U of T Accessibility Services Supports Students During COVID-19.


Anna Dawson, who just finished her first year at U of T Mississauga, says the academic accommodations she received from U of T made it possible for her to excel in her studies.

When in-person classes ended in mid-March, accessibility services staff at the University of Toronto’s three campuses faced a daunting challenge: how to ensure the more than 7,000 students who use accommodations could complete their final exams.

For some students, writing a test remotely presented no difficulty; for others it created new barriers.

“You can imagine if you’re a student with vision concerns, doing an online exam is going to be problematic,” said Michael Nicholson, director of accessibility services on the St. George campus. “Students who are recovering from a concussion or head injury are often not supposed to use a computer for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.”

The directors of accessibility services on each campus began meeting daily online with staff from the accommodated testing centres. Accessibility advisers sprung into action, reaching out to individual students to ask if they had concerns ” and then working with faculty to modify exams as needed.

In some cases, instructors permitted students to complete a project or assignment instead of the exam. In others, students were given options for when they could take their exam. Testing centres on each campus remained open for any student who preferred to write exams in person. Most did not, but the few who did appreciated the choice, said Nicholson. “Staff at the testing centres worked hard to put a lot of options in place. There was a great deal of flexibility on the part of faculty to give students different ways to get their work done,” he says.

Anna Dawson, who just finished her first year at U of T Mississauga, found the changes relatively easy to manage. She had moved home to Calgary in mid-March but was in frequent contact with her accessibility adviser. “It definitely took some time to get used to, but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.” She says she wrote her final exam online, in the basement of her parents’ home, where the only glitch was unwanted noise when her sister started vacuuming upstairs.

Finishing first year successfully was important to Dawson. As a youth who struggled with learning disabilities, and later anxiety, she had harboured doubts she would ever attend university. But through high school, she worked hard, advocated for herself and learned how to manage her challenges with reading, math and written expression. “There have definitely been a lot of bumps along the road,” she says. “But I defied the odds, and I did better than I thought I ever could.” She’s now looking forward to returning to U of T Mississauga in September.

Dawson, who is majoring in psychology, says the academic accommodations she received from accessibility services contributed to her success. (Accommodations are designed to help eliminate obstacles faced by students.)

To reduce her anxiety, Dawson can take tests alone and spend more time completing them. She uses assistive technology to read exam questions and multiple-choice answers aloud. She takes notes during lectures, but can also access notes from a designated (and anonymous) peer in case she misses anything. “My processing speed is a bit slow,” she explains. “When my profs are speaking and I miss something, it’s very helpful to be able to see someone else’s notes.”

Dawson hopes to pursue a master’s degree in counselling and eventually a PhD, with a focus on child development. It’s not a career she imagined for herself a few years ago ” but with a successful first year at U of T Mississauga behind her, she feels new opportunities have opened up.

“My confidence is through the roof,” she says.

In a sense, this is the mission of accessibility services: to level the playing field for students ” and expand the opportunities available to them. With offices on each campus, the department works with students who have mobility challenges, visual and hearing impairments, cognitive challenges, anxiety, depression and many other conditions. Over the past five years, the number of students seeking support has grown by more than 60 per cent, with mental health issues accounting for much of the increase.

Nicholson says the nature of this support is sometimes misunderstood. Academic accommodations such as those provided to Dawson are not intended to “help” students with their studies, he explains, but instead are about ensuring that all students have access to the same levels of opportunity. “Our office gets obstacles out of the way so students can actually do their work,” he said. “This is never about expecting less of a student or doing work for them.”

Evidence shows that accommodations are effective. A 2018 study conducted by the university found that, with respect to GPAs and graduation rates, students who received accommodations performed similarly to their peers. (Although they take longer to graduate, they are just as likely to finish their degree.) “We talk a lot about excellence at U of T,” says Nicholson. “This study showed that our students contributed to this excellence as much as any others.”

Faculty are crucial to this effort, says Nicholson. “Without them, our work would come to a standstill.”

Accessibility advisers at the three campuses work with faculty to help modify course materials and provide students with alternate ways to demonstrate competency in the courses. Nancy Johnston, an associate professor, teaching stream, in Women’s and Gender Studies at U of T Scarborough, has co-hosted workshops for faculty members on inclusive education. She says even minor adjustments ” such as explicitly welcoming students with diverse learning styles and encouraging them to raise concerns, or giving students a short “cognitive break” during lectures ” can make a big impact.

Johnston advises her colleagues who are unsure about how to address a student’s request for an accommodation to seek input from accessibility services. She also encourages instructors, if possible, to design their courses from the outset to be inclusive. “Assume you will always have diverse learners who require different types of accommodation,” she says. By being proactive, “you’ll save time in the long run.”

When the pandemic brought an end to in-person classes this spring, Johnston didn’t have to modify her courses much: she’d already designed them to be accessible through the web. “I had already created my courses assuming that some students would want to review the lectures later, or participate in discussion online.”

David Onley, a senior lecturer and distinguished visitor at U of T Scarborough, says the pandemic provides an opportunity to build a more inclusive and accessible society

According to David Onley, a senior lectuer and distinguished visitor at U of T Scarborough and a long-time advocate for greater accessibility, the pandemic provides an opportunity to address the problem of ableism more generally in society. In May, Onley made a submission to the House of Commons, arguing that as part of Canada’s economic recovery, the federal government should develop a “new, improved and accessible normal.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that the federal government would take steps to support Canadians with disabilities during the pandemic. The measures include a one-time, tax-free payment to holders of the disability tax credit, a $15-million investment to provide community organizations with resources to improve workplace accessibility and access to jobs and a $1.18-million investment five new projects across the country through the Accessible Technology Program.

At U of T, with the fall term less than three months away, accessibility services is now working with faculties and departments to ensure that students have the accommodations they need. How will professional faculties handle placements, for example? What will happen to labs, or classroom-based courses that rely on in-person interactions? “We’re being creative and looking for unique solutions,” says Nicholson.

For graduate students dealing with barriers to learning, the pandemic has presented its own set of challenges. PhD students, in particular, operate in a different environment from undergrads; they study independently, often have teaching responsibilities and conduct their own research.

Alex Lu is a third-year PhD student in the department of computer science at the Faculty of Arts & Science. He is applying machine learning in biology to discover new insights about proteins. Lu is also Deaf.

Because all of his research collaborations and meetings shifted online, Lu needed sign-language interpreters to join his video calls. He says accessibility services supported the request in a way that kept his logistic work to a minimum ” and enabled him to continue a research collaboration with a lab in Zurich.

Alex Lu, a third-year PhD student in computer science who is Deaf, says U of T “gave me the equal opportunity I needed to concentrate on producing good science”

From the beginning of his U of T career, Lu credits his first accessibility adviser, Adina Burden, for coming up with innovative ways to minimize barriers, such as real-time captioning services for courses. What he appreciated most about working with Burden, he says, was her effort to streamline the accommodations process. Deaf students often have to request interpreters for every seminar and event they attend. As Lu points out, this is burdensome. “A PhD is difficult enough without having to co-ordinate every last detail of your accessibility plan,” he says. “Adina and I worked out a way for me to prioritize my research instead of getting bogged down in accessibility logistics.”

Lu will defend his thesis in January and says he’s pleased with what his partnership with accessibility services has helped him accomplish. “I’ve produced a lot of exciting research that is “out-of-the-box’ and challenges conventions in my field,” he says.

“U of T gave me the equal opportunity I needed to concentrate on producing good science.”

This is really what it’s all about, says Nicholson: creating an environment at U of T that gives every student the best possible chance of success.

Original at https://www.utoronto.ca/news/equal-opportunity-i-needed-how-u-t-accessibility-services-supports-students-amid-covid-19




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The Realities of U of T Students in the Age of ‘Zoom University’


ByNicola Lawford
June 2, 2020

On March 13, U of T announced that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person classes were cancelled beginning March 16. In the following days, libraries and campus resources were shut down, federal and provincial borders were closed, and many students left the city to return home.

On March 25, U of T announced that all summer courses would be delivered online, and by May 19, U of T sent an email saying that the fall 2020 semester would have a mix of in-person and online courses.

Given the massive shift in how U of T students are taught presently and in the future, I wanted to examine what online learning looks like across the province and around the world. How can communities support each other from afar? Could online courses play a more permanent role in U of T’s future?

From my childhood bedroom in Hamilton, Ontario, I spoke to students and professors in rural Ontario family homes, downtown Toronto apartments, and quarantine hotels in China about the good, the bad, and the ugly of a university gone virtual.

Accessibility concerns for students

Eliana Morin, a second-year student studying economics and international relations, spoke to me from Thornhill, Ontario, where she now lives with her godmother. She spoke to the joys of having the time to eat breakfast each morning without having to attend lectures.

However, the success of virtual learning depends on how a person likes to learn. “I do much better if I have someone in front of me telling me things rather than having some sort of audio file,” Morin said. “I have unreliable wi-fi, which is the worst thing on earth for me.”

After relocating to Thornhill, Morin had her international economics midterm as planned five days after in-person classes were cancelled. Students had two hours to upload photos of written solutions. Morin highlighted the need for professors to consider students with unreliable internet connections in designing online assessments.

“If they had given me even 10 minutes more than the standard two hours, I would have been fine,” Morin said. “Because my wi-fi stopped at the last minute” I couldn’t upload something, and I missed some marks.”

Eli Scott, a second-year student studying cognitive science, spoke to the difference in experience created by COVID-19 from her downtown residence. She does not have her own desk, and she did not have her own room until one of her roommates recently travelled home. Scott has been spending her days working at the kitchen table with her roommates, but she has struggled to focus due to her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“Pretty much everyone with ADHD at U of T ” a really large amount of the student body ” if you’re registered with Accessibility Services, you write your tests in a distraction-reduced environment” you have your little cubicle [where you] can’t see anything; it’s really quiet,” Scott said. “But then here, I’m living with four other people, so it’s never quiet.”

Closures of libraries and government notices to stay home mean that she no longer has access to an ideal environment.

“Whereas before I got all my work done at the library, now I’m in a space that is completely not distraction-reduced,” Scott said. “It’s absolutely not consistent with my learning.”

The impact on mental health

Accessibility issues have worsened mental health problems for a lot of students.

“I have anxiety, and I got it treated, and now it’s back to what it was before I even started asking for help” because I feel rushed all the time,” Morin said.

Physical distancing is another contributing factor. “Anxiety makes you feel like you’re alone on the inside,” Morin said. “Like this, you feel alone on the outside as well.”

Anxiety and physical distancing have also severely impacted Scott’s productivity, creating a feeling of loneliness.

“Added anxiety and mood issues take away from the ability [of] your ADHD medication to function. So I imagine a lot of students with ADHD are having this issue right now with the anxiety, meaning that the effectiveness of their medication is a lot lower,” Scott said. “I’m having a lot of trouble focusing. And that’s just chemical focus; it’s not even like I’m lazy” It’s a disability.”

Morin was happy with Health and Wellness’ quick transition to hold her scheduled appointment over the phone.

“I can still talk to [my psychologist], get her opinion, and I don’t have to go all the way downtown,” Morin said. “I’m very satisfied with the work that [Health and Wellness is] putting in.”

According to students like Scott, however, who are experiencing serious or compounding issues due to the pandemic, U of T’s Health and Wellness and Accessibility Services frameworks aren’t doing enough.

“I think, really, [this is] just revealing how kind of horrible those services are,” Scott said. “They’re not good; they are not stable. The infrastructure can’t handle what U of T needs on a normal basis, let alone on this basis.”

In email communications, the university has been directing students to external support services such as My SSP, Good2Talk, and emergency services. However, Scott pointed out several shortcomings of these resources, noting that the My SSP chat service is not intended for students in crisis, and its workers are not crisis-trained.

“If you are needing to talk down from a crisis, you should probably call Good2Talk. But then Good2Talk has a 40-minute wait time, which is not ideal for if you’re in crisis,” Scott said. “Sometimes calling 911 is a good thing” but the entire province” is absolutely draining the resources of 911, so those first responders are not going to be near as fast.”

Scott also cautioned that students be aware of their privacy when using online mental health resources. For students using My SSP, their name, contact information, and presenting issue can be shared with U of T’s electronic medical record provider, meaning that the issues for which they receive support can be added to their electronic medical record at U of T.

“This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because if you would tell your psychologist or psychiatrist this, then they would also put it on your electronic medical record,” Scott said. “[But if] you want some advice about how you’re doing that’s off-the-record, My SSP is not off the record. And I think a lot of students don’t know that.”

As schools, workplaces, health care, and personal relationships shift to online platforms, privacy and digital rights are becoming increasingly important in all aspects of life. Scott cautioned that statistics about students’ use of My SSP can be reported to their insurance provider, as detailed in the app’s privacy agreement.

“I think [privacy is] something we should be able to control,” Scott said.

Internet filtering for international students

At a hotel for a mandatory quarantine after returning home to China, Yannis He, a second-year student studying engineering science, eats breakfast at 8:00 am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6:30 pm ” local time. That’s 12 hours ahead of Toronto. I spoke to him over Facebook Messenger, which he accessed using a paid virtual private network (VPN) service.

“The internet speed is super slow and I am never able to use it other than from 1am to 6 am. Since too many people use internet during the day,” he wrote. He also struggled to complete schoolwork due to many blocked sites being inaccessible without a VPN. “Anything Google, such as utube [sic], Google calendar, Gmail, etc is definitely blocked.”

Yanwen Mao, in the same year and program, noted in an email that although no official university websites were blocked, not having access to Google services made it very difficult for her to work on a written assignment with her team.

Both He and Mao found the connection to be too slow for them to attend online video lectures on Blackboard Collaborate, the Quercus-integrated webinar platform on which live lectures for the majority of their courses were hosted. “Bb collaborate performs poorly here, videos get stuck all the time. But thanks to one of our classmates who posts videos on Bilibili, we can still access the online lectures,” Mao wrote. Bilibili is a Chinese video-sharing website mainly used for comics and animations.

The popular Chinese search engine Baidu also does not serve as a good replacement for Google.

“Baidu is mainly in Chinese and a lot of contents are not shown (considered as inappropriate by the government),” he wrote, adding that it’s “mainly used for searching entertainment information instead of academics.”

He and Mao both found it difficult to work with Chinese search results for concepts they had learned in English. “I personally don’t like to translate between the two languages while searching for my school work,” Mao wrote.

Many students in China use VPN services to access blocked websites. “It’s necessary even though it slows your network speed,” Mao wrote. U of T does not provide VPN services to undergraduate students, who must cover the cost of access on their own.

“Good VPN costs money. Take the one I’m using as an example, it costs me $60 (US) for 6 months” Most free VPNs can’t even complete the loading to a blocked website,” she wrote. “A possible thing I can think of for the school to try to help students in China really is to provide VPN access to them.”

Mao was grateful that many professors had considered students in other timezones in their updated course plans, and she noted that the university is already doing a lot.

“The 24/ 48 hr time slot to complete quizzes and exams really helps” Everything [that happens] after noon in Canada means they take place at midnight in China” The recordings of each lecture also help this situation for sure,” Mao wrote. “As it’s a personal choice to go back to the home country, it’s understandable that we need to take responsibility for that move,” she noted. “I feel like anyone from anywhere is experiencing difficulties.”

An expert take on how we learn online

Clare Brett, Associate Professor and Chair of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), guided her dog out of her home office to tell me what she has learned from over 20 years of teaching online.

“The big criticism years ago of online learning used to be that it had huge dropout rates, and it was kind of second-rate,” she said. She highlighted the upfront work required to create an online environment. “You have to introduce and set up a course very, very clearly. There’s got to be a lot of redundancy built in. I use lots of little videos, short ones, to introduce myself, to talk to the students, to model things, [and] to give feedback.”

Her early teaching work inspired her current research, which is studying ways to build community in online classrooms.

“It became very clear over time that interaction and a sense of community was a very, very big piece of the people staying in the course,” Brett said. “People would stay in a course and not drop out because they were really enjoying it, and they felt already committed to the community.”

Her research group has developed a web-based collaborative student workspace called PeppeR, where they have experimented with various online learning features. They have investigated motivating students with gamification ” the addition of game elements to learning ” added social media tools such as “like’ buttons to provide feedback, and examined the differences between private and public online settings, “where much of what you do online is working with other people in the course.” They’ve also created private channels for instructors to communicate with students.

“It allows you to give just-in-time feedback, for students to ask questions without losing face,” Brett said.

As summer courses go online, professors who go the extra mile to build their classroom community could see big gains in their students’ commitment to the course. The Community of Inquiry model of online learning ” which describes three presences: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence ” supports Brett’s research.

“When things are working well, all of those things are happening together, and each reinforces the other one,” she explained.

Currently, Brett is leading a team of graduate students helping OISE faculty move their courses online.

“We’re going to be working with faculty individually to help them with the instructional design process of putting their courses from a face-to-face to an online format” in a way that’s sensitive to that faculty members’ prior experience doing this sort of work,” Brett said.

She also spoke to the importance of integrating mental wellness and mindfulness activities, such as time for open discussion, into classes.

“At OISE, we integrate wellness activities like mindfulness and so forth; many people involved include that as a part of their classes,” Brett said. “Again, it builds community, and it settles people down, and it makes them feel heard and seen. And that’s very important.”

Is online education the future?

Brett believes that there is potential for the university to adopt more permanent changes to course delivery methods once in-person classes resume. The Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, which is already providing support in this area, could help implement those changes.

“I think once faculty spend this time ramping up to more online methods, they may end up maintaining some of those tools and having more mixed modalities in their teaching practice moving forward,” Brett said. “It’s kind of a social experiment right now, isn’t it?”

However, CUPE 3902, the U of T education workers’ union, wrote in an email to union members that it “does not support the transition to online classes as a long-term pedagogical policy” and “vehemently [opposes] any attempt to use this situation as a precedent for phasing out physical classes.”

Some professors believe that increasing their online presence will decrease the in-person community. Naomi Morgenstern, an associate professor and associate chair and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of English, teaches ENG250 ” Introduction to American Literature and keeps the course’s virtual presence to a minimum during a regular in-person term.

“I don’t post slides and recordings in order to encourage people to show up and be part of the discussion,” Morgenstern explained. “When I’m actually in a classroom teaching, I adjust so much of what I say to students’ responses. Especially in a large class online, that’s really difficult.”

Over her 20 years teaching at U of T, she has noticed a shift in students’ sense of classroom norms away from physical presence and conversation, largely coinciding with the rise of online culture. She fears that the transition to online learning will only worsen this change.

“I do think it also intensifies things that were already a problem, which is this idea of a course being something that you access entirely as an individual, as opposed to as part of a more social and engaged interaction,” Morgenstern said.

However, some students pointed to equity issues associated with keeping course content offline. Savanna Blade, a second-year student studying engineering science, does not learn well in in-person lectures, which she often has for five to six consecutive hours in her schedule.

“I typically am not a person that can attend lectures all the time, and I found that, mentally, it doesn’t really work for me all the time,” she explained.

She also pointed out that, depending on students’ financial or medical situations, they may be forced to miss lectures for work or illness.

“Forcing students to attend classes in order to succeed, there are going to be students you’re disadvantaging by doing that” because it’s not always the student’s choice as to whether or not they’re able to attend,” Blade said.

She argued that being able to go through lecture recordings online at her own pace initially has helped her and would improve accessibility for students unable to attend lectures.

“It was an easier way to take things at my own pace and let myself learn the way that I feel comfortable learning,” Blade said. “The knowledge that I have access to everything that I need to make sure that I succeed in this program is really beneficial.”

Like most of the students and professors I spoke with, Blade was hopeful for the future.

“Teachers have really had to think about what students were potentially disadvantaged by [when choosing] how to run courses,” she said. “I think that reflection process will become really valuable when things start to go back to normal.”

Original at https://thevarsity.ca/2020/06/02/the-realities-of-u-of-t-students-in-the-age-of-zoom-university/




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Coroner Calls Inquest Into Death of Teen at Brantford School for the Blind


Michelle McQuigge
The Canadian Press, May 29, 2020

The parents of a disabled teen who died in the care of an Ontario residential school for the blind say they’re hopeful a newly called inquest into their son’s death may protect a future generation of vulnerable students.

The province’s coroner’s office has confirmed to The Canadian Press that it will hold an inquest in to the February 2018 death of 18-year-old Samuel Brown at the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont.

Brown’s parents have said their son’s death was shrouded in mystery and controversy, alleging he was in good health the weekend before he died. They also allege that only 12 hours passed between the time they received a phone call indicating their son was slightly unwell and when he was pronounced dead in hospital.

The couple began campaigning last fall for a province-led investigation into the matter, saying medical officials have reached conflicting conclusions about Brown’s cause of death.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Ontario’s Chief Coroner confirmed that an inquiry will take place, though details about a start date and location are still being determined.

The news comes as a relief to Brown’s parents, Andrea and Gladstone Brown, who said the inquest will hopefully provide answers for their family and others.

“I want to know what really transpired … because up to now we have no clue,” Andrea Brown said in a telephone interview. “We’re doing this not just for us, but for … those that cannot help themselves.”

The W. Ross Macdonald school referred questions on the pending inquest to the Ontario Ministry of Education, which referred them to the coroner’s office.

Andrea Brown said her son was born with a genetic condition that left him blind, deaf and non-verbal.

He began attending W. Ross Macdonald, the province’s only dedicated school for the blind and deafblind, starting at the age of four and experienced no problems for most of his tenure, she said.

Brown said her son was in perfect health on the weekend of Feb. 2, 2018 — the last time she saw him alive.

She heard no reports of illness until the evening of Feb. 8, when a staff member called to say her son was “a bit fussy” and unwilling to get up for dinner.

She next heard from the school at 6:30 the next morning, at which point she learned he had been rushed to a nearby hospital.

It wasn’t until she and her husband reached the hospital themselves, she said, that they learned their son was already dead by the time he was sent for medical help.

The Browns said the investigating coroner produced a report saying their son had died of natural causes.

Dissatisfied with the finding, the family requested an autopsy. The resulting report concluded he died of pneumonia, a finding that only deepened the family’s confusion.

The family began campaigning for an inquest in September and drew support from politicians, academics and others across Canada. An online petition in support of their cause drew more than 3,500 signatures.

Samuel Brown’s said a thorough inquiry into the circumstances leading to their son’s death is necessary for the sake of families of other disabled children without access to similar resources.

Their lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi, said she hopes the inquest will prompt a deeper examination of the way disabled lives are valued in the education system and beyond.

“It’s really a call for our society to put a mirror up to itself and ask some questions about … how something like this can happen and how we can prevent it in the future,” she said.

This is not the first time the school has faced allegations of student mistreatment.

A class-action lawsuit alleged students attending the school between 1951 and 2012 were subjected to psychological degradation, physical violence and sexual abuse.

The suit claimed staff members often resorted to violence, such as forcing students to drink from urinals and jumping on the backs of those as young as six years old.

The statement of claim also alleged staff preyed upon the visual impairments of students, sneaking up on them during private conversations and spinning students around to deliberately disorient them.

The plaintiffs settled the suit with the Ontario government for $8 million the day before a trial in the case was due to get underway.

Original at https://www.inthehammer.com/coroner-calls-inquest-into-death-of-teen-at-brantford-school-for-the-blind




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Sign Language Interpreters at Media Briefs Should Be Normal: Accessibility advocates


Provincial and federal government didn’t include interpreters from day one, says accessibility advocate Liny Lamberink, CBC News
Posted: Apr 05, 2020

Sign language interpreters are being lauded for communicating critical information from the provincial and federal governments about COVID-19, but a pair of accessibility advocates say their presence at media briefings should be normalized.

Premier Doug Ford heaped praise on Christopher Desloges during an address last Wednesday, calling him a “champion” and a commending him for playing an important role for the deaf community.

While it’s “okay” that Ford drew attention to the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter’s work, the executive director of the Ontario Association of the Deaf, Donald Prong, said the focus should be on media briefing instead.

“Say for example, you see an individual who has a guide dog or a service dog. You wouldn’t allow people to pet the service animal, because it’s a working dog. I think that should be a parallel to a working interpreter,” Prong explained.

Donald Prong, executive director of Ontario Association of the Deaf, says the deaf community had to lobby the provincial and federal government to get sign language interpreters at media briefings.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which is supposed to be fully implemented by 2025, says emergency information presented orally should be made accessible through real time captioning, a transcript and interpreters.

But, according to Prong, the deaf community had to lobby the province for more than a week before an ASL interpreter appeared alongside the premier during pandemic media briefs, and it took days for the federal government to do the same.

“This is a very serious time that we’re in, and we deserve to have equal access to that message in our language to ensure we’re receiving the appropriate information,” he said. “Without interpreters, how can we participate in the effort to fight this virus?”

Robert Gaunt is the executive director for the Ontario North and Ontario West branches of The CNIB Foundation, a charitable organization that enables people who are blind or have vision loss. He too advocates that information be equally accessible to those who have disabilities, and said the foundation is ramping up virtual programming.

That includes training on software that turns text into speech, which Gaunt said has become an “essential service” enabling people who have vision loss to access critical health and safety information and stay connected.

“We’re very quickly seeing a very high response rate to the programs that we’re offering,” he said.

When it comes to the praise sign language interpreters are receiving amid the pandemic, Gaunt has a reminder.

“It’s always wonderful to celebrate accessibility and inclusion,” he explained. “The thing we need to remember is that should be the norm. As much as it stands out in this point in time, that really should be the standard and where we’re already at.”

Barriers facing deaf community

Meanwhile, members of the deaf community are still encountering barriers related to the pandemic.

Prong said people can connect to Ontario’s COVID-19 hotline using Canada’s video relay service (VRS), which enables those with hearing or speech disabilities that use sign language to communicate over the phone. But some people also need a deaf interpreter to make the system work, and there isn’t always one available, said Prong.

And although VRS enables people to call 911, Prong said there are no interpreters to help communicate when emergency personnel arrive on scene.

“Interpreters are very difficult to find, and especially during this time, they’re fewer and far between.”

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/sign-language-interpreters-at-media-briefs-should-be-normal-accessibility-advocates-1.5522160




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Accessibility = Inclusion and Belonging for Kids with Physical Disabilities


TORONTO: Kids with physical disabilities are often left out because a building isn’t accessible, there is no accessible transportation or a program won’t accommodate someone in a wheelchair.

Easter Seals Ontario has been an advocate for improving accessibility for children with disabilities in the community for 98 years.

Accessibility means more than just ramps, elevators and electric door openers. It is also being able to join a group and play together, enabling a child with a disability to be included and have a sense of belonging.

Having an accessible building or offering an accessible program sends a very positive message to child with a physical disability, says Jennifer Green, an Easter Seals parent. It says ‘Yes, you can’ instead of ‘No, you can’t.’ At Easter Seals camp, when asked ‘Who wants to …..?’ my son, Cameron, always raises his hand and shouts ‘Yah.’ He always knows he will be able to participate in anything being offered at camp whether it’s sailing, crafts, cooking or swimming.

We have heard from the kids we serve that the feeling of being different and excluded leads to tremendous stress and anxiety. Easter Seals’ services are so important because they enable kids to get out into the community or attend Easter Seals camp and experience a sense of belonging, says Kevin Collins, President and CEO, Easter Seals Ontario. Last summer, a mother had tears in her eyes when she picked up her teenage daughter from Easter Seals camp and learned that she had made her very first friend. It’s not easy for kids with disabilities to make friends or have a social life. Through the support of our donors, Easter Seals helps kids with physical disabilities get essential mobility and accessibility equipment and offers opportunities for inclusion and participation at our fully accessible camps.

March kicks off Easter Seals annual campaign to raise funds and bring awareness to the challenges and needs of kids with physical disabilities.

Initiatives include

The Easter Seals annual giving campaign containing the traditional seals arrives in homes across the province.
The launch of Easter Seals Ontario’s new Services website, https//services.easterseals.org/, featuring information on our programs and services as well as resources for parents and caregivers.
Easter Seals segments air on the CKWS Morning Show in South Eastern Ontario throughout the month
The Easter Seals Paper Egg Campaign takes place March 20 to April 12 in retailers across Ontario, including Sobeys, Foodland, FreshCo, Avondale, Highland Farms, Giant Tiger and Booster Juice, where shoppers can lend their support by purchasing a $2 paper egg.
Annual Easter Seals Telethons air on Sunday, March 22 in Sudbury and on Sunday, March 29 in Peterborough, Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto and Windsor-Essex. For more information, visit http://www.EasterSeals.org.

Easter Seals Ontario has been a champion for children and youth with physical disabilities from all ethnic and religious backgrounds for the past 98 years. Programs include funding for essential mobility and accessibility equipment, fully accessible summer camp opportunities at its two properties, Camp Merrywood and Camp Woodeden, public awareness and information resources. Easter Seals is only able to provide its programs and services with the generous support of its donors and sponsors. For more information, visit http://www.EasterSeals.org.

Original at https://www.newkerala.com/news/2020/47564.htm




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City Updates Its Service Animal Policy


By Media Release
February 6, 2020

The City of Sault Ste. Marie in its continuing commitment to promote inclusiveness and acknowledge the requirement to be able to service people with differing abilities, has reviewed and expanded its Service Animal Policy.

In general, animals are not allowed in most City facilities and on Transit. However, under the Customer Service Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), service providers’ policies must state that service animals are welcome.

Furthermore, the Ontario Human Rights Code provides that everyone has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities without discrimination on the basis of one’s disability.

Service animals have training to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals do not qualify as Service Animals under the AODA. Although emotional support animals do not require or have training as Service animals they may be included and supported under the Human Rights Code.

“As we acknowledge that people may have differing levels of ability, the City has revised its policy to provide guidance when rendering services to the public”, says Brent Lamming, Director of Community Services. “All facilities that are open to and that serve the public must welcome persons with service animals. They must also allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go, except in places where the law excludes the animals.”

With respect to support animals, the customer may be asked to provide an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability.

Under the new policy, if it is not visibly apparent that the service animal is required for reasons relating to a person with a disability, the customer should be prepared to provide an identification card or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the animal is required for reasons relating to a person’s disability.

By welcoming service and support animals, the City of Sault Ste. Marie is continuing its commitment to inclusion and to serving all customers.

Original at https://saultonline.com/2020/02/city-updates-its-service-animal-policy/




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City Updates Its Service Animal Policy


By Media Release
February 6, 2020

The City of Sault Ste. Marie in its continuing commitment to promote inclusiveness and acknowledge the requirement to be able to service people with differing abilities, has reviewed and expanded its Service Animal Policy.

In general, animals are not allowed in most City facilities and on Transit. However, under the Customer Service Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), service providers’ policies must state that service animals are welcome.

Furthermore, the Ontario Human Rights Code provides that everyone has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities without discrimination on the basis of one’s disability.

Service animals have training to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals do not qualify as Service Animals under the AODA. Although emotional support animals do not require or have training as Service animals they may be included and supported under the Human Rights Code.

“As we acknowledge that people may have differing levels of ability, the City has revised its policy to provide guidance when rendering services to the public”, says Brent Lamming, Director of Community Services. “All facilities that are open to and that serve the public must welcome persons with service animals. They must also allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go, except in places where the law excludes the animals.”

With respect to support animals, the customer may be asked to provide an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability.

Under the new policy, if it is not visibly apparent that the service animal is required for reasons relating to a person with a disability, the customer should be prepared to provide an identification card or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the animal is required for reasons relating to a person’s disability.

By welcoming service and support animals, the City of Sault Ste. Marie is continuing its commitment to inclusion and to serving all customers.

Original at https://saultonline.com/2020/02/city-updates-its-service-animal-policy/




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Local Artist Hopes to Help Improve Accessibility of Art


CTVNewsBarrie.ca Staff
Published Friday, January 31, 2020 6:14PM EST

BARRIE –Orillia’s Robyn Rennie has found an alternative way to create art.

After losing most of her vision, the artist turned to technology.

âsix days, I was completely blind. It just shut down my optic nerve,â Rennie said.

She was able to gain back some of her vision by doing an experimental treatment, but itâs still a challenge.

Rennie was forced to change the way she painted.

She now uses a variety of materials, textures, and finishes to make her abstract 3D and interactive.

âstarted to paint in a way that I see the world now, and itâs working,â she said.

The artist has made it her mission to help those with no vision or low vision experience art in a way they never thought possible.

âhad an app created that people can download onto their phones. They can come into the gallery, point at the QR code, and then there will be a description that they can listen to,ââ she said.

Her art gallery is taking place in Toronto from Feb. 1 to Feb. 13 at the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre.

Rennie says itâs open to the public, and people are welcome to give the app a try.

Original at https://barrie.ctvnews.ca/local-artist-hopes-to-help-improve-accessibility-of-art-1.4792818




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Local Artist Hopes to Help Improve Accessibility of Art


CTVNewsBarrie.ca Staff
Published Friday, January 31, 2020 6:14PM EST

BARRIE –Orillia’s Robyn Rennie has found an alternative way to create art.

After losing most of her vision, the artist turned to technology.

“Within six days, I was completely blind. It just shut down my optic nerve,” Rennie said.

She was able to gain back some of her vision by doing an experimental treatment, but it’s still a challenge.

Rennie was forced to change the way she painted.

She now uses a variety of materials, textures, and finishes to make her abstract 3D and interactive.

“I started to paint in a way that I see the world now, and it’s working,” she said.

The artist has made it her mission to help those with no vision or low vision experience art in a way they never thought possible.

“I had an app created that people can download onto their phones. They can come into the gallery, point at the QR code, and then there will be a description that they can listen to,‘‘ she said.

Her art gallery is taking place in Toronto from Feb. 1 to Feb. 13 at the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre.

Rennie says it’s open to the public, and people are welcome to give the app a try.

Original at https://barrie.ctvnews.ca/local-artist-hopes-to-help-improve-accessibility-of-art-1.4792818




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Niagara Business Campaign Encourages Accessibility


by Sarah Ferguson
Niagara This Week – Welland|

Rhys Evans looks at the world much differently than most people do.

The 27-year-old Pelham man, who has cerebral palsy, relies on a wheelchair to get around.

“That’s been my mode of transportation my whole life,” the Niagara College student said.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into leaving the house. When he goes out for weekly shopping trips, or out for a bite to eat with friends, or even just to stop for a coffee, Evans must first consider if he can even get his wheelchair into a business, if the door has an accessible button to open it for him, or whether he’ll be able to wheel his chair into a bathroom.

“One of the biggest things is going into a restaurant is if my knees can clear the table while sitting in my wheelchair. I’d say it happens one in three restaurants where I can’t.”

When he was approached by former Pelham mayor Dave Augustyn last year and asked to join Niagara’s joint accessibility advisory committee (JAAC), it was a no-brainer for Evans.

“I wanted to do something to help so 27 years from now when today’s babies have grown up, they don’t have to go through the things that I have gone through.”

The committee consists of representatives from Grimsby, Lincoln, West Lincoln, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham and Thorold and its goal to is identify and break down barriers for people with disabilities in their communities.

One of the initiatives the committee has taken on is the We Are Accessible campaign Evans said will be launched in September, to encourage businesses to identify themselves as accessible.

“This campaign is perfect in terms of timing because of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation, which requires businesses to be fully accessible by 2025.”

Evans said businesses should already be working toward becoming more accessible.

As per the campaign, residents can nominate local businesses, and business owners are welcome to nominate their own establishments.

Evans said a committee member will assess a business using a checklist of items. If a nominee is successful, he or she will receive a We Are Accessible sticker to place in the window of their businesses.

“We’ll look at a lot of things, but the biggest question to answer is if I can use your facility and use your services just as an able-bodied person would be able to do.”

The review will provide business owners with feedback with things they can improve and if they aren’t successful the first time, employers can reapply for the campaign.

For more information about the campaign Evans encourages people to send an email to [email protected] or call 905-380-4782.

Evans said he and other people living with a disability wants what everyone wants; a base level of humanity and dignity.

“There’s a common misconception that just because I am in a wheelchair, I can’t do the same things other people can do,” Evans said, and added that it isn’t true.

“No politician has ever put accessibility in their platform,” he said.

Port Colborne’s Bryan Ingram agrees and said he would like to see the provincial and federal government offering a similar program.

“I’d love to see more government involvement on this. It’s great to have something like the AODA but it has no teeth. There’s no compliance unless a complaint is lodged,” Ingram said.

He thinks the We Are Accessible campaign is a good start, but it’s one step on what he said is a long journey toward raising awareness and promoting accessibility for all Niagara residents.

“I’d love for this to be the biggest success on the planet,” he said.

Ingram reaffirmed the JAAC is doing great work and he hopes more businesses will catch onto the campaign.

A staunch advocate for people living with disabilities, Ingram relies on the use of a wheelchair to get around.

He sits on Port Colborne’s accessibility advisory committee and prior to that, ran a consulting business to help employers become compliant with the AODA.

He said there are many benefits to creating an environment that is accessible for everyone.

Both men said there is a difference between accessibility guidelines under Ontario’s regulations and functional accessibility.

“A business that offer level access to a person with a disability doesn’t have to do anything other than have a bar in the bathroom to be accessible,” Ingram said.

What makes a difference is whether there’s enough space to easily manoeuvre a chair in and out of the bathroom, and if there are obstacles in the way, which might be business supplies.

“Having an accessibly bathroom is great but if you can’t get into it, what good is it?” Ingram said.

“Being accessibility doesn’t just serve people with a disability, it also serves aging people, mothers with strollers, an athlete with injuries on crutches for six to eight weeks,” he said.

Sarah Ferguson

Sarah Ferguson is a reporter and photographer covering the communities of south Niagara for Niagara This Week in addition to contributing to Niagara Life Magazine. She’s a lifelong Niagara resident and a graduate of Niagara College’s Journalism-Print program. Find her on Twitter @@s_ferguson25. Email: [email protected]

Original at https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/9542660-niagara-business-campaign-encourages-accessibility/




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