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My Name Is Greg Snider: I Have a Disability

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Greg Snider is Chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union's Disability Rights Caucus. The following is an excerpt of his address to OPSEU's annual Equity Leadership Meeting, September 10, 2003, in which he describes how he has dealt with his disability.

I have a disability. Eleven years ago I would not have admitted that.

Some believe that that was the attitude that insured that I didn't allow my disability to set any limits. In fact that's not the case. Let me tell you a story.

I use to work at an institution for persons with Developmental Disabilities. During this time I considered myself to be a person without a Disability. My daughter, Sarah, then was only a little over a year old. At lunch I would rush to the washroom and scrub a layer of skin off. Then while smiling from ear to ear, I would hurry off to Kinderplace Daycare Centre to feed Sarah lunch. I would rush down the hall, through the Daycare's doors and down to their dayroom where several children would be lined up in their highchairs, bibs in place, ready for their lunch. Then I would slow down. You see, I couldn't make out which was my daughter. A father should be able to pick out his daughter.

But don't be telling me about my vision problem, because I didn't have one. You can't imagine how much those few minutes ate away at me, and yet I would tell no one because to do that would be to admit I had a disability.

It took the staff a week or so to pick up on what was happening, and from then on when they saw me coming, they would tap Sarah's highchair and point out to her that I was there, ensuring that in the process I noticed. Wouldn't it have been easier if I had admitted to myself that I had a disability and asked for assistance when I first needed it? If it had been anything less than feeding my daughter lunch, I would have stopped going. As it was, I came close.

If I had, what would have been the result? The staff at Kinderplace would never have picked up on what the problem really was. Instead, they would have decided that I simply wasn't as good a father as they thought I should be. I would have told everyone who would listen that I didn't want to bring anything from the wing to the daycare. It's a weak argument, but I would not have needed one. Opting out was an option I frequently used.

Several years later, I was transferred from a job where I needed little accommodation, and requested none, to a position where I was expected to be working at a computer all day. At age 33, I learned that I had a disability.

Years later I learned that, if I brought a magnifier, I could read something other than hardcover books, and if I went to the large print section of the library, I could read without having to take a break every couple of pages.

So hear I stand today. Greg Snider, President of Local 714, Acting chair of the Thunder Bay Area Council, church board member, NDP riding executive member and more important for today, Chair of the Disability Rights Caucus.

Handicapped. Does anyone here know how the 1983 United Nations World Program of Action for persons with disabilities defined handicapped?

Handicapped: a disadvantage for a given individual, resulting from an impairment or disability, that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal depending on age, sex, social and cultural factors, for that individual.

The important words here are "A disadvantage". Therefore, I'm not handicapped--the sign on the bathroom door is. Fix the sign, and my disability no longer impedes me. Therefore, no Handicap. This bears repeating.

Change the set-up of the office so that people in wheelchairs can access the office, and there is no disadvantage to entering the office for anybody, and no handicap.

The solution to an access barrier can only be to view it through an Equity lens prior to making decisions. That means that we look at not just cost and requirements, but that we also look at the effect that has on minority groups.

I don't wish to leave you with the impression that we are only talking about physical structures. In fact, we could be talking about anything from the board structure to the attitudes held by a local executive. Either of these could represent a barrier to a person with a disability.

So let me wrap up by telling you what the members of my caucus want. They want better benefits, better wages, a government committed to improving the Public Services, a fair social assistance program for those in need, and they want the killing of union activist in Columbia to stop, and they think the way to do this is through their union. To put a twist to an old saying:

Lead or follow, but get the barriers out of the way. We're stronger together.