A Reluctant Advocate

One of Dalia’s friends recommended we meet her at an art exhibition opening this weekend.  It was of an artist her friend knows, on Granville Street, where Vancouver’s art galleries are concentrated.  We planned to go and I was looking forward to it all week.  When we arrived, we were met with stairs.  No problem, we thought – this is Vancouver; almost everything is accessible here.

Dalia went up to inquire how I could get in.  There was no other way.

I really don’t enjoy being an advocate.  It is not very pleasant to complain and bring attention to troublesome realities. It is especially bitter when irksome issues are not anyone’s direct fault.

I am not sure if Elissa Cristall Gallery, where the exhibition was held, rents or owns their gallery space. From what I saw from the sidewalk, the second level space is quite stylish. In Vancouver’s property market, I am sure it is a valuable spot.

I am not sure what the BC Building Code has to say about accessibility. Access to the Code document is not cheap – behind a pay wall like that, perhaps not everyone who needs to consult it can.

[UPDATE – If a building was constructed before accessibility provisions in the BC Building Code came into effect, it is only required to become accessible when there is a transfer in ownership, or a major renovation AND to become accessible is “practical.” These are very weak regulations.]


The gallery we wanted to go to should not take all the blame though.  Sadly, the two galleries beside it, Master Gallery Ltd. and the prolific Heffel, that proclaims itself to be “Canada’s National Fine Arts Auction House,” were not accessible either from what I could tell.

So, I did what I had to do. I waited outside, while Dalia went up and met her friend and listened to the artist speak. They came down afterwards and it was a nice chat. I didn’t get to meet the artist, or see her work in person, but saw some of the photos on the Internet and my phone, taken by Dalia.

Most disabled people and their families have to fight for their whole lives.  We call it being an effective self-advocate. My parents had to fight to allow me to go to a French immersion elementary school instead of an essentially segregated one when I was small. Then they had to fight for me to have an assistant.

As an adult, I am ready to assert what I need, and go after it. It won’t always be easy as I go forward. A good advocate always needs to ask for what they want though. If we don’t ask, how can we get?

So what should I ask for here? Should I travel around with a lawyer on retainer to write threatening demand letters to force public places to become physically accessible?  Should I launch claims in the Human Rights Tribunal? I won’t make many friends if I take that approach.

I don’t have all the answers. I know making spaces accessible costs money and can be a logistical challenge. I know that I might have bought some artwork this weekend if I could have gotten into the galleries. These galleries don’t know how many sales they are missing out on.

I don’t know what the best outcome for this type of situation is. If I do not talk about it when I am explicitly denied access to a part of my community, it will not be dealt with, and others will be excluded too. I am not sure what I want to happen in the specific case of these galleries.

I do know that I wish I did not have to write this article. Being excluded from something that I really wanted to participate in hurt.