'All we wanted was what everybody had'
By Derrick Farnell
"You've got to go in with your heart convinced that you're absolutely right or they'll eat you alive."
This was the message conveyed by Tanys Quesnel, champion of disability rights, in a talk she gave yesterday at the Josephine Spencer Niblett Building about her successful legal battle over public access for those with disabilities.
Quesnel is executive director of the Independent Living Centre in London and her public lecture was jointly sponsored by the faculty of law, the department of equity services and the USC commissioner for students with disabilities.
She began with a brief history of the changing public attitude towards, and treatment of disabled people from the mixture of fear and reverence in ancient times, through to the mass sterilizations in Hitler's Germany and the recurrent cases of mercy killings in present day.
Speaking for all these people, Quesnel explained their simple need for acceptance, "All we wanted was what everybody had," she said.
Quesnel then told of her own recent dispute with a local health and education centre. What began as a simple plea for ramp access to the building eventually reached the legal courts. However, eventually translates to a "very long and very arduous" battle with the human rights office, she explained. Quesnel talked of one-and-a-half to two-year gaps between communications with the office and a time when a human rights officer asked her own lawyer for legal advice.
After she won her battle against the centre, the owners of the building closed their business and moved out of the area. "I won but I didn't win," Quesnel said.
Jessica Moretti, USC commissioner for students with disabilities, explained the importance of events like Quesnel's talk. "It is an opportunity for disabled people to see their rights being upheld and to bring to their attention the avenues that exist."
After formal questions, the audience was invited to approach Quesnel for further discussion and Moretti said she felt this was a great opportunity for people interested in such matters to meet a person with first-hand experience. "She is an amazing resource."
As for her outlook on the future, Quesnel said she is not optimistic. "We always hoped the government would take a lead but I'm rather skeptical," she said. "Taking account of dollars and cents seems to take priority over citizenship rights.
"As long as we're seen as separate from society we will never feel like true citizens."