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Peter Tonge: If Airlines Can Move Horses safely, Why Can’t They do the Same for My Wheelchair?

My guest Peter Tonge wants answers. And why not? Airline travel can be stressful for anyone, and particularly for a person with a disability. A disabled traveller has the usual concerns, such as scheduling and connections, but also the additional concern about the safety of their mobility equipment. According to Tonge, worldwide, airlines have a poor record for safely transporting mobility equipment. This can be explained that the airlines treat mobility equipment like luggage. So if your mobility equipment is damaged, you go to the lost and/or damaged department. It is treated like a missing suitcase rather than a vital piece of medical equipment. Peter Tonge brings a broad range of experience to his work. University degrees, specializing in international trade, a law degree, specializing as a criminal defense attorney. Tonge has his own podcast “Talking Rotary” and stays fit and active as a wheelchair fencer and as a member of a local “murder ball"

Episode Transcript:

Stuart Murray 0:00

This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One Territory, their traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and the Dene peoples and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

Amanda Logan (Voiceover) 0:19

They This is humans on rights, a podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host, Stuart Murray.

Stuart Murray 0:29

I was very taken by an article that I read and came to my attention and it basically the headlines screamed, and I mean, scream, airlines can't seem to safely transport my wheelchair, but they found a way to move horses by air. Now, that rhymes Interesting enough, but I am joined today by the author of that article, Peter Tang, who has written many blogs is a wheelchair advocate. He is an extraordinary individual with an incredible background from university degrees to a law degree who has spent an enormous amount of time trying to advocate and educate people on why it is that somebody who is in a chair and is on an airline has a challenge when they get to the other end in that very discombobulated introduction, Peter, welcome to humans on writes,

Peter Tonge 1:25

Stewart, nice to be here. Thank you for having me, Peter, I

Stuart Murray 1:28

know that you're a podcaster. So we're gonna get into what your podcast is about. But let's dwelve into what caused you to write a story that got picked up nationally on the basis that airlines can't seem to transport your chair, but they have found a way to safely transport horses. Well,

Peter Tonge 1:46

we'll get into my long history of air travel and the challenges of that and having a disability and damage to equipment. But when Air Canada proudly announced that they could safely transport horses across the world, and even build a stable for horses at Pearson to support this program, it was just so frustrating to clearly they can safely move living things and equipment if they want to put in the time and the effort or for mobility device users. They've just chosen not to do that

Stuart Murray 2:17

well at 30. And you've experienced that firsthand. Absolutely. I was thinking

Peter Tonge 2:21

as we were talking about doing this podcast, I've been flying since 1970. So I've been doing it for a long time. And maybe still what I'll do is give a bit of background as a wheelchair user traveling on an airline and how it works and what the implications are. Because I think that will help basically, because I'm a manual wheelchair user. When I booked my ticket, I put all that documentation in with the airline, the webinar dropped the wheelchair, it needs to be transported that I can take my wheelchair to the door of the airplane, but then I need assistance to get to my seat and into my seat and what have you the first thing that ironically happens, despite the fact that I've filed all this paperwork, I show up at the counter for whatever airline and it always seems to be a surprise, oh, you have a wheelchair or you're taking it with you. Right? Yeah, that's what the documentation was for. So the way that it works is then from the door of the aircraft, you're then transferred by either airline staff or contract staff depending on the airport of the airline into a narrow chair that I call the silence of the lamb chair because it's like the stretchers that they put our main character into and you're transported down the aisle and then transferred into your seat because the aisles on the aircraft currently aren't wide enough to take a wheelchair down the aisle in my wheelchair is taken and put in the baggage compartment of the aircraft along with all of the other bags. And that's a very important choice because a piece of equipment that's fairly large, gets put in with all that other stuff, they get damaged on a regular basis. In fact, I would say my wheelchair when I travel gets damaged of some form about 25% of the time. So every four trips, I can count on something being broken. Sometimes it's something that's fairly easily repairable like a handle or backrest or something when at least two occasions I've had my wheelchair completely destroyed where it had to be replaced. Because number one, there's humans removing these chairs and they're coming in contact with all the other stuff that's in the world of the airplane. So they're in danger. No, I think the thing that really exacerbates that is the fact that the airlines treat my wheelchair like luggage, if my wheelchair is damaged, which by the way, is the equivalent of someone breaking your leg. I don't get a nice vice president or customer service person to come and make sure that I'm okay and to add support. I get sent to baggage to put in a claim for damage back Ah, and that's the way my chair is treated. There is not a culture within the airlines understand that this isn't baggage. This is part of me, this is my mobility. And I think I want to stress for your users, for those of us that live in wheelchairs on a daily basis, either custom don't exactly for us so that we can sit safely and comfortably and move the best way that we can. And be they become part of us for sure. Right? Yeah. So a to have that part of me dismissed and treated like baggage is not only an insult, and it shows that the airlines are not giving them the appropriate level of attention and care. And I think the other thing that I would say about that is Stuart, if I told you that every fourth time you traveled, the airline was gonna break your leg, you're probably not going to travel with them anymore. Or it's going to become a big cultural social thing for wheelchair users and arrows or mobility devices of all kinds. It hasn't become that there's always a performative apology about how they're going to do better and how sorry, they are. Right. Right. I have proof since 1970, that they don't. So

Stuart Murray 6:11

Peter, let me just ask you this, you check in as you say, you filled out the paperwork as they ask you to fill out. They're surprised when you arrive, which is not a surprise, unfortunately. So then once they've got your chair, and you arrive in your destination, let's just pick Toronto as an example. And arrive in Toronto and your chair is damaged to the point where you can't use it. I understand as you say, the frustration is now you're dealing with this as a piece of lost luggage versus a piece of who you are and what you need as a medical device, but help me when things are damaged. What do you do you rely on this to get out of the airport to their business meeting or your whatever you're going to what next steps do you do? Well,

Peter Tonge 6:49

typically what happens initially is I will get my chairs damaged beyond the point of use is the airline will give me an airport wheelchair to at least be able to leave the airport, right. And then I will make arrangements with the arrow either to have my chair repaired if it's in a repairable state, and use the bad wheelchair in the meantime, or we will try and rent something that's much closer to my actual wheelchair as opposed to what I refer to as an airport chair, which is the equivalent of a hospital chair, which is basically a big sling with wheels. It's not custom fitted. So you can imagine Stewart, your professional when I'm off to Toronto for visits meetings, I'm appropriately dressed, I have my wheelchair, I have my work. I have my professionalism. If I have to show up in a borrowed wheelchair, all that is taken away. That's like you say, Sorry, there was a suitcase I'm showing up in my pajamas, right?

Stuart Murray 7:53

Yeah, yeah, no, I know. And I know that the beautiful thing is, and I don't know you, well, we're just getting to know one another. But I love that you have the ability to have a sense of humor over something very serious. And I know that you don't say it's funny. It's just you're sharing your experience, and you're trying to share how you deal with it, which is amazing. So that we can learn from that. But let's get into the learning part of this. Peter, you've been a wheelchair user for how long? 60

Peter Tonge 8:18

years know to be correct. 56 Because I got my first chair when I was four. So

Stuart Murray 8:23

you've been a wheelchair users since you were four years of age. Yeah, but that hasn't stopped you. You know, we can talk about the fact you've got a law degree and you like to fence in, you're a sailor, which is fantastic. But let's just start at the age of four. So now, Peter, you're in a chair, take us through what it was like for you to go from the age of four into junior school into high school into university eventually. How did you how did you navigate that? And what sorts of experiences could you share with people that you felt at that time?

Peter Tonge 8:56

Okay, so to put this into context, I have to give credit to my parents, Harold and Doris time, you know, one of the things that I was very fortunate about, I think, was that I was the last of their five kids. They're all very successful kids. And because of that, they always had the attitude that I was going to do everything that all of their other children did. And I think that's a very important, I don't know if that comes from who they were as people or or that sort of ordering the family helped that there was never any question that I was going to do with the other kids did. So I lived in St. John, New Brunswick at that time, city of about 125,000 people big by New Brunswick standards, but not big by Canadian or world standards. But there was a very good support system for the cerebral palsy community. There were therapy programs. There was a developmental kindergarten which I managed to go into at the age of three, thanks to my parents, and it was all the usual kindergarten things, and playing with the kids and all that. But then also some very practical things like how to do zippers, how to do buttons, how to get yourself dressed all that. So that helped support my parents in learning and teaching. And then it came to the point where I was about to become school 86 And my parents went through, what I have to tell you was a very rigorous testing program and doctors letters, and IQ tests and everything imaginable to petition the school board to allow me in 1969, to start in grade one, and they were successful. In September 1969, I started grade one with only neighborhood kids. Fortunately, the elementary school in my neighborhood was very accessible. I don't know how the school administrators were dealing with it. But as far as the kids in my classroom were concerned, I was just another kid in the neighborhood, right. And that's how my schooling for grass, except that each level of school then when they went to middle school, we found the most accessible Middle School in my city. And I went there, and some of my friends saw it, and some didn't, in high school ended up finding a school that wasn't ideally accessible, but was more accessible. It was all the way across town. But my parents made an arrangement with the school board, they actually paid my mom is a school bus driver to take me back and forth to school, because it was a solution where I could go. So when I think back on it now, as a kid, we were probably watching boxes of clothes that I didn't even notice, but because because my friends and my family were around me and because everybody was doing the best they can I just continued on through the school system. Yeah, Peter,

Stuart Murray 11:53

what sorts of things were you interested in at that time in school as you were growing up and becoming a young man, one

Peter Tonge 12:00

thing that became very apparent in high school and it was a very good thing was I was very interested in computers and computer science. And this was just what home computers were coming out and the Commodore 64 and all that kind of stuff. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Which people will recognize the name. And that's what I ended up doing is as my first career. I got a bachelor's degree in data analysis and a master's degree in computer science. And I did a 20 year career in Statistics Canada. Okay. I started out as a computer programmer, and then I was a program designer. And then I ran units of programmers and designers has made my way up. And

Stuart Murray 12:39

are you still in New Brunswick at this point, Peter? No.

Peter Tonge 12:42

But when I went to work for for citizens, Canada that was in Ottawa, and so I had done my bachelor's degree at the University of New Brunswick. I did my master's degree at Acadia in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. And then I was hired out of Acadia to go to Statistics Canada.

Stuart Murray 13:00

And did you enjoy Ottawa

Peter Tonge 13:02

very much. I like the city very much. It's funny, because it's a bit of a sleepy town. Like I was just talking to someone on the weekend and said, I went there for work. And they didn't realize that the sidewalks rolled up at 430. And they kind of do. It's a clean city. It's a safe city and a good place to build community for sure. Yeah,

Stuart Murray 13:19

for sure. And then you have gone on at some point, you decided to get a law degree. Yeah. And I think I'll

Peter Tonge 13:25

share the story because I think it's interesting. My wife was just finishing up her PhD, she was doing a PhD at Gries going. She was looking for faculty positions, and we were chatting one night and Friday night, I was, I think, probably complaining about my work. And she said to me, the whole time I talked about going to law school, why aren't you going to law school? And frankly, I didn't have a good answer to why it wasn't going. Right. So we need the decision that we would shop our way across the country for her looking for a faculty position to teach disability studies. And for me to find out placement as it turns out, University of Manitoba was starting up a brand new Disability Studies department at that time in 2003. And I was accepted into several law schools. University of Manitoba was one of them. So we picked up steaks never having been to Winnipeg in our lives and picked up steak and came to Winnipeg, and we've been here for over 20 years now. Wow.

Stuart Murray 14:28

That's fantastic. Did your wife enjoy her time and getting involved in University of Manitoba? has horses

Peter Tonge 14:35

are still is she's now the director of the Disability Studies program at the University of Manitoba. So wow, wow, she's made her progression over the 20 years as well.

Stuart Murray 14:43

Yeah. And Peter, did you get called to the bar when you graduated?

Peter Tonge 14:46

I did. And I practice criminal defense with legal aid for 12 years, but then I was fortunate enough, because I could combine my federal government pension and my permit So government pension, I was eligible to retire at 55. And I picked up stakes, and I got out, I loved what I did. But you know, 55, I left Legal Aid, and started my consulting company is retirement.

Stuart Murray 15:17

Yeah, it's far from retirement practice, Peter, but you're very active. And we'll explore that. But let me ask the obvious question. So you're a lawyer, you're a wheelchair user, I want to talk about this issue around gaps and barriers. So you're a lawyer, what sorts of challenges if any did you have, in my capacity as a wheelchair user in practicing law, particularly criminal

Peter Tonge 15:38

law, oh, many we haven't talked about this, Stewart. But myself, and another practice in wire who's a wheelchair user actually have a current complaint in front of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission with the Department of Justice about all of those barriers, and I want to make it clear to you and your listeners, it's not so much the physical barriers that we're talking about, we're talking about the attitudinal barriers within the justice system, like all these courtroom locations that are completely inaccessible, or schedules that aren't flexible, or dress codes that are not flexible. And I'll tell you a very illustrative story. I was doing a murder trial a number of years ago, and it got to the stage where it was the jury was being charged and they were being sent out to make their decisions. And for your listeners to understand in a jury trial, that's exactly what happens. The trial is over and the jury is sent out to make their their guilty or not guilty decision making and they deliberate. And when deliberations are going on, lawyers are asked to make themselves available to be on call in case there's any questions for the jury. And the Justice who was running the trial said, I want anyone to be available within 20 minutes in case there's questions. And I said a little bit pointedly, justice, it takes me about 25 minutes to get into my roads. And the response that I got was, well, then I guess you're staking your roads until the jury is done. Well, there wasn't even a flexibility, okay, well, maybe we can make it 30 minutes, it was just like, finally might be out for two days. But don't take your robes off, then that's not the only example that's bringing the complaint for but I think it's just very illustrative in the feeling that those of us with disabilities that have practice have, at least in this province, we're happy to have you as long as we don't have to change a single thing to have. Right.

Stuart Murray 17:44

So Peter, the part that fascinates me is that you have a law degree. And a lot of times you've you talk back about what we started chatting about with this notion that you are flying with your chair in cargo as luggage. And there's damage. And so there's a couple of issues here that I'd love your comments on because one of them is if some people this might happen to they don't know what their legal rights are when some of these things happen. So from a legal perspective, I'd love your comment. And then for the overarching reason that I wanted you to become on this podcast humans on rights, the element of the human rights aspect of people not being treated with the kind of dignity that they deserve. I'd love you to comment on both the legal side and the human rights side, if you would, please. Okay,

Peter Tonge 18:31

the legal side, I can give you a very brief answer. People are legally entitled to be restored to where they were before they arrived at the airport. So if an airline damages your equipment or damages you, they're legally obligated to put you back where you were before you came through the airport door. So that's the short answer.

Stuart Murray 18:51

Let me stop you there. Peter. One second, just to clarify. So because of your experience, as you said, you travel with a chair, like other users, other wheelchair users, these are very personal items, a lot of them are custom made to fit different body types you arrive in, in your destination, it's damaged. So now legally, they're required to ensure that you're able to move from the aircraft or outside the terminal to where you're going. But their obligation is to give you basically, as you say, a sling on wheels, which is just a fundamental basic wheelchair, they have satisfied the legal requirements of what they're supposed to do. Is that correct? That

Peter Tonge 19:30

part of it? Yes. The part that then goes on and is then required to repair or replace whatever piece of equipment was damaged back to a state that it was in before I arrived,

Stuart Murray 19:43

right. I don't want to get too far in the weeds on this Peter. But say for example, you're going to Toronto and you're there for a two day meeting you arrive your chairs completely damaged. They give you the basic fundamental chairs so that you're able to perform your duties as a Professional to get from point A to point B from the airport to your hotel or where the convention center wherever it may be. So that's fine. But your chair is so damaged that by the time you get back to get on the aircraft to come back to Winnipeg, your chair is still not repaired properly, right? What do they do, then typically,

Peter Tonge 20:17

what happens then is, I'm provided with airport carriers until I get safely home to where I happen to have spare equipment. And then we go through the process to either repair or replace my existing taro i by that point, I have it back. And it's in my possession, and typically, with the support of the airline and taking it to my dealers and my specialists to do the work. But I think one thing that if your listeners aren't familiar with custom made wheelchairs, you don't turn those around in a couple of days, that's about a four to six month process. So the last time that I had my wheelchair damaged to the point where it had to be replaced, I was using my spare power wheelchair for a period of six minutes. Now, there's really implications to that, because I lost a great deal of function because I was using my power chair, instead of pushing in an age, I think I was 55. At that time, I had to then make the decision that I went out and found a fitness trainer and I spent a great deal of time getting myself back to the function where I was at, I didn't want to lose my function because of the adaptations that I had to make so

Stuart Murray 21:38

So Peter, just to clarify, you use a self powered chair, which means that you move yourself, but you reference the fact that you had to rely on a powered chair just for a time period. And what that does is it does the work for you if I'm saying that, but so in other words, but you're not using some of your muscles that you normally would use to move yourself around. So you're losing that physical ability as you're in a motor chair. Exactly. Okay, so Peter eloquently explained as a lawyer would do the legal rights, let's dive into the human rights of what this whole issue is. And why are we talking about something of this magnitude and 2023. And specifically, I'm drawn back to your article that talks about the fact that you can transport horses safely, but not people whose rely from a human rights perspective, their medical equipment, which allows them to be accessible or experienced life as accessible as they possibly can. What is the human rights element to this that is missing? I'm

Peter Tonge 22:42

gonna start by by giving you the short, blunt answer. This is happening because the airlines don't care. People with disabilities are a problem. In airlines, in particular, our business where every dollar counts, every square centimeter of space counts, every extra element of time poss. And they're not willing to compromise on any of that, particularly when they're competing with other airlines. I went through a period of time as I was doing advocacy, particularly around airline travel more specifically, that the airlines were going to get it and they were going to start to make changes on their own. I'm no longer in that camp. I think the only thing that's going to change the airline industry is regulation, they're gonna have to be forced to make these changes. Now we know from research that's being done, aircraft can be set up properly to have a bathroom that's accessible. In fact, ironically, CBC News did a story on some of the new government aircraft, and how they had this nice big bathroom on it that the staff all loves because they can change the clothes in it in this Gertie people particularly loved it because they could put on all of their safety gear. In privacy and in a big space, there was no mention of accessibility or access or the fact that somebody with a wheelchair might actually be a nutritional government plays a level of irony that itself. Yeah, no kidding. So we know it can be done. Delta Airlines has already tested seating systems where I can literally take my manual wheelchair onto the aircraft faster into place and remain in the seating system has been tested and designed for me for the entire duration of the flight. So we know it can be done. It's just the airlines are still treating mobility equipment like baggage, and they don't have the will to do it on their own because of the difference in their pricing and their cost structures and all this is going to cost the good news in this in the United States. This is being worked at the very high level. Not only by the Secretary of Transportation, but it's in the Vice President's office, that's the level of these issues are being looked at. In the United States. In Canada, as you've seen the recent articles, Air Canada, because of four really ugly incidents with passengers with disabilities, were literally called Ottawa by the Minister of Transport. He called the incidence. Terrific. So it's back on the radar with the federal government. We'll see if the federal government goes as far as even suggesting legislation about this powerful industry. They get a lot of support from government, because how do all our government officials get around? From business? How do I get around when airlines right, so they have a lot of power to push back?

Stuart Murray 25:51

Yeah. And I think the element here that is so evident to me, Peter, is that for all of these powerful people that you reference, none of them are wheelchair users. That's right. Because if they were, chances are you and I would be having a different conversation. And I guess that's the part that I find from a human rights perspective. That is very frustrating that in today's agents society, I noticed many times we need to have construction in any city construction means that there's building it's improvement, you're employing people, presumably, in that building, there's going to be professionals or it's going to be low rent, housing, whatever. So we need construction of whatever level it is. But the minute you start to set up construction, immediately, what happens is the sidewalk gets removed for safety reasons. But there's no thought about what about our wheelchair users that typically use that sidewalk as their main mode of transportation, it has now been taken away from them. And it's incredible that there's no conversation to ensure that everybody is treated with the same kind of dignity that they respect and should have. Now

Peter Tonge 26:57

I can guarantee you that if you were speaking with an official from the City of Winnipeg, they would tell you that they have an official policy on the use of sidewalks around construction sites. But I can also tell you that there's a big difference between having policy and actually enforcing policy by no policy. And I know that's the response you would get. But when the rubber hits the road, literally, yeah, it still doesn't get me through the construction.

Stuart Murray 27:27

Yeah, no, Peter, for sure. So let's talk a little bit about gaps and barriers. You wrote a blog on that. And I want you to explain to listeners, from your perspective, when you talk about accessibility, the difference between a gap and a barrier. So

Peter Tonge 27:41

a gap is an accessibility element that's missing that can probably be easily addressed, like a single step at a doorway, or putting an automatic door opener on a door. So as an accessibility consultant, what I try and do is help my clients identify those gaps, that they can then put a plan in place to address a barriers, something larger, something systemic, like airlines attitudes towards people with disabilities, and treating wheelchairs, like lightning is going to probably take a longer term and a larger plan and more elements to move out of the way. So gaps are things that are more direct, or could be more easily addressed, that are barriers and larger systemic thing that we as a society, we're gonna have to work together to remove.

Stuart Murray 28:36

Okay, thank you for that explanation. Peter, one of the elements in your bio, you talk about some of the things that interest you and one of them is fencing. Yes, that would be incredible to watch you in competition. But tell me a How did you get involved? And how do you practice or what sorts of ways are you able to engage in a fencing activity,

Peter Tonge 29:00

I managed to become involved because I learned through the fencing schools at sport Manitoba, that a wheelchair fencing was a thing. So then we managed to put together a number of wheelchair athletes to try it out. And we loved it. So with the support of some local fencing, schools and sport Manitoba, Manitoba, is very lucky in the fencing world. Manitoba is a small province. We're not a fencing power, but we have some of the best fencing coaches in the world. And they all took this on board and said, We're going to learn about this together as a group and we're going to go into to teach in my only regret about wheelchair fenzi is I was almost six years old by the time I discovered it. I've been doing it for about a year and a half. I wish I had discovered it when I was 20 years old. I bet. I bet it's very physically demanding. Very good for or somebody who were were manual dexterity and coordination as part of your disability. Since I started fencing, both my manual dexterity and my coordination have been proved because your brain teaches itself right? As you do, and it's just so much fun. So we have a group of folks that get together. And without getting too deep into the sport of fencing, because we could do an entire podcast on that it's me. Basically, it's two people in wheelchairs forwards to a platform now, that's important. And we have a sword fight. Now that is different from stand up. The thing is that one of the first things you're taught in stand up is to run away, right? You want to be run away and reset and start again. Right? Yeah, we don't do that. We do that. Yeah, you can't. Yeah. So. So you learn how to properly fight and defend because it's the only option that you have? Well,

Stuart Murray 31:00

and there's the point scoring system similar that you have an ability when you touch your opponent that it records that electronically, absolutely.

Peter Tonge 31:06

All of those rules are the same. It's the same three disciplines, it's the same scoring system, we were the same equipment, all of that we happen to be bolted to a platform five feet apart, and

Stuart Murray 31:20

you do it and you go at it. Okay, interesting, Peter, let's talk a little bit about the fact that I know you're a proud Rotarian, you're wearing your shirt, which is fantastic. Tell me a little bit about your involvement with Rotary. And then I want to also just explore a little bit about the fact that you're a podcaster. So let's talk a bit about rotary and then about your podcast and what you talk about in your podcast. So Rotary,

Peter Tonge 31:43

I won't get into the details of rotary but basically, we have eight avenues of service and you can India's all today them from health to the environment, peace, education and all that. The next part is a Rotary Club is basically a group of people that gets together to do good works in the any of those categories. So when I lived in Ottawa, my rotary club there did a lot of work in Guyana with water wells, we did a lot of international work. My host Rotary Club here in Winnipeg are the keepers of the Assiniboine forest. And we have a big multi million dollar project going on now, where the Assiniboine forest is going to revitalize and thankfully, hopefully, because of my influence, one of the things that we're doing is making the Singaporean forest more accessible. Hopefully, so so that's just two examples. I've been very fortunate. I've been working now for almost 25 years, two years ago, I was asked to move up into the executive branch. And next year, I will become oh, what in the world is known as a district governor, the rotary is divided into 500 districts in the world. And each year there is a leader in each district, who is known as the district governor, I won't be if I'm not mistaken, the third disabled, this rotary district governor in the world. Wow. And that was part of the reason why I agreed to take on that more challenging role is because I want to bring the same face that I do to my other work in the Rotary International Hall.

Stuart Murray 33:22

Good for you, Peter. Congratulations. That is really a tremendous nod to you as somebody who is an incredible educator advocator for this and a leader. So that that sounds incredible. I think rotary they do such great work around the world, that once they start to see your work, one only knows what next steps might come from that. So congratulations. When does that start? Peter?

Peter Tonge 33:44

So my term as governor begins in July of 2024. Okay,

Stuart Murray 33:49

all right, we look out world let's watch for changes.

Peter Tonge 33:52

So is interesting, because I'm in the training phase right now, it's good robbery, at least in our region. You come on literally four years before you become governor, which is great because you move up through the ranks and you learn as you go, which is so good, because I'm surrounded by very knowledgeable, very capable people who pass on their knowledge is so much different than 20 years ago, you became governor on July the first and somebody handed you the keys and said yeah, right. Yeah. But one of the things I'll mention about it, because I think this is really exciting is once in the rotary year, they bring together all 525 District governors around the world at one place, and this year is in Orlando, Florida in January. So I will be able to meet my fellow governors from my governor's year and dessert discussing their work in cooperation. I can't guarantee it but I'm pretty sure I'm gonna be the only one on wheels. Interesting.

Stuart Murray 34:55

Yeah, very interesting. And you know, I mean, fingers crossed, Peter, that fear there's coincident getting your chair to New Orleans. Well, there's

Peter Tonge 35:03

that right. Yeah, for sure. And

Stuart Murray 35:05

now before we take the off ramp here in our conversation, which I've enjoyed tremendously over to you to talk a little bit about your podcast, what's it about? What do you explore? So anybody who's listening to this podcast, give us a sense of what they might hear if they heard Peter tongs podcast.

Peter Tonge 35:19

Absolutely. My podcast is called Talking Rotary. It is literally about Rotary International. And the work that Rotary International does, typically the folks that I'm talking to a Rotarians are all over the world that are working on this specific project is their opportunity to share their projects, and their good works with what they're doing. And Rotarians find it interesting, because we always like to know what each other's doing and to work together. But I think it's interesting to people outside of our regions to see the things that are being done around the world. And I'll give you a very good example. I was interviewing a fellow from the Toronto area, who was providing clean water filtration systems in Laos. And they said, Okay, this is great. How many people are we talking about? And he said, I think we've helped 40,000 families, families it. Yeah, he said that in the same tone of five years five, counselor, you know, those magic moments that I was like, Sure. Wow. 40,000? Exactly. We're still going?

Stuart Murray 36:30

Yeah. Wow. Yeah. How amazing is that? Peter, when I mean, what's wonderful is that one of the reasons I enjoy this podcast humans on rights is I get a chance to meet people like you learn from you share what you're doing to make a difference, both on the legal side and the human rights side. But for you to be in that organization, and Rotary, to meet some of your other Rotarians who are international in scope, and be able to have that conversation must be very rewarding.

Peter Tonge 36:57

It's great. And thanks to the technology like we're using today, I literally get to speak to people all over the world. And I'm happy to be up at 4am to work with their schedule and talk to a colleague in Australia or New Zealand to hear their stories. It's pretty easy to brush your teeth and put on a t shirt and yeah, no. international conversation.

Stuart Murray 37:19

Yeah, no, for sure. That's pretty amazing. Peter Tong, thank you so much. I know that you're very active on social media. So I'll make sure that in the Podcast, episode notes, all of your social his tag there all of the things that you've done, just so that people that are listening to this if they want to find you, your consulting your website and all of that. But just as we close, Peter, if there was one thought that you wanted to share with those people that may be listening about why they should be engaged or understanding the importance of people that are wheelchair users. And I'm not looking to say, in any way, shape or form appear. This is not about feeling sorry, this is about understanding. And if you're going to advocate for somebody, what would you ever advocate for listeners to get engaged or understand about wheelchair users from a human rights perspective,

Peter Tonge 38:07

the largest barrier for people with disabilities of all types, including wheelchair users, or what might be considered the audience, the ramp and the toilet or the physical, it's the systemic issues. It's the attitudinal issues that are keeping folks from fully participating in society. So if you run an organization, if you're a government official, if you have a business or if you're disciplinarian, and do all that you can to help remove those invisible barriers that really exist so that me and other folks in my community can fully participate.

Stuart Murray 38:43

Okay, well said. And on that note, Peter, thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to our paths crossing, and also 2024. When you become a governor for rotary, I know you're gonna make a difference, and you're gonna make such a positive impact on the world. So congratulations again on that and we look forward to opportunities of catching up.

Peter Tonge 39:03

Thank you, Stuart. Appreciate the conversation.

Matt Cundill 39:05

Thanks for listening to humans on REITs. A transcript of this episode is available by clicking the link in the show notes of this episode. Humans on rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray, social media marketing by Buffy Davey music by Doug Edmund. For more, go to human rights produced and distributed by the sound off media company


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