Stories About Barriers That Emphasize the Importance of the 14 Principles
Thee 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 fascility 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 outloud 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.