As Cathy Topping, member of the MS Society, put it: “We decided the old saying about it being easier to catch flies with honey was correct so we designed a program that rewarded businesses for being accessible.”
The first small group of volunteers walked and wheeled around St. Thomas and noted which businesses were accessible and which were not. Those that were accessible received a Thumbs Up! decal. Those that were not received tips on how to become accessible. Within a few years, businesses were calling the volunteers, asking to be inspected so they could receive their decal.
What started as a great but simple idea has now become a full-fledged program that increases the safety and accessibility of businesses in the community. Volunteer Thumbs Up! ambassadors use standardized accessibility checklists to determine whether or not businesses will receive the official Thumbs Up! decal and certificate. Those that do display it proudly, because the decal lets people with disabilities and the elderly know that they can do their business safely and independently at “Thumbs Up!” recognized locations.
Thumbs Up! has been honoured with a Civics Award by the City of St. Thomas, and the program has spread across Ontario and into parts of Manitoba.
Thumbs Up! is a stellar example of how local collaborative action can lead to positive change in your community, and in other communities as well!
For more information on Thumbs Up! visit thumbsupstthomas.com
National petition campaign
The first-ever MS Society petition was one more tool in the ongoing push for better income security for people with MS and one that allowed thousands of people from coast-to-coast to participate.
The petition campaign illustrates how the MS Society works together. Several years ago, the National Government Relations Committee identified income issues as a key priority and also identified three changes the federal government could make immediately to help people affected by MS. Face-to-face meetings with MPs and key government officials and presentations to House of Commons committees reinforced the message. email advocacy campaigns in 2008 and 2009 successfully reached almost 100% of MPs with messages about the need for change.
Why a petition campaign?
Atlantic Division Drug Program Advocacy
In November 2006, following approval by the division board of directors, the advocacy team of volunteers and staff launched a broad-based campaign. The team capitalized on Newfoundland’s often unconstrained media culture and used the people’s sense of humour and gritty determination to their advantage.
They made use of significant dates: At Christmas, a news release proclaimed “Province gives lump of coal to MS patients”. On Valentine’s Day, Society representatives presented Premier Danny Williams with a giant heart-shaped cookie iced with the phrase “Premier, Have a Heart”; and for Easter, they met with the Minister of Health and Community Services to present him with a giant Easter bunny wearing a t-shirt that said “Premier, Hop to it!”. The media began to wonder what the MS Society would do next and the issue became an ongoing hot topic on open line talk radio shows and in other unrelated but politically charged media stories.
The message was succinct and remained the same – Newfoundanders and Labradorians with MS faced a dilemma: go without vital MS therapies, cut back on other necessities or quit their jobs and apply for social assistance. The delivery was lighthearted and non-confrontational, but always clearly focused, and was presented at a time when it seemed the government was ready to make a move. MS Society members were asked to write letters and meet with their local members of the provincial legislature. The MS Society was determined that a short timeframe for change was best and they wanted to work with the government.
In the end, the MS Society lobbied successfully for people with MS as well as for all people in Newfoundland and Labrador in need of any catastrophic drug. On April 23, 2007, the government announced a significant expansion to the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program which is benefitting people with MS and others with high drug costs.
Volunteers make it happen
As Social Action Director, Mike chairs the chapter’s Social Action Committee and acts as liaison between the committee and the chapter board. Mike has become the “go-to” person for chapter members and acts as both personal and political advocate in the areas of accessibility, age-appropriate long-term care, and supportive housing.
To complement his role as Social Action Director, Mike became involved with the Durham Region Accessible Advisory Committee. After a couple of years working with the AAC committee and getting to know its members and procedures, he took on the role of chair. The committee provides advice to regional councillors and regional Transit Department staff about ensuring that accessible buses and specialized transit for people with disabilities is a reality.
But that’s not all – Mike is also a member of the Ontario Government Relations and Community Social Action Committee (OSAC) which sets government relations priorities for the MS Society Ontario Division and provides advice about government relations strategies and activities.
Later on in his involvement Mike also joined the MS Ambassador group. MS Ambassadors in Ontario help advance the MS Society’s government relations priorities with Members of Provincial Parliament and Members of Parliament in communities across the province, at the grassroots level. This program is ideal for people who may want to get involved but who may not want to sit on a committee, or in Mike’ case, another committee. With his MS Ambassador hat on, Mike wrote to all the MPs in his region and met with two of them in support of better income security for people with MS.
By wearing many similar hats, Mike helps the MS Society advance its advocacy goals at the local, provincial, and national levels. This ensures people affected by MS his community are well represented and are informed of what is going on at all levels of government.
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
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