Category Archives: accessibility
Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Sydney Morning Herald: Why I’m not in the queue for the disabled loo by Liz Ellis.
There was a debate over policy and procedure but ultimately it came down to human conscience, something that I am incredibly appreciative of. But should I really have to rely on human conscience overriding policy and procedure?
The Globe and Mail: The sound (and sight and feel) of music for the deaf by Jill Mahoney.
Frank Russo helps make music for the deaf.
Working with a team of researchers, the Ryerson psychology professor invented a chair that allows deaf people to feel music through vibrations. He also works with both deaf and hearing musicians to compose music that focuses on vibrations and vision rather than sound.
The Los Angeles Times: Mentally ill prisoners get a second chance by Lee Romney.
Mental health courts are operating in 29 California counties, helping offenders and reducing crime in their communities.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m writing for the NSW Don’t DIS My ABILITY campaign at present. Here, have some tacky self-promotion!
This will be a bit of a shock if you’re invested in disabled bodies as broken and horrible and unlovable, so brace yourself.
I love mine.
I’ve been thinking about this man ever since, and the way he read me as abled. But mostly I’ve been thinking about assumptions about the kinds of people who do disability advocacy. Namely, there’s a strong perception amongst the abled public that people with disabilities are unable to advocate for ourselves. Supposedly, our abled family and friends do it all for us.
That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.
If you spend a lot of time talking or writing about accessibility, someone will eventually tell you this apocryphal story:
When Steven Hawking (and it’s always Steven Hawking) started teaching at Cambridge, they needed to put in ramps in all of the buildings, since they all had those beautiful huge sets of stairs as the only way in. One security guard (and it’s always a security guard) protested. “What are you doing that for? I’ve been working in this building for 30 years, and not once have I seen anyone in a wheelchair come through those front doors!”
(I know when people tell me this story I’m supposed to laugh. It’s kinda hard, though: I’ve basically been told exactly that by university administrators; professors; graduate students; student representatives; municipal, provincial, and federal candidates and elected officials; bus drivers; taxi cab drivers; small business owners; large business owners; Fox news commentators; bloggers of a variety of political stripes; apartment building managers; independent book store staff; national chain bookstore staff; people who run on-line campaigns, tea shop staff, coffee shop staff….)
I think what I’m supposed to get out of this story is the ha-ha, look at the ignorant person.1 What I end up getting out of this story is that the burden of pushing for something to be accessible pretty much consistently falls on people with disabilities themselves. We have to ask because no program, no building, no website, will be willingly designed with the idea that people with disabilities are part of a broader target audience. Only websites, buildings, and programs aimed right at people with disabilities will do so. 2 (Until laws are passed, of course. And even then the law will be only grudgingly followed.)
Accessibility is often treated like a favour that non-disabled people do for (or even to) disabled people, one that is given out of the goodness of one’s heart. It’s an individual’s problem to bring up, and the solution is for individuals to come up with.
This attitude comes up in lots of different ways, both online and off. To focus specifically on what larger entities do:
– The issue of subtitling the political ads on YouTube is brushed aside because D/deaf people apparently don’t complain enough about subtitling for politicians to bother subtitling their ads.
– I am on the planning committee for a conference and was told that if actual disabled people signed up for the conference they would bother moving one of the events to a wheelchair accessible space, but otherwise they’d keep it in the room down a flight of stairs because it’s a nice room.
– As I have also pointed out before, having your requirement for receiving funding to complete your education being “student leadership” while simultaneously telling students with disabilities that they’re not able to attend events that are sponsored by the university (which is what having your event up two flights of stairs not suitable for “the very elderly or disabled” is doing) is telling students with disabilities that they can’t get the funding to complete their education. And yes, student funding in Canada is increasingly tied to poorly-defined “student leadership.”
When I point out these issues, I’m often told that these are individual problems: D/deaf people need to complain more! More people with disabilities need to attend conferences! Here, let me give you a list of individual solutions! It basically asks people with disabilities – people who already have a lot on their plate – to do more. And it often puts people in the situation where they may find a solution for themselves, but it’s one that leaves everyone else – whether friend, ally, or fellow traveler down the road – to sort out their own individual solution. To re-invent the wheel every time.
This isn’t the way this needs to work.
How it needs to work: Assume people with disabilities exist. Just like we assume people without disabilities exist.
So, politicians should make their political ads with both disabled & non-disabled people in mind, and thus the idea of subtitling isn’t one that’s new or unusual to them, it’s one they thought of all along. (Bonus points: maybe they could think of actual disabled people when making their platforms, too.) Plan events without assuming that everyone attending is going to be non-disabled. Then no one has to say “I’m disabled, I can’t go down a flight of stairs.”
We don’t act like putting a door in the front of our building is a favour we are doing. We assume that doors are necessary. And yet, people treat having a ramp to that door as a favour they are doing, when the ramp serves the same purpose: it allows people to come inside.
- I’m not particularly exploring the class issues here, but that’s only because I’m focusing on disability and not because I don’t think they’re there. Of the dozen or so times I’ve been told this, roughly half have had the teller start mimicking a “lower-class” accent when repeating the security guard’s words. ↩
- Before the website upgrade last month, the only page on my entire university website that passed an accessibility challenge was the Student Accessibility Office website. Because of course that’s the only website that a student with a disability will look at, right? ↩
Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.
Indigo Jo sends in two links about the same story, one from Mail Online: Joyfully kissing her beautiful baby boy – the girl branded too stupid to be a wife or mother
When she became unexpectedly pregnant they were pleased rather than concerned. They had organised a white wedding in church, bought a dress and rings, arranged the reception and were eagerly anticipating their big day.
Mark recalls: ‘We were about to go out and make a few final arrangements for our wedding when we heard a frantic rapping at the front door.
‘When we opened it, two social workers burst in and told us that the marriage was illegal because Kerry has learning difficulties. They said she did not possess the capacity to make such a decision.’
Then came the second bombshell – their baby would be removed at birth. Once again, social workers believed her learning difficulties could lead to the baby suffering ‘emotional harm’.
‘It was as if I didn’t matter as a father,’ recalls Mark.
‘By stopping our wedding, social workers had taken away my rights as the baby’s dad. The fact that I would always be there to look after Ben as well didn’t seem to make any difference.’
He now believes that Fife social services had made up their minds that Kerry would not be able to keep the baby even before they had assessed her as a parent.
Because of this, days later the couple made the heart-wrenching decision to flee the UK and go to Ireland because they believed Irish social workers would prove more sympathetic.
And also, his own take on the story: “Too stupid” family reunited in Ireland
Still, the facts as presented do raise an awful lot of concern. Kerry supposedly had mild learning difficulties, but despite having worked successfully as a childcare assistant at a local school, social workers deemed her unfit to look after her own child. They also seemed to be treating the case as if it consisted of a lone parent with intellectual disabilities, not as a committed couple in which only one party had any impairment. When they arrived in Ireland and Kerry gave birth, social services removed the baby and reunited only Kerry with Ben two weeks later, expecting her to prove herself to them on her own, rather than as she would be living, with her partner. Of course, there would be times when she would be left alone with the baby, but these would not be all the time when her husband was not around, as she would likely have friends with their own babies who would be able to give her some support.
Walking is Overrated: Government bullying must stop
I’ll say it again: everyone does it. Disability support funding is limited, and the constraints around it are incredibly restrictive. For many parents of children with significant disabilities, it means they are unable to work, as they spend most of their time supporting their kid. Of course they’re going to attempt to get a small amount of compensation for this work – in this case, $40,000 over 8 years, of money that they were entitled to anyway. Yet the Ministry sees fit to chase them down and slam them with 5 months home detention.
Dr Adrienne Key, the lead clinician for eating disorders treatment at the Priory clinic in Roehampton, south-west London, said: “In the last 18 months I’ve seen 10 women in their mid to late-30s, mainly with bulimia, who have had a baby in the previous few years and have had increased body dissatisfaction. They start dieting but then try more drastic measures such as skipping meals or going on these strange protein, no-carbs diets, and then their starvation triggers the biology of an eating disorder.”
msnbc.com: Minorities get less treatment for their pain
A recent study by Green of 200 chronic pain patients in the University of Michigan health system found that black patients were prescribed fewer pain medications than whites and that women were given weaker pain medications than men were given. The research published in the Journal of Pain showed that, on average, a minority pain patient would be prescribed 1.8 pain medications compared to 2.6 drugs for non-minority sufferers.
Kathy Jurgens, program manager for Mental Health Works, a corporate training program offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto, says that a changing view of the workplace is allowing the concept of psychological safety to take hold.
“If you think of the younger generation, they have different expectations of what work means to them and what they’re willing to engage in for a paycheque,” she points out, adding that younger workers are less likely to accept a workplace that expects chronic overtime and unreasonable demands. “I think it’s long overdue,” Jurgens says of the current approach to psychological safety, suggesting that mental injury in the workplace has been a problem for hundreds of years.
If you’re a disabled voter in California and you encounter problems at the polls on 2 November, Disability Rights California wants to hear about it!
VOTE Tuesday, November 2, 2010!
If you are an individual with a disability and encounter problems such as
- Accessing your polling place
- Voting Privately and Independently
- Casting your vote
For assistance in languages other than English and Spanish, you may be put on hold while we connect with interpreters.
You can spread the word about this service by sharing this voting flyer (pdf) or (rtf). The flyer is also avilable in Spanish (pdf) #F001.02,Korean (pdf) #F001.03, Chinese (pdf) #F001.04, Vietnamese (pdf)#F001.05, and Russian (pdf) #F001.07.
I am, as some readers may be aware, in the process of moving house1 which means that I am skittering about in all directions trying to do things like getting my address changed everywhere and rounding up boxes and impatiently waiting for Moving Day.
I try to do as many things online as possible, so on the off chance that the Department of Motor Vehicles would let me, I went to their website to see if I could enter an online address change. As it turns out, I could! Hooray! But what really interested me was that the DMV’s website is covered in multiple notices about accessibility. Starting right at the top of the page: The topline navigation on the DMV website is skip navigation. Implementation of skip navigation is rather spotty, so it’s really exciting to see it on a government website.
They have a section of the website discussing disability services and accommodations at DMV locations. Yes, the headline on the page includes the cringeworthy ‘the disabled,’ but it covers a lot of topics, from getting ‘terps for doing business at DMV offices to service animals. It also refers to ‘special assistance’ as opposed to just ‘assistance’ or ‘accommodations,’ but I like that the accessibility policy for DMV locations specifically avoids the trap of only discussing certain disabilities, and that it includes information about getting your business done online or over the phone, for people who do that.
There’s also a separate website accessibility policy, which includes this statement:
The Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) website has been developed in compliance with California Government Code 11135, located in Section D of the California Government Code. Code 11135 requires that all electronic and information technology developed or purchased by the State of California Government is accessible to people with disabilities. There are various types of physical disabilities that impact user interaction on the web. Vision loss, hearing loss, limited manual dexterity, and cognitive disabilities are examples, with each having different means by which to access electronic information effectively. Our goal is to provide a good web experience for all visitors. (emphasis mine)
That’s right. The state government thinks that accessibility is important enough that it requires accessibility for new electronic/information technology acquired for government use. Not only that, it recognises that accessibility is complex and multifaceted, and that multiple issues must be considered when designing accessible spaces. The website accessibility policy goes on to talk about specific design features they have implemented and how to use them, and provides general tools for web browsers that could be applied beyond the DMV site. Honestly, and I never thought I would be saying this about the DMV, it’s a resource useful enough that I would probably send people to it if they were looking for tips on basic design for accessibility, and basic browser modifications to make browsing more accessible.
Let’s contrast this with the Canadian government’s decision to go to court to avoid making their websites accessible to screen readers. Now, let’s not misstate things here: The State of California is not a perfect model of Access for All and it shouldn’t be mistaken as such. But the difference between these two situations is quite a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you have a government deciding that spending funds on technology that everyone can’t access is not acceptable, and, in fact, so not acceptable that it passes a law about it. On the other hand, you have a government so fervently resistant to one accessibility issue that it wants to go to court to defend its right to deny citizens access.
One government decides, as a matter of policy, that taxpayer funds should not be spent on inaccessible equipment. Another does not. Is California perfect? Certainly not, but they’re making a good faith effort, and it’s a significant step in the right direction. It’s especially significant that the information is readily available and made as visible as possible, because it’s not just available to disabled users of the DMV website. It’s also visible to nondisabled users, and may get some of them thinking about accessibility, and perhaps reframing the way they define accessibility.
- Yes, it is very exciting! Hooray! New house! Ok, back to the original topic. ↩
One of the ways I entertain myself on the bus is looking at houses and apartment complexes we pass and deciding whether or not we’d ever be able to live there. “Hmm, that looks like a ramp could be built to the front door.” “Wow, that’s a useless step that could be taken right out. Is that there for decoration?” “Damn, I hope no one in that apartment building ever breaks a leg because that’s never ever going to be accessible to people who can’t climb a flight of stairs.”
Finding housing is one of the main challenges facing people with disabilities and their families. Don and I spent months looking for an apartment building in Halifax that didn’t have “just a tiny flight of stairs”. I’ve talked to people with service animals who have repeatedly struggled with being refused housing for having a “pet”, even though such refusal is illegal. Mia Mingus, Crip Chick and their supporters have been documenting their attempts to find accessible affording housing.
On top of this, finding affordable housing when one or more members of your household have a disability can be incredibly difficult and daunting. Disability is expensive, even with Canada’s patch-work attempts at assisting with the many and varied costs. Assistive technology and its upkeep is costly. Medications are costly. Having in-home assistance is costly. “Special” foods that are necessary if one has any dietary restrictions are costly. Transportation, adapted or otherwise, is costly. These bills add up, and trying to adapt or locate accessible housing on top of it can lead to hopelessness and despair. (Certainly it did when Don and I tried to find accessible affordable housing in Halifax.)
Next Wednesday, October 20th, Canadian Members of Parliament will be voting on the Private Members Bill C-304, “An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians”.
This Bill has been pretty much off the radar for anyone who isn’t on poverty-rights mailing lists – a search through CBC, for example, finds only two hits, one from 2009 and the other in a 2010 blog entry that mentions it in passing at the end. This isn’t particularly unusual, since Private Members Bills, especially ones supported by opposition parties, don’t really get a lot of attention because they don’t often pass.
At the same time, though, this is the problem. This bill explicitly talks about housing as a right. It explicitly talks about housing for people with disabilities. To quote:
“accessible housing” means housing that is physically adapted to the individuals who are intended to occupy it, including those who are disadvantaged by age, physical or mental disability or medical condition, and those who are victims of a natural disaster.
It is so rare to see any bill in parliament that acknowledges disability, let alone one that actually talks about housing needs. It would be great if we could make some noise, if we could make it clear to our Members of Parliament, our elected representatives, that we as Canadians care about accessible and affordable housing needs, so even if this bill doesn’t pass, the next time the topic comes up our MPs know: This is something that Canadians want addressed.
The people behind Red Tents have planned a National Day of Action in support of Bill C-304 on October 19th. Their main event is in Ottawa, but I know there are other events planned around the country: Halifax’s event is all day Saturday and Sunday, for example, and a quick internet search found events in Winnipeg and Vancouver as well.
I would also recommend contacting your Member of Parliament between now and Wednesday to let them know that you support Bill C-304. Your contact with them doesn’t have to be long – mine was only a few sentences – but let them know that you support accessible affordable housing in Canada, not only for people with disabilities, but other groups that are also included in this Bill. You can find the contact information for your Member of Parliament here, but be aware that, like all Government of Canada websites, this one may not be accessible to screen readers. Another option is to use Make Poverty History’s email form to contact your MP.
For more information:
Here is the text of the Bill, in both English and French.
Open Parliament has all the debate on the Bill in a handy searchable format.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has a history of the Bill.
Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation has details as well.
Red Tent’s details on the Bill.
There’s a common idea I encounter among nondisabled people when it comes to discussing accessibility and making spaces accessible to all users. That idea is that as long as there’s a ramp, a space is accessible. That accessibility is solely about ramps, and nothing else, so once you’ve got a ramp in place, you’re covered.
This is, as we know, not true. Not even for wheelchair users; a ramp is only the beginning of accessibility and it’s useless if, for example, all the doorways in a space are too narrow to allow a chair to pass. It’s not helpful if the front entrance is ramped, but as soon as you get inside, there are steps up or down to another area of a building. Or if the bathroom in a space is too small and cramped to use safely. Or if, hey, someone decided to put all the light switches ridiculously high up on the wall.
The universal symbol of accessibility is our old friend wheelie blue:
This symbol reinforces the idea that accessibility is primarily about wheelchairs. Now, granted, it would be functionally impossible to come up with a symbol representing all disabilities and all accommodation needs. The goal with symbols like this is to keep them simple, clear, and communicative.
But contrast that with this:
This icon shows the familiar wheelchair user, but also hands Signing, representing the d/Deaf community. And Braille. And a brain, which to my mind (ha ha) reads as a representation of neuroatypicality, for people with intellectual disabilities, for people with mental illness. Suddenly, the concept of accessibility is widened and the concept of different bodies and minds is represented here, reminding the viewer that accessibility goes beyond the ramp.
Wiscon’s accessibility policy is something we often point to here as an illustration of expanding the definition of ‘access’ and trying to work with people with many different kinds of disabilities to make a space comfortable and welcoming for them. It addresses issues ranging from wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms to the need for a quiet space to allergies. It also expands the conversation to talk not just about how spaces can be made accessible, but how people in those spaces can contribute to accessibility:
Offer help–don’t assume it’s needed. Most of us are taught to “help the handicapped” but not “does this person want or need help?” If you think someone needs assistance, just ask. If they say yes, don’t make assumptions; instead listen to the details of what the person with disabilities wants. If they say “no thanks” don’t be offended. What might look overly complicated or inefficient can be what that disabled person finds works best.
Wiscon also thinks about how the programming, the structure of the event, can be adjusted to create accommodations. Making more space between panels, for example, and providing information to attendees about which rooms have florescent lighting. Three facets of accessibility are being considered here: The physicalities of the space, the people in it, and how the programming inside that space is organized. That goes far beyond the way most people conceptualise ‘accessibility.’
Getting people to expand their minds when it comes to accessibility is more complicated than just getting them to think about the fact that there are issues beyond wheelchair accessibility. It also requires people to think about, discuss, and acknowledge conflicting accommodations and how to balance the needs of multiple people with disabilities. Some accommodations automatically exclude people from spaces. Conversations about conflicting accommodations are uncomfortable because we want to make spaces welcome to everyone, but sometimes there’s a fundamental conflict; take, for example, people who need to use essential oils to manage their conditions, and people who can’t be around strong odors or alcohol-based compounds.
Wiscon’s policy includes a statement and discussion about conflicting accommodations, something rather unusual. I haven’t encountered many discussions about conflicting accommodations in the mainstream, although one place I do spot them is online, where some sites have options like switching between a light on dark/dark on light theme or have other configurable options designed to address various disabilities.
Making spaces accessible requires thinking about a lot of things; about how people with a variety of disabilities will interact with a space, about how people will interact with each other in that space, and, often, how to manage accessibility with limited budget options. Many people trying to design accessible spaces may also not really know how to go about it, and they’re not sure about who to turn to. As a result, we end up with situations where spaces are not accessible because no one bothered to ask for input, instead trying to anticipate needs and failing. Often, the burden falls on people with disabilities to demand access and to provide education about how to make spaces accessible, even when that information is already available, with a little bit of searching.
Accommodation should also be provided automatically, without needing to be something that people specifically have to request and ask for. And people need to be provided with information about available accommodations, as this story Anna linked me to recently points out:
One barrier PCR finds is that access officers in universities tend to ask students to tell them what services they require rather than telling the students what is available. The student is at a disadvantage before the first lecture even begins, as they may not know about all the services available.
Considerations about accessibility and accessible spaces should be on the forefront of the mind of anyone tasked with building, arranging, or coordinating a space, not just people who need accommodations, and people need to expand the way they think about accessibility, actively seek out and solicit information to make the spaces they control better. People often seem to think that accessibility is something you add when someone asks for it, which presumes that people with disabilities will always ask for it, when instead, more commonly, we go ‘oh, that space isn’t accessible or there’s not clear information about accessibility, so I won’t bother attending that event.’
I have had an extremely long day. I barely ate lunch and then worked through what should have been dinner. And now I’m tired and cranky and hungry and there’s not really any food in the house because I’ve been busy and tired all week and so haven’t made it to the store.
It would be amazing to order some food. But I have a major block and cannot, do not, order food for delivery. To me, it feels so indulgent and spoiled and a waste of good money that I just cannot let myself do it. This is a completely irrational block – I do plenty of things that are more expensive and do me less good. (For example, my new laptop didn’t need to be so shiny and zippy – and I’m not sure I really needed one at all.)
Instead, I ate two bowls of cereal and a big handful of chopped walnuts. Meh.
Is there any kind of help or accommodation or similar that you just can’t let yourself accept?
Like a lot of consumers in North America, I carry my debit card with me pretty much every where I go. From buying my yummy lattes to buying school supplies to paying for groceries, I use my debit card for probably 90% of my financial transactions. For me, the debit card and PIN system is excellent because I don’t need to carry cash and try and figure out the taxes to be carrying the right amount, or worry about how much money I might lose if I drop my wallet.
This is becoming increasingly difficult for Blind consumers across Canada. While the old debit card machines had a raised number pad, almost always with at least a raised dot indicating the center key (and thus allowing a blind person to orientate themselves and put in their private security code without assistance), new debit machines are being introduced that use dynamic touch screens instead of a number pad.
This puts Blind consumers in a tough spot: Either carry enough money with you everywhere to cover all of your expenses, or give someone else your private security code, your PIN – and give them access to your finances.
If you can’t independently verify that you are being charged the correct amount or expected amount, you are liable for the cost that gets authorized through this POS system and no bank or credit card company will help you.
The banks and credit companies use a PIN system for authentication. If you can’t use the [Point of Sale] device, you can’t independently enter your pin. If you give your PIN to another person you are now giving them full independent access to your finances and they have the power to clear you out financially and you are liable and no bank or credit card company will help you. So scenarios where you get a friend, buddy or store employee to enter the PIN for you are not an option.
Blind and low-vision consumers have been raising the issue of the need for point-of-sale transactions to be accessible to them for a very long time. In Everett’s blog post on the subject, Sorry, We Don’t Serve the Blind: inaccessible point-of-sales devices, he points the reader towards articles written in 2004, and I’m certain there are ones from before that since I’ve had a bank card since 1986. As society becomes more and more digital, with fancy touch-screens for everything, the need for the designers of these touch screen devices to consider Blind and low-vision consumer’s needs is greater. Without that consideration, more of the world becomes as inaccessible as, say, a Government of Canada website.
The thing is, as both Everett and Jeffrey point out, it doesn’t have to be this way. Both Google and Apple, leading developers of consumer products with touch-screen technology, have made touch screens accessible to blind users. If I go to use my bank card in an ATM, there is an option there for Blind or low-vision consumers to use assistive technology to make the ATM accessible to them, privately, without needing anyone else to have access to their personal financial information.
I believe, perhaps naively, that this is an oversight, and one that merchants and Interac Inc, the primary provider of Point of Sale devices in Canada would work with consumers to correct. Please take the time to contact Interact and raise your concerns about accessibility for Blind and low-vision Canadians.
Also, be sure to read The epidemic of inaccessible Touch Screen Point Of Sale Devices to blind consumers and Sorry, We Don’t Serve the Blind: inaccessible point-of-sales devices. Jeffrey has started a working group that is going to also lobby on this issue, and you can contact him directly for more information – his contact details on in his blog post.