One of the things I worried about the most when I knew I had to undergo amputations, was my social life. I would try to imagine myself, as a new bilateral below the knee and partial hand amputee, doing all the activities I enjoyed that fed my extroverted self. For instance, I would sit in my hospital bed and envision walking to my favourite park with my dog, biking around Toronto, hosting dinner parties, or reading a book at my favourite coffee shop. Unfortunately, whenever I daydreamt like so, the crushing feeling of self-defeat would start to creep up and tell me, “No.” This word, “No”, was loudly proclaimed by my physical environment.
A flight of stairs to enter said “NO”. A washroom with a thin lock meant “NO” (and you gotta be ready for someone to walk in on you). Gas station pump: NO. Slicing a carrot (at the time): NO. Clubbing: you’re too old for that, but NO. Travelling: ummmm….are you crazy lady? NO! So, I began to understand why people who identify as having a disability also prescribed to the term “marginalized population”.
Our world is made for the norm. Our spaces are designed with able-bodied individuals in mind. Now, being an amputee, I feel fortunate enough to be on the more “able” side of the disability spectrum and this became incredibly clear to me when I went back to visit West Park (the rehabilitation hospital I was a part of) after many months of being discharged. I noticed that some of my compatriots would never be able to access the spaces I was now able to access because of structural barriers, like stairs and round doorknobs, which may be a somewhat inevitable by-product of attitudinal barriers. As a result, I became very interested in two things: Universal Design and Inclusive Design Thinking.
Very quickly (since these concepts can be very easily googled), Universal Design is simply designing products that are good for everyone; what is good for one is good for all. For example: ramps, speech to text software, sensored faucets etc. While, Inclusive Design Thinking works on the idea that it is not just the product that matters, but the experience. For instance, if you design a restaurant that is accessible but you, as a business owner, are unwilling to hire someone because she, he, they (*preferred pronoun) requires the use of a wheelchair despite being qualified…well….then….a word that rhymes with basshole comes to mind.
As a result of my interest, I began to do more research and attend workshops, conferences etc. that spoke to these revolutionary ideas. I also reached out to Luke Anderson from StopGap and Mayaan Ziv from AccessNow to just, I guess make friends (you should check their work out by the way!). From there, I became inspired to create a one woman grassroots Instagram account called @access_unity. My motivation behind creating the account was, believe it or not, good old fashion Catholic guilt (thank you baby Jesus!). I felt incredible guilt that I could enter such awesome and cool spaces that a lot of people could not. Also, I had a car and went out a lot. So, I decided to, along with going out and enjoying my post-hospital life, take photos of spaces that were either partially or fully structurally accessible, and share any events that focused on accessibility. I actually don’t have a lot of spaces or events featured and I may stop one day since I hope to return to my job as an elementary school teacher, but at least I know that I have created a base for someone else to fully take on this type of work.
I firmly believe that as people with disabilities, we will always wake up with our disabilities in our “backpack”. But as a wise friend once told me, “Your disability isn’t a burden. It is what will help us evolve, consciously.”
We still have a long way to go before we become a fully accessible society, and we may never fully get there. But like the weather, things do inevitably change. For me, it is our own personal evolution towards compassion, for ourselves and others, that will help transform a society into a culture where everyone feels included.
*Below are some links that may be of interest!
Blog Submitted By: Therese Estacion
Therese lost her legs below the knees and upper digits of both hands due to a rare bacterial infection she mysteriously contracted in the summer of 2016 at the age of 33. This fateful meeting led to sepsis and necrosis of her hands and feet. Therese has been a teacher with Dufferin Peel for over ten years and is currently living in Mississauga with her family. She enjoys travelling, cooking and writing poetry. Feel free to connect with her via her Instagram @access_unity.
Amputee Coalition of Toronto welcomes all amputees in Toronto and the surrounding GTA to join our support group for more information on monthly meetups, upcoming events, and a safe space to share your journey. We’re in this together!