A South Surrey woman with a unique perspective on accessibility reached new heights last week, with a chance to ask Canada’s leader how his Liberal government was going to improve access for people with disabilities.
Michaela Robinson was among a handful of young adults who got to pose questions to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the one-day National Youth Forum in Ottawa, held Nov. 1.
Robinson didn’t mince her words, asking Trudeau “how your government foresees making accessible burdens more accessible for people my size, my shortness stature, and how it will help more people with disabilities to do things they love to do.”
At just three-foot-10-inches tall, Robinson knows the reality of barriers all too well.
But she is also a prime example of someone who doesn’t let her disabilities stand in her way – she is a Special Olympics athlete and an avid volunteer in and around the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
Her tenacity was among characteristics that earned her a seat at the forum, along with fellow Self Advocates of Semiahmoo member Alexander Magnussen.
Magnussen, 28, is a passionate public speaker and chair of the Semiahmoo House Society group, which formed to support their peers with developmental disabilities, raise awareness and promote inclusion.
He said he and Robinson were among just over 100 young adults chosen from across Canada to represent people with disabilities at the forum; an opportunity he said was “a great honour.”
Consultations around accessibility legislation got underway last July and are scheduled to continue through February.
In response to Robinson’s question, Trudeau told the forum that his government is committed to have “an accessibility act with teeth” in place by early 2018.
Understanding the issues is central to addressing the challenges, he said.
“The first part of it is what we’re actually gathering here to do, is to hear from a broad range of Canadians with very different experiences and challenges about what is most needed,” Trudeau said.
Areas to be considered include whether current standards are adequate; if there are other examples in the world that Canada should be following; and what logical solutions can be put in place.
“These are the challenges that I think we need to understand properly,” Trudeau said.
“At the very least, we will make it much more obvious to Canadians who are ‘happily oblivious’ to the very real challenges that far too many people go through, more aware of what they can do…
“Making people understand that they are all of our issues is something that we are going to achieve through this process that you are all a part of.”
Video of Robinson posing her question was posted to SAS’ Facebook page, and received swift support. As of Monday, it had been viewed more than 6,100 times. Commenters commended Robinson as an inspiration and “an awesome spokesperson.”
“Even though you are short in stature we all look up to you,” writes one.
Magnussen agreed that Robinson “held her own,” including in drawing attention to herself when she wasn’t sure if her size meant Trudeau hadn’t seen her hand up.
“She made her presence known,” Magnussen said.
In addition to hearing from Trudeau, Robinson and Magnussen were part of group discussions around accessibility, removing barriers and leadership roles.
For Magnussen, who is autistic, financial accessibility for people with disabilities is an issue he’d like legislation to tackle.
As well, there need to be protocols in place that consider things such as the needs of people with intellectual disabilities while travelling, he said.
Magnussen explained that he is claustrophobic, and flying to and from the forum could have been unnecessarily traumatic had the flight attendant not been considerate of his need to get off the plane as quickly as possible after landing.
“I have autism; a meltdown can occur faster and without much warning,” he said. “It could’ve went horribly, horribly wrong… if they didn’t understand that it was a real thing.”
He admits that while he is “a little skeptical” about how much of an impact what was shared at the forum will have on the upcoming legislation, it was a step in the right direction to be given the opportunity for input.
“We have a right to have our words known and our causes known, because we are the last to have our issues brought up,” Magnussen said.
“A lot of time we aren’t asked about our own care, government-wise, or even daily.
“I hope that what we did will make meaningful changes for people with disabilities in Canada.”