No Limits, No Excuses - by Julie Sawchuk
I don’t usually wear a piece of rubber around my wrist, it’s not my kind of fashion statement. This one, “No Limits, No Excuses” really struck a chord with me and since it has been a month of meeting people with tremendous strength and accomplishing amazing feats – I wear it.
The bracelet was given to me by someone who goes by the nickname “Lazylegz”. His name is Luca Patuelli. He’s a 30-something Canadian hip-hop artist and motivational entertainer who dances for, and with, young people. He was born with a neuromuscular disorder and as a result he has little strength in his legs. He uses arm canes to help him walk and in his dancing - but he can also do a headstand. He was invited to perform at the International Plowing Match (IPM) in the Education Tent – it was really something to watch. After Luca’s performance I had a brief chance to speak with him before he left for his next gig at the Invictus Games. He was thrilled to be a part of the IPM in light of all the endeavours for it to become as accessible as possible.
The other people working with the motto of “no excuses” were the committee members and volunteers whose task it was to make the IPM accessible. With a budget as small as $10,000 (which in the OPA grand scheme of things this is not a lot of money) we were able to create features that allowed people of all ages to come to the match, enjoy the plowing, use a washroom, get up on stage, park beside the gate and get around Tented City like never before. We have received feedback from people who truly appreciated the changes, urging us to pass along our ideas to ensure the same standards for future matches.
The thing about outdoor events, ones that “pop-up” and then disappear is that they happen fast. The IPM, Music in the Fields, the Goderich Celtic Festival and the upcoming Festival of Wizardry all last for mere days. Although the laws from the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) state that public outdoor events must be accessible, features have to be planned in advance because the building inspector is not going to come along and say “this is not right – fix it”. The tents are gone long before that will ever happen.
The funny thing is that it’s not that hard to figure out. There are loads of provincial information resources and guidelines created with outdoor events in mind. And, ask anyone with a disability what will make attending the event easier for them – they will tell you.
Let’s say that all these outdoor events make changes and plan to have their facilities accessible. This means that one in seven people in Ontario who have a disability can now attend. Stop and think about this - more people enjoying the festivities and food will cause revenues to increase. And not just from that one in seven; they don’t come alone. They bring their families and friends with them. So although it may cost something to plan for accessibility, in the end the bottom line is increased enjoyment for all.
It’s my hope that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will read my blog post about the IPM. I tweeted it to him the day he came to try his hand at plowing our Huron County soil – the same day we met. Accessibility is the law in Ontario and we’ve proven that it can be done – even on a budget. The voices of Charlene O’Reilly and women of the IPM accessibility team as well as the support given by Jacquie Bishop and the Huron County IPM executive committee should be heard by the higher ups – from the Ontario Plowmen’s Association to the Prime Minister. No limits, no excuses.