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The Right to Recreation

As a resident of the city of Toronto Canada, I feel that I am compelled to write an open letter to our new Mayor; Rob Ford.  First Mr. Mayor, congratulations on your recent elections.  I know that for the next while, you will be busy putting your Mayoral house in order but before you get down to the business at hand, I thought that I would sneak in on the ground floor so to speak and make you aware of something which would probably become more important to Torontonians as time marches on.

For the last 15 years, I have been valiantly trying to get some answers from the City of Toronto with regard to whether or not they are ready and prepared to accommodate the needs of blind and sight impaired persons when it comes to recreational activities and programs.  I have spent hundreds of hours talking to all levels of administration within the structure of this city but sad to say, I have not been able to obtain any satisfactory response.   

I started my tedious journey in the mid 90s when I decided to take up ice skating as a leisure sport.  I went to the then Scarborough Parks and Recs department and after many conversations, I managed to find an attentive official who decided to help me.  I was fortunate enough to have received some great lessons through the kind auspices of the North York division and Mike LaFlamme and for three wonderful years, I enjoyed my ice skating.  I also managed to engage the assistance of the good folks at the Ice Palace arena in Scarborough and Jan Haney, head of the Skating Adventures School in Scarborough.   

My ice skating fun lasted until 2003 and after that things somehow went off track as I was unable to find anyone within the city's structure who was able to help me.  For the next seven years, I ran into insurmountable road blocks from various administrative personnel and the common theme seemed to be as follows:  The city did not have any money to initiate programs for those who are blind and sight impaired.  Yes, there was some funding, but it would not cover the needs of blind and sight impaired persons.  

It is so heartbreaking when you are given reasons like this; especially when it comes to a city such as Toronto, Canada's largest city.  It makes one feel as if they are being treated like a second class citizen and I can assure you that several other blind and sight impaired persons have expressed similar types of sentiments to me.  To be told that there is no funding for I and other blind and sight impaired persons to be able to take advantage of recreational activities within the city is an absolutely devastating blow to the body.  

Mr. Mayor:  You must be aware that with a rapidly aging population, your city and indeed Canada and the rest of the world is going to have to find ways to accommodate the needs of a population that will undoubtedly be afflicted with a plethora of afflictions that will definitely include persons with loss of vision.  Maybe it is just a matter of you taking some time to ensure that your staff is properly trained and sensitized to the growing needs of a changing clientele or it may be that you may need to take a serious look at initiating programs that will include all persons of your city.

A few weeks ago I hit pay dirt after I went to my counselor's office for assistance to find someone to go ice skating with me.  To my utter surprise, Counselor Michael Del Grande's office found me a North York staff member; Matt Hiltz and he has since informed me that he has the resources to help me.  Furthermore, he has informed me that these resources have been in place for some time now.  

So you may be asking why am I still complaining?  I am doing so because of the fact that I have had to spend so much time discovering Matt Hiltz and it took a concerted effort on my part through the office of my counselor Michael Del Grande.  Why did I have to pursue such a route in order to obtain positive results?  Others have told me that they have had to deploy similar methods in order to obtain positive results.  Some of the questions being asked include:

  • Are city of Toronto staff members fully aware of what the city really offers?
  • Could it be that most of our city's staff are just too overworked to really care about providing adequate services?
  • Or is it that they are just a wee bit too lazy to do their homework?

Whatever the reasons, I do believe that something needs to be done in order to ensure that blind and sight impaired persons are included in the city's recreational activities and programs.  More funding?  A definite yes!  Better training for staff?  A definite yes!  Recreational activities and programs for blind and sight impaired persons should not be considered as a nice to have; it is a right.  For as long as it is opened to the mainstream person, it should also be made available and accessible to the blind and sight impaired as well.  


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