Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

 

A few months ago, my granddaughter and I were discussing the challenge of training our dog, Rex.

Rex moved in with us a few years ago when his owners sold their house and moved away, leaving the dog behind. After living under the porch of his home for a month, Rex decided it was time to get on with his life. He walked down the road to our house and moved in. He has been with us ever since!

The challenge for us has been to understand the various habits and traits of a mature dog. We started to accept that certain types of behaviour cannot be changed. When I explained this to my granddaughter, she wanted to know why this was. The best I could come up with was the English expression, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.”

My granddaughter looked at me and, in a very serious voice, explained, “That’s not true, Grandma. After all, you are learning Spanish!”

Well, this “old dog” is leaving the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) to return to a life of leisure and relaxation in Quebec’s Eastern Townships! Of course, I am still the Mayor of the community where I live, having started my fifth term, and I have launched a tour company called Wood and Westland, and I may even be talked into doing a bit of freelance work on access and accommodation. (But only for big bucks and only if it is really, really interesting!)

What I do not plan to do is continue trying to convince people that the times have changed and we have to get out of the disability box that we have been in for so long. I am tired of stating the obvious and trying to be politically correct at the same time!

It is time to recognize that it is impossible to achieve a barrier-free world while struggling to sustain old, traditional systems and structures.

Non-government organizations should conduct a reality check to evaluate whether or not they continue to be effective or whether they are in existence simply to ensure their status quo.

We have an opportunity to develop unique and innovative networks that promote inclusive communities. However, these opportunities will never be realized if we insist on protecting what we have and deflecting any perceived risk that change may bring.

How can we say that we advocate for the equitable participation of people with disabilities in the community, when we work in isolation? How can we claim to be determined to promote citizenship and human rights, when our vision of the community does not go beyond ourselves? How can governments talk about strategic plans and inclusive societies, when it does not demand that projects and programs demonstrate support and contribution toward meeting these goals?

The combination of organizations continually operating in a survival mode and governments consistently playing a “shell game” has been deadly over the past few years. It has reduced advocacy to a level of internal bickering and back-biting that is not only unprofessional but also unproductive. It has shifted the focus away from collaboration to one of confrontation, with every side claiming to have greater authority and clout than the other.

As I look back over the years, I am amazed at the tremendous progress that has been made to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families.

I sincerely hope that the spinning of wheels that we seem to be involved in these days is not due to self-interest rising above the potential to achieve a greater good. I must believe that the barriers that continue to rise in front of us are there because we have become sidetracked, and not because we have been “side-tricked.”

How can we start the wheels turning and move forward again? We can begin by engaging in a frank and honest evaluation of the vision for community. We have the ways and means necessary to realize that vision.

This may mean that some structures will have to go, and new mechanisms be put in their place. This may mean that old alliances need to be reviewed and put where they belong… in the archives, in recognition of their historic contribution!

It certainly means that ownership must not be confused with leadership, nor rights mixed up with privilege. It also means that partnerships and networks are built on common interests and trust rather than power struggles and self-interest.

As I move on to new challenges and experiences, I know that I will continue to build on what has been accomplished in the past. I invite you all to join me in the celebration of our achievements (Congratulations, ABILITIES, on publishing 50 magazines!) and in the recognition that, like my granddaughter, we believe you can “teach an old dog new tricks”!

 

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