Disabled people were setting the pace of Friday's anti-G20 march, says Andrew Mindscenthy.
Mindszenthy is a member of Disability Action Movement Now (DAMN), a cross-disability coalition that includes disabled people and people affected by ableism.
DAMN works to end the physical, economic and social barriers that prevent disabled people from participating in society in the ways other people have a right to.
DAMN's contingent was near the front of the march and included an accessibility van available for people to ride in.
"This is one of the first huge mobilizations - possibly the first mobilization of this size - that has had a coherent accessibility policy and has put accessibility on the agenda of all the marches," says Griffen Epstein, also with DAMN.
The accessibility policy has resulted in everything from a ramp being installed at the activist convergence space, to accessibility marshals at demos who ensure people have access to the kind of support they need, to sign language interpretation of speeches, says Epstein, who adds that "real accessibility" is a long way off, even within the social justice movement.
"It's been a long struggle, to participate as equals on the left or in social movements," says Mindszenthy. "There are a lot of ways people are excluded: from unthinkingly booking meetings where people in wheelchairs can't access, to cultures where calling people 'insane' is an insult."
Disability rights activists were prominent at Friday's march, however, including a speech by Epstein emphasizing the links between different forms of oppression and the G20.
“Leaders of G20 are the architects of the brutal neo liberal policies that keep disabled people living in poverty, in the criminal justice system and policed and priced out of access to affordable housing, transit etc,” she says.
Epstein says disabled people are disproportionately incarcerated, a point emphasized by the arrest of a deaf man during Friday’s march.
Witnesses say he was unable to understand police instructions and prevented from communicating after police cuffed his hands, making sign language impossible.
“The money that was spent on criminalizing our dissent to [the G20] and on accommodating the richest leaders in the world could have been put into the pockets of poor people in the city who are disproportionately disabled people,” says Epstein.
One of DAMN’s key demands is making Toronto’s public transit system physically and economically accessible.
“Most of the services that TTC offers are not physically accessible,” says Mindszenthy, including most subway stations and all streetcars.
Disabled people are often unemployed or living on disability support, he adds, making the $6 roundtrip fare - an amount that doubles for people using Wheel-Trans with an attendant care person - economically inaccessible.
This “contributes to the segregation of disabled people by restricting the freedom of movement,” says Mindscenthy.
“Disabled people are marching to end segregation in Canada and around the world,” he says. “G20 countries, are countries that, as part of their broader agenda of keeping poor people down and marginalized people out, institute a lot of policies that DAMN says is segregation."
“We're working towards real accessibility,” Epstein explains, which goes far beyond sign language interpreters in jails and wheelchair ramps in stores. It means everything from a raise in social assistance rates to accessible schools, to affordable housing, to an end to the prison justice system, she explains, because all forms of oppression are connected.
“It’s really about ending linked forms of oppression,” says Epstein, “Because all of these issues - immigration, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, sexism - these are all issues of disability.”