Crossing My Fingers For The Future

I’m a letter writer. (Not in the wonderful personal-letter sense, much to my personal sadness, but in the “trying to accomplish something through quietly angry letter-writing” sense.) I write a lot of letters about disability & accessibility issues, to people like doctors who think every appointment is Show & Tell Disability Hour, to allegedly accessible transportation providers, to people who insist that they can’t be accessible because they’ll lose their historic plaque (a lie)… You know, letters. Sometimes these letters are effective, but I don’t feel much shock to tell you that I rarely get responses to them.

One of the reasons I write letters, though, is to hold people accountable.

Earlier this school year for me, I was personally assured by the president of my university that they took issues of disability & accessibility very seriously on my campus. This is, of course, utter shite. The meet & greet for my discipline was down a flight of stairs and then up another set of stairs, and they told me that anyone in a wheelchair could be carried in. I’ve been told by the Accessibility Center that they can only deal with students with disabilities directly – I can’t go to them as a student and get help making an event accessible if I’m not registered with them as a student with a disability. And, of course, I get the same responses when I talk to people: incomprehension and stares.

Today, I got an email from the Graduate Studies Office at my university, directing me towards a website for a– Actually, I don’t know. Here’s part of the email:

This conference is a chance to join some of Atlantic Canada’s leaders and youth activists to shape the future of [our university] and your faculties. For more information or to register, visit brainsforchange.ca. Registration deadline is Friday, January 15th.

This initiative is being spearheaded by the [University] Student Union, with support from [the University]’s Deans, and senior administration – a truly unprecedented level of interdisciplinary collaboration.

(I don’t know if my university self-googles, hence the redactions there. You can tell where I attend if you click on the link.]

I can’t read the link. Don can’t read the link. I set my screen reader on it, and it can’t even find the content, let alone read the link.

Every one of the groups of people named in the above paragraphs have assured me at some point that my university takes accessibility issues seriously.

So, I am writing another email, because maybe this time it will make a difference. It has a few times in the past. Not often, sadly. But maybe this time it will make a difference?

I would love to learn more about this conference, in order to decide if it appropriate for me to attend. Unfortunately, the website linked is an accessibility nightmare. I can’t even read it. My screen reader can’t read it outloud for me.

University administration and the executive officers of our Student Union keep telling me that disability & accessibility are a priority on campus. I want to believe them, but it becomes difficult when a conference that’s allegedly about engaging students doesn’t even attempt to be accessible to all of them.

I know that whoever gets this email isn’t responsible for the website, and I do believe the university wants to do more and be better about these sorts of issues. Is there any way I can get the information on the website emailed to me so I can look at it? And could you tell me who created the website? I think they should consider consulting with the Accessibility Center about web design in the future.

I’ll keep people posted about it, but I do wonder: Do you write letters about this sort of stuff? The biggest thing I’m told all the damned time is that somehow no one has ever complained before. This, of course, comes with that winning implication, that I’m just a whiner who should shut up.

I don’t think that my letter writing is going to make everything awesome, but I do think it means people may pay more attention to the next complaint.

By 11 January, 2010.    Uncategorized   



11 Comments

  1. That website is some sort of poster child for inaccessibility! Its visual loveliness contrasts strongly with the under the skin ugliness, starting with the title: “Wix.com – Website built by DSUleadership based on Blank Website”.

  2. Just FYI, the second <blockquote> looks like it should be a </blockquote>.

  3. I am a doctor. In American teaching hospitals, the consent you sign includes disclosure that physicians-in-training will participate in your care. I don’t know what the Canadian system is like, but none of what you described seems surprising or inappropriate. Did you get a response to that letter?

  4. The reason the site in question is inaccessible, incidentally? It’s entirely made in Flash. Thus, it’s not only screenreader-inaccessible, it’s also inaccessible on an iPhone or iPod Touch or many Android phones, not to mention any phones with less capable web browsers. It’s also inaccessible on platforms that Adobe doesn’t support, such as Linux running on a PowerPC processor.

    In fact, here’s how the site appears on the iPhone browser:

    Error message displayed by the site, telling the user to

    Of course, the “click to download” link leads to a page telling me that Flash is not available for the device I’m using. I imagine it would work the same way under Linux on my old G4 PowerBook, right down to the “download Flash” link being completely useless.

    So in other words, this isn’t just a disability access nightmare. It’s just an accessibility nightmare in general.

  5. Thanks Codeman! I didn’t notice (obviously!)

    Patrick, the fact that you think that both we were ignorant of supposedly agreeing to being treated like an experiment rather than a person, and that you think even if we had agreed to be treated like an experiment rather than a person than it’s okay to *hurt us* without even a “by your leave” says very sad things about the medical profession as a whole.

  6. I accidentally skipped the paragraph that described the patient’s fingers being manipulated without first saying something. I read the paragraph that stated that a resident was present but not the following one. It’s protocol that a physician informs a patient of what is going to happen before it does. That was my error, and I apologize. I agree that the interaction was inappropriate. I retract my earlier comment.

  7. Thank you. I actually meant to come back and apologize for snapping at you – I’m having a busy day and I’m not quite on the ball in terms of reactions. I’m sorry.

  8. I write letters (well, e-mails or “contact us” forms on websites for all sorts of things with mixed results.

    I spent four years of medical school writing to individual professors or administration about my own issues of accessibility and acommodations, and of examples of ablism in the curriculum.

    I got responses ranging from “I had no idea and I won’t say that again” to a vague and placating “there, there, that is a problem, isn’t it” with no action ever taken to the usual accusations of whining and taking things too personally. Heavily weighted towards the accusations of whining and taking things too personally, of course. But the few victories were glorious, and I kept writing in the hopes that someday, we will raise consiousness enough that the vague placations turn into true change, even if the accusations never progress towards vaguary.

  9. I write these letters too. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a response beyond a stock email, but I think every now and then I can see results. I think maybe that’s when I wasn’t the only one writing.

  10. I don’t write so many letters… I wrote one to my uni because some of the recommended reading for a psychology course was /horrible/ – talking about schizophrenia in a way which was ignorant and offensive in a way I’m too angry even to explain here. I got a very polite reply back but nothing was ever done about it… the offensive article is still on the course website.

    Otherwise I think (and mostly hope) that my uni is making some efforts… though if all the building work they’ve been doing doesn’t improve accessibility like they said vaguely it will, I may have to start writing again.

  11. JoB – did you tell the professor?

    I was required to read something that was very triggering at a bad time and I told my professor how the reading affected me. I don’t remember what she said, but telling her felt good.