Ontario is Prioritizing Dining Over the Disabled with Its Vaccination Policy


By Bella PickContributor
Mon., April 5, 2021

If the pandemic has proved anything to disabled folks, it’s that able-bodied people value being able to drink on a patio over their lives. The Ontario government’s decision to vaccinate restaurant workers in Phase 2 only perpetuates this ableist system.

As a young, disabled person at high-risk for both contracting and dying from COVID-19, I am furious that, time and time again, the government has prioritized the economy over my life.

The Doug Ford government has consistently proven how little they care about people with disabilities throughout the pandemic. Disability advocates have spoken up about a variety of accessibility disparities the pandemic exacerbated: from CERB being almost double the value of government disability benefits, to the recently leaked documents detailing ableist policies that encouraged doctors not to prioritize disabled individuals in COVID treatment.

This new vaccine rollout ultimately comes back to our government consistently valuing economic contribution over disabled lives.

The age-based rollout model already fails to account for the higher risks disabled people face, but the latest update to include restaurant workers in Phase 2 is the icing on the cake for an already marginalizing experience.

A recent study found that approximately 60 per cent of people who died of COVID-19 in the U.K. in 2020 were disabled, even though only 22 per cent of their population is disabled disabled people are over three times more likely to die from the virus than the general population.

Prioritizing getting vaccines into the arms of restaurant workers over disabled people who’ve been advocating for their unique needs since the start of the pandemic will ultimately lead to more COVID deaths.

This isn’t to say that disabled folks should automatically jump to the front of the line; it’s important to vaccinate essential workers. But, there’s nothing essential about in-person dining.

Disabled folks’ inability to receive vaccinations has furthered employment disparities. Most of the scarce employment opportunities that are still available in the pandemic are in person. The Ontario government’s repeated choice to delay vaccine access for disabled people will continue to delay our access to employment which means that the economic recovery the government is striving for will continue to exclude those most heavily impacted by the pandemic.

The government has a limited number of vaccination appointments; flooding the system isn’t a good idea. Vaccinating Ontarians at the highest risk of contracting or dying from COVID-19 should come before vaccinating non-essential service workers that benefit the economy to say otherwise is discriminatory.

Placing restaurant workers in Phase 2 will make vaccines less accessible for the disabled people who need them most. The decision to prioritize these workers will further marginalize disabled people and, ultimately, end in more COVID deaths.

Bella Pick is a copy editor at the Western Gazette, Western University’s student newspaper.

Original at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/04/05/ontario-is-prioritizing-dining-over-the-disabled-with-its-vaccination-policy.html?rf




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Accessibility Compliance Service, AAAtraq, Has Teamed up With AbleDocs, Enabling Subscribers to Publish Accessible Documents More Easily on Their Websites.


April 01, 2021

TORONTO, Ontario & LONDON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–AbleDocs Inc. (https://www.abledocs.com) is the worldwide leader in document accessibility products and services, making document accessibility fast, easy, secure, and cost-effective.

By integrating AbleDocs’ class-leading technologies, subscribers will be able to manage all types of documents, including PDFs, directly from within the AAAtraq (https://www.aaatraq.com) platform.

“AAAtraq is creating an accessibility ecosystem by linking complementary technologies via intelligent automation to improve understanding and reduce the time and cost of compliance for organizations,” said Lawrence Shaw, CEO of AAAtraq. “AbleDocs is a highly respected document accessibility service provider, and we are delighted that their technology will be integrated into our platform.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown content compliance firmly into the spotlight as the importance of accessing goods, services and information online has grown.

“AbleDocs’ leadership has been helping organizations improve their accessibility for over a combined 150 years. This partnership will expand our current reach and mean that thousands of people with disabilities from around the world will be able to take advantage of an accessible digital environment that has become so important to all our lives,” said Adam Spencer, President (GLOBAL) of AbleDocs Inc.

In only a few months of operation AAAtraq has already started to bring about change. Accessibility and the impact of content failure is now moving from an issue dealt with by a digital or IT team, to those managing risk.

“ADA compliance isn’t about uploading a plugin and then thinking you are compliant. It’s something that needs to be adopted throughout all levels of the organization and treated in the same way as any other regulatory requirement. AAAtraq is about making the compliance easier to achieve, and services like AbleDocs are central to that objective,” concluded Shaw.

“AbleDocs is excited to help existing and future AAAtraq customers achieve their accessibility, usability and compliance goals, by ensuring all content is accessible for all users, and supporting that in nearly 50 languages,” added Spencer.

To celebrate the partnership, AAAtraq are offering a 15% lifetime subscription discount for those signing up at https://AAAtraq.com/AbleDocs before the end of April 2021.

About AAAtraq

AAAtraq (www.aaatraq.com) is an InsurTech solution to shield organizations from unnecessary legal aggression and then remove unnecessary cost, reducing the time it takes to understand, achieve and maintain ADA website compliance.

Our intelligence-driven automation provides a strategic, principle-driven pathway with clear timescales and milestones to compliance along with $10,000 (rising to $50,000 as clients progress) of litigation cost coverage within just one month, all for a $99/month subscription.

Ongoing staff support, digital supply chain oversight and monthly reporting replace complexity with confidence. AAAtraq, for those managing risk, not digital.

For more information, visit https://www.AAAtraq.com

About AbleDocs Inc.

AbleDocs was founded in 2019 as a conglomerate of PDF accessibility remediation service providers and has grown to have operations in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. Its founders have been making documents accessible for over 150 years combined experience and has since expanded its offerings to include a completely new approach to document accessibility strategies to include products for high volume document accessibility, document accessibility testing.

AbleDocs is the only company in the world to guarantee the compliance of every file they produce and back it with a $10,000,000 liability guarantee. Current offerings include ADService, ADGateway, ADScan, ADStream, ADLegacy, ADForms, axesWord and axesPDF.

For more information, visit https://www.abledocs.com

Original at https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210401005090/en/Accessibility-Compliance-Service-AAAtraq-Has-Teamed-up-With-AbleDocs-Enabling-Subscribers-to-Publish-Accessible-Documents-More-Easily-on-Their-Websites.




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Mask Exemptions Must Be Respected, Disability Advocates Say


Failure to allow exemptions under mandatory mask order constitutes human rights discrimination, city’s accessibility committee says. Ian Kaufman
March 26, 2021

THUNDER BAY Disability advocates are warning local businesses that failure to respect exemptions to mandatory mask policies constitutes discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The City of Thunder Bay’s Accessibility Advisory Committee recently raised concerns that at least one business had posted a sign refusing entry to anyone not wearing a mask, “stating that persons unable to wear masks into the business are required to order purchases online.”

The committee brought the issue forward in a letter to the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, asking it to re-educate its members on the provincial legislation requiring business owners to accommodate those who cannot wear masks due to a disability.

“Unfortunately, there are a number of people in the disabled community who are unable to wear masks, for a variety of reasons, and who cannot be served online,” said committee chair Tessa Soderberg. “Basically, creating signage like that is discriminating against people who for very legitimate reasons cannot wear a mask.”

Wearing masks is mandatory in public indoor spaces including businesses under the Reopening Ontario Act, but orders made under the act include clear exemptions.

The mandatory mask order does not apply to those “unable to put on or remove their mask or face covering without the assistance of another person,” or who are otherwise “being accommodated in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.”

Those claiming exemption under the act are not required to provide any proof. That has allowed some abuse of the policy by those who simply don’t want to wear a mask, Soderberg believes.

“I don’t think [the sign refusing service] was specifically aimed at people with disabilities, it’s just that we happen to get caught up in that grouping,” she said.

“It’s similar to the challenges we’re facing with people claiming their pets as service animals, and then making it that much more difficult for [those with] legitimate service animals. You have people who are just refusing to wear a mask, or claiming they can’t, and not necessarily legitimately.”

Accommodation for people whose disabilities prevent them from wearing masks could include arranging alternate pick-up times or speaking with the person outdoors, if they agree, she said.

However, she emphasized the bottom line is that businesses cannot legally refuse entry to someone claiming an exemption.

Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, said many business owners did look to alternatives like outdoor service and online or phone bookings to accommodate customers who cannot wear masks.

She acknowledged the responsibility to accommodate under the AODA, but said the mask policy put owners in a difficult position, with customers often uncomfortable with seeing others maskless, and concerns over enforcement.

“It’s a very challenging situation, because as an employer, the labour inspectors are coming to their business to make sure on their checklist that all of your employees are wearing masks, you’re requiring your customers to wear masks, you’ve got all of these pieces in place,” she said.

“Then when a customer comes in and isn’t wearing a mask, it does put them in a bit of a challenging situation as to, how do we manage this appropriately?”

Under an instruction letter sent to businesses by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit in July of 2020, when the mandatory mask order was introduced, staff are required to verify a customer not wearing a mask is claiming an exemption.

“When a customer or client is not complying with mask requirements, they must be asked to put on a mask,” health unit guidance states. “Businesses must recognize that there are exemptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask. The law does not require a person to provide proof of their exemption.”

The chamber plans to meet with the Accessibility Advisory Committee in the near future to better understand the concerns and reinforce exemption rules, Robinson said.

“We look forward to working with the Accessibility committee to develop messaging that will help businesses understand how they can address these issues and make sure everyone is accommodated appropriately.”

Original at https://www.tbnewswatch.com/local-news/mask-exemptions-must-be-respected-disability-advocates-say-3579508 Advertisement




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Bluewater Decides Against Captioning Recorded Council Meetings


Author of the article: Dan Rolph
Publishing date:
Dec 29, 2020

Council meetings will no longer be available in a recorded state after councillors decided against providing captioned versions of council recordings.

During the Dec. 21 regular council meeting, Bluewater clerk Chandra Alexander presented a report to councillors which outlined the municipality’s obligations according to new provincial criteria being included in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to provide captioning for recorded council meetings.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, all public websites and web content posted after Jan. 1, 2012 must include captioning in their recorded content.

Alexander said municipalities are allowed to livestream a council meeting without captioning, but once that meeting is released as a recording captioning is required under the new changes. She said there are automatic captions which are generated on YouTube, but they’re inaccurate and unreliable for providing accessible content.

“If there was somebody who depended on that closed captioning to be able to access that video as a record, it’s not sufficient,” said Alexander

According to Alexander’s report, directing staff to caption council meetings would require an amount of time nearly equal to a full-time position. Closed captioning services are also available and can cost up to $2.50 per minute for their services. Considering those costs, it was estimated that about $15,000 would need to be budgeted to provide that service should council wish to continue releasing recordings.

“There’s a cost associated with this,” said Coun. Peter Walden. “We do provide the minutes, and if we livestream, we provide that service. I don’t see what (the) advantage is to our residents of continuing this later. This is a cost.”

Alexander said the content of the meetings impacts the number of viewers for each recording. She said there can be upwards of 25 people watching meetings live, while that audience can expand to over 100 views over several weeks of a recording being posted.

Though there are people viewing the recordings, Alexander said there had been no requests for captioning from residents. She said if the municipality decided against doing closed captioning for their recorded videos, those videos couldn’t be posted due to AODA guidelines, and recordings which have already been uploaded to the Bluewater YouTube page would need to be removed.

After discussions, Coun. George Irvin made a motion to no longer provide recorded meetings and livestream only, which passed unanimously.

Original at https://www.clintonnewsrecord.com/news/local-news/bluewater-decides-against-captioning-recorded-council-meetings




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Three Recommendations for Accessible Remote Learning


Posted: July 17, 2020
by Jackie Pichette and Jessica Rizk

Adapting to the realities of remote schooling has been challenging. Since the COVID-19 pandemic sent our province into a state of emergency, many students have had to turn bedrooms into offices, kitchen tables into classrooms and parking lots into hotspots. While all Ontario learners have had to adapt to overcome barriers, those barriers have been amplified for many students with disabilities.

Imagine for a minute that you have low vision and require a screen reader to navigate online platforms like Zoom. Imagine you’re logging in for your first remote lecture of the semester, excited to be back in the (virtual) classroom. To encourage participation, your instructor begins by inviting students to pose questions using the chat feature. As your instructor dives into their thought-provoking lecture, your screen reader starts reciting aloud questions and comments posed by your peers, drowning out the instructor’s voice.

A student recently described a similar scenario to us. “I ended up getting two things coming at me at once, which was distracting and very hard to follow,” they shared. Being new to Zoom, this student wasn’t sure how to disable the chat or pose a question or comment themselves.

It’s but one example of how uniquely challenging remote learning can be for many students with disabilities and other accessibility needs. To learn more about the types of supports that students, especially those with disabilities, will need to succeed in an online learning environment this fall, we have been interviewing student representatives, faculty and staff at Ontario colleges and universities, as well as community advocates. We have also surveyed more than 600 students- about 200 of whom have a self-reported disability. We will be publishing a report later this summer that summarizes the data we have collected and shares practical advice with institutions for supporting student success during the pandemic and recovery.

Though we are still in the process of analyzing the data, we’d like to share a few of the recommendations for supporting accessibility that have surfaced so far. We hope these recommendations will assist faculty and staff as they prepare for the fall term:

Lean on your colleagues

In the example above, we described a student whose experience would drastically improve if the chat function were disabled during the lecture or if they had access to instructions for navigating course platforms (e.g. how to use Zoom with a screen reader). In either case, addressing this student’s needs requires empathy and strategic thinking ahead of time both things that support staff at colleges and universities can help faculty with as they design and deliver courses.

Time and again, our interviewees stressed the need for collaboration between faculty and staff in creating accessible learning environments. With their advice in mind, we encourage instructors at Ontario postsecondary institutions to draw upon the expertise of local Teaching and Learning Centres (e.g. Teaching & Learning Consultants, Curriculum Development Specialists, Educational Technology Specialists) as well as Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) offices and offices for students with disabilities. These specialists are often experts in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and can help in the design and delivery of courses for the fall, which can help relieve the burden for students (and faculty) who might have otherwise needed to seek out accommodations.

Empower students to make choices that suit their needs

While UDL can certainly help optimize learning for most students, it’s unfortunately not always possible to design and deliver courses in a way that suits the needs of all learners at once. The good news is that by being upfront about both course format and what’s required to participate and succeed, instructors can empower students to make course selections that suit individual learning goals and needs (provided disability-related accommodations are available).

The student representatives we interviewed identified a variety of personal preferences and needs. For example, a student who is Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing may prefer to watch asynchronous lectures with Closed Captioning rather than synchronous lectures taught over Zoom. A student with a cognitive disability who appreciates the ability to pause, slow down and rewind content might have a similar preference, especially if access to accommodations like notetaking is hindered by the pandemic. For another student, having a set schedule of live lectures and discussion groups might help with motivation.

Students know what works for them. If there are a variety of course formats to choose from, and the details of course delivery are communicated clearly in the course catalogue ahead of the semester, students can select the courses that best suit their needs.

Instructors should also strive to share information about course requirements and participation expectations as soon as possible. This way students can obtain resources in an accessible format (i.e. texts with enlarged print) and/or arrange for accommodations, if required. Sharing information about expectations early can also help alleviate student anxiety about what to expect, supporting well-being and retention.

Enable transferable skill development

Lastly, most of our interviewees reminded us that all students, not just those with disabilities or accessibility needs, will require specific transferable skills to be successful with remote and online learning. Skills like digital literacy, time management, self-efficacy and organization will be essential this fall and they’ll also come in handy after graduation.

Instructors can facilitate the development of these skills at the course-level by providing suggested timelines for completing assignments, especially for asynchronous courses, and models or templates for time management in the context of their course.

Institutions and instructors should also consider sharing learning strategies with their students, either in-class, or through co-curricular activities like workshops, online videos or tip sheets that nudge students to adjust and apply some of their learning strategies for an online context.

We will have lots more to say about this important topic in our upcoming report. We will build upon the recommendations above and share additional advice about the practicalities of delivering remote and online content in an accessible way. We have also heard a lot about the positive aspects of remote learning from an accessibility standpoint and we will share those as well as thoughts about how to play up the positives.

In the meantime, we acknowledge that this is a stressful time for instructors. Students themselves have told us the same. They understand that moving courses online is a lot of work, especially during a global pandemic. That’s why we encourage you to lean on the supports at your institution, take comfort in the idea that (with full information) students know what works for them and share ideas amongst your peers (as we’re seeing instructors like Dr. Campbell do on Twitter) rather than re-inventing the wheel. By working together institutions and instructors can ensure all students are able to succeed this fall and thereafter.

Jackie Pichette is director of Research, Policy and Partnerships at HEQCO; Jessica Rizk is a researcher. About Us ?

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Jackie Pichette and Jessica Rizk Three recommendations for accessible remote learning

Jackie Pichette and Jessica Rizk Three recommendations for accessible remote learning

Posted: July 17, 2020/Under: Jackie Pichette, Other HEQCO Staff/By: heqco

AccessLearning OutcomesSkills

Adapting to the realities of remote schooling has been challenging. Since the COVID-19 pandemic sent our province into a state of emergency, many students have had to turn bedrooms into offices, kitchen tables into classrooms and parking lots into hotspots. While all Ontario learners have had to adapt to overcome barriers, those barriers have been amplified for many students with disabilities.

Imagine for a minute that you have low vision and require a screen reader to navigate online platforms like Zoom. Imagine you’re logging in for your first remote lecture of the semester, excited to be back in the (virtual) classroom. To encourage participation, your instructor begins by inviting students to pose questions using the chat feature. As your instructor dives into their thought-provoking lecture, your screen reader starts reciting aloud questions and comments posed by your peers, drowning out the instructor’s voice.

A student recently described a similar scenario to us. “I ended up getting two things coming at me at once, which was distracting and very hard to follow,” they shared. Being new to Zoom, this student wasn’t sure how to disable the chat or pose a question or comment themselves.

It’s but one example of how uniquely challenging remote learning can be for many students with disabilities and other accessibility needs. To learn more about the types of supports that students, especially those with disabilities, will need to succeed in an online learning environment this fall, we have been interviewing student representatives, faculty and staff at Ontario colleges and universities, as well as community advocates. We have also surveyed more than 600 students- about 200 of whom have a self-reported disability. We will be publishing a report later this summer that summarizes the data we have collected and shares practical advice with institutions for supporting student success during the pandemic and recovery.

Though we are still in the process of analyzing the data, we’d like to share a few of the recommendations for supporting accessibility that have surfaced so far. We hope these recommendations will assist faculty and staff as they prepare for the fall term:

Lean on your colleagues

In the example above, we described a student whose experience would drastically improve if the chat function were disabled during the lecture or if they had access to instructions for navigating course platforms (e.g. how to use Zoom with a screen reader). In either case, addressing this student’s needs requires empathy and strategic thinking ahead of time both things that support staff at colleges and universities can help faculty with as they design and deliver courses.

Time and again, our interviewees stressed the need for collaboration between faculty and staff in creating accessible learning environments. With their advice in mind, we encourage instructors at Ontario postsecondary institutions to draw upon the expertise of local Teaching and Learning Centres (e.g. Teaching & Learning Consultants, Curriculum Development Specialists, Educational Technology Specialists) as well as Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) offices and offices for students with disabilities. These specialists are often experts in Universal Design for Learning(UDL) principles and can help in the design and delivery of courses for the fall, which can help relieve the burden for students (and faculty) who might have otherwise needed to seek out accommodations.

Empower students to make choices that suit their needs

While UDL can certainly help optimize learning for most students, it’s unfortunately not always possible to design and deliver courses in a way that suits the needs of all learners at once. The good news is that by being upfront about both course format and what’s required to participate and succeed, instructors can empower students to make course selections that suit individual learning goals and needs (provided disability-related accommodations are available).

The student representatives we interviewed identified a variety of personal preferences and needs. For example, a student who is Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing may prefer to watch asynchronous lectures with Closed Captioning rather than synchronous lectures taught over Zoom. A student with a cognitive disability who appreciates the ability to pause, slow down and rewind content might have a similar preference, especially if access to accommodations like notetaking is hindered by the pandemic. For another student, having a set schedule of live lectures and discussion groups might help with motivation.

Students know what works for them. If there are a variety of course formats to choose from, and the details of course delivery are communicated clearly in the course catalogue ahead of the semester, students can select the courses that best suit their needs.

Students know what works for them. If there are a variety of course formats to choose from, and the details of course delivery are communicated clearly in the course catalogue ahead of the semester, students can select the courses that best suit their needs.

Instructors should also strive to share information about course requirements and participation expectations as soon as possible. This way students can obtain resources in an accessible format (i.e. texts with enlarged print) and/or arrange for accommodations, if required. Sharing information about expectations early can also help alleviate student anxiety about what to expect, supporting well-being and retention.

Enable transferable skill development

Lastly, most of our interviewees reminded us that all students, not just those with disabilities or accessibility needs, will require specific transferable skills to be successful with remote and online learning. Skills like digital literacy, time management, self-efficacy and organization will be essential this fall and they’ll also come in handy after graduation.

Instructors can facilitate the development of these skills at the course-level by providing suggested timelines for completing assignments, especially for asynchronous courses, and models or templates for time management in the context of their course.

Institutions and instructors should also consider sharing learning strategies with their students, either in-class, or through co-curricular activities like workshops, online videos or tip sheets that nudge students to adjust and apply some of their learning strategies for an online context.

We will have lots more stay about this important topic in our upcoming report. We will build upon the recommendations above and share additional advice about the practicalities of delivering remote and online content in an accessible way. We have also heard a lot about the positive aspects of remote learning from an accessibility standpoint and we will share those as well as thoughts about how to play up the positives.

In the meantime, we acknowledge that this is a stressful time for instructors. Students themselves have told us the same. They understand that moving courses online is a lot of work, especially during a global pandemic. That’s why we encourage you to lean on the supports at your institution, take comfort in the idea that (with full information) students know what works for them and share ideas amongst your peers (as we’re seeing instructors like Dr. Campbelldo on Twitter) rather than re-inventing the wheel. By working together institutions and instructors can ensure all students are able to succeed this fall and thereafter.

Jackie Pichette is director of Research, Policy and Partnerships at HEQCO; Jessica Rizk is a researcher.

About HEQCO<‘/h2>

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) is an agency of the Government of Ontario bringing evidence-based research to the continued improvement of postsecondary education in Ontario

Original at http://blog-en.heqco.ca/2020/07/jackie-pichette-and-jessica-rizk-three-recommendations-for-accessible-remote-learning/




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More Accessibility Grants Available


Belleville, ON, Canada / Quinte News
Mary Thomas
Jul 7, 2020

Once again small businesses in the Quinte area will be able to take advantage of grants to help them become more accessible.

Grants up to $10,000 are available to improve accessibility barriers within the workplace or community space.

The grants can be used for small scale construction, renovation or retrofit projects or the provision of accessible technologies.

The Small Business Centre’s Brianna Rossit is the Youth Accessibility to represent the Bay of Quinte Region to assist with the federal grants.

Funding is available under two streams of the funding: Workplace Accessibility Stream and Community Accessibility Stream and can be used for small scale construction, renovation or retrofit projects or the provision of accessible technologies, in facilities where people with disabilities work or could work in the future that increase accessibility for people with disabilities in Canadian communities and workplaces. As a result of these projects, people with disabilities have more opportunities to participate in community activities, programs and services, or access employment opportunities.

Rossit tells Quinte News there were a number of successful applications last year.

“With seeing last years impact on Brianna assisting 9 businesses within the Bay of Quinte area, I am inspired by the leadership shown by youth who are working toward breaking down barriers to create an accessible community.” Amber Darling, Managing Partner of the Small Business Centre, said in a statement.

Applications are accepted now and up until the deadline November 30.

Original at https://www.quintenews.com/2020/07/07/more-accessibility-grants-available/




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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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People With Disabilities Must Not Be Forgotten Once the Lockdown Lifts


Author of the article: Ravi Malhotra, Christina Johnson
Publishing date: May 25, 2020

Luke Anderson along with the grade six students from Albert College delivered 12 ramps to storefronts in Picton on Wednesday. After Anderson’s biking accident in 2002, his life changed as he became dependant on a wheelchair and others help. The need for accessibility is what drove him to start the StopGap Foundation.

As municipalities ponder creative ways to open up after the end of the COVID-19 lockdown and revitalize the battered economy, it is imperative city planning incorporate the needs and perspectives of people with disabilities.

On every major social indicator, people with disabilities fare poorly, experiencing high levels of unemployment, deep levels of poverty and tremendous barriers in obtaining medical care, education and housing.

People with disabilities fought tenaciously for many years for the passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), a pioneering statute that was adopted in 2005 to address some of these issues. The legislation is predicated on the notion of setting standards for the removal of barriers that impede people with disabilities in many aspects of daily life including work, recreation, and customer service.

The animating principle at the core of AODA is that it’s structural barriers, such as stores without ramps for people who use mobility devices or a failure to provide information in an accessible format, which prevent people with disabilities from achieving full equality.

However, enforcement of the AODA has been very weak since its inception. Too many businesses, including restaurants, pubs and stores, remain completely inaccessible to people with disabilities, rendering us second class citizens. And too often, disabled citizens are required to fix accessibility issues, such as building their own ramps, or providing out-of-pocket protective equipment for personal support workers, where the AODA or other legislation is inadequate.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers must diligently ensure that contingency planning does not create new barriers that further isolate people with disabilities or risk their well-being.

Recently, it was reported that the City of Ottawa was considering expanding restaurant patios in order to facilitate physical distancing. Other cities such as Vancouver are also exploring this approach.

This is troubling because it is likely to make it extremely difficult for wheelchair and scooter users to safely navigate city sidewalks. In some cases, it would force wheelchair users into city streets. Worse, the majority of existing restaurant patios are not accessible to wheelchair users in the first place. The expansion of restaurant patios risks augmenting the significant disparities which people with disabilities already experience daily.

Other ideas which are being mooted in the media include replacing printed menus with electronic tablets to limit infection. Yet such an approach is likely to be inaccessible to people who are blind or have learning disabilities.

Unless steps are taken to ensure full accessibility is built into the design, such problems will continue. A serious approach to accessibility requires full consultation with disability rights advocates at every stage. Provincial and federal aid to businesses should be contingent on a commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities.

COVID-19 presents major challenges which require innovative solutions from businesses and governments but they must always incorporate accessibility and inclusion to ensure people with disabilities are not left behind.

Ravi Malhotra is a professor in the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa. Christina Johnson is a public servant and member of StopGap Ottawa, a volunteer organization under the StopGap Foundation that provides ramps for one-step businesses.

Original at https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/malhotra-and-johnson-people-with-disabilities-must-not-be-forgotten-once-the-lockdown-lifts/




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Girl and Her Dog Share Life-Altering Bond


By Darren Lum

Words do little to express the bond shared by Minden teen Emma Gillam and her Doberman, Biggie, who wouldn’t be one without the other. They’re pretty much inseparable.

Emma gave Biggie a permanent home and he has givenher back her life, which was robbed of its joy by mental health challenges. They’ve been each other’s life saver since he came home withher last June.

“Before, I couldn’t walk down the street without my insides feeling like they were shrinking and just, I’ve never been so confident, I guess. He just makes me be me,” Emma said, adding there’s no judgment. “It’s unconditional love. Like, I decide when he comes in and out of my life. He’s … I don’t know. He’s amazing. He’s my best friend. I can’t sleep without him.” She accepts him for all his quirks. Their relationship works for them.

Biggie is Emma’s service dog, helping her with anxiety and the post-traumatic stress disorder she has endured since Grade 4.

For years, Emma had tried different things. A service dog was about the last thing she hadn’t tried.
Before Biggie, anxiety-related “temper tantrums” were common, her mother Tracy Jordan said.
“Whenher anxiety gets so bad that’s kind of the only way it comes out for her not being able to handle it. And she was having those quite frequently, which was getting harder and harder to control. Since having the dog, I can probably only count three, maybe, of those temper tantrums, and they’re nowhere near as bad since,” Jordan said, before correcting herself that there were likely even fewer than three.

She acknowledges parenting a teenager comes with its share of challenges, but the emotional outburst prevented any type of dialogue.

“It is definitely much easier to come to a resolution [with] because it doesn’t get blown out of proportion the way it used to,” she said.

Even before Emma and her mother trained Biggie, they knew he possessed great qualities. His helpful and caring nature calmed Emma’s anxieties, allowing her to visit the fish hatchery despite her aversion to new experiences.

“That was when we decided that maybe we should look into him being a service dog,” Emma said.

Jordan said Biggie helps in many ways, one specific action known as “deep pressure therapy.”
“Sowhen he senses her having an anxiety attack, he’ll get her attention. Like, either, kind of climb on her or pull her attention away from the anxiety and bringing her attention to him to calm her down,” Jordan said. “If she’s standing, he’ll come up and boop her leg with her nose, or do circles around her or something to get her attention and then when she takes her attention to him, depending on the situation, then it calms her down. If she happens to be sitting on the couch, for example, he’ll climb on the couch and get on her lap. So, depending on what position she’s in he gets her attention in one way or another and kind of pulls her away from what’s going on in her mind.”

Jordan and Emma hope their story will raise awareness about the benefits of service dogsfor people with disabilities and how financially accessible they are inOntario, as well as educate the public about being around service dogs.

“When he’s in his [service dog] vest and he’s working, he shouldn’t be touched. He’s doing a job. He’s not a pet at that point and just going into stores. Sometimes you get funny looks,” Emma said. “A grocery storefor example. He’s allowed to be in a grocery store because he’s a service dog. You get people like, “Why is there a dog in the grocery store.”

Another important point is when Biggie has his vest on he is trained to not defecate and urinate.

The idea of the service dog came from Morgan Fisher, a registered veterinary technician at the Minden Animal Hospital, who is a friend of Kristyn Begbie of Snowflake Meadows, where Biggie came from. Emma was a volunteer at Snowflake Meadows for a while before she got Biggie. The teen believes their relationship was meant to be after an adoption for him fell through. It was nearly a month before she convinced her parents to take in another dog to live at their household.
Biggie serves as an important distraction for Emma, whose confidence has grown as a result of his enduring presence, Jordan said.

“It’s put her in a routine, which is good and it gets her out and knowing that an animal can’t survive without the help of their human they’re kind of dependent on each other,” she said.

Jordan, who referenced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, characterized the process of having a dog identified as a service dog as being like filling a prescription.
“Soa doctor or a psychiatrist has to write a note, stating that you require a service dog to mitigate your disability. The note doesn’t have to be specific because it’s for privacy reasons. It depends on the disability,” she said.

There are two areas of law that support the use of service animals in Ontario: AODA and the Ontario Human Rights Code. AODA states that service animals are not to be treated like pets and that people who require a service animal for their disability not be excluded from services or from a provider of services premises. The service animal should be easily identified and the owner can present a note from a regulated health professional that the animal is required for a disability.

Emma always has a note with her on her mobile phone from her psychiatrist, who made the diagnosis that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
InOntario, service dogs can be trained by their owner. There are no set guidelines for training in Ontario, Jordan said. Much of it is common sense, such as the dog needs to take instruction, be well-behaved and not aggressive. It helped that Jordan and her daughter were experienced dog owners. During Biggie’s training period, they would periodically ask a friend who owned a pre-trained service dog about what it was trained to do. A seeing eye dog is a different type of service dog, which requires specific training. There are pre-trained service dogs for a variety of disabilities, which are quite expensive.

When Emma first started at the Haliburton Highlands Adult and Alternate Education Centrelast year in March, it was difficult due to her propensity to procrastinate. This past year she found focusing was far easier with Biggie.
She has three credits this year and admits she’s still behind in her year, but recognizes the progress that wouldn’t have been possible without Biggie. Some of her peers have shown a real affection for her dog, including one who makes a point of bringing in treats for him.

Minden Hills-based therapist and social worker Dianne Mathes knows the benefits of an animal in therapy. She said her purebred goldenretriever, Shilo, is a “therapy assistant” and was trained by her from when he was a puppy, following her other dogs, Sierra and Jasper. Although her dogs were never formally trained, they’ve been helpful for young and old patients alike.

“I started building with eye contact with [Shilo]. Showing him my emotions and showing him that when he puts his paw on me, you know, [he] learns how that feels good. And so you teach him to be really attuned with people,” she said.

Mathes said depending on the person, this can be helpful because the dog shows what happens if they’re stressed and what happens if they can breathe and relax a bit.
“Obviously, people and children in particular can be much more responsive to having a dog come over and do something with them than having another person, right? So, therapy dogs, because I’ve done all this background work with him, around helping him know different emotions through me, if a person breathes and let’s say they start to cry, his response is to go and put his head on their lap. If they start to get frightened, he’ll take a paw and gently put the paw ontheir leg or stand beside them and give them a bit of comfort. And I say, “Shilo is showing you that he’s trying to calm you down, or he’s trying to soothe you or trying to comfort you.’”

When Shilo feels the person is calmer, he exhibits a clear indication of the change.

“You’ll see him take a big, deep breath and [he] sort of goes, “Aaaa,’ and thenhe goes over and lies down. It’s like his job is done,” she said.

She gives part of the credit for Shilo to her breeder Kaitlin Luck, who runs Minden-based Cedar Grove Golden Retrievers where dogs are trained with attention to being emotionally sensitive to their needs, including lots of touch and stroking.

From her experience, owning animals and seeing them in action with patients, she is amazed by their abilities.
“I’ve learned animals want to help us in so many ways. They want to soothe us and help us and support us. They are so willing to try so many different things to make that connection with us and get our approval and have a relationship with us. It’s taught me so much how animals communicate and how I can communicate without necessarily always doing as much work as I think I have to,” she said.

Her advice for others looking to train a dog for service or for companionship is about making an emotional connection. The rest just falls into place.

“If you’re really focused on being in an attuned, connected relationship on an emotional level with an animal and you’re very gentle and quiet with him, he will just start to naturally respond to you,” she said.

Emma admits her relationship with her dog isn’t perfect, but she wouldn’t have it any other way, particularly during the pandemic that has been a source of stress for everyone.

She cannot begin to imagine her life without Biggie.

“Not a chance. I keep thinking that,” she said. “Like anybody, when you spend too much time with a person or whatever, you do butt heads eventually. We do have our moments and bits of anger where he does things, spiteful things that make me mad, but we get over it. I just look at all the positive things that he does for me. I definitely wouldn’t be laughing as much as I do and he keeps me sane.”

Original at http://www.mindentimes.ca/girl-and-her-dog-share-life-altering-bond?id=875HHH




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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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