Soap Box Victor: A Disability Radio Pioneer


Victor, with white hair and a glorious white beard, sits at a desk in a radio studio, helping produce a radio show

Victor Schwartzman behind the scenes in studio (Photo: Cathy Browne)


By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability

August 18th, 2021


Victor Schwartzman's spent years as host and producer for Soap Box Radio, now called Access Radio, a community radio program which amplifies the voices of persons with disabilities.


We talked with Victor about his start in radio, his most memorable guests, and the problems he has with BC today.


LISTEN TO ACCESS RADIO


How did you get involved in covering disability issues on the radio?


Victor: I grew up in Brooklyn, worked in Manitoba for several years, and then moved to BC when I retired. At that time I started writing columns for Accessible Media about how the Accessible Ontario Act was going, and through this it was suggested to me that I join the steering group for Barrier-Free BC.


When I joined the group, I tried to think of what I could offer. Now, that wasn't much, but due to my involvement with Vancouver Co-op Radio (CFRO 100.5FM), producing World Poetry Cafe, something I did think I could offer was a spot on radio for people with disabilities to have their voices heard.


At first the idea was to create a new disability-themed show, but then Soap Box Radio, which was already running, needed a new host, so I took the slot and things started moving fast. I’d planned for the show to run a few times a month, but soon enough it was on every week.


You’ve said that you weren’t the best choice for host


Victor: I certainly wasn’t the best choice, but there was no one else at the time. I steadily began hunting for co-hosts, and I found Cathy Browne and she was a great; so good that she ended up working at CBC and is now doing amazing there.


Amy Amantea’s also hosting now, under the name Access Radio, and she's one of the very best. She’s great at organizing guests, and is also a talented actress and comedian.


Star hosts Cathy Browne (left; photo: Cathy Browne) and Amy Amantea (right; photo: Accessible Media)


At this point, 7-8 years on from when I first started with Soap Box Radio, I focus on editing and producing, but occasionally host.


Who are some of the most memorable guests you’ve had on?


Victor: Pat Kelln was one of the most memorable and most important. She was a manager of the Royal Bank and a leading banker for years. Then one day, just like that, she out walking and fell. She injured a nerve in her leg and developed some other conditions which left her in a wheelchair in chronic pain.


Pat became an advocate and the leader of Pacific DAWN DisAbled Women’s Network. She had a special ability to bring people together, and was just an unbelievable organizer who was great working with people. Pat passed on, and it was a big loss.


Pat Kelln, wearing a dark beige coat, in her wheelchair sitting at a desk. Pat has shoulder length grey hair, glasses, and is smiling.

Pat Kelln's leadership had a lasting impact on Victor


We’ve also had on Shane Simpson, then the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, as well as other high level government people.


Although it may be tempting to go after guests like this and aggressively question them, I’ve made it a rule that I’ll never interview someone in order to embarrass or blindside them.


Why is the radio show so important?


Victor: Because there are so many issues in the community which affect persons with disabilities, yet generally mainstream society has kept disabled people at a distance—shutting them in institutions or just not giving them chances to voice their opinions.


Generally mainstream society has kept disabled people at a distance

Just look at a few examples. We make all sorts of accommodations for people on bikes, giving them their own lanes and paths, but we’re yet to see the same for wheelchairs, walkers, seniors, etc.


The show's there for things like that; things that people aren’t talking about enough. Co-op Radio is also a great opportunity to learn how to produce radio shows and podcasts for those interested.


You’ve lived in Brooklyn, Manitoba, and Ontario. How does BC compare?


Victor: I don’t have a high super high opinion of a lot of advocacy in BC; things in the province are a lot more conservative than British Columbians like to let on. The human rights complaint system is not accessible or affordable, and it’s not a level playing field, but little gets said about it.


Things in the province are a lot more conservative than British Columbians like to let on

Advocates were also very quiet during the last election. Having lived in Manitoba and Ontario, in those places you can criticize the government, the policies, politicians, and it’s all considered normal and even required.


But here the skin is thinner and people are more nervous about speaking out; here individual MLAs can’t say anything without caucus approval. People think they’re more progressive than they are or have been.


You're used to asking others what their final thoughts are - what's your parting message to the people reading this?


Victor: Your voices need to be heard. The problems in our society won't be solved unless you speak up. If politicians don't feel the pressure, they wont change anything.


We need to stop feeling that we always have to be polite and respectful. Polite and respectful won't get the job done.

Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to spencer@bcdisability.com!