Mr. Manuel Achadinha August 29, 2015
President & CEO, BC Transit
520 Gorge Road East
Victoria, BC V8W 2P3
Dear Mr. Achadinha,
“It is not people who are disabled, it is the environment that’s disabling.”
Kevin Shaw, President & CEO of Zagga Entertainment Ltd.
The Get Together With Technology, Victoria chapter, Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), wishes to respond to BC Transit’s recent launch of automated voice annunciation on Victoria’s buses.
After much discussion with our membership, consultation with local community organizations, and accessibility advocates around North America, we are extremely disappointed by BC Transit’s decision to install the Trekker Breeze – a personal pocket GPS – on every bus. This “solution” is not only totally unacceptable, but also equally inappropriate. Our foremost concern is that it demonstrates absolutely zero adherence to 21st century principles of inclusive design as implemented by public transit systems in cities throughout first world countries. One need only visit Vancouver or Seattle to see what we mean, and how inclusive design helps ensure the elimination of disabling factors for everyone.
The Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) sees the Trekker Breeze as the only option. They’ve either forgotten or simply do not care that there are other groups who would benefit from a broader, more inclusive solution. For instance, a visual display unit working in tandem with an automated bus-stop announcement system would be of great benefit to transit users who are deaf or hard of hearing. These public information display units (PIDs), now standard on so many transit systems, would also benefit the many tourists who may read, but may not easily understand spoken English in the often-noisy environment of a bus.
Most importantly, the Trekker Breeze does not, in fact, announce bus stops at all. Rather, it announces every cross street on the route, whether there is a bus stop or not. Many blind riders may find this confusing, especially if traveling a route for the first time. The public and bus drivers alike are sure to find it annoying as well, and, as drivers will have control of the device, they may choose to either turn the Breeze down or off altogether. And who could blame them?
This unit is not the solution for Victoria’s transit system. That’s because the Trekker Breeze
is a hand-held personal navigation device strictly for use by blind individuals. It operates exclusively by touch and sound, and provides no visual readout for the sighted bus drivers.
Further, a Trekker Breeze cannot provide the external bus announcements now standard on most transit systems. This feature announces the route number, name, and final destination of the bus as it arrives at a stop. Since the speaker is beside the front door, it also provides an audio cue to help people who are blind or vision-impaired to locate the door and to board more quickly. This all helps to keep buses on schedule, and is especially critical for stops that serve multiple routes. Multi-bus stops can be problematic to navigate for anyone, so any technology that improves efficiency and safety would indeed be to the greater public good.
Why is there no real-time GPS or transit data feed, as is now standard in most systems? Does BC Transit not wish to accommodate the thousands of transit users who constantly travel the Capital Region with smart phones in their hands? Without this data feed, the information we receive on our smartphone transit apps is strictly schedule-based and thus, only theoretical. Welcome to our modern provincial capital!
A far more fundamental question is: Why is BC Transit being allowed to render Victoria an accessibility and digital-age backwater through its failure to implement a more inclusive and acceptable solution? Half a million dollars is being wasted to install what is already acknowledged as a “temporary measure”, that provides a questionable level of accessibility to a very small number of people. Why would you waste that money to satisfy the needs of one small group only to scrap it when it’s replaced by a better, more inclusive system that should have been installed in the first place? If you won’t do it now, why should we believe you’ll do it later?
BC Transit should fervently hope that the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Centre does not decide to launch its own human rights complaint to achieve a more widely effective solution for its membership. We will continue to promote inclusive-design dialogue with disability advocates from other, national consumer organizations (who are monitoring this situation with interest) since none of them, other than the CFB, a very small, regional organization, appear to have been consulted in this process.
And why is that?
Tom Dekker, Coordinator
Get Together with Technology, Victoria Chapter
Canadian Council of the Blind
T: 250 900-9982
#211-845 Yates Street
Victoria, BC V8W 4A3