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Written by: Stacey Milbern, Disability Justice Activist and Organizer

Notes on “access washing” (similar to pinkwashing or greenwashing):

We are seeing access washing more and more lately. We must recognize it for what it is: leveraging “accessibility” as justification to harm communities of color and poor & working class communities. If accessibility is made at people’s expense, we have to question and challenge that as access. Access for whom?

Examples of access washing:

  • City government implementing anti-homeless measures under the guise of making streets more accessible to people with disabilities, with no consideration that those most harmed by this — houseless community members losing access to public space without alternative safety nets — are people w disabilities themselves. Sue Schweik, who penned a book on Ugly Laws, recently named a City of Berkeley policy for what it is — an ugly law, or ordinances that make it illegal for people considered “unsightly” to be in public space.

  • Citing the Americans with Disabilities Act as a reason to close down polling places, with no consideration that many of the voters being suppressed are disabled. Lead Democrat Stacey Abrams said recently in Georgia that this is creating a false dichotomy where opponents pit people with disabilities against everyone else.

  • Allowing a need for improved accessibility to justify gentrification and displacement, with no consideration that those being forced out have some of the highest rates of impairment. Disability access and access for cyclists are frequently used to support campaigns that ultimately contribute to displacement, attracting higher income people at the expense of people who have been in the neighborhood for generations, frequently people with chronic health conditions.

  • Understanding giving vouchers for students to attend private schools as the best way to create access and choice for students with disabilities. Allowing disabled students to be used in a campaign about public dollars funding private schools does not really create more access and opportunity, and if it does, again we must ask: for whom?

Whenever these kinds of issues are brought up, people in power try to frame the social question as “conflicting needs” between communities. Disabled people know a lot about conflicting access needs. We navigate clashing access needs every day in our lives and relationships. We find cooperative solutions that could never be dreamed in abled imaginations. Access washing is not that. Access washing is really a question of complicity — whether we will allow disability access to be wielded as one of the master’s tools.

In disability justice community, access is a critical part of how all of us get free. In disability justice, access is about turning towards each other and figuring out how to collectively create an environment where everyone, especially those historically excluded, can participate. Access washing is the antithesis to disability justice.

Single issue movements are easy to fall prey to this kind of manipulation because they don’t naturally regard houseless people, displaced people, suppressed voters as part of their body, but rather an appendage. This is not a critique of individual people in an individual movement, it is a critique of movements structured to think of all of the issues that make up the quality of our lives as separate.

We need intersectional movement leadership — now. Not because intersectional leadership is a move in the direction of “diversity”, but because having queer/trans poor working class survivor immigrant disabled people of color in movement leadership will be what saves us from these kinds of trappings. We are our best strategy to win.

Stacey Milbern has short hair and round glasses. They are smiling at the camera, and wearing a black sweater with white text: Catalyst for Change
Stacey Milbern is a writer and organizer in Oakland, CA. She’s been privileged to be at the forefront of disability justice with other disabled people of color for 14 years. You can find out more about Stacey’s writing by following her on Facebook. here: Image description: Stacey Milbern has short hair and round glasses. They are smiling at the camera, and wearing a black sweater with white text: Catalyst for Change

As reported by Constanza Farias

Youth Advisory Council Reflections on Bell Let’s Talk Day

As reported by Constanza Farias

A simple question this morning by organizer Sarah Jama to our group chat prompted us to want to share our take on Bell’s Let’s Talk Day with you.

“How are we feeling about this day”? She asked. Turns out nobody was particularly impressed with this day or Bell’s corporate monopoly over mental health conversations.

Miche Xue brings up the mental health crisis in our prisons and how Bell actually charges prisoners extra for phone calls. Even when it’s a well established fact that there is a major problem with people with mental illness being over-represented in the criminal justice system, something widely referred to as the ‘criminalisation of the mentally ill’. Mental illness rates are about 4 to 7 times more common in prison than in the community . Despite this Bell still goes ahead and chooses to profit from this.

At this point , I join the conversation and share that my biggest issue with Bell Let’s Talk Day is that it’s so reductionist and non-intersectional.

Mental health is complex and simply talking about with a nationwide campaign is but a fraction of what improving mental health requires. Encouraging the propagation of charming sentiments along the lines of “DM me if you ever need to talk” or “my door is always open” followed by and cue key phrase “even if we don’t talk” , that is simply not working. In reality these are empty promises because wellbeing and mental health isn’t built over the span of one day, and specially in a crisis having supportive and safe relationships that are part of your life constantly is what we all need to aim for. This means re-creating community so that isolation isn’t so widespread and wellbeing is prioritized and normalized and for folx dealing with different mental health struggles it means knowing that the messy and scary parts of it won't be ignored and strategically avoided.

It’s not long before more team members join the conversation. Offering to research different resources ( linked below) brought Caspian Oosterhof to another important point of discussion about Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. The words “surveillance capitalism” popped up on my screen. This is something I had personally not give a lot of thought to and it definitely deserves more attention. Basically, it’s the use of individual’s personal information by companies via technology meant to curate data for psychological advertisement by companies and corporations. In many ways we are the first generation to have to deal with the complexity of privacy, data, and technology so it’s something we all need to keep in mind and until proven safe, be careful about.

Being on the youth committee of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, we offer a personal first-hand view of the impact of intersectional mental health awareness” and we are committed to making things change so that the 1.2 million children currently affected by mental illness grow up in a world that is truly welcoming and safe.

These questions represent our overall issues overall with Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, this we know is echoed across out community as well

1. Is a campaign to reduce stigma really the best approach? Or does it perpetuate it? Maybe better consultation on the process is needed.

2. Why be so reductionist and non-intersectional? Perhaps shifting the focus from the individual to society could actually help things!

3. Why emphasize certain mental illness while ignoring many others? Jeez, it’s not only depression you know, there are mood disorders too and psychosis and not everything fits a neat little box.

4. Why capitalize off of mental health ? Let’s be careful with how data is use, oh and also don't charge prisoners extra.

4. Why are Bell’s own employees mental health and wellness not prioritized? I mean sale tactics with pressure so high that employees are vomiting and collectively being affected is not congruent with a company claiming to care about mental health.

The shift that needs to happen involves:

1. Differentiate between short term and long term solutions and efforts.

2. Differentiate between individual , community, and structural factors that are at play .

What I really took away from today, was the way we asked each other if we could work on this today and what we needed. We opened a new group chat and collaborated well into the afternoon. We recognized our struggles as individuals and as a group and didn't take anything for granted. Today was a good day and that gives me hope that when we take care of each other mental health stops being as elusive as it once was.

Resource List, Our Picks

Comprehensive lists of DIY ways to get your self care in; showcases zines and independently published works from people who struggle with their mental health in different ways. Taking the professionalism out of mental health, these zines aim to “fill the therapy gap” and to give those with mental illnesses a chance to be seen, heard, and supported. We also included a resource on crisis support and a youth centered space offering programming and support in Toronto.

1. Dazed

The mental health zines filling the gap that therapy doesn’t. From empathetic illustrations to helpful tips – here is a definitive list of the best DIY resources for self-care, support and intersectional debate. For more visit

2. Bitch Media

Cut & Paste: Zines About Mental Health and Self Care

Stressed? Anxious? Depressed? Here are some smart, creative, feminist zines about taking care of yourself. For more visit

3. Mental Health Support

Resources for crisis support compiled by the Government of Canada. For more information visit

4. Stella’s Place

A place where youth are in control of their mental health and work collaborative, different programs are offered both via their app and in their Toronto space. For more information visit

1. Welcome, and thanks for joining us for our final #CripTheVote chat. Please introduce yourself!

Hello. My name is Michael Pattison. I am a lifelong Hamilton resident, I live in Ward 1, I am self-employed, I have two daughters and 1 step-daughter, and I am running for Mayor of the Greater City of Hamilton.

2. What does it mean to say that something is “accessible”?

Accessible to me means that a product, service, technology, or space can be used or accessed by all people. It means that barriers are removed so that that all people have equal access to all facets of our world.

3. What is the importance of making Hamilton more accessible?

People have the right to be able to access all spaces, places, products, technologies, and services just as any able-bodied person can.

4. In your opinion, what are the most urgent changes Hamilton needs to undertake, in order to meet AODA requirements for accessibility?

This city needs to make people with disabilities a priority. There are so many inaccessible places, products, services etc. Many businesses are not accessible, some are half-accessible, and a rare few are wholly accessible to all. Unfortunately most businesses fall into one of the first two categories. I have been to many businesses, for example, where there is a ramp to get in the door, but there are stairs to get to the washroom, or there is no automatic button to open the doors, or the washroom itself is not wheelchair accessible... Accessibility can also apply to websites, sidewalks, community mailboxes, and just about everything that able-bodied people take for granted- even the language we use. Hamilton should be at the forefront of the changes that are needed and make this a priority.

5. Plans to make city facilities barrier-free have been an important topic of discussion in this election.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

How do you plan to finance the retrofits that are needed?

I know first hand that most soft infrastructure revolving around Accessibility are exorbitantly priced. I have no magic answer because I don't understand how manufactures are still carrying two lines of product. If everything is OADA approved the problem is solved.

6. What steps need to be taken in order to improve the accessibility of Hamilton's infrastructure?

Do you consider these changes to be an urgent priority?

We need to work together with our provincial and federal counterparts and demand that accessibility be seen as a fundamental human right. All city facilities must be made accessible, the time is well overdue. Taxes would have a minimal increase in order to make this happen, and we need to start now.

7. Public events can significantly impact the accessibility of an urban environment.

What are some measures that can be implemented both to protect access to public spaces during city events, and to ensure the events themselves are accessible?

Designating areas for those with accessibility issues is a first step. Not wanting people separated by area is a difficult answer. Anything that is to be built going forward should be able to address this issue through design and flow of our city run facilities.

8. Accessibility isn't just about built environments. If elected, how would you work to make Hamilton's public services more accessible?

This is absolutely true, accessibility is about more than built environments. It is about all environments- technology, web based, the language we use, the services we have, the processes in place etc. If elected, ensuring that all environments are accessible to all would be a priority for me.

9. If elected, how would you work to ensure that Hamilton's private businesses meet AODA accessibility requirements?

Hamilton's older buildings are sometimes near impossible to convert to accessible. We would have to investigate this issue further to come up with a viable strategy. Businesses should come to you to fulfill your needs, as that is what good business does.

10. Accessibility is often talked about as a 'seniors' issue'.

How might this limit the way we approach its implementation?

Can you think of any areas where considering the needs and lifestyles of younger disabled people might be especially relevant?

I believe the "marketing" of barrier free living should focus a lot on children. If we as a society are to get better in the way we plan for the future, I believe we need to show the future which realistically helps everyone of any age.

11. Disabled people are, by nature of our lived experiences, experts in planning for accessibility – and yet accessibility initiatives are often led by non-disabled people, firms and organizations.

What role do you see disabled residents playing in the process of designing a more accessible future for Hamilton?

I will use first hand experience to answer the question. When I was constructing my restaurant. I had people with different physical needs help to design and be part of the experience. Of course that led to having my space be a great experience for all.Any issue regarding this topic has to be thought out and fixed by people of every shape and form. Any boards or committee's have to have representation by those it is meant to benefit.

12. What does the phrase “conflicting access needs” mean to you? What approaches can be used to address this planning challenge?

The topic that comes to mind is computer driven. So I recently was informed about how some software that is deemed accessible yet it is conflicting and a broad based term. If someone has a visual impairment and they receive notifications certain lights on their screen will let them know, yet someone of say an autistic sense can be pushed to the edge if this application was delivered to them. I would come to the conclusion that we need multiple approaches to conflicting needs and at that point, the user can make and match the right app or service to their desired requirements.

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