Advocates Call on TTC to Pause Wheel-Trans Changes, Saying Thousands Could Lose Access


Changes mean people with disabilities, seniors may just stay home, advocates say Muriel Draaisma, CBC News
Posted: Jun 17, 2021

Advocates are calling on the TTC to pause a program that requires users to reregister for Wheel-Trans, saying they fear the process could mean thousands of people with disabilities will lose access to the specialized service.

According to a report approved by the TTC board on Wednesday, the TTC plans to divert 50 per cent of Wheel-Trans users to the conventional TTC system for part of their trips by 2025. The conventional TTC system means buses, streetcars and subways. Wheel-Trans is TTC’s door-to-door service for people with mobility issues.

Adam Cohoon, a TTCriders accessibility committee member, told the board that people with disabilities are “not really ready” to begin using the conventional system under what is known as the Wheel-Trans Transformational Program.

If people with disabilities have to reregister for Wheel-Trans, they could be forced to take the conventional TTC for part of their trips, and that could mean they simply do not go out or go out much less, Cohoon said.

“I really think you guys have to rethink some of this mandatory screening because there are going to be people that actually fall through the cracks and are just going to end up having the same isolated lives that they already have had for 18 months,” Cohoon said at the virtual meeting.

Cohoon, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, said he is concerned about changes to Wheel-Trans because the TTC is not yet fully accessible and its subways lack blue accessibility buttons that users could press when they need to talk to customer service or transit control staff.

As well, he said he believes the TTC has fewer staff than in previous years to help people with disabilities on its conventional system. Cohoon has used Wheel-Trans for more than 20 years.

Adina Lebo, a member of the Toronto Seniors’ Forum, told the board that seniors will become isolated and confined to their homes if they are required to use the conventional system. The forum is a city-sponsored group of seniors who are Toronto residents.

Lebo said some seniors say the conventional TTC system is inaccessible and they are terrified for their safety.

“When I read that 50 per cent of Wheel-Trans users will be transitioned to the conventional TTC and forced onto buses, streetcars and subways that are not totally accessible at this point in time, it’s scary,” she said.

“I see 50 per cent of seniors choosing to stay at home and minimize their lives.”

TTC classifying Wheel-Trans users into 3 categories

According to the TTC, Wheel-Trans users have to reregister for the service to comply with the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). More than 7,000 people have reregistered since 2019. The TTC says re-registration is now being done on a voluntary basis.

Under that law, users are categorized into three classifications for eligibility:

  • Unconditional service, which is for customers who have a disability that always prevents them from using the TTC’s conventional system. These customers require door-to-door service for all of their trips.
  • Conditional service, which is for customers who have a disability that limits their ability to use the TTC’s conventional system “consistently.” These customers may be able to use conventional transit for all or part of a trip, but may also qualify for door-to-door service under specific circumstances, such as weather or travel to a remote location.
  • Temporary service, which is for customers who have a temporary disability that prevents them from using the TTC’s conventional system. Customers are provided Wheel-Trans for all or part of a trip for a defined period of time, such as following an injury or surgery.

Dwayne Geddes, head of Wheel-Trans at the TTC, said on Wednesday that it is a “misconception” that people who need the service will lose access to Wheel-Trans after having to re-register.

“I think some of the concern is that it’s believed that Wheel-Trans door-to-door service will disappear and will no longer be there for customers. That’s not the case. That’s a misconception. Door-to-door service will always be there for customers who need it,” Geddes said.

“If you require Wheel-Trans door-to-door service, it will be there guaranteed.”

The point of re-registration, he added, is that the TTC wants to ensure it has the right eligibility classification for its Wheel-Trans users.

Geddes said the TTC is not prepared to pause the program.

“We don’t have information that says the program isn’t working. In fact, the information we have is pointing to the opposite, that it is working,” he said. “We are committed to ensure that we provide a transit system that is fair and equitable for all customers.”

TTC say program introduced in part to sustain Wheel-Trans

In his report to the board, Geddes said the Wheel-Trans Transformational Program, which started in 2016, was an attempt to address legislative changes and an attempt to modernize and sustain the service. An expansion of eligibility under the law meant increasing demand, he said.

In an interview later, he said: “The whole plan of the program is to introduce a fully accessible conventional service, which means a service that anybody can use. It’s equitable for all.”

Geddes said the TTC was long known for having buses with stairs, streetcars with stairs, subways that had no elevators or escalators that didn’t work, but the transit agency has “turned a corner.” It has upgraded its stations and it is making its streetcars low floor, its buses and trains accessible, he said.

“Now that we’ve made the system more accessible, it’s almost like a reintroduction to the TTC for those with disabilities or mobility impairments,” he said.

“It’s basically saying, here’s our family of services that is now fully accessible and we want to encourage you to take it, if you can take it. I think the key point here is, if you can, if you’re comfortable taking it, if you can take it, we want you to take it,” he added.

“With this program, it really promotes and ensures that we are providing our customers with equity, dignity, spontaneity, fairness and freedom of travel.”

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/advocates-disabled-people-seniors-access-wheel-trans-ttc-board-1.6068843




Source link

Workplace Accessibility and the Upcoming AODA Compliance Deadlines


Blaney McMurtry LLP
Canada June 3 2021

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”) requires Ontario businesses and non-profits with 20 or more employees to submit an accessibility compliance report every three (3) years. Beginning in 2014, accessibility compliance reports were required to be filed in 2017 and again in 2020, but as mentioned in our previous article, the deadline to file the 2020 accessibility compliance report was extended to June 30, 2021 by the Ontario government. With the deadline now fast approaching, organizations must review any accessibility areas they need to address in order to certify compliance with AODA requirements by this new deadline (to the extent they have not already done so).

AODA Compliance Reports

The AODA sets out the processes for developing and enforcing accessibility standards. The goal of the AODA is to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. To achieve accessibility, the AODA’s Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation established a series of accessibility standards which cover five core categories, including customer service, information and communication, and employment (the “Accessibility Standards”).

The accessibility compliance report is intended to be an organization’s self-assessment of its compliance with the provincial accessibility requirements, including a confirmation that the organization is complying with the Accessibility Standards.

Electronic copies of the applicable form can be downloaded from the Ontario government’s website.

Before completing the report, employers should review and assess whether their organization is providing the right resources and taking the proper steps to make their workplace accessible in accordance with the employment-related requirements of the Accessibility Standards (the “Employment Standards”).

AODA Employment Standards

The Employment Standards require organizations to make their workplaces and employment practices accessible to potential and current employees with disabilities. This includes accessibility requirements in respect of recruitment, hiring, accessible formats and communication supports, workplace emergency response information, performance management and career development. When filling out the accessibility compliance report, employers should consider whether their organization:

  • has an accessible recruitment process for job applicants;
  • has made candidates aware that accommodation is available during the recruitment process;
  • consults with a selected applicant who has made an accommodation request;
  • notifies successful applicants of policies for accommodating employees with disabilities;
  • informs employees of policies in place to support employees with disabilities;
  • consults with the employee upon request to provide accessible formats and communication supports for workplace information;
  • provides updated and accurate individualized workplace emergency response information to employees with disabilities to assist during an emergency at the workplace;
  • takes into account the specific accessibility needs of employees with disabilities when implementing any performance management process;
  • accounts for the difference between disability-related issues and performance-related issues in the performance management process; and
  • accounts for the specific accessibility needs of employees with disabilities when providing career development and advancement.

In addition to the above, businesses and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees are also required to have written procedures regarding their return to work processes and documented individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities. The return to work process must include the steps that will be taken by the employer to transition the employee back to work following a disability-related absence. With respect to creating individual accommodation plans, the employer’s written processes should include how:

  • an employee requesting accommodation can take part in developing the plan;
  • the employee will be assessed on an individual basis;
  • an employee can request that a representative from the workplace or union can take part in developing the plan;
  • the employer can request an evaluation by an outside medical or other expert, at the employer’s expense, to assist the employer in determining if or how accommodation can be achieved;
  • confidentiality of the worker’s personal information will be protected;
  • the plan will be reviewed and updated and how often;
  • denial of an individual accommodation plan will be explained and dealt with, if applicable; and
  • the plan will be given in a format accessible to the worker.

Although the accessibility compliance report asks a series of “yes or no” questions, organizations should be prepared to expand upon their answers if required. When reviewing the accessibility reports, Directors of the AODA can ask an organization for more details about their compliance and the organization must provide this information upon request.

Accessible Websites

As a reminder, as of January 1, 2021 business and non-profits with 50 or more employees were required by the AODA to comply with the more stringent WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines with respect to their websites and web content (other than the criteria relating to live captions and pre-recorded audio descriptions). The Ontario government has provided detailed guidance about how organizations can comply with these upcoming AODA requirements by making their websites accessible

Takeaways for Employers

Ontario employers should take steps to determine if they are required to file an accessibility compliance report and ensure that they are in compliance with their AODA obligations, including those that took effect this year. Employers that fail to file their compliance reports may find themselves flagged for an audit by the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

Original at https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=8adeac1e-4636-4911-a41b-64009e033008




Source link

Companies Face Website Accessibility Deadline


The Canadian Press
Thursday, June 3, 2021

TORONTO – Time is running out for Ontario companies to show their websites comply with new standards making them more accessible for people with disabilities or face fines of up to $100,000.

Provincially regulated private-sector and not-for-profit organizations with more than 50 employees must ensure their sites are accessible for people with vision, hearing or other disabilities under legislation that took effect in January.

However, the Ford government has given until the end of this month for organizations to self-report on their compliance with international standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

The WCAG guidelines, which are updated regularly much like software, outline how websites, smartphone apps and other digital tech can be used by people with a range of disabilities.

For example, there are standards for video captioning for people with hearing problems, high-contrast colour combinations for those with limited vision or descriptive audio for people who can’t see text or pictures.

Simon Dermer, who co-founded a Toronto company that helps organizations to put in place accessible digital platforms, says Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to require the WCAG 2.0 standard but the province’s enforcement record could be better.

“Ontario does a very, very good job of articulating the things that need to be done in a manner that’s more intelligible to the average reader. But enforcement has been very lax, up until now,” says Dermer, executive chairman of Essential Accessibility.

The company provides organizations with a set of online tools to become compliant, then stay up-to-date as government rules in different jurisdictions and technology standards evolve.

Employment lawyer Paul Boshyk, who advises clients about what they need to do to comply with Ontario’s disability law, says enforcement falls under the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility but it relies on a self-reporting process.

“When an organization files their report and identifies a gap in compliance that’s typically where the ministry would get involved,” says Boshyk, who is a partner at McMillan LLP

He says the ministry typically would contact a non-compliant company, give it a timetable for meeting the requirements and provide some support to explain what it needs to do to meet the deadline.

“A first offence, which is minor in nature, is only going to result in an administrative penalty of $500,” Boshyk says.

While the law establishes a maximum fine of $100,000 per day, Boshyk says that amount is limited by a set of schedules, where even a history of serious contraventions is subject to only a $15,000 fine for corporations

“So, the legislation has teeth – but the penalties are a lot less stiff than they otherwise would be,” Boshyk says.

But Dermer says the digital accessibility rules may get a lot of public scrutiny because the COVID-19 has highlighted the need for websites and apps that can effectively deliver commercial, government, medical and education services.

Original at https://www.orangeville.com/news-story/10408709-companies-face-website-accessibility-deadline/




Source link

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




Source link

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.




Source link

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




Source link

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




Source link

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 ?

Francais

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/




Source link

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/




Source link

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/




Source link