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Guest post: Disability rights and the CMHR – a community member’s perspective

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I have been called many things -- a fighter, a champion, a leader, an advocate, a groundbreaker, a wife and a volunteer. However, I am the most proud to call myself a friend and supporter of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR).

On July 20, 2011, I received an email informing me that the CMHR was in the process of forming an Inclusive Design Advisory Council (IDAC) and asking whether I'd be interested in serving as one of its members. I felt honoured to have been asked to serve as a council member. I was even more elated when, on August 18 of that year, a CMHR representative contacted me to say that I had been selected to be a member of IDAC.

The council is made up of eight experts, advisors and activists in the field of disability rights from across Canada. Its mandate is to assist the Museum in providing visitors with an inclusive and satisfying experience, regardless of their age or ability.

My experience on IDAC has been very positive. As an advisor, I have found the museum open to many of my suggestions and advice. One of my recommendations was to incorporate the use of "plain language" in all of its exhibits and materials. As a person with an intellectual disability, I know how important this can be. It helps ensure everyone can fully participate in the Museum experience. 

The CMHR is an impressive work of architecture. It is setting new Canadian and world standards for universal accessibility. I marvel at the sight of this massive structure every time I pass by it. What's it like on the inside? I recently had the opportunity to go on a tour of the museum. I was thrilled by what I was shown. 

A ramp

Examples of the CMHR approach to inclusive design include physical design and wayfinding techniques such as accessible ramp elevation. (Photo: Aaron Cohen / CMHR)

In October, I had abdominal surgery and found it necessary to use a wheelchair during the course of my tour. The museum's ramp system made navigating from floor to floor a whole lot easier. I can assure my friends and colleagues in the disability community that great pains have been taken to make the CMHR accessible for everyone. For example, the Museum will provide trans-gender washrooms. It also plans to incorporate some of the latest technology into its exhibits to make them accessible to people with a wide variety of disabilities. From the moment that visitors enter through the Museum's front doors, they will begin to notice that this is a facility like no other in the world.

A hand touching tactile markers

The CMHR will use tactile markers to indicate exhibits and points of interest. (Photo: Aaron Cohen / CMHR)

I applaud the CMHR's attitude and towards disability. In a letter dated February 26, 2013, Stuart Murray, CMHR President and CEO said to me that "disability will not be treated as a special condition, but as an ordinary part of life that affects us all." Disability advocates like me, hope that, one day, all Canadians will treat disability as an ordinary part of life.

As an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, I'm proud of my involvement with the CMHR. I have had the privilege to serve as an advisor and ambassador for the Museum. The CMHR's staff has always treated me as a professional and with the utmost respect. I will forever be grateful. Together, we have been making history. My husband Harry and I are looking forward to the CMHR's grand opening on September 20, 2014.

Valerie Wolbert standing in front of the Museum and CBC banners

Valerie Wolbert at the 2013 Human Library event in Winnipeg. (Photo: Valerie Wolbert)

Valerie Wolbert was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is unstoppable in her commitment to making life better for all people who have been labelled with an intellectual disability. Valerie began volunteering with her local People First chapter in 2006 and soon was elected as the President. She currently represents Manitoba on the People First of Canada board.

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