Monday, 31 March 2014

THE RIGHT STUFF

             Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I‘ve always retained a strong sense of social values including being a passionate proponent for full equality across the board regardless of gender, beliefs or disability.  In fact, I fondly recall working with the “Disabled Ski Club of Great Britain” training some blind athletes on the dry ski slopes in England in the early 80’s even before my own spinal cord injury.  In all my worldly travels and varied experiences I’ve always tried to empathize with others and strived to see how I would live and react if our circumstances were reversed.  Perhaps I was naïve, but prior to my accident I had no idea to what degree people with disabilities were marginalized, ostracized and discriminated against be it consciously or subconsciously.  Indifference and ignorance is often worse than outright and overt discrimination.  As the old saying goes, “walk a day in my shoes” and then you “just might” see part of my life’s challenges.  I would go one step further and add that we in the disabled community call all those in the able-bodied community TAB’s which is an acronym for “Temporarily Able Bodied”!  Of course nobody chooses to lose any amount of mobility or independence yet as I’ve learned first-hand at the tender age of 24 that accidents can happen to anyone, at anytime and anywhere … most often in a heartbeat.

First time - Adaptive Waterskiing - Heron Park, England '95
           I fundamentally think that the riddle of spinal cord injury research will eventually pay dividends, ideally finding a cure to regenerate paralyzed limbs either partially or completely throughout the body.  Until that time, we (people with disabilities) still have to live in the “here and now”.  This means, not predicating all our resources on a future cure but rather, maximizing our collective quality of life through education, acceptance
and applicable research that helps us become more independent and participate fully in all aspects of society.  Depending on your comfort zone, this could range from attending your first concert and pursuing adventure sports to playing a musical instrument or even ultimately going into space with Sir Richard Branson’s “Virgin Galactic” set to launch their inaugural commercial flights later this year!

        As it would require writing a book to address all of my 30+ years of disability activism and advocacy work, I thought it would be more impactful to elaborate on one major personal incident which has had far reaching consequences but eventually resulting in changes which have benefited all of society.  It seems that my greatest lessons in life have usually come as a direct result from my own personal setbacks and adversity which at the time seemed so overwhelming that I thought I’d never overcome those obstacles and view the world with the same level of trust and unbridled optimism. 
                                                                                 
Ottawa Carleton - Injury Prevention Week - Organizing Committee - City Hall '95
 
            Some of those major roadblocks came in the early fall of 1996 when I hired a young lady (let’s call her LK) to attend to some of my personal care.  At the time I was the Educational Coordinator for The Rehabilitation Centre’s – Disability Awareness and Prevention Program.  Working flat out in a full time job, frequently after dinner I would get transferred to bed early by LK completely unaware that something sinister was taking place right under my nose.   

Flash forward a couple of weeks when I was performing some routine banking at my local Canada Trust branch and then reviewed my pass book (a booklet commonly used before internet banking). Suddenly, to my horror, I discovered eleven unauthorized withdrawals on five separate days from my personal bank account. After a thorough review, I calculated that I had been defrauded a total of $5,207.00. I then went directly to the Ottawa-Carleton Police Station to file a report. I was advised by a detective to see a lawyer before the police became involved, because I would need an affidavit testifying that all the transactions were unauthorized and not made by me. Apparently, in this type of fraud, the person usually reporting the crime is the first prime suspect.  After getting all of my paperwork in order I returned to the police station to file a formal report but was advised by the detective, due to the back log of cases, no investigation would take place for many months.

            With that knowledge, I took matters into my own hands. Instantly, I knew who to suspect was behind these crimes. The only person who had access to my PIN number and regularly helped me with my banking and my care was my new personal attendant, LK.   Over the next few days I did a little more investigative work and all the evidence pointed to LK. I felt so very violated by this person since she was always in my home, I trusted her with my most intimate details and even treated her like a friend. I couldn't comprehend how someone whom I employed, at a good hourly wage, could breech my trust and live with themselves in the bargain. When I eventually met up with LK I relayed all of the terrible events of the previous week but the entire time she never said a word and surprisingly, never offered any empathy or concern for my loss! Then I asked outright if LK had ever taken my ATM card without my knowledge or whether she knew anything about these crimes or had any involvement whatsoever? She denied everything.

            A few months later I received a call from a Police Detective to inform me that under duress, LK finally admitted to stealing my ATM card from my home (wallet) and was a direct accomplice by giving her boyfriend’s my bank card and PIN number on five separate occasions. In order to avoid prosecution, LK plea bargained with the police. In return for identifying her boyfriends in connection with the crimes, she was granted immunity and would not be implicated in the frauds. What makes this fraud even more distressing is the fact that, due to my disability and reliance on others, my vulnerable situation was exploited and my trust seriously violated. The repercussions of these crimes were felt financially and psychologically for many years afterwards.  Worse, even after all these years I have been unable to place 100% trust in my personal care attendants and this has negatively impacted on my working relationship with the people I depend on for my day to day routines and literal survival! 

In the hope that true justice would prevail and that these young individuals would realize how much their crimes have hurt me and set back my life, I wanted to attain some assurance that the three would be held judicially and morally accountable for their actions.  I subsequently launched, pursued and was eventually successful in a civil action against the perpetrators which saw them (2 boyfriends) paying me back all of the funds that I had been defrauded.  In order to address this matter systemically across North America while hoping to prevent others from ever having to endure what I went through, I launched a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) against all 6 federally chartered banks.  In essence, these nationally regulated institutions failed all of their customers with physical disabilities by not accommodating our “special needs” in the provision of wheelchair accessible ABM’s and subsequently leaving us with little choice other than having to divulge our PIN numbers to a third party. 

After being the longest CHRC complainant case (over 9 years from start to finish) in battling the banks, their Toronto based lawyers and their lobbying arm, the Canadian Bankers Association, in 2005 I was finally victorious in having a wide range of policies, practices and disability accommodation issues agreed to by all the 6 banks.  At a reported cost of more than $1 Billion the banks were forced to have at least one lower counter ABM at every location across Canada in addition to being signatories to the following ongoing initiatives.

1.    Reaffirm their Commitment to implementation of the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) “Barrier-Free Design for Automated Banking Machines.

2.     Develop an implementation plan for compliance with the ABM standard and report on an annual basis their progress to the CHRC.

3.  Continue to develop barrier-free access standards for Point of Sales (POS) devices by encouraging participation by retail, manufacturing and the Acquirer industries.

4.      Provide print information available to the public in alternate formats.

5.      When constructing new premises and significant renovations at bank branches, accommodate the needs of people with disabilities to the point of undue hardship.

6.   Consider the needs of people with disabilities in the development of web-based services and products.

7.    Maintain an internal dispute resolution process for addressing customer complaints specifically available to people with disabilities who wish to raise any issue concerning access to financial services.

8.    Report on the accessibility of their services to people with disabilities in their respective annual Public Accountability Statements.

As I am legally bound not to disclose any further details about my Human Rights case, I am pleased that the many years of fighting for my personal rights, systemically lobbying the banking industry and “going the distance” in pursuing a satisfactory resolution has finally paid off for all Canadians with disabilities. 

World Toboggan Speed Record Attempt - Les Arcs, France '87
The video clip below speaks mainly to my disability human rights advocacy work, awareness and fundraising through the World Toboggan Speed Record attempt and the ‘Round the World Challenge charitable organization.  I have had the distinct honour of working with and representing some of the most notable organizations in the world including the United Nations, World Bank, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Organization, Canadian Paraplegic Association, The Back-Up Trust, General Motors Corporation, Pfizer Inc. and the Government of Canada. 

With more than a billion people with disabilities around the planet and growing, I will continue to act in a leadership role as a true activist, advocate and change maker.  Stay tuned for my next Quadrant which will be posted at the end of April.  If you liked what you’ve read and watched, please send me your comments and “likes” while sharing this story with your network of friends.

Hope to see you on the sunny side of the mountain!




                                                                                 

2 comments:

  1. You did very well. You did not just seek justice for yourself, but for other disabled peple who might be in the same predicament. This is a lofty goal that was realized due to your efforts. Hopefully with these victories in court, similar cases won't happen again. Thanks for sharing!

    Hubert Singleton @ RDF Attorney

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hubert, Thank you for your kind words of support. I have always tried to think of others and give back. Let's hope the "karma" will reach above and beyond this blog.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Skiing and Film Career:

 

At age 15, Mike Nemesvary set his goal to become the best freestyle skier in the world.  By the mid 1980's he held more than 40 titles in his sport including 3 World Cup Victories; 18 World Cup Podiums; 3 European; 11 Canadian and 5 British Championships.  Mike also developed a successful sideline as a skier and stunt performer in a number of television commercials, programs and feature films including James Bond’s “A View to a Kill” and Willy Bogner’s “Fire and Ice.” 

 

Spinal Cord Injury:

 

On May 18th, 1985 Mike’s life dramatically changed during a routine trampoline workout when he attempted a double twisting, double back somersault and blacked-out, landing on his neck instantly becoming a high level quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down and losing full use of his legs, arms and hands.  Following months of intensive rehabilitation Mike picked up the pieces and began to rebuild his life.  He moved into an accessible home, learned to drive a modified sports car and became a proficient sit skier.  Wanting to share his life-affirming approach he started “The Back Up Trust”; a very successful UK-Based charity raising more than $20 million to enable people with spinal cord injuries to reintegrate back into society and surpass their aspirations by facilitating challenging sports.

 

Speaking Career and Disability Advocacy:

 

After completing his post-secondary education in Commerce, Mike developed and honed his skills to become a passionate, powerful and outspoken disability advocate.  He has represented many Not-For-Profit organizations including: World Committee on Disability; March of Dimes; Tetra Society of North America and National Access Awareness Week.  In 1992 he formed Mike Nemesvary & Associates and enjoys a successful and rewarding career as a professional speaker presenting 100's of keynotes, seminars and workshops to local, national and international organizations.  Some of his prestigious clients include: Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company; General Motors Corporation; Bell Canada; National Research Council; Canada Customs and Revenue Agency; Health Canada and the Canadian Injury Prevention Foundation.

 

‘Round the World Challenge:

 

Mike then decided to take the ultimate challenge by becoming the first quadriplegic to drive unassisted around the world.  More than 7 years in development, the ‘Round the World Challenge was a grueling circumnavigation lasting 7 months, through 20 countries and clocking more than 40,000 kilometres.  While navigating some of the most treacherous roads, enduring the most extreme weather conditions and temperatures on the planet, Mike also surmounted continual inaccessible stops and accommodations in an unrelenting, exhausting daily schedule.  During the formidable odyssey, Mike also managed to visit 40 medical institutions, gave 52 speaking engagements and wrote weekly columns.  The ‘Round the World Challenge successfully culminated in the Fall of 2001 and raised more than $1.5 million for spinal cord injury rehabilitation and research. His accomplishments received numerous honours and recognition in many countries including the “Key to the City” in Ottawa and the “Meritorious Service Medal” from the Governor General of Canada.

 

Personal Life:

 

Mike’s remarkable life has been extensively chronicled as the subject of six international and award winning television documentaries in addition to numerous magazine, newspaper articles, radio interviews and television appearances.  Mike presently resides south of Ottawa with his Partner, Mary Anne McPhee and “Sassy” and “Jigger”, both Labrador Retrievers “Certified Assistance Dogs”.  In his spare time Mikes enjoys sit-skiing, scuba diving, swimming, writing, backgammon, listening to music and playing the harmonica.