These stories below emphasize the importance of the 14 Principles defined by the steering committee for Barrier Free Saskatchewan (BFSK) to form the foundation of an inclusion and accessibility act for the province of Saskatchewan. These stories are placed under the name of the relevant principle.
5. The Act CHAMPIONS BARRIER-FREE GOODS, SERVICES & FACILITIES
This principle is important to me because as someone with partial sight I have gone places alone and entering a building is exasperating!
One particular government meeting in Regina Saskatchewan that was very stressful and brought on great anxiety. I had gone to Regina on the bus from Saskatoon to attend a meeting with the Public Service Commission and when I arrived at the building. I couldn’t find the door handle to get in. The doors were clear glass and very pretty but I couldn’t find the door handle. When I did finally locate the door handle, I found it was a stainless steel long handle that I couldn’t see due to the lack of contrast of the handle and the glass and the shiny glass all over the building. I couldn’t find a distinction of where the door was.
Then once in the building, the elevators had no buttons near the opening doors. I then recalled hearing the engineer who was putting in new elevators at my workplace building that they were putting in new elevators in Regina, that had a panel to call an elevator. I went looking for such a panel to call an elevator. I finally found a panel. I was going to 2nd floor so I touched the #2. Something flashed but I couldn’t read it, I went to the elevators. Nothing happened. I returned to the panel and repeated this action. Again I went to the panel of elevator doors and again no doors opened. I had heard doors as I walked from the panel. I realized I must be missing the doors opening so I returned to the panel for the third time pressed #2 and ran to the group of elevator doors. I heard a door open and I raced into it. Once inside I couldn’t find any buttons inside the elevator and wondered if I would go to the proper floor? When the elevator doors opened (I hoped I was on second floor as I couldn’t see or hear anything to identify that this was the second floor) . I exited the elevator and there were no signs that I could identify that might lead me to the meeting room I was to go to. I could hear the lady who I was to meet talking and so I followed her voice. When I finally got to the meeting my anxiety level was so high that when my host asked me if there was anything she could get me I felt like saying a glass of wine! The anxiety of not being able to find my way to the meeting and being completely frazzled and anxious made it hard to get into the meeting conversation.
This principle would mean that when designing a building for the public that:
- There is consideration not only to esthetics to the sighted individual, but those with limited sight who need colour contrast.
- The facility would have an accessible elevator.
- The standard for a fully able bodied person is not an acceptable minimum for individuals with limited mobility.
- “Standards” need to be changed to support all peoples needs.
- This principle would have the design of this building so that someone with low vision/partial sight be able to travel independently and find the front door handle to enter the building.
- This principle would mean that this new high tech elevator system would speak out loud which elevator you have chosen and what floor you have arrived on.
This principle would ultimately mean that I could go to meetings and lead an independent lifestyle, without having to ask for assistance.
6. The Act PROMOTES AND ENFORCES BARRIER-FREE WORKPLACES & EMPLOYMENT
I have worked for my present employer for the past twenty five years. I have used speech software for all of this time. I recently needed one of my two computers to be replaced. When the installation was done I did not have speech software on the computer. I identified that this needed to be rectified. After much time and effort, the speech software was installed. When the second computer required replacement just a few months later the second computer was again left to me without the speech software requested and approved by my Manager. Two days prior to the installation of my second computer I had received a phone call from one of the IT people if I needed the speech software for business or personal reasons? When the computer was installed without speech software I was told by IT person who was fully sighted and never had used speech software, that the speech software was the same as another program on my computer. When I tried to explain that what I was asking for had different capabilities she cut me off and changed the subject.
This frustrates me as I have lost a minimum of a week of work productivity to this judgement from someone who has no experience of knowledge of how different speech software programs and how they work.
Having this principle in a Saskatchewan Accessibility Act would mean:
- Government organizations will be more pro-active in training employee’s to accommodation to the point of ‘undue hardship’.
- that employee’s like myself wouldn’t have to argue with colleagues to have access to equipment to do the job the same asfellow colleagues do.
- This principle would mean that i will go to work and know that my work station is as valued as my colleagues.
- This principle would mean that government organizations are accountable and have someone to answer to.
- This principle would ensure that when our internal webpage suddenly doesn’t work with speech software that I be told that ‘the lady who used to keep the page accessible retired’ and ‘we will have to look at the cost to have this re-implemented’.
- This principle would address issues in a timely manner and eliminate anxiety and frustration following internal protocol.
Misconceptions in the Workplace
One of the biggest challenges for someone with a disability is seeking employment. This principle is important to me because as someone who is completely blind, I have dealt with several instances of discrimination in my life relating to employment.
One particular situation was when I applied to a job with an equal opportunity employer and felt comfortable disclosing my blindness on the voluntary declaration form. When they called me for an interview, I figured it wasn’t necessary for me to bring it up right away. Toward the end of the phone call, they mentioned that as part of my interview, I would have to do an assessment which required me to take a typing test and complete some other skill tests online. At that point I figured it would probably be best for me to tell them that I am completely blind, and I wasn’t sure if the tests would be accessible with JAWS for Windows (screen reading software). They seemed a bit hesitant after that, but said that they would figure out a way to accommodate me if I needed the extra help.
I attempted the assessments, but was not able to complete them due to an inaccessible layout. The typing test was in a Flash based browser where the text would pop up on the screen and I would have to type the text into another box below. The other tests included WHIMIS, which was all diagram based, and Microsoft office applications where the assessment questions were in another Flash-based browser with diagrams and unlabeled buttons.
I called the human resources department and explained my situation. They told me to come to the interview anyway and they would help me out when I was there. At that time I lived out of town, and didn’t get to Saskatoon very much, and had to plan ahead for travel arrangements. When I arrived at my interview, one of the human resources consultants brought me into her office right away. She told me that she was unsure of how to accommodate me and that there is no way that someone could help me take the typing test and the other assessments because they’re supposed to be done without any supervision. I explained to her that the only way I would be able to take the typing test is if someone dictated the text to me because that is how I did it when I was taking my course. I also suggested that in order for me to take the other assessments dealing with Microsoft Office applications and WHIMIS, I would need to have the questions put into a text-based format for me to be able to read, and someone would have to describe the WHIMIS symbols to me. She said that they don’t allow that, and that they’ve never had a blind person apply to their organization before. I was disappointed and discouraged. She apologized and said that she didn’t know what else to do to accommodate me. She also said she would talk to other employees with the organization to see if there was anything they can suggest, and that she would get back to me. I gave her the contact information for CNIB, and suggested that she contact them to get more information about employing someone who is blind or partially sighted. At that point, I got up and politely said thank you and left shortly after. I followed up with that same person two weeks later, and she said there was nothing they could do to help me and that she did as much research as she could. I called the CNIB and found out that no one from the organization I applied to contacted them about me.
All of these misconceptions come from a lack of education regarding what someone with a disability is capable of doing. Working with someone who is blind or partially sighted is no different than working with anyone else, we just have to do some tasks a bit differently. Accommodations for vision loss are easy, inexpensive and can be as simple as installing screen reading software on a computer, or using certain apps on a smart phone to help scan and identify documents or mail, or labels on products. There are many more options that can be implemented to make a workplace accessible.
Since this is an equal opportunity employer, there is absolutely no excuse for the lack of accomodations, especially if someone is qualified for the job. With some investigation, the employer could have made the software and documents accessible to people with disabilities, including people with vision loss. It is important to have an open mind when hiring someone with a disability, and instead of assuming the worst of things, reach out and ask questions to the applicant first before jumping to conclusions. Focus on the applicants abilities before their disability.
8. The Act IS ENFORCEABLE
Catching up with Courtney*
Courtney was born profoundly deaf and at six years old, she finally received full access to sign language in her part-time kindergarten. Her mother spent a better part of those six years making phone calls, writing letters, and pleading with individuals in government and local school boards to get someone fluent in sign language to help teach her daughter, since she didn’t know the language herself.
Over the years her mother met deaf children, who at kindergarten age didn’t even know they had name, or a birthday. These children are ‘included’ in daycares and schools, included in doctor’s offices and businesses and in their own homes, but they’re isolated and alone without language. They suffer language deprivation, the effects of which have been shown to follow them the rest of their lives. Her daughter Courtney is one of these children.
The Deaf school closed in 1992 at the opposition of the Deaf community. Over the years, the government set up different committees making similar recommendations about inclusion of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. None of the recommendations were done, and Courtney and her mother were left without the access required to learn the language.
In 2015, Courtney’s mother made a human rights complaint. The Human Rights Commission has since set up a committee to make recommendations. Two years later and nothing has changed.
The government is going through fiscally difficult times, and so to compensate they have cut the services Courtney did receive for her hearing aid. Her family probably can’t afford to replace Courtney’s devices, which will be required in the next year or two at a cost of over $16,000. She also requires much speech therapy but has only received six months through public service. Her speech is now severely delayed.
It didn’t have to be like this for her. She is a bright little girl and it was only her ears that didn’t work. Courtney will now be catching up for the rest of her life.
Courtney’s mother is now advocating for mandatory hearing screening in hospitals and full access to the language of the Deaf community in all publicly funded daycares, schools, health centers, and businesses and she believes it should be legislated and enforceable.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
Table of Contents
Imagine a person who is blind is walking down the street and his iPhone rings. He stops his guide dog and answers his phone. It is a text message. He feels the flat screen and he types back a message to the sender. He is using Apple’s “Voiceover” feature, which is an innovative way to have the phone speak the item that is under his finger. The iPhone has been accessible and useable since 2009.
On a plane, three people sit in seats 12A, 12B and 12C. The person in 12C is touching the flat screen in front of her to scroll through the movie list. Another woman in 12B is touching her flat screen and is pressing on the volume up button so she can hear the news cast better. The third woman is touching her flat screen and moves her finger all around. Nothing appears to be happening. The woman in seat 12A is blind and the monitor does not have any accessible features so she cannot access the information. What’s up with that?
A person is at the mall and has put in his ear buds. He is checking the side of the ATM for a spot to plug in his cord. There is none. The ATM is not a talking one. He cannot get any money. What’s up with that?
Imagine a man is in front of an ATM to take out cash. He puts in ear buds, and plugs the cord in the side of the machine. He touches the buttons and the screen goes black. He puts in his pin, manipulates the screen and money is dispensed. It is a talking ATM at one of Canada’s largest bank branches.
A couple walking down the street come to an intersection. They wait to cross the busy street. They think it is safe and proceed to step off the curb. They are stopped by a stranger as a car is approaching quickly. The couple, who are both blind, thank the stranger and accept her offer to be told to walk when the walk light comes on. What’s up with that?
A person is at the curb waiting for the walk signal. The traffic is very busy. The light turns green, the walk light lights up and an Accessible Pedestrian Signal sounds, “cuckoo, Cuckoo” and an electronic voice says “The walk light to cross Third Avenue is now on.” The person knows it is safe to walk. Imagine that!
A person is at the curb waiting for the walk signal. The traffic is very busy. The light turns green, the walk light lights up and an Accessible Pedestrian Signal sounds, “cuckoo, Cuckoo” and an electronic voice says “The walk light to cross Third Avenue is now on.” At the same time a vibrating arrow points the way. The person with the characteristic of deaf-blindness feels the vibration and knows it is safe to walk. Imagine that!
A woman gets on a bus and talks to the bus driver. The driver writes down on his flip board the information. As the bus moves through its route, folks pull the bell cord and get off at their bus stop. The woman, with sight loss, waits and waits. She gets up and approaches the bus driver and the bus driver apologizes as he forgot to let her know he was at the bus stop that the woman needed to get off at. She has to ride the route and back to where she got on in the first place and do it all over again. There were no audible bus announcements. What’s up with that?
A person gets on the bus and has his guide dog find a vacant bench so he can sit down. As the bus moves through its route, people pull the bell cord and get off. Soon the man pulls the cord and gets off the bus at his bus stop. The bus has been fitted with automatic GPS bus stop announcements. Imagine that!
A man gets into an elevator and looks for his floor number on the panel. It is not in Braille or raised numbers. The man, who is blind, requests the stranger in the elevator to push his floor number. The man who is blind must rely on the sighted person to push the button for his floor and tell him when they reach his floor. The man who is blind gets off on his floor and goes to a door. He checks the door for Braille or raised numbers. Nothing. Does he try his key to see if it is the right door? What’s up with that?
At a hotel, a woman gets on an elevator and finds her floor using the raised numbers or Braille. When the elevator door opens, she feels the edge of the frame and it is her floor. She gets off and walks to a door. She checks the door that has the room numbers in Braille. It is hers. Imagine that!
A man is at his local library looking for the latest book in a series he is reading. It cannot be found as it does not exist in an appropriate alternative format as the man relies on a charitable library to produce his book. What’s up with that?
A woman gets up in the middle of the night as she cannot sleep. She pulls out her book and sits down to read. The book is in Braille. Imagine that!
You are online and about to order your groceries. You are unable to view the grocery flier and the categorized items as they are all in a picture format with unlabeled buttons for assistive technology to read. What’s up with that?
You are on-line and about to order your groceries. You go through the list and pick the delivery window. The delivery person brings your groceries to the door. The whole process was accessible! Imagine that!
You would like to order a cab using your smart phone. The pickup and location boxes require you to select from a map with unlabeled buttons making it impossible for assistive technology to identify. You are unable to order your cab after all and have to wait on hold with the cab company for half an hour. What’s up with that?
You would like to order a cab using an app for a smart phone. You specify your current location and where you would like to go. You agree to the terms of condition and press the order cab button. The app sends a notification stating that your cab is on its way. Your cab comes to your location and picks you up and you are now independently traveling to the desired location. Imagine that!
A person in a chair buys a ticket for a steak night. She goes to the venue, and realizes that there are steps to lead up to the building and no wheelchair ramp. She consults with someone who is about to go into the restaurant and they let her know there is no other way to get into the building. She is unable to attend the steak night after all. What’s up with that?
A person in a chair is meeting some friends for coffee at a popular coffee shop. The person approaches the restaurant with several steps to lead up to the building. He uses the wheelchair ramp to get to the door of the restaurant, and finds the table that his friends are sitting at and greets them. Imagine that!
A man goes to a restaurant. He looks for a menu online with his iPhone with Voiceover and the menu is in a picture format that just says “graphic 25678”. He is unable to independently order what he would like to order and has to ask the waiter what is on the menu. What’s up with that?
A woman goes to a restaurant. She uses her iPhone with Voiceover to look at the menu online. The waitress approaches her table and she orders an item off the menu. Imagine that!
A woman in her motorized chair looks at her bed and mutters to herself, “After hours”. Her hospital bed she purchased for her bedroom will not lower so she can transfer into bed. The only repair shop is open 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. It is Friday after six o’clock. She will not be able to sleep in her bed until a repair person comes during those business hours. She is just so glad she was not in it when it stopped working. Why cannot there be a 24/7 emergency number for these instances? What’s up with that?
A person in a chair heads to the washroom. He sees the male symbol. He pushes the button and the door opens. He rolls in and to his surprise the stall he needs to go into is not large enough for him to get into and transfer. He will have to go across the street to a building that he knows has an accessible washroom. What’s up with that?
At the airport a woman needs to use the washroom. She finds the “accessible” washroom and pushes the button. She manoeuvres her chair into the room and locks the door with a push of another button. When she is done washing her hands and leaves she thinks, “Wouldn’t it be great if all public places like restaurants, bars, hotels had accessible washrooms like that one”. Imagine that!
A long awaited document shows up in my email. I open it. It is a large document and it takes awhile to open. Oh my! It says “document empty”. It must be an image or picture of text and my screen reader cannot read it. It is not an accessible PDF document. What’s up with that?
My manager sends me a large document to review a particular section. I open it up with my screen reader. program called JAWS (Job Access with speech). I immediately check to see the “heading list”. This gives me a quick scan of how the document is laid out and the heading levels of the various sections and sub sections. I check for a list of hyper links and to my delight the links are descriptive so I grasp quickly their meaning. I then move to the Table of contents. As I arrow down I find the section I need to review and press the enter key. I immediately jump to the 21st page where that section is located. I review the section and offer my comments to my manager. This only took a few moments because this document was accessible to me as a person who is blind. It was produced with heading levels and a Table Of Contents using commands from Microsoft Word. I was able to navigate through it quickly and efficiently. Imagine that!
By Robin East
Kim Huartson’s Story
Kim Huartson is a resident of Saskatchewan. Kim lives with his wife and daughter, all whom live with disability. He has a spinal injury that greatly limits his mobility and he is only able to stand or walk for a few minutes before the pain become unbearable. Therefore he uses a wheelchair for any activities that require walking, like getting around the office, shopping, etc. His wife has a chronic lung condition that causes regular lung infections and she has been hospitalized for a collapsed lung and infections. This severely limits her mobility. Finally, his daughter has a rare genetic condition similar to muscular dystrophy, and suffers chronic pain, weakness, and fragile bones. All three of them are drivers, have accessible parking placards, and are working, contributing members of society. But their driveway will only accommodate two vehicles, so his daughter has to park on the street in front of their residence.
The Huartsons live on a main feeder street, so their street is plowed every time there is a significant snowfall. But the city “snow removal” policy is not to remove the snow, but simply to place large snow banks in the parking lane in front of all of the houses. This creates a huge barrier and makes it impossible to park on the street in front of their property. So they have to park one vehicle on a side streets a block away. This greatly increases their discomfort, pain, and risk of injury. In fact his daughter recently fell when walking to her vehicle and broke her foot and ankle in three places.
Mr. Huartson has been in contact with the city several times asking them to stop creating a barrier in front of their property. The city snow removal department has been quite clear that this is their policy and they won’t change it. However, they also informed Mr. Huartson that if he had an accessible parking sign in front of his house, they would bypass it and not put a snow bank in front of his property. They suggested he simply get a sign put up by the city.
But the City parking department refuses to put up a sign because they have a street facing driveway. They do not care that the Huartsons have more vehicles with placards than their driveway will accommodate, stating “the City does not regulate how many vehicles one family can have, nor are we responsible for providing all residents in the city with adequate amounts of parking spaces to meet their needs”. But he is not asking the city to provide adequate parking; he is asking them to stop placing barriers in front of his property.
The city employees have taken his request for the city to stop increasing the pain caused by their barriers, and recently serious injury, and accused him of simply wanting “privileged snow removal”. They say that it is a snow removal policy issue and refer him to that department, who in turn say the policy won’t change and then refer him to the parking department to get the spot designated for people with disabilities. The usually inter-departmental run around. The parking department has told him that if they do it for him, then everyone will want one, which is the oldest, most common, and least valid excuse for denying accommodations for people with disabilities.
For years he has been paying snow removal companies to come and haul away the city placed barriers, but then his house becomes the only one on the block with a parking spot on the street. So once his daughter leaves for work it doesn’t take long for someone else to park there and she still has to walk a block to get to her vehicle, and risk falling and injuring herself. He realizes that an accessible parking spot does not reserve that spot for his family only, but it would greatly reduce the number of vehicles that can park there and chances are the spot would be used by someone else.
As a side note, a few years ago he complained to the snow removal department about the damage that the snow ridges were doing to the underside of his wheelchair van. He was told that it was his choice to drive a vehicle that is low to the ground and therefore not their problem. As if he chose to become disabled and require a wheelchair van, which are always low to the ground to reduce the angle of the ramp to legal proportions.
It is very disturbing that the department that is in charge of accessible parking has no concept of an individual accommodation. All of their excuses, like if we do it for you we have to do it for everyone, or “asking to have a Persons with Disability Zone placed in front of your house so that you get extra or special snow clearing service, beyond what your neighbor receives”, and “nor are we responsible for providing all residents in the city with adequate amounts of parking spaces” are all totally contrary to the concept of an individual accommodation to provide people with disabilities a fair and level playing field. His family is not asking the city for anything other than to stop placing barriers in front of his property so they can access their vehicles without undue pain, suffering, and a very real increased risk of injury. That they took his concerns for the safety of his family and turned it in to a desire for privileged treatment (snow removal) is appalling.
Kim has been asking the City Councilors where is lives to please address the winter barriers
Kim has reviewed the BFSK fourteen principles and has found that thirteen of the fourteen principles reflect his personal barriers;
- The Act SETS A TIMELINE – I have been fighting this for 20 years.
- The Act APPLIES TO ALL – They will not consider an accessible parking spot in front of a residence as long as there is a street facing driveway, with no consideration of individual needs and accommodations.
- The Act SETS THE BAR – There is no bar to set when accommodations get blanket refusals.
- The Act REMOVES BARRIERS – The City’s snow removal policy goes far beyond a failure to remove barriers, and actually creates physical barriers. But they refuse to address that fact.
- The Act CHAMPIONS BARRIER-FREE GOODS, SERVICES & FACILITIES – The city services are creating, not removing, barriers. They could easily haul away the snow (actual snow removal) rather than just pushing it into parking lanes. And who knows, it may stimulate the economy a little by creating some local jobs.
- The Act PROMOTES AND ENFORCES BARRIER-FREE WORKPLACES & EMPLOYMENT – Not Applicable
- The Act CHARGES GOVERNMENT TO LEAD, EDUCATE, TRAIN, INFORM & REVIEW – The city parking department certainly need training on individual accommodation and on not trying to treat everyone the same even when doing so causes injuries to people with disabilities. They clearly do not understand the concept of an individual accommodation and all of their statements are about treating everyone in the same way.
- The Act IS ENFORCEABLE – There appears to be no way to enforce the removal of this barrier as the city will not budge on their policy.
- The Act IS MADE REAL THROUGH REGULATIONS – The city uses regulations as an excuse to not remove barriers, as that would mean someone is getting “special, privileged treatment” in their eyes.
- The Act ENSURES PUBLIC MONIES DO NOT CREATE OR PERPETUATE BARRIERS – Our tax money is being used to create barriers every time it snows. These barriers affect everyone but are especially harmful to those with mobility disabilities.
- The Act IS A LENS THROUGH WHICH TO VET LEGISLATION – They need legislation to force accommodation and to recognize the needs of individuals.
- The Act SETS POLICY – The city has its own policy which apparently is set in stone as they will not even consider individual accommodation.
- The Act HAS REAL FORCE & REAL EFFECT – Not that I have seen in this situation.
- The Act HAS ONE COMMON DEFINITION FOR DISABILITY – The City will not consider or recognize the needs of people with disabilities regardless of the nature of those disabilities. To them able bodied and disabled people should all be treated equally with no consideration for the challenges created by their actions, for those with disabilities.