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
The Albert A. Ruel Road to Blindness
A 21 year old man stood on the beach at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park with friends early in May of 1977, and upon gazing across the lake found the Gulf Oil sign missing from the dock-side filling station there. When this fact was shared with his companions they glanced at him with puzzled looks and said, “No Albert, the sign is still there”.
That was the beginning of a road through confusion, anger, isolation, loneliness and discovery for me. It all began with a visit to a local Optometrist who could see that my vision wasn’t right, but that corrective lenses wouldn’t help. He then referred me to a General Practitioner, where I received a clean bill of health and an additional referral. This time to an Ophthalmologist. Immediately upon peering through the dilated pupils, Dr. McKerricher was able to see the problem, Retinal Vasculitis.
Now, you would think that all would start to improve at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, CNIB, from 1918 until 1985 only served the needs of people who were “Legally Blind”, a level of vision loss I wouldn’t reach until November of 1979. The words of Dr. McKerricher still echo in my mind today, “Albert, I don’t know what has caused this and nothing we’ve tried is helping to stop it, and you’re not blind enough for me to refer you to CNIB”!
In the middle of this transition from 20/20 vision to “Legally Blind” came the Motor Vehicle Branch and it’s rules of the road. On August 3, 1978 I drove a car for the last time as my vision had reached the level at which operating a motor vehicle became too dangerous, further intensifying feelings of fear, isolation and anger. Sadly, through this period the only available guidance and support was through family and friends, but not the experienced professionals I needed at the time. Although these support systems are critically important they can often be smothering and facilitating, rather than encouraging and supportive.
With gratitude, and some trepidation I finally was able to access CNIB services in November of 1979, and the world opened up then. There I was able to meet other blind people and receive the daily living and mobility skills required to live independently in this sighted world. I learned elementary braille and began to discover technology as necessary tools of independence.
Thankfully, in 1985 CNIB’s National Board altered the course of service to visually impaired Canadians forever. They added a third prong to their Mission Statement, “To promote sight enhancement services”. This opened the door to all Canadians who were beginning to lose sight, as well as those who had a fear of vision loss to access the full range of CNIB Support and Rehabilitation Services. So now, whether it’s someone’s Mother who is experiencing Macular Degeneration, or an Uncle experiencing the affects of Glaucoma, all have the ability to seek information, guidance and support as all involved deal with the fear and anxiety that accompanies such life altering experiences.
With the help of professional Rehabilitation Workers and Employment Counselors I was able to continue traveling independently within my own community, and even more remarkably anywhere in the world I desired to go. I managed to attend College in Nanaimo and New Westminster, as well as traveling to the Mayo Clinic and to doctor’s appointments in Nanaimo and Vancouver without assistance. All of this while living with some usable vision, but not yet needing a white cane for travel.
During the mid 1980’s I was a stay-at-home Dad and did all that was required of that challenging work, from changing diapers to preparing meals, and from cutting the grass to maintaining our home. I even took a woodworking course through Alberni’s Adult Education program and built and restored several pieces of furniture. Of course the 1958 Chevy Impala in the garage was my pride and joy, and I devised ways to do much of the work it required.
I also joined and participated in many community activities, like the local Car Club, and a disability support group that catered to the needs of people with many different disabilities. Of course, continued participation in family life remained of critical importance through this period.
In 1989 a secondary condition began to extinguish the vision that remained, which set into motion a new stream of professional rehabilitation services and supports. By the spring of 1990 Glaucoma had turned out the lights completely, and the darkness I had feared so desperately was upon me. Strangely though, I found this to be a great relief rather than the tragedy I had imagined it would be.
Through several professional rehabilitation sessions, and by joining peer mentoring and advocacy groups I was able to come to terms with this strange feeling, and to learn additional skills and strategies for living with no visual cues of the world around me. This is also about the time that I decided to explore CNIB as an employer, and to see if I could provide the sort of guidance and support to others that had been my pleasure to receive. Those 14 years were a wonderful experience of ongoing discovery for me, as teaching may be the best way to solidify one’s own learning. In other words, those we assist through this transition in turn help us all as we develop best practices and improved service.
Following a 14 year career with CNIB I also served the blind community as the first National Equality Director employed by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), and as a Basic Computer Literacy Trainer with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB). Most recently I have enjoyed coordinating the CCB’s newly launched Get Together with Technology Program in Western Canada, which brings to the fore my passion for assistive technology and the power of peer mentoring.
Without sight I have continued to travel far and wide, with trips to Conventions of and for the Blind in Anaheim California and Melbourne Australia, as well as to many events and activities in Toronto and Vancouver. Of course my work has taken me to many communities throughout Western Canada, and most particularly nearly all regions of BC and on Vancouver Island. None of which would have been possible without the services and support of organizations like CCB, AEBC and CNIB.
For most people blindness generates a fear of extended movement, both within one’s home and community, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Independence comes from personal desire and increased skill. Many community organizations can assist with both through their mentoring and skill development programs. I remember always that life has little to do with what happens to me and 100% what I do about/with it. There is a quote I like to use from the National Federation of the Blind in the USA, “With adequate skill development and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance”, and nothing could be closer to the truth.
Helen Keller said many years ago, “There is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight, but no vision”. She also challenged the Lions Clubs of the world to become the “Knights of the Blind, and to take up the crusade against darkness”. I too joined a Lions Club in 1992 and continue to work on the crusade that Helen Keller began in the 1920-s.
View all posts by Albert Ruel
2 thoughts on “GTT Victoria Letter to the Editor Re Trekker Breeze on BC Transit in Victoria, Times Colonist 29Aug2015”
Hi Tom and Albert I heard a news report yesterday on CFAX 1070 that the treker breez is being used by the bus drivers union. It is based on the human rights violation launched by the CFB. Their position is that trying to remember every stop would be a distraction to the drivers. Distracting drivers is a safety concern. My strong concern is that bus drivers will use the treker breez as the easy answer throughout the province. I hope your letter draws attention responsibly. Trevor
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I remember living in Victoria where the driver’s announced every stop. The Trekker as mentioned is antiquated. If the CFB did indeed endorce the using of it. It just solidifies the idea thought by most. They are a radical group only interested in getting their name out there, not in the blind. Like there parent company in the U S, the NFB. Both groups are more of a social group that just want to cause trouble and get it’s nose into things that have nothing to do with blindness on the premmus of helping the less fortunate. Most people if given the chance would turn down the sound on something that makes announcements that they already know. How many people actually pay attention to the safety announcements made on the BC ferries or airplanes?
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