All his life, the Mount Pearl man has faced accessibility roadblocks in just about every setting. He’s encountered them in schools, in transit, while shopping, in recreation facilities. He’s fed up with feeling unwelcome because he uses a wheelchair.
“When I go to all these events and there’s not a designated wheelchair section, or there’s stairs — that means I can’t even go, period — I do feel like because of my disability I was left out,” he said.
“And I do feel like sometimes, when you face these barriers, it’s hard to feel like a contributing, important member of your community and of society, because you feel like you are not really being treated as it.”
Pittman is a passionate, strong-willed guy who loves to talk. In September, he’ll be studying journalism at College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s. He’s inspired by the work of VOCM’s Paddy Daly, and calls Pete Soucy “the king of the game of devil’s advocate.” Eventually, he wants to become a radio talk show host so he can talk about subjects he doesn’t feel get enough attention, like accessibility.
“This isn’t something that I’m just looking up on the computer and then ranting about. I’ve lived it. This has been my life for 23 years, so of course I’m going to have a different perspective. I might not always be right, but I’m going to have a different perspective, and I would hope an enlightening perspective,” he said.
The former MUN student has already spent some time at CNA’s Prince Philip Drive campus. He said the building fares better than the university when it comes to physical accessibility.
But his issues with school didn’t start at post-secondary. He’s had to transfer from inaccessible schools twice, he said, leaving friends behind. And he remembers the anxiety that came with fire drills — he was told that when the alarm sounded, he had to go to the top of a stairwell and wait for firefighters to come and carry him.
Barriers exist all over, making everyday tasks like shopping difficult for Pittman. He said it often takes someone making a stink about them before they’re dealt with. He’s baffled by businesses that don’t consider accessibility.
“Why wouldn’t you, from the beginning? Because not only does it mean that you’re not excluding anybody, but just think economically, financially. It’s basic economics — the more people that you can cater to, the more people that you can get through your doors,” the more money you will make, he said.
By operating out of an accessible space, he said, businesses create an atmosphere “that says, ‘You are welcome here. You belong here. We accept you. You do not need to be anything else other than what you are, and we will welcome you with open arms.’
“That’s literally all any person at all — disabled, deaf, blind, anything, any form of disability, or any person at all ... that’s all they want. Just to be able to go to any place they want and just feel like they are welcome there.”
In April, The Telegram published a letter Pittman wrote about the challenges he has faced. It’s not the first time someone turned to The Telegram to share their frustration about accessibility issues in and around St. John’s. Dozens of articles and letters in recent years tell the story of a sizable portion of the population feeling forgotten or dismissed.
People have been frustrated at times with things like GoBus, blue zone parking and inaccessible housing.
A 2012 profile of people with disabilities aged 15 and up in Canada estimated that 14.1 per cent of people in Newfoundland and Labrador have a disability.
Between the roadblocks, there are some individuals and organizations that have been making life easier for Pittman, and for others.
Pittman pointed to Easter Seals and EmpowerNL as two groups providing him with resources, entertainment, support and friendship.
He has mostly positive things to say about the GoBus service, and says the accessible taxis of Newfound Cabs have been life-changing.
The Telegram spent some time recently talking to Pittman and other advocates for the disability community. The result is a feature series that looks at accessibility and inclusion in the province.
Every day this week, The Telegram will feature stories about accessibility in day-to-day life — at home, in transit, at school, at work, and in recreation — for people with mobility and sensory disabilities. We will examine issues and possible solutions, and highlight existing programs and resources.
We know there are a lot more stories to tell, and we’d love to hear them from you. As part of the series, The Telegram will be holding a public forum Wednesday evening which will be streamed online. Pittman will be among the panelists.
By Louis Power and Ashley Fitzpatrick
MORE IN THIS SERIES:
Inclusion Now: Accessibility starts at home