Category Archives: accessibility

Recommended Reading for 24 September, 2010: Travelling Edition

This edition, like the transportation edition earlier this month, was Anna’s idea!

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?

Disability News Asia: Tata Motors buses for Commonwealth Games in India will be disabled-friendly:

Tata Motors will deliver disabled-friendly vehicles to the Delhi Government for the Commonwealth Games this year.

“We have an extra order to make 400 buses for the Delhi Transport Corporation to be used during the Games, of which some will be disabled-friendly,” Mr Ravi Pisharody, President, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors told Business Line.

flightmapping.com: EasyJet face French probe over disability policy:

France’s Transport Minister, Dominique Bussereau, has asked the French civil aviation authority, DGAC, to investigate allegations that easyJet would not allow disabled passengers to fly without a travel companion.

CBC: OC Transpo unveils visual, audio alerts:

OC Transpo unveiled on Friday its new announcement system that will give riders both visual and audio alerts about upcoming stops.

The $12 million system will include an interior display showing the bus route number and each upcoming stop.

Leah Jane at The Quixotic Autistic: Travelling while Autistic:

I want to note something about travelling while autistic, especially across international borders. It is not easy. These days, flying is difficult enough for neurotypical travellers, but for those of us who are disabled, it takes on a whole new level of struggle, humiliation, and anxiety. My own experience is negligible, but others go through sheer terror in their effort to get from point A to point B.

Harriet Baskas at USA Today: Travelers with disabilities face obstacles at airports (really? really?):

[…]next month the Open Doors Organization (ODO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will host a conference about universal access in airports. On the agenda: tools, technology and training to help both airports and airlines do a better job of serving travelers with disabilities.

Lastly, a quote from Mhairi McGhee of the Haringey Disability First Consortium:

In a city like London, if you can’t get about easily, safely and cheaply, then no matter how many hearing loops, braille leaflets or ramps there are, you do not have real access to services.

That’s from Disabled ‘can’t use’ half of all bus stops in the Hornsey and Crouch End Journal, or, should I say, the ‘Hornsey’ and Crouch ‘End’ Journal.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

The Canadian Government Is Going To Court So They Don’t Have To Make Web Content Accessible To Screen Readers

[Content Note: Not all of the links I have included in this piece have comments, but many of them do, and those comments are basically full of “Stupid disabled people wasting everyone’s time and energy by wanting the world to treat them like human beings” comments.]

If you’ve been following Canadian politics this week, you could very easily come away with the impression that the most significant – or perhaps even the only – thing going on with this week’s opening of the Federal Parliament was the Gun Registry Vote.

That there’s a federal court Charter challenge brought forth by Donna Jodhan arguing that blind Canadians are being discriminated against by the Federal Government for refusing to make their website content accessible to screen readers is not really getting a lot of attention. (Cripples these days! It’s like they don’t sell papers/make page views.)

A little bit of background information first. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which went into effect in 1982 and is the Thing against which laws and the like must be “tested” in order to be considered actually legal in Canada. To give some lovely controversial rulings, the reason Canada has no abortion law is because it was found to violate the Charter’s guarantee to security of the person (and no law has since been passed) and it was found that refusing to include “homosexuals” in protections against discrimination violated Section 15, or the right to Equal Protection Before the Law, even though sexual orientation wasn’t included in Section 15.

Section 15 is the important one here:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, and it’s been about 10 years since I studied the Charter, so I’m going to leave that out there and not discuss my personal interpretations because they don’t matter. What matters is two things: 1) What the court says and 2) That the Federal Government is arguing that they shouldn’t have to be accessible to screen readers in court.

The latter is, of course, being read as Jodhan wasting tax payers money in a frivolous lawsuit, not the Federal Government for refusing to have accessible content.

From what I can tell, this is what’s going on: In 2004, Jodhan attempted to apply for government jobs online. However, the site wasn’t set up to allow screen-readers to access the site, so she was unable to do so. In 2006, she attempted to fill her Census out online, and again, the federal government website was not accessible to her screen reader.

On Tuesday [September 21], Jodhan will argue in federal court that her inability to apply for a position on the federal jobs website or complete the online version of the 2006 Census breached her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She will also argue that this violation and her ongoing inability to access the government’s online information and services constitute a breach against all blind and partially sighted Canadians, said Jodhan’s lawyer David Baker.

About 3 million Canadians have visual or other impairments that make it difficult to access the Internet.

The Federal Government is, in turn, is responding with “What, you think you should have a right to access the same information that everyone else can? Ha ha! Ha ha!”:

Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law, the government says in its written submission to the court.

“Alternative channels available did allow (Jodhan) to access services and information independently, in a manner that respected her privacy and dignity,” it says.

With more than 120 government departments and agencies and more than 23 million web pages, “it is unlikely that the government’s web presence will ever be perfectly accessible to all,” it adds.

Frankly, if the Federal Government doesn’t think that their websites provide information in a timely fashion, and that access to that information isn’t something that they should prioritize, why are they bothering with them in the first place? And if they do think it’s important, why are they in essence arguing that “It’s important for most people, but not for the three million Canadians who won’t be able to access it?”

I support Donna Jodhan’s fight for equality of access to information for all Canadians. I hope you do, too. If so, I strongly encourage you to email your Member of Parliament and let them know. Perhaps if enough of us contact the government and let them know we value accessibility for Canadians with disabilities, they’ll start acting like we shouldn’t have to go to court just to get it.

This is the email I sent to my MP, who happens to be Megan Leslie, and cc:ed to the leader of the NDP. Please feel free to adapt it to send to your own MP. (This should give you their email address.)

Dear Megan,

I recently learned of Donna Jodhan’s Federal Court case, arguing that the Canadian Government must provide screen-reader accessible content on their websites, as reported in the Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/863379–blind-woman-says-federal-websites-discriminate-against-the-visually-impaired) and the CBC (http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2010/09/18/to-blind-accessible-feds.html) In light both Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canada’s recent signing of the Declaration of Rights of Disabled Persons, I’m appalled that the Federal Government would waste tax payers’ dollars in arguing that 3 million Canadians should not have the ability to access government services online or apply for government jobs online.

In this day and age, it’s ridiculous for the government to argue that access to the internet is not necessary. According to the Toronto Star, government lawyers are arguing “Internet access to government services and information is not a right guaranteed in law”. While I agree that this is technically true, in refusing to provide this access, the government is arguing that blind and visually impaired Canadians should have less access to government services and information than Canadians who are sighted.

Megan, every day it is clearer to me how many societal barriers are put in place that prevent people with disabilities in Canada from full participation. The time and energy the federal government is frivolously spending in defending their lack of web accessibility could be far better put to use in bringing the government’s websites up to the same standards as those in other countries, standards that are reasonable to expect in the 21st Century.

This is such an important issue, and I hope that the NDP will work to bring awareness of it to Canadians, and encourage the federal government to stop fighting against people with disabilities, but fighting for them.

Thank you,

Anna P.
cc: Jack Layton

In The News: Toronto StarUPICBCGlobe & Mail

Dear Google: Can We Have Some Accessibility With Our Email Please?

Last week, Mathsnerd attempted to sign up for a new GoogleMail (know as Gmail elsewhere) account. I say attempted because this did not go well. At all.

Oh, wait, what’s that, Google? After trying more than three names, I have to go through CAPTCHA to prove I’m a real person? Okay, that’s kind of soon, but whatever. Gee, you sure scrunch those letters together and make them all wavy so that I have a real hard time figuring out what the hell you want me to enter…

Huh, okay, I’ve tried eight times, Google, and I can’t seem to read it well enough that you’re satisfied that I’m a real person. And while you offer a “read-aloud” accessibility option for the CAPTCHA down below for submitting the form (which, incidentally, doesn’t work in Chrome, yeah, you know, YOUR BROWSER!), for the CAPTCHA to keep trying different handles you conveniently don’t offer any alternate options.

Captcha is a sort of Challenge that a user must pass when a program thinks that the user might be a spambot instead of a person. Wikipedia’s article looks useful if you want to learn more about it. It’s certainly not the only Challenge software out there, but it is one that is widely used, especially by Google-related products, such as their web-based email and their blogging software, Blogger. In fact, Google likes Captcha so much they bought the company in 2009, making Google responsible for implementing their accessibility policy.

Description Below
A screen grab of a Google Captcha code. I think it's supposed to say monsworene, but I'm not sure, and it's very difficult to read due to size, font choice, and the way the letters are pushed together.

Some Captchas, including the ones used by Google, have an audio option. I’ve occasionally tried to use the audio Captchas, which are a series of numbers read outloud with a large amount of background noise, designed, I assume, to keep an automated system from being able to distinguish the Challenge. I’m an experienced audio typist, so while I found this irritating, I could cut through it. Earlier this year, Blind Bargains did a study and found that 73% of blind users were unable to succeed at the Captcha Challenge – and blind users, according to Google and Captcha, are exactly who the audio function is designed for. 1

Google has an Accessibility Feedback Form. In order to use it, you must have a Google Account. Depending on any number of factors, your attempt to get a Google Account to discuss their accessibility problem with Captcha could require you to pass a Captcha Challenge in order to prove you are an actual person.

Actually, let me highlight that: In order to tell Google about their problems with accessibility, you need to be able to pass through the inaccessible Challenge.

Those of you who already have Gmail or GoogleMail accounts, you can contact Google to raise your concerns at their Accessibility Feedback Form. The Feedback form has a lot of fields to fill out. I just filled out the one that I felt was most applicable, and it went through without requiring me to put in any more information.

Here is a template you can use. Please feel free to use, edit, or adapt this for your own purposes.:

Hello Google

I was very distressed to learn that Blind users and users with other disabilities were having difficulties in signing up for Gmail accounts through the Captcha challenge. One user has detailed her experiences here: http://accessibility-fail.dreamwidth.org/33494.html , and as well, Blind Bargains reports 73% of their users had difficulties with using the audio version of Captcha: http://www.blindbargains.com/bargains.php?m=5383

I know that Google wants to be a more accessible service for users around the world. I hope that the accessibility people at Google will have the opportunity to look into these complaints and work with various people with disabilities in order to solve these problems.

Thank you for your time.

This is an issue that cuts to the heart of the problems with inaccessible web content. Obviously there are thousands – maybe millions – of blind or otherwise visually impaired users of the internet, but in this increasingly-flashy internet age, where not only information but job applications are going increasingly online, web accessibility is a huge barrier to people’s participation in society. Google, as we all know, is a huge multi-national company with the ability to make an incredible difference by working with users with disabilities in order to make the web more accessible to us. By contacting Google, you will be adding your voice to the chorus asking for greater web accessibility.

Accessibility Feedback Form.

  1. Thank you to Codeman38 for bringing this study to my attention.

Recommended Reading for 17 September, 2010

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?

From BBC’s Ouch, by Charlie Swinbourne, Deaf country life v deaf city life:

I’m soon to become a Dad for the second time, so we’ve started thinking about the long term, and where we want our children to grow up. With houses on the pricey side for anything bigger than a shed in our area of West London, we’re currently wondering whether we’d be better off bringing up a family outside the city. […] The capital is full of opportunities for deaf people, with weekly deaf pub meets, regular events, accessible cinema and theatre performances, and numerous deaf centres and sports clubs.

Badgermama presents Kids and wheelchair manners:

Please stop yelling at your kids just because they’re 20 feet away from a wheelchair! Nothing bad is going to happen. It really pisses me off when someone grabs their kid, yanks them “out of the way” and yells at them, just because I’m in the same grocery aisle or on the same sidewalk. Usually, the kids are nowhere near me. All these people are doing is teaching their children that people in wheelchairs are scary and weird.

Some good news from ysobel of i hear the voices when I’m dreaming in *sags in relief*:

So, there’s been this whole saga with trying to get a ramp to the front entrance of our church, made vastly overcomplicated by the fact that the church is a designated historical site blah blah blah. […] The church appealed to the city council, who had it on the agenda for tonight, after several postponements on their part.

Leah at Cromulent Words writes You Can’t See My Pain:

You don’t see me not talking about disability in class because I’m fraid of being silenced again. You see someone who doesn’t care about the assignment.

At random babble…, our own OYD writes Medical Autonomy Chronicles: The Virgin Pap Smear (do be warned, it’s graphic):

For all the talk of how having sex outside of marriage or whatever message had been pounded on me for however long, and how it would leave me hollow and leave me feeling worthless and damaged, and for all the ways I had been told that casual sex would leave me reeling and feeling depressed and with a hole of missing self-esteem, nothing I did in my consensual sex life has ever compared to the way that pelvic exam and pap smear felt to me, a fourteen year old girl. A person rising on the crest of womanhood, not yet there but ready to fly, and having had myself violated before I took my first steps.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Guest Post From Jesse the K: Making Space for Wheelchairs and Scooters

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month. Her previous guest post was 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Originally Posted at Access Fandom.

These guidelines come out of my experience working on WisCon, a 1000-person annual convention in a recently remodeled hotel.

There are many elements to making your event wheelchair-accessible. While U.S. law requires minimal wheelchair access, never rely on a venue’s general assertion of “oh yes, we’re accessible.” Those little wheelchair stickers? Anyone can buy them and post them at will, even at the bottom of a flight of steps.

There’s an entire shelf of 2-in (5,08 cm) thick books on this topic; so consider this the Twitter version. Links to helpful resources appear on June Isaacson Kaile’s site.

David Hingsburger is a long-time disability rights activist who’s begun using a wheelchair in the last few years. His essay “12 Steps? Me, I’d Rather Sit” captures the frustration of a last-minute change from an inaccessible venue to one that worked for him:

…These things are difficult because while I appreciate everyone’s understanding, I didn’t want it. While I was thankful for the extra effort made to find a room immediately, I didn’t want it. What I wanted was simple. Accessibility.

Accessibility doesn’t just mean I get easily into a building. Accessibility means anonymity. It reduces the need for compassion, understanding, special consideration, to Nil. It allows me to slip in unnoticed and set up quietly. This doesn’t mean it masks my disability, it just makes it mean something very different.…

Verify & report

Do an on-site survey with someone who’s truly familiar with the needs of wheelchair and scooter users. (Not all wheelchair users automatically have this knowledge, just as not all walking people know everything about sidewalk construction. Some non-wheelchair users also have these skills.)

Check for level paths to every area. A single, unramped step is as significant a blockade as two flights of stairs. Wheelchairs need at the very least 36″ (1 m) for corridors and 60″ (1,5 m) to turn around.

Describe any non-conforming areas in your publicity and program: forewarned is forearmed, and it demonstrates that you’ve actually checked the place out. Don’t use the term “wheelchair-friendly,” which has no defined meaning. Do reference any standards the venue meets: “ADA compliant” in WisCon’s case.

Make sure that stages are ramped as well. (Our venue can only ramp one stage at a time. This requires members to self-ID at reg, and program coordination to place ensure the ramped stage and the wheelchair using panelists are in the same room. I know from experience it’s easy to blow this one.)

Wheelchair Parking aka Blue Zones

Providing designated wheelchair parking in all seating areas permits wheelchair users the same freedom to come and go as those using the seats. Well-meaning non-disabled people will often say, “oh, but of course I’ll move a chair out of the way if you just ask.” And from their viewpoint, that’s a one-to-one personal issue. But from perspective of us wheelchair users, it’s a one-to-many problem, since we must ask for seating rearrangement every where we go.

While leaving empty spaces seems like a solution, chairs inevitably migrate further apart, filling them in. The inexpensive and highly effective alternative are “blue zones,” 36 in (1 m) squares outlined with 1in (2,54 mm) blue painters’ tape. It’s bright, stays down on carpet and comes up easily.

If you know how many wheelchair users are in attendance, be sure you make that many blue zones at the big get-togethers. (Otherwise, 1 for every 100 is a rough guideline.) Always have at least one blue zone, especially in the smallest program rooms (where crowding is most an issue). When you have room for two, put one up front and one in the back. The former is great for the wheelchair user who may also have hearing or vision impairment; the latter works well for those of us who get claustrophobic and need to be able to leave right away.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today’s Recommended Reading focuses on how to make event-sites more accessible to people with disabilities, and experiences people with disabilities have had with accessibility at events and in their communities.

Accessibility Discussions: How To

This list is no where near comprehensive (I went a hunting for a few specific ones I know I’ve read and couldn’t find), so please feel free to leave more links in the comments!

Via Ms Crip Chick’s five fav tools to dialogue about justice: Accessibility Checklists at the National Youth Leadership Network:

Are you looking for ways to outreach to more people? Are you trying to get people involved? Are you trying to keep them involved? How a document reads and looks affects whether people can understand the information being shared. This is a checklist for document accessibility. It also includes some tips to think about when making programs or services accessible to all people.

Glenda Watson Hyatt at Do It Myself: A Checklist for Planning an Accessible Event

Whether planning a meeting, workshop or multi-day conference, your goal, no doubt, is to assist all participants, including those with disabilities, to feel welcomed and able to fully participate in the event

This checklist is intended as a starting point in planning an accessible event, which likely requires more than ramps and wheelchair washrooms. The key is to consider every aspect of the event and what barriers a person with a disability – whether it be physical, mobility, hearing, sight, or cognitive – might face, and how you can eliminate or minimize those barriers to ensure all participants feel welcomed.

The Access Fandom Wiki

Access Fandom Wiki is a tool to help make Science Fiction conventions and conferences more accessible to people with disabilities. Within you will find specific instructions and resources for carrying out these aims.

Planning an accessible meeting

When you are planning a meeting or event, you want to make sure that everyone can participate, including people with disabilities. By planning ahead, you can build accessibility into every aspect of the meeting.

The two main areas you need to consider when planning an accessible meeting or event are:

  • physical access to the meeting space
  • access to the meeting contents and proceedings.

Here are some general things to keep in mind.

Disability Access @ Stanford – Planning an Accessible Event (One of the things I like about this one is the “questions you should be able to answer” section, because I’m amazed at how many people cannot tell me where their barrier-free entrance is, even when they have one.)

Q: How do I get from [point A] to [point B]?

Familiarize yourself with stair-free pathways in the vicinity of the event (e.g., parking lot to main entrance) and to notable locations…

Q: Where is the nearest wheelchair accessible bathroom?

Know ahead of time where the accessible bathroom is, and how to get to it from your event location.

Accessibility Discussions: Experiences Of

alias_sqbr: Using a Mobility Scooter at WorldCon

Walking is easy on the brain and hard on the legs. Using the scooter is the reverse, the level of concentration required is somewhere between walking and driving, and by the time I got back to the hotel after my first excursion I needed a mental break and did the rest of my (much less taxing) exploration on foot. It got easier with practice, and was also much less taxing indoors in a familiar space without the worry of cars etc. The convention centre was perfect, lots of big empty flat carpeted areas. I got up now and then when it was more convenient but still ended up doing MUCH less walking than normal and as a result was much less tired and in pain than I would otherwise have been, and got to enjoy a lot more of the con as well as being able to go out to dinner etc. One issue was that all that sitting gave me a sore bum/lower back/legs, and I became quite uncomfortable on the plane trip back. I’ve been doing a lot of half lying with my legs out since getting home and am fine now. My brain is also less fatigued, once I got used to the scooter the general lack of fatigue made me more mentally awake than I usually am at the end of a con.

Lisy Babe BADD 10: Discrimination by ignorance and the myth of the DDA

“But I thought everywhere was accessible now.”

How I loathe that sentence. It usually follows my asking “so why did you hire somewhere inaccessible for your event? Because now I can’t come.”

For example, I’ve just spent the last 3 days at a film festival/conference tied to my course… I arrived on Thursday, picked up my ticket and was told by cinema staff “it’s in screen 2, which is not accessible.”

Joy.

And, of course, the “but I thought…” line swiftly followed from the director of the event who’d hired the venue.

Ira Socol at SpeEd ChangeTo be fully human

I move through a lot of schools, and through a lot of public spaces, and everywhere I go I see people who are made to be less than fully human. The high school kids who can not read sitting in classrooms during “silent reading” time. The girl in the wheelchair set off to the side of the middle school choir because everyone else is on risers. The poor reader at the bank or hospital faced with piles of incomprehensible paperwork. The man or woman denied the ability to go out to eat because of too few or badly placed “handicapped” parking places. The child who struggles with writing who is denied the right to communicate in his classroom. The university students forced to spend large amounts of money and time to “prove themselves” “disabled.”

Codeman38 at Normal is Overrated: Of Privilege and Auditory Processing

The Normal Auditory Processing Privilege Checklist

  • I can watch first-run movies in any theater and still understand a majority of the dialogue without having to attend a specially scheduled screening with subtitles.
  • I can understand messages broadcast over PA systems without a lot of difficulty.
  • Lectures are just as easy for me to comprehend without visual feedback such as PowerPoint as they are with visual feedback.

Heather Farley at Oh Wheely… Blogging Against Disablism Day

These people have no idea of the impact they have on my sense of worth. And they don’t care. That shrug of ‘it’s not my problem, it’s yours’ means that I am excluded from that part of life. I’m apparently not worth their effort. On the flip side I have to say that for every person who shrugs there are another five people offering help, opening doors, and keeping my faith in humanity alive. Unfortunately it’s the ‘shruggers’ who stick in my psyche.

For every little battle I fight there are ten more that I have to let pass by. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to argue the toss every time. And every time I do I become less important in my eyes, less worthy of my effort, less deserving of theirs.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Better microphone use at conventions: a report

Originally Published at Access Fandom.

At My Local Convention, the Access team made a big push toward improving microphone usage this year. This is separate from things we normally do such as marking off chairs for lip readers. Below are revised documents that I wrote to the concom, arguing for an investment in this cause.

I. Hearing impairment is common.

“According to the US Dept of Health and Human Services 1990 and 1991 Health Interview Surveys, approximately 20 million persons, or 8.6 percent of the total U.S. population 3 years and older, were reported to have hearing problems.

“The elderly were more likely than any other age group to have hearing problems (Figure 1). Persons 65 years and older are eight times more likely to have hearing impairment than persons ages 18-34 (i.e., 3.4 percent of the population ages 18-34 have hearing impairment, compared to 29.1 percent of the population 65 and older).”

(Source: http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/factsheet.html#Q)

Therefore: Hearing impairment is likely to be common at our event.

II. Microphones benefit everyone, thus are an element of universal design.

Hearing is difficult in noisy, crowded situations such as cons, even for those who do not have hearing loss. Factors such as sinus problems can temporarily affect hearing. Mics also benefit those with attention difficulties.

Mics save speakers from having to strain their voices or having to shout. They are a confidence builder for people– they help teach people to value their own voice. It is a professional asset to know how to use a mic properly.

III. Like other aspects of our con: Having good access for hearing will create an environment that will attract people to us; having bad access for hearing will create complaints and disappointed people.

In short: We all benefit from having better microphone usage at our event.

IV. Known barriers and difficulties:

–Mics are expensive
–Cords get in the way and knock things over such as the water glasses. (Proposed solution: cup holders)
–People don’t like using mics or don’t know how to use them well
–Mods don’t always repeat audience questions/comments
–Smaller programming rooms don’t have mics (aren’t wired for them.)

V. Proposals:

–Write on back of name tents: “PLEASE USE THE MICS”. Name tents sit in front of every panelist.
–Create signs, tape to each panel table to remind people to use the mics. We borrowed the word “Sonorous!” which is the voice-amplification spell from Harry Potter for these signs (we’re a science fiction convention.) The signs had an image of a mic with a green circle around it and text that read, “four inches from your mouth because we’re loud and proud!” (or something like that)
–Buy, borrow, scrounge for more mics. We borrowed six from a college, and rented 2 additional mics on top of our normal number.
–Train mods to enforce this, get them to use mics and repeat audience questions. Repeating audience questions not only allows people to hear the question, it also permits people who are lipreading to maintain their gaze in one direction! Our convention has a “mod squad” training which was effective in this regard.
–Have access volunteers raise their hands in rooms to ask/remind people to use the mics. In this way volunteers can speak up for others who may have trouble speaking up for their own needs.
–Long term: get mics into all programming rooms
–Look into wireless mics if possible
–Address the “I’m shy” issue which often prevents folks from using the mics (and/or other resistance). Personally I believe that microphone use can be “normalized” so that nearly everyone simply does it the way we all put on seatbelts, when they are available.

Microphone use: pretty good, but myself and others definitely encountered able-bodied privilege in the form of people claiming their voices are good enough, loud enough, and gosh darnit mics just aren’t natural. In smaller rooms, mic use was worse than in larger rooms. Some people were “mic hogs” (not good at sharing or passing microphones); therefore more mics would be better for 6-panelist panels. Some people gestured with the mics or held them too far from their faces. I believe this shift in culture will take several years but we are off to a good start.

Signal Boost: The Arc FINDS Survey 2010 (Open Until 1 November)

This informational survey is being conducted by The Arc, a national [US] disability organization whose mission is to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

The purpose of this survey is to capture the perceptions of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities of all ages,and their families, on issues concerning disability support needs across the life spectrum. Responses will be used to help inform disability organizations, services, policy, and public perceptions on issues related to disability supports that you or your family member has now, needs or is anticipated to need in the future. Your answers will remain completely anonymous and confidential. We will not connect your responses and answers to you personally; your identity will remain unknown to staff working on this project unless you choose to provide your name and contact information at the end of this survey.

There are no risks or costs associated with completing this survey.

Respondents needing personal assistance with filling out the survey may have their appointed personal assistant help complete the survey, but responses in the first section of the survey should be those of the respondent, not of the caregiver or personal assistant.

Your completion and submission of this survey indicates that you, or your parent or caregiver, are at least 18 and voluntarily consent to participating. Average time to complete this survey is 30 to 45 minutes.

Copies of this survey may be made available upon request in Spanish, large print and Braille.

Link to online survey.

Normalising Accessibility

The radio station I’ve been listening to for most of my life has a habit, when announcing community events, of indicating whether they are accessible. This generally refers specifically to wheelchair accessibility, although I have heard announcers address other things, like chemical sensitivity, depending on the announcer and the event. The point is, my whole life, whenever I hear community events announced, it has been announced with a note about accessibility. That kind of does something to a person, you know?

The announcers put accessibility in the same rank of importance as event information like where the event is, when it is, what is happening, how much it costs, and who to contact for more information, tickets, reservations, and so forth. As it should be. Because all of this information could determine whether someone can attend; if something is happening this Friday at 1:00, for example, I can’t go, because I’m meeting a friend for lunch. If it costs $40 USD, I can’t go, because that’s more than I want to spend. If it’s in Lakeport, I can’t go, because I don’t want to drive that far…and so forth. The whole point of an event announcement is to provide people with enough information to determine if they want to go to an event, and if they can attend.

I mentioned the fact that the radio station does this on Twitter and got a number of intrigued responses, and the thing that struck me was how radical people thought it was, that the radio station would make a habit of including accessibility notes on event announcements. For me, it’s commonplace, and I expect to see accessibility discussed on posters and other event announcements because I’ve been socialised to expect it; a big part of the reason for this is that I live in Northern California, very close to the Bay Area, where there is a highly active disability community that has agitated long and hard for things like this. In my own town, Fort Bragg, I can’t say accessibility is great. There are a lot of issues I’ve identified and I’m sure there are many more I haven’t. And I’d note that some events here are very bad about providing accessibility information on posters, and are shocked, simply shocked, if I contact organisers to ask, so I’m not pretending that accessibility notes are universally provided, or universally useful, in my little hippie paradise. But they are there.

Accessibility notes, to my mind, serve two important functions.

The first is that they provide a service for people with disabilities. You can know, right off the bat, whether you can attend an event, especially if organisations make a point of using comprehensive accessibility notes. For example, the radio station just aired a spot on a film screening that sounds interesting. It is in an accessible venue, but is the film captioned or will there be an interpreter? Is there an audio description available? This was not mentioned. Having complete notes about accessibility saves people the trouble of making a phone call/sending an email, and also avoids the  potential situation where the person on the other end says ‘oooooh yeah, our event is totally accessible’ and you get there and find out it’s not. I think accessibility information should be default with any event announcement; you wouldn’t announce an event without the date, right?

The second purpose, one I was discussing with Anna recently, is that accessibility notes remind people that we exist. Every time you hear an announcement saying something like ‘this venue is not wheelchair accessible,’ that sends a message. Hey, there are people who use wheelchairs! Hey, they can’t get into this event! That’s not cool! Encountering accessibility notes reminds people to think about the accessibility in their own lives and it acts as a quiet reminder; I mean, really, who wants to be the person running an event accompanied with radio announcements basically saying ‘wheelchair/scooter users, parents with strollers, and possibly people with mobility impairments not welcome’?

Another area where I have noticed accessibility notes coming up more and more these days is on recipes online. In part, that’s because I tend to hang out with other people with disabilities, so it’s not like accessibility notes are a Thing in the broader online cooking/recipe exchange community, although they should be. Seeing those notes reminds people that, hey, some people with disabilities like to cook, and, hey, it is really helpful to be able to skim the notes at the top of a recipe to see if you will be able to prepare it. After all, most recipes indicate if they are vegetarian/vegan these days, and many provide notes about common allergens like wheat, dairy, and soy. All this information is considered important because it will determine whether you can make the recipe, so why not add an accessibility note? Something like ‘you will need to lift a heavy stockpot full of water from the sink to the stove’ can be a dealbreaker. (Unless you have one of those rad flexible hose things that lets you fill pots right next to the stove, in which case, can I move in?)

Having accessibility notes does not create universal access. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction, of getting people to think beyond ‘special treatment‘ by positioning accessibility as something broadly relevant to most people, and something of equal importance as ‘who, what, where, when, why, and how.’ Which, for many of us, it is.

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass: People With Disabilities and Disaster Preparedness

Last week, Hurricane Earl appeared to be bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard on the United States, and there were a number of stories about communities preparing for evacuation, or weathering out the storm. Watching the news unfold, I noted a pretty glaring absence in the coverage: Any discussion, at all, of people with disabilities. Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the US government has been aware that there are significant gaps in disaster preparedness planning for the disabled community. Several reports since then have suggested that, despite policy changes, most communities are still not ready to deal with the evacuation of their disabled residents.

What this boils down to is that people with disabilities get left behind in disasters. If they weather the disaster itself, they are left without any support networks, for as long as it takes to reestablish community services. For people dependent on electric medical devices, this can translate into death within hours or days as electricity services are cut and backup power sources dwindle away, one by one. For others, it means sitting for days without access to food, medications, and basic hygiene services.

‘Be prepared,’ they tell us. Establish an evacuation plan. Don’t plan on depending on family or public services. Stock up on at least a week’s worth of medication. Register with community organisations (ok, I guess, you can depend on some public services?). If you rely on electric medical devices and need services like dialysis, find locations where you can access electricity and the health services you need. Set up multiple failsafes, multiple friends who will check in on you.

And, you know, all this sounds great, in theory. But how does it work out in practice?

Let’s say that you have a degenerative neurological disease and you spend most of your time in bed. You cannot sit upright, walk, or stand. That means that, if an evacuation order comes through, you need transport that can accommodate you. That transport? Can cost thousands of dollars, one way. Assuming you can access it, which is not a guarantee, because transport services may not be running or may already be booked. Are you supposed to maintain a $30,000 USD adaptive van in the garage in case you need to evacuate at some point?

Let’s say you, like most people with disabilities, are living near, at, or below the poverty line. How are you going to stock up on a week’s worth of expensive medications and supplies? Or you, like many poor folks in urban areas in the US, regardless of disability status, do not have a car. You are dependent on public transport for evacuation. You can’t ‘just get out’ and you certainly don’t have a car packed with evacuation supplies. You are limited to what you can carry. Your friends don’t have cars either. How are you supposed to pack a 50 pound extra battery for your chair, again?

You may have limited friend networks, and many of your friends may be disabled as well. You all need help to evacuate in disasters. You can check in on each other, but none of you can help each other evacuate. What if you’re in a remote, rural area and the closest dialysis center is hundreds of miles away? What if there are no community organisations in your area or, you call to register with them and they say they can’t help, don’t take people like you, have no resources for people like you? What if you call around to emergency shelters and they aren’t accessible, don’t have backup generators for power? What if you can’t communicate with the people running evacuation services and emergency shelters?

There’s a long list of ‘what ifs’ that deconstruct the supposedly ‘easy’ process of planning ahead for a disaster. Every single disaster preparedness guide for people with disabilities I’ve looked up starts with ‘make a plan,’ but doesn’t really provide information on how to make that plan, what to do if it’s functionally impossible in your community to plan. How can people be expected to ‘just make a plan’ when they lack access to basic services even when there’s no impending disaster?

A common stigmatisation ploy used against people with disabilities is that we are ‘dependent’ on the government and rely on the government for everything. But, when it comes to survival, we are reminded in disasters that we actually cannot depend on the government. People with disabilities are told that there are no measures in place to assist them during evacuations, and they need to make their own arrangements. Functionally, that results in being left behind to ‘weather it out’ and hope that, when emergency responders finally start arriving, they can enact a rescue before it’s too late. It’s too expensive, evidently, to include us in community disaster planning.

We won’t even talk about what happens after the disaster, when people with disabilities have a harder time recovering than the general population. Just making it through a disaster at all is a feat, given the way the deck is stacked against us. The government is working on making disaster planning more inclusive, but it’s not working fast enough. It’s another reminder of the impact social attitudes has on policy; we are an afterthought, we are demanding ‘special treatment’ when we ask to be evacuated to safety with the rest of the population.

What kind of disaster planning is available in your community? If there is a disaster, what will happen to you?