I had to go get my passport renewed the other day. I am not a fan of any government processes like this, because they are often complicated, time-consuming, and the people who do know the process tend to be rather unhelpful. This is nothing new, and we all kind of take this as a part of life, right? It can be that much more complicated, time-consuming and discriminatory when you are a disabled person. Let me share with you my experience from yesterday.
It was time for me to get my passport renewed. I went online and looked at all the information, and what I required to have ready. I also saw that there was an online option to fill out the forms and print them off, but as I don’t have access to a printer, and am a wheelchair user, I made the decision to go down to the passport office and complete the forms there with the help of an agent. I also figured that way, I wouldn’t make any mistakes on the form. I thought it would be easy enough. Also, I am an expert in asking for help, so I didn’t foresee any issues. I was sadly mistaken.
Before I go any further, let me illuminate for you that just “popping in” to the passport office isn’t something I can do, being disabled and a wheelchair user. So, I booked an accessible ride 2-3 days before, waited 45 minutes for them to pick me up, hopped on the bus, traveled around the City of Toronto for twenty minutes before being dropped off. It literally took me days to coordinate this ride, not to mention a lot of time, effort and emotional labour.
When I finally arrived there, I followed the protocols and lined up behind the rows of people hoping to get their Passports and get on with their day. When it came time for me to be served by the Clerk, I smiled politely and said: “Hi! I am here to fill out a Passport Renewal Form, and I need assistance to fill it out.” I figured that I was being very clear and direct in what my needs were. The clerk proceeded to inform me that, “they do not offer this service” and that I would need to find someone else to help me. I had just been denied access based on my disability.
I was immediately confused and simultaneously annoyed. I didn’t travel with my Personal Care Attendant, and I had no one to help me. I have Cerebral Palsy, use a wheelchair, and cannot write legibly. I tried to explain this to the Clerk who simply proceeded to hand me a paper form, which is completely useless and inaccessible to me as a disabled person. I took the form, and angrily left. I had to wait another 45 minutes for my accessible ride to return, go home, have my Personal Care Attendant fill out the forms on my behalf, and walk the forms to the post office. This ordeal, which could have been solved in 10 minutes had the agent assisted me, took me almost my whole day. Afterwards, I called Passport Canada and lodged both a phone complaint and one via e-mail. I also proceeded to e-mail my Member of Parliament and any news outlet I could think of.
What happened to me yesterday (and I soon found out countless others) was institutional ableism being upheld by a worker for a federal agency in Canada. This needs to stop. How do we expect disabled people to feel like part of society and contribute when they are denied basic accessibility needs?
Moreover, let me briefly discuss how this made me feel as a disabled person. I felt like I had no autonomy, I felt hurt and angry, and I felt as though the ‘independence’ that the Canadian Government claims is a hallmark of our system for Canadians with Disabilities was all a lie.
I think that this level of ableism is appalling, and sends a strong message to Canadians with Disabilities that their Government doesn’t really see them, or care about their rights at all. That hurts more than anything else.