Susan Simmons wanted people to know what a disability feels like in parks around Victoria.
Simmons is a candidate for Victoria’s city council, and she had planned an event for this Sunday, one she has since had to cancel amid online bullying attacks.
The event was meant to invite able-bodied Victorians and fellow council candidates into the world of someone living with a disability such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in a public space such as Beacon Hill Park.
Being that Simmons lives with MS and works closely with the MS Wellness Centre, this was a matter that was close to her heart.
Following the announcement and promotion of her event, she was the victim of online ableist online bullies.
— Susan Simmons for Victoria Council (@MS_athlete) September 29, 2022
“I was attacked on twitter verbally,” Simmons told Victoria Buzz. “It’s the level of obsession that had me concerned.”
Simmons ultimately made the reluctant decision to cancel the event due to these online attacks which made her feel uneasy in her own safety at the event and for the safety of the disabled attendees from the MS Wellness Centre.
“I’d say 60% of the parks in Victoria are ‘accessible’ from a light touch,” said Simmons.
“Meaning that you can somehow bring someone up to the curb. They can wheel themselves or easily walk their walker into the park and sit at a location looking at something pleasant.”
“40% are not accessible, 60% are, so right away a large part of our parks are not accessible to begin with.”
With Beacon Hill Park, Arbutus Way was the accessible route for disabled Victorians to have access to the park.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was closed to allow for socially distanced foot traffic and it was never restored to how it was prior to the pandemic.
Although Sunday’s event is now cancelled, in an attempt to pivot and still provide the experience to those who are curious, she is now hoping to provide the experience to individuals as private information sessions.
The plan is to have those interested carry large bags of food and restrict their leg movement so they might understand the exhaustion that comes with movement for those living with MS.
“I won’t be deterred by bullies. I’m not surprised by this turn of events, I am disappointed–and more determined than ever to be a voice of reason and inclusiveness on Victoria council,” said Simmons.