ODA Committee Update
dated Nov. 15, 2003
Posted Nov. 20, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
ODA Committee Loses To Cancer A Hero In The Campaign For A Barrier-Free Ontario
November 15, 2003
We regret to inform you that London, Ontario's 54-year-old Michael Lewis, a strong ODA supporter, died this week after an extraordinary battle with cancer. Michael Lewis symbolized so much about the ODA movement. Among his many contributions to our cause, he wrote and sang the powerful song "Still Waiting" about the battle for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which has become the ODA movement's anthem.
Below please find a proposed column which ODA Committee chair David Lepofsky and ODA Committee London Region's Regional Contact Cathy Vincent Linderoos have submitted to the London Free Press. We don't know if it will be published, but are hopeful.
We are all indebted to Michael and all the other grassroots heroes in our battle for a strong, effective ODA. That includes of course those who are still alive. It also includes those in addition to Michael Lewis, who sadly have died while still waiting for the legislation we seek, including, among others, Niagara Falls/St. Catharines ODA Committee Regional Contact Kathie Watts, Sudbury ODA Committee Regional Contact Richard Sawicki and Brockville ODA Committee Regional Contact Frank Algar.
Any feedback on Michael that you send to us will be forwarded to his family. Write to:
Remembrance Day rightly honours fallen heroes who battled in military campaigns for our freedom. Without for a moment detracting from our extraordinary indebtedness to our war veterans, this Remembrance Day, London, and indeed Ontario, lost a hero who fought for freedom, but not in military campaigns, and who used different kinds of weapons.
Michael Lewis, 54, devoted husband and father, died on November 11, after an unbelievably tenacious battle against cancer that he knew marked him for imminent death over fifteen months ago. Beyond that personal battle, Michael, a blind folk-singer, song-writer, and relentless disability rights activist, spent years volunteering his musical and other talents to fight for a barrier-free Ontario for 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities through the passage of a strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA).
In 1995, Mike Harris promised to pass the ODA, but cruelly stalled and delayed. Years later, in 2001, Ontario's Conservatives only passed a weak, toothless ODA, and then, only after Michael Lewis and many others around Ontario, united in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, kept up grassroots pressure.
The Conservatives left it to the new Liberal Government to put muscle into this legislation, to make it strong and effective. Dalton McGuinty has promised to do this. Sadly, Michael Lewis hasn't lived to see his efforts' ultimate fruits.
Each grassroots ODA supporter makes a huge difference in our ongoing campaign for a barrier-free Ontario. Michael Lewis, a towering role model, wrote, sang and recorded a powerful, haunting song that serves as the ODA movement's anthem, pointedly entitled "Still Waiting." London's Accommodation, Training and Networking for persons with disabilities produced a compelling accompanying video. See this video and hear Michael at www.atn.on.ca
Michael Lewis didn't just wait for the Conservatives to act. He tirelessly performed his song, spoke out at community meetings, and called phone-in radio programs to raise the ODA issue. Even in his last days knowing his end was near, during the 2003 election, the unstoppable Michael Lewis contributed a moving column on the ODA issue to this newspaper and skilfully grilled candidates at London's first ever regional all-candidates' debate on disability issues.
His weapons in this unfinished battle were his tenacity, his music, his talking computer, his phone, and his passion for freedom for Ontarians with disabilities. His tenacity, and his willingness to devote even his precious last days of life to his cherished cause, stand, like his ODA anthem, as an undying inspiration illuminating the way for all of us who are -- as Michael would say -- still waiting!
Michael's vision can be honoured via donations to the Michael Lewis Fund, Accommodation Training and Networking (ATN) 504 - 141 Dundas Street, London, ON, N6A 1G3.
Memorial service Forest Lawn Memorial Chapel, 1997 Dundas Street East, London, Wednesday, November 19, 2003 at 2:00 p.m.
True to Michael's beliefs, his memorial service will be disability accessible, in a wheelchair accessible location, and with American Sign Language Interpretation.
Michael's precious legacy to London and all Ontario includes his undying passion for the cause of a barrier-free society where all can fully participate. He fought in this battle because he didn't want you ever to face the barriers he and others with disabilities have endured. His music and message constructively channel justifiable anger at politicians' delays into his optimistic hope for what he knew Ontario could achieve.
Like Michael, we lament the fact that Ontarians with disabilities are "still waiting" for our politicians to deliver on their commitments to us. Like Michael, no matter how long, tortuous and barrier-filled the road ahead, we retain our hope. Michael's lyrics remind us about disabilities: "Don't you forget," he sang, "it could have been you."
We best honour Michael's memory by ensuring that his tenacity never dies. May his memory be for a blessing.
CATHY VINCENT-LINDEROOS, ODA Committee London Regional Contact,
DAVID LEPOFSKY, Provincial Chair, ODA Committee
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