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disability awareness

John Rafferty learned three things today about using a wheelchair - the most important of which has nothing to do with manoeuvring the thing but everything to do with language.

"It's 'using' a wheelchair not 'in' a wheelchair and that's an important distinction when you really think about it. That's the proper terminology," the Thunder Bay-Rainy River New Democrat told The Globe.

Mr. Rafferty was one of 25 MPs and senators from all parties using a wheelchair today as part of Spinal Cord Injury and Canadian Paraplegic Association Awareness Month.

The second thing he learned is that "signage isn't very good" around Parliament Hill.

Attempting to get into his West Block office he was dutifully following the signs for wheelchair accessibility only to find that when he got to where he thought he was supposed to be, he found another sign pointing in the opposite direction. "So I was back and forth," he laughed.

Third, he says, an able-bodied person doesn't realize the limits to accessibility. Even curbs that appear to low to someone not using a wheelchair are difficult to manoeuvre.

Joining Mr. Rafferty in using a wheelchair today were a number of his colleagues, including MPs Olivia Chow and Nathan Cullen.

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs including Toronto's Martha Hall Findlay and Montreal's Justin Trudeau were also using wheelchairs along with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

Around noon the MPs participated in wheelchair races with some of the Winter Paralympians and Steve Daniel, a veteran of Bosnia, Croatia and Afghanistan who received a spinal cord injury from a parachute jump.

This is the 65th anniversary of the Canadian Paraplegic Association, which was created by veterans returning from WW 11 realizing that some of the injured needed access to rehabilitation.