Free fare at the fair allows those with disabilities participate when we otherwise might be not able to.
Last week, the Canadian National Exhibition changed its policy for people with disabilities, which previously allowed anyone with disabilities free admission to the annual summer fair. “If you want to be accepted as part of the rest of society and not be treated as some hopeless case then you need to participate and contribute to society too, whenever you can,” said the CNE’s disability consultant Laurie Sue Robertson.
After public outcry, that change was rightfully overturned.
Originally, the CNE 2016 Admissions policy stated that it was aiming to align its disability policy with those of other organizations in the region, such as the Royal Ontario Museum or GO Transit. It went on to state: “The CNE strives at all times to deliver its attractions and services in a way that respects the dignity and independence of all of our guests, including those with disabilities.”
It’s not a terrible concept. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, either.
Robertson told CBC she was aware her opinion would be unpopular, especially with other people living with disabilities. (Robertson herself has arthritis.) “Why should I get in for free?” she told media. “If I can’t afford to go, then I won’t.”
But what Robertson’s argument excludes is a nuanced view of the obstacles many people with disabilities face. Many adults with disabilities—including me—struggle financially. While we do our best to contribute to society and pay our way, it’s hard to make ends meet. The already challenging job market can be even more challenging for those of us with limitations and considerations that most able-bodied people can’t fathom. The Ontario Disability Support Program helps, but it’s not much, with often only a few hundred dollars left for the month after rent and bills. A free or discounted admission every now and then is appreciated, and it helps us to better participate in the community when we might otherwise be limited by money.
Of course, money is central to these arguments. Charging more customers brings in more money, and greater revenue is a marker of success.
But it’s not like free or cheaper admission for those with disabilities is highly publicized. In my experience, I’ve had to ask for a discount, or I’d be charged full price. Only a few times in my life have I been unaware of a discount and had my money refused. But more often than not I am charged full price. So how much money would the CNE really save?
What’s important is for the CNE to consult a group of people with disabilities, take their feedback into account, and make a properly informed decision. Too often, our views and lived experiences are overlooked. And based on last week’s outcry, it’s likely the community isn’t keen on the proposed change.
The policy will be reevaluated in the fall. As for this year’s fair, people with disabilities and their caretakers will continue to receive free admission. Let’s hope this whole situation hasn’t left too many people with a bad taste in their months come August 19 when the wacky fair foods roll out.