The Grinders

One of the most rewarding aspects of engaging Londoners through this blog has been meeting so many amazing people who have kindly reached out and introduced me to themselves and their work on behalf of our community.

One such group is the Accessibility Advisory Committee (ACCAC), a select committee of City Council appointees who volunteer their time, energy and expertise towards the promotion and facilitation of a barrier-free London for citizens of all abilities, including persons with disabilities.   Another group that reached out to me recently was Accessible Housing London, a relatively new non-profit that is seeking to alleviate the dearth of affordable housing options for Londoners requiring an enhanced living environment to meet their accessibility needs.

Over the past few months, in an effort to better understand their purpose and challenges, I have had the pleasure of interacting with members of both organizations and attending a couple of the ACCAC meetings.   My heightened interest in these organizations and the people behind them was twofold.

First, and perhaps most obvious, roughly 1 in 5 Londoners are living with some sort of accessibility-challenge.  This is a clearly a group of our citizens that deserves our respect and attention.

Second, I had a first cousin who for nearly 50 years, struggled with a very severe blend of Scoliosis and heart issues until his passing in 2014.  And while I was saddened by his passing, I always admired the unrelenting love, care and affection shown to him by my Uncle and his family, and the many health caregivers who extended the length and quality of his life well beyond his initial prognosis.  As such, I was very interested in meeting the Londoners, who like my Uncle, took up a similar cause and who work selflessly in the background, often with little to no recognition, to make the lives of those with accessibility challenges a little easier.

You see, I have a lot of time for ‘grinders’ – a term often used in hockey to describe largely unheralded, gritty team-players who go into the corners and dig the puck out for their better-known scoring teammates.  They are passionate people who believe in their purpose and diligently go about their work without the need for fanfare or applause – simply because they can and more importantly, because they care.

My reasons for writing about them this week, is that during their most recent meeting, I was fortunate enough to sit in the ACCAC’s orientation session for new members and in doing so, gained some unique insight into what the committee has done over the years to make London more accessible for all.  The list of accomplishments is impressive.  They include:

  • Establishing the Facilities Accessibility Design Standards that are now used by municipalities around the globe.
  • Dramatic expansion of the Easter Seals Access2 program, a program designed is to improve social inclusion and provide access to entertainment, cultural and recreation opportunities and experiences without any added financial burden of purchasing an additional ticket.
  • Continually improving the interactive and accessible capabilities of the City’s services (website, TTY, multiple document formats).
  • Ongoing consultation in all public facilities, mobility services, park and trail designs.
  • Ongoing subject matter expertise, training, public awareness and community outreach.
  • Continued civic compliance with all provincial legislation.

What made this list even more noteworthy is the unassuming manner in which the committee members accomplished these objectives.  One member, who had been involved since the committee’s inception 17 years ago, was particularly poignant in his comments.  During the orientation, he spoke of the importance of small victories, and the cumulative impact that the many incremental changes the committee has championed over the years are now having in the lives of London’s disabled.  He encouraged the new members to identify a need and passionately pursue it.  In his view, it was never the magnitude of any one single improvement, but the fact that over time, all of these recommendations will make a difference in not just the lives of those affected, but our community as a whole through increased awareness, understanding and respect.  His words, and really the work of the entire committee spoke volumes about the sizeable impact a small group of grinders can have making our city a better place.

Similarly, Accessible Housing London is looking to make an impact in support of a growing number of Londoners that are struggling to find suitable affordable accessible housing.  In meeting with the team leader, I could not help but be struck by the pain and passion in her voice as she described for me in great detail the accessibility struggles thousands of our fellow citizens endure on a daily basis simply to find decent shelter and maintain a quality of life.  Clearly we have much work to do, but what resonated with me about our meeting was once again how another committed group of anonymous volunteers were quietly working to resolve a problem on behalf of our fellow citizens.

I have several thoughts on how our City can better serve as enabler of our accessibility-challenged citizens and will include them in my pending gameplan.

For today, I just wanted to acknowledge and thank our grinders, the people that ‘go into the corners’ without applause, back-patting or self-congratulations and ‘dig the puck out’ for the benefit of our citizens.

Their value to our team and our community is immeasurable.