Category Archives: make the world a better place

Canadians: Tell Your MP To Vote for C-304

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.

I Love Policy

It’s true. I am a policy wonk. I am endlessly interested in it. I read about it, think about it, talk about it and … write about it. (As in, what I’m doing right now.) And I do all of this because I think it’s immensely important. Crucially important. Vitally important.

Public policy is how the government – whether local, state, provincial, federal, or any other level – takes action on a particular issue. It covers a whole huge range of potential state actions – allocating and spending money, setting and enforcing professional guidelines and standards, creating agencies and staff, structuring tax incentives, even defining what constitutes criminal behavior. That’s an extremely big category that clearly has an enormous and unparalleled effect on the world.

Public policy not only drives state and governmental actions, it also has enormous influence on private sector actors. Tax policy can encourage specific areas of business, grants can encourage specific methods or practices, and governments both licence and regulate businesses. This combined effect on public and private actors means that to my mind, changing public policy is the quickest and most effective way to change things for a big group of people, all at once.

Policy touches almost everything we do and everything with which we come into contact. Right now, I am sitting on my bed, the mattress of which complies with regulations to prevent it going up in flames. I am wearing a shirt made in the United States by workers subject to minimum wage laws and industrial safety protections. The US shirt manufacturer is protected from competition from international producers by trade tariffs and taxes. The soda I am drinking displays nutritional information pursuant to federal regulations. The internet I am using is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Even the air I am breathing is affected by pollution standards and the decisions to grant or deny permits to things like coal processing plants. Even my kitty is included – she’s protected from abuse by criminal statute and, where I live, is protected from declawing. And that’s just scratching the surface of all of the policies surrounding and affecting me right this second.

There are, of course, a lot of other factors and forces that influence how people interact with the world, both as individuals and in groups. There’s huge effects from family, religious, cultural, and ethnic beliefs and traditions. Then there’s a myriad of individual differences – the things a person reads and watches and talks about and is talked to about, for example. I would argue that each of those things could also be influenced by government policy – like how the private movie ratings system created as a reaction to public regulation prevented me from seeing R movies until I was at least 16, or what books my local public library system bought and so were available for me to read. I’d also argue that individual preferences and differences are a lot less important than public policy in determining whether an area has a functioning health care system.

There are obviously a lot of difficulties with public policy. First, it’s mainly done by politicians, so political climate and general popular opinion can limit the range of what policies can achieve. For example, the United States could never have created a government-run nationalized health care system given the current makeup of our decision makers. Second, achieving specific goals through policy can be kind of complicated and difficult – if you were the government and wanted to “fix the education system,” it’s not exactly clear what specific steps would reach that outcome, even if we could agree on what a good education system would look like. Third, the differences between a policy as carefully written down and a policy as actually implemented can be vast, so a great policy may end up being too difficult or complicated or expensive or just impossible to implement, or may end up being significantly watered down.

At the end of the day, though, policy is literally life and death. Whether a mentally ill teenager gets tased or shot by a police officer depends on law enforcement policy, training, and management. Whether a PWD can afford and access the medications and equipment they require to live. Policy determines how and why and for how long and under what circumstances people are institutionalized. Whether and how they are protected from abuse and neglect from caretakers and family. Whether and when and how they have children.

So in the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about policy. Good policy, bad policy, and everything in between. Policy often doesn’t feel as sexy or gripping as a lot of the other topics we discuss here, but I’m hoping you’ll find it as interesting and important as I do.

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

Tell The Discovery Network that their transphobia is unacceptable

Late last week, PinkyIsTheBrain on tumblr began a campaign to bring attention to the new Investigation Discovery show “Who the Bleep Did I Marry?”, which equates someone being trans* with being a serial killer, a con artist, or a bank robber.

[Note: If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, it can be a bit hard to navigate. “Conversations” or comments or follow-up tend to be nested.]

Transcript:

Music plays in background: “Love and marriage, love and marriage”

The video opens on a scene of a wedding in an idyllic location surrounded by trees with an arbor of flowers. The camera zooms in on the bride, who turns and says:

(Marriage officiant in the background): Join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.

First Bride: Five years from now, I’ll find out that he’s a bank robber.

The camera cuts to a different couple, walking under a portico with their backs to the camera. The bride turns to the camera and says “Serial murderer.”

A zoom in on another couple, standing like they are being photographed with their families.
Third Bride (loud whisper): Russian spy!

Another couple, cutting a cake.
Fourth Bride: Cheater. With three other wives.

Another couple, surrounded by a crowd, the bride sitting on a chair while her husband kneels to pull off her garter.
Fifth Bride: And he’s a… a she.

(Gasps)

(Kissing noise.)

We cut back to the original couple, kissing at the altar.

The closing shot is of a fancy black car driving away, trailing ribbons, tin cans, and toilet paper. ‘Who the (bleep) did I marry’ is chalked on the back window.

Marriage Officiant (sounding disgusted): Who the bleed did you marry?

Voiceover: Who the bleep did I marry? All new [episodes?], only on Investigation Discovery.

This is not just a ridiculous comparison, it’s a pretty damned offensive one that equates being trans* with being a serial killer – and once again equates being trans* with lying, which is the same argument that murderers make with they murder trans* people.

FuckYeahFTM looked up the contact information for the Discovery Network, encouraging people to get in touch and point out how bloody offensive and shitty this is:

Here’s more info about the show:

Who The Bleep? [Opens with sound & Video]

The other episodes they have include: Married to An Embezzler, The Biggest Con, Married to a Spy, Married to A Bank Robber

And they are including marrying a transman, or in their words “He is actually a She” on that level, with criminals and murderers.

Discovery doesn’t actually make it easy to contact them with concerns (I had to use a search engine to find the Contact page because it wasn’t anywhere on the Who The Bleep? page), so here’s how I did it:

32. How can I contact you with programming comments or questions?
We welcome your e-mail comments and questions, which you can send to us by clicking here.

This is the most efficient way to contact us. Comments or questions directed to anyone else at Discovery Communications will be forwarded to Viewer Relations, which means it will take us longer to follow up.

You can also write to us at:

Discovery Communications
Viewer Relations
One Discovery Place
5th Floor
Silver Spring, MD 20910

There is actually a lot of “required information” before Discovery will let you contact them. They want your age, your name, what network you’re writing about (Investigation Discovery in this case), post code, Cable provider, program time, and “information needed” (along with several other pieces of non-required information) before you can fill in your comment. I believe it’s five steps before you can tell them what your concern is, the site is very slow (at least for me), and I have no idea how accessible it is. (It does not like my computer at all)

However, reaching out and making it clear to Discovery that this stuff is not okay, that being trans* is not a crime, is not lying, and is not the equivalent of being a “Russian Spy” or a “Bank Robber”, is important, and I hope as many of you as possible will contact them and make that clear.

This is what I wrote, if you are looking for a template:

Hello Discovery Network,

I am disgusted and appalled at your decision to equate being a trans man with being a criminal, a spy, or a murderer. A trans man is not “really a she”. He is a man who married a woman. The decision of your network to “out” someone like this is especially dangerous, as many trans people are murdered for allegedly “faking” or “lying” or otherwise “cheating” their sexual partners.

I hope you will reconsider your decision to air such an exploitive, dangerous, and abusive program.

Again, here is Discovery’s Contact Form. I emailed them last week and have so far received only a form letter, but if we overwhelm them with numbers, surely they have to pay attention, right?

ADAPT Protests partially lock-down White House! Media Yawns, Changes Subject

I spent most of my weekend pretty much glued to Twitter following ADAPT’s latest action in Washington, DC and wondering where the media was, especially after a huge group of wheelchair users blockaded one of the White House gates and 16 people were arrested. I actually thought that the White House security arresting a group of people with disabilities would surely be the sort of thing that the media would pick up on.

Foolish me! Just like with the Arnieville protests that s.e. wrote about last week, the media is basically ignoring this four-day-long protest in Washington in favour of more important things. Despite repeated hunts by me and several other people, the only mention of the protest, “partial White House lockdown”, arrests, and march is this CNN report, which only quotes White House staff and the ADAPT webpage. Apparently CNN couldn’t even find someone from ADAPT to quote directly. (Also, the photos of the event that ADAPT have posted make it clear that CNN’s report is factually inaccurate.)

[If you would like to read NationalADAPT’s tweets, a good place to start is their September 18th tweet, and just keep going from there. Their timeline includes a variety of photos taken of the event, and also will point you towards other tweeters that were there.]

ADAPT has been protesting at the White House at least once a year (sometimes twice a year) since 1997, and has been holding protests in other cities across the US for 25 years. The focus of their protests for the last 11 years has been the Olmstead Decision and the Community Choice Act.

Eleven years ago, in the Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court said that Americans with disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting. Yet today, states are responding to budget shortfalls by drastically cutting home and community-based services. These draconian cuts are forcing seniors and people with disabilities into nursing facilities and other institutional settings because they don’t have the services they need to remain independent.

On Sunday, ADAPT held a funeral, complete with casket, to both mourn and bring attention to the number of people with disabilities who have died in nursing homes around the country while fighting to get out of them. Monday involved marching directly on the White House. While CNN reports that 9 people handcuffed themselves to the White House gates, the ADAPT photos and Reports make it clear that far more than 9 people were involved in this action.

The Park Police had closed the sidewalk and street in front of the White House around 10 in the morning as ADAPT approached. When the police used an SUV to block ADAPT and the sidewalk, the bulk of ADAPT charged into the intersection of 15th and G Streets stopping traffic completely. The police had believed they had successfully stopped the line of activists when suddenly all the traffic was stopped and the intersection was packed with activists.

“The people they thought were meek or expendable,” said Jennifer McPhail about the police force, “were the people who had taken their power.”

While ADAPT’s actions continue today across Washington, DC, members who are required to attend court this morning after being arrested have been illegally challenged at the court to produce documentation for their service animals, and need to bring attention to ADA violations to the very people one would expect to be enforcing the ADA.

When a local Washington paper was challenged on their decision not to report anything about the ADAPT protests, their response was first that they don’t cover national protests and then, when it was pointed out this was also a local protest, that it was a matter of debate, and there were protests every day in DC. Other media sources haven’t responded to questions about their lack of coverage.

I do understand this, to a point. Certainly I’ve attended protests that have received very little media coverage, and most of that in either local papers or in grass roots news organizations. However, at what point do we start to seriously question why multi-day – or, in the case of Arnieville, multi-week – protests by people with disabilities are getting ignored? The ADAPT actions have decades of history, and touch on issues that are hot-button topics in the US right now, such as health care, funding for social programs, and the standard of living.

And yet, still, despite everything: we protest, and are ignored.

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.

Signal Boost: Help Mia Mingus & CripChick!

To the Other Side of Dreaming: Finding Housing & Putting Disability Justice Into Practice

We’re reaching out across our bi-coastal networks to move to the Bay, specifically Berkeley because of the level of access that can be found there for disabled folks. This is a huge, complicated and multidimensional decision that we have struggled with and we will be writing more about it to you, our loved ones and family, in the coming months.

But right now we need you. We need help finding a place to live and creating a community careshift collective.

Check for more information about what Mia Mingus & Ms Crip Chick need at Leaving Evidence (mirrored at CripChick’s blog), and also check out the Book Sale at thaura zine distro: Revolutionary Love is More Than a Catch Phrase. There appears also to be an etsy sale in the works, so please keep an eye out for that as well.

CripChick also has a list of books she’s giving away, as their new digs won’t have room for all the books (woe).

For myself, I have only recently become aware of the amazing work that Mia Mingus does, but what I’ve read at her blog, Leaving Evidence, from hearing about her work this year at the Allied Media Conference, I am blown away by her passion, her drive, and her love. CripChick’s work I’m more familiar with, especially her work with young people with disabilities, as a youth organizer and a radical woman of color. Both of their blogs are outstanding, and as well they are also both heavily involved in community organizing and disability solidarity.

I know things are tight all over, but much of the help they need is not just in money, but in support and information. Check out what they need!

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.