Max Brault wants to introduce you to the people in your neighbourhood.They could be deaf or hearing impaired, blind or, like Brault himself, in an electric wheelchair.“It’s just like Sesame Street. I want to to show people the neighbours around them,” said Brault, a 20-year federal public servant and a tenacious advocate for people with disabilities. “We’re viable, functioning people in the community of Ottawa. We’re contributing members of our society. We’re already here. We’re already working. We just want more of us.”That’s the idea behind Accessible Potential, a free open house Brault has organized at Lansdowne Park to mark National AccessAbility Week. The event, Tuesday May 28, from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. in the Horticulture Building, will showcase prominent Ottawans with disabilities who have excelled in their chosen fields.People like Lucas Haneman, a killer guitarist whose band, the Lucas Haneman Express, will play Bluesfest this summer. Born two months’ premature, Haneman has just 10 per cent vision in one eye and none in the other.Haneman says he has to be careful when performing to know how far he is from the edge of the stage, but his visual impairment isn’t an obstacle to knowing his way around a fretboard. When he speaks, it will be more about his music than his disability.“The reason I think this event is great, if I’m being frank, is that there’s sometimes a ‘Woe is me’ attitude in the disability, low-vision community,” Haneman said. “I don’t like ‘These people need your help’ kind of thing.“This event is really, really great in that it’s trying to promote a healthy attitude. People with disabilities or visual impairment can do just as much as everybody else. We just might have to do things differently.”
Lucas Haneman, a visually impaired guitarist, is one of the speakers at Accessible Potential.
Jean Levac /
Other speakers include Jeffrey Stark, a blind software developer with Shared Services Canada, Dean Mellway, a Paralympian at Carleton University and mentor to Rick Hansen, and Phillip Turcotte, a lawyer with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who graduated with highest honours from Carleton University and lives with Cerebral Palsy and learning disabilities.“They won’t be pitching an idea. They’re just there to tell their story,” Brault said. “To be honest, the word disabled is not a very positive word. We wanted to show that when people are fully accessible, just how much potential they have.“Our philosophy is that if you let us come in and you let us participate, we promise you we’ll meet that potential.”The Accessible Potential open house comes as Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, is poised to become law. The bill, introduced nearly a year ago, has cleared the House and the Senate and is expected to receive final approval this week. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, said Thursday that the Liberal government will support the bill, including its Senate amendments, when it comes to a vote.The bill will establish a national accessibility commissioner and enshrine the concepts that “all persons must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society, regardless of their disabilities” and that “all persons must have meaningful options and be free to make their own choices, with support if they desire, regardless of their disabilities.”It will set accessibility standards for the federal government and federal agencies, Crown corporations, the military, the RCMP as well as federally regulated organizations, from banks and broadcasters to airlines and insurance companies. In practice, C-81 will set minimum standards for everything from the number of accessible washrooms to the steepness of wheelchair ramps and the use of closed-captioning and sign language interpretation.Three provinces have accessibility acts — Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba — but this will be the first national legislation to set a standard for accessibility. In that, Canada lags decades behind the United States, which passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Ever wondered why a sign language interpreter is always present when the president speaks or at media briefings in the U. S.? Because it’s the law.Brault, an employee equity specialist who has worked in numerous government departments and helped to establish the Public Servants with Disabilities group, which had input into the legislation, says C-81 will remove some of the barriers that people with disabilities face, many of which are needless anyway.He offers an example from his own life. Once, when Brault applied for a promotion in the public service, he learned it required applicants to work six months in a regional office outside Ottawa. For a man in a wheelchair, that presented a nearly impossible challenge. Could he find accessible housing? Accessible transit? A personal support worker in a new city for such a short period of time? He withdrew his name.“My director asked me why I pulled out and when I explained, they just said, ‘Oh. That’s too bad’ instead of saying, ‘OK Max, how do we make this work?’”Brault, 49, has a degenerative condition known as spinal muscular atrophy that has put him in a wheelchair since he was 26. He learned early on how to make things work for him.“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My family told me, ‘You’ve got a disability, yeah that sucks. How are you going to work? What are you going to do?’”He started his own business while still in high school — a temporary help agency — and managed his father’s real estate company, learning the ins and outs of financing and the importance of networking.He set goals, knowing that his paralysis wouldn’t put them out of reach, he would just need to take a different route. His proudest moment, he says, was representing Canada at the World Conference for People with Disabilities at the United Nations in New York.He took with him a longtime friend he had once cut a bargain with in high school.“I made a deal that I was going to become somebody important,” Brault said. “Because as a person with a disability I was afraid of becoming a nobody.”email@example.comTwitter.com/getBACALSO IN THE NEWSRunner in critical condition after collapsing during Sunday’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend run‘I’m just so angry’: Ottawa woman’s World Cup dreams sullied by FIFA seating shockPublic input sought on Ottawa’s next police chief