.
I asked if I could have the same right and have a party tonight, because the office to give me an exemption was closed?
So it wasn't just the one police officer. Last year when a stalker was following, harassing and photographing me the police also said they could do nothing. A person blocking my wheelchair on the sidewalk, and parking to cut off my ability to leave using the curb cut is a threatening act, a form of being trapped when you are in a wheelchair. Nor did they understand that when you are trying to remain in your apartment instead of the hospital, illegal construction above you at odd hours, preventing sleep or rest CAN become a health risk.
It seems that we are a long way from Katrina or Gustav. We understand the threat nature presents when a hurricane floods a city. But the rest of the population, the ones who can drive or run away, forget that there is a percentage of the population who don't have that option. And are hoping that the very officers, social workers, and facilities which are staffed by able bodied individuals understand how vulnerable a disability can be in an able bodied world. That when no one will take action against someone who presents a threat to wheelchair use in the community, the only option is to stay inside. Disabilities don't take weekends off. And they don't get statutory holidays. So when I call for help, I am saying, "I am vulnerable, and if you choose to do nothing, I will get sicker, my life will become more limited."
I am tired of seeing disabled friends suffer or having me end up in the hospital or my bed for days so that one more person out of the hundreds of thousands can 'get it.' A disability and/or illness doesn't care if those in positions of power or protection "get it", understand spoon use theory, or how at risk we are. So please "serve and protect" or "foster public safety". I care about the attitudes and actions of others, because I am the one who will bear the cost.
• Visit Screw Bronze!