Advocacy: The Americans with Disabilities Act and The boutique Avanti Hotel

I wonder if our Accessible Canada Act will allow for this level of action?  The article pasted below can be found at this link:

 

Nov. 11–The boutique Avanti Hotel is known for its poolside, dog-friendly rooms. Yet its website uses the valuable opening page not to highlight the Palm

Springs inn’s amenities, but to explain, in stark black letters on a plain white background, that the Avanti violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

Like thousands of other businesses in the United States, the 10-room hotel on East Stevens Road has been sued because it hasn’t fully complied with the

1990 law that requires public places — hotels, restaurants and shops — to be accessible to people with disabilities.

 

But Avanti isn’t being accused of failing to build a wheelchair ramp or install handrails — common charges in the scores of ADA lawsuits in years past.

Instead, the lawsuit contends that the hotel’s website can’t be used by people who have problems seeing or hearing.

 

Avanti Hotel and others have been caught up in a recent wave of ADA lawsuits targeting websites across the country. The Trump administration’s decision

to stop drafting rules for website ADA compliance is widely seen as opening the floodgates to legal action.

 

Nearly 5,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in federal court for alleged website violations in the first six months of 2018, according to an analysis by Seyfarth

Shaw, a law firm that specializes in defending such cases. The firm predicted that the number of lawsuits will climb to nearly 10,000 by the end of the

year, a 30% increase from 2017.

 

With online sales, reservations and job postings now a huge part of modern commerce, advocates for the disabled say websites need to be as accessible to

everyone, just as brick-and-mortar stores, restaurants and schools are.

 

“We have been dealing with website issues for a long time,” said Jim Thom, past president and government affairs director for the California Council of

the Blind. “We want compliance. It is a serious problem, no question about it.”

 

For a website to be accessible to disabled people, the content must be coded so that screen-reading software can convert the words to an audio translation.

Video that appears on a website must include descriptions for the deaf. Also, all interactive functions must be operable through keyboard commands for

people who can’t use a mouse.

 

No formal government standards exist for private businesses to follow to ensure their websites comply with the ADA, although a consortium of web innovators

has created guidelines, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, to make websites more accessible to disabled people. Government websites already

follow those guidelines, but private business websites, which are typically loaded with images and video, tend to be more difficult to overhaul to meet

the guidelines, experts say.

 

The cost of making sites accessible ranges from several thousand dollars to a few million dollars, depending on the complexity of the site, according to

trade groups and business owners.

 

ADA lawsuits, filed in federal and state courts, have targeted the websites of retailers (including Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. supermarkets), restaurants (including

Domino’s Pizza Inc.) and universities (including Harvard and MIT).

 

The Hooters restaurant chain was sued last year, even after the chain agreed to fix its website as part of a settlement of a previous lawsuit. A federal

appeals court ruled that Hooters remained vulnerable to lawsuits until it fixed the website under the previous lawsuit settlement.

 

Earlier this month, the American Council of the Blind announced that it had reached a settlement with the streaming service Hulu to make Hulu’s website

and software app more accessible to blind users.

 

The cost of defending such lawsuits can be burdensome for small businesses such as the Avanti Hotel.

 

Fixing the site would cost about $3,000, which hotel manager Jim Rutledge said he is willing to pay. But the lawsuit demands the hotel also pay damages

to the plaintiff, and Rutledge said his lawyers advise him that he may have to settle for between $8,000 and $13,000.

 

“I would really like to fight it, but it just comes down to finances,” he said, estimating that he could be forced to pay up to $25,000 in damages, plus

lawyer fees, if he fights the suit and loses. In the meantime, several pages of the hotel’s website have been replaced with plain type because “no access

is equal access for everyone, per the ADA requirements,” the site notes.

 

Some trade groups say the lawyers and plaintiffs who file many of these lawsuits are only interested in using the law to pocket hefty court-imposed damages.

 

“Simply put, for those who are abusing the system, it’s about money, not about expanding access,” said Peter Clerkin, a spokesman for the Asian American

Hotel Owners Assn., which is advising its members to make websites ADA-compliant and not wait to get sued.

 

Since it was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been cited thousands of times in lawsuits

filed against hotels, restaurants and shops to remove physical barriers for disabled people.

 

As early as 2009, the act was cited in lawsuits that targeted the websites of businesses and universities, saying the online portals must be just as accessible

to disabled people as the buildings that house businesses and schools.

 

In 2010, the Justice Department began to draft formal regulations for websites to meet ADA goals. But last December, the agency announced it was withdrawing

its “rulemaking process,” at a time when the Trump administration was calling for a rollback of federal regulations.

 

The department said it was killing the regulations because it was “evaluating whether promulgating regulations about the accessibility of web information

and services is necessary and appropriate.”

 

In a June 20 letter, 103 members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — urged then-Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to adopt website regulations, saying the

absence of such regulations “only fuels the proliferations of these suits.”

 

Lawyers who defend ADA lawsuits say the Justice Department’s actions to pull the plug on adopting new regulations may have instigated the latest surge

in lawsuits.

 

Business owners who are sued under the ADA complain that the law allows plaintiffs to demand huge payouts in damages without first giving the business

owner the opportunity to fix the websites.

 

California leads other states by far in ADA lawsuits filed over website accessibility, according to the Seyfarth Shaw analysis. That may be because a California

law sets a minimum dollar amount for damages of $4,000 plus attorney’s fees for each ADA violation, a minimum not imposed in most other states. The minimum,

according to lawyers who defend such lawsuits, makes suing in California more lucrative.

 

The lawsuit against Rutledge’s hotel was filed by Manning Law in Newport Beach. The plaintiff was Kayla Reed, who is described as a resident of Montana.

Manning Law has filed 355 ADA cases, primarily in California, in the last 12 months, according to court records.

 

In an email, Joseph Manning, an attorney at Manning Law, declined to comment on the case against the Avanti Hotel, but rejected criticism that his lawsuits

are intended to enrich him and his clients.

 

“This case will not be resolved without addressing the accessibility concerns in the complaint, of that I can assure you,” he said.

 

Reed, who is described in the Avanti lawsuit as visually impaired, is listed as a plaintiff on more than three dozen lawsuits in federal court and in state

courts in Ventura and San Bernardino counties, court records show. The defendants in her lawsuits include Kmart, Hugo Boss, David’s Bridal and CVS Pharmacies.

 

The Los Angeles Times couldn’t locate Reed, and Manning said she would not comment on her lawsuits. But he said that money is the “least important issue

for her in these cases,” adding that “private enforcement of these laws is also the means devised by Congress to enforce these laws without burdening the

taxpayer.”

 

Manning was listed as Reed’s lawyer in a Ventura County Superior Court suit against CVS in 2017, according to court records. In the suit, she is described

as a resident of Ventura County who was seeking $75,000 in damages, saying that the CVS website was not accessible to blind people.

 

The case was eventually transferred to U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The case was dismissed Dec. 8, 2017, when the court was notified that a settlement

had been reached. The details of that settlement were not disclosed.

 

Manning declined to comment on the settlement.

 

Asked to comment, CVS issued a statement saying the company is “committed to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws and regulations

related to assisting individuals with disabilities.”

 

___

 

(c)2018 the Los Angeles Times

 

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

http://www.latimes.com

 

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Guest Post: Let’s Get It Out There, Tele Town Hall Consultations Final Report, August 17, 2018

Let’s Get It Out There

 

Tele Town Hall Committee Consultations

October 2016 to March 2018

Final Report

August 17, 2018

 

*Note: Here is a link to download the file in MS Word format.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/v7pb3krn6lxzhks/Tele%20Town%20Hall%20Final%20Report%20Protected%202018Aug17.docx?dl=0

 

Introduction:

 

In 2016, a question was asked on the member discussion list hosted by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians about the AEBC and the Canadian Council of the Blind merging. The resulting discussion from this simple enquiry resulted in a group of individuals looking for methods to improve relations between blindness, low vision and deafblind organizations in Canada. The goal of the “Let’s Get It Out There” project was to take a holistic view of issues around advocacy, respect and working more closely together. Although there have been previous efforts at coalition building, this was an opportunity through a Tele Town Hall consultation process to receive feedback and suggestions at a grass roots level.  See the Tele Town Hall Committee Mission Statement appended to this report.

 

In Canada, our history of people who are blind, partially sighted and deafblind working together is not that different from other countries. The main thing that makes Canada different is the small population spread over a vast distance that makes ongoing collaboration and communications difficult. When looking at advocacy, we have many different organizations and individuals working on issues sometimes together, but very often in isolation not knowing or trusting what each other is doing. Even today with more communications options available, because of accessibility issues of some current technology and the lack of assistive technology training, many times we are not aware of what each other are doing.

 

Although this discussion was meant to cover all ages, economics and other demographics, no effort was put into ensuring that all were adequately represented.  To recruit participants the communications avenues employed were through discussion mailing lists, Facebook Groups, Twitter feeds and newsletters known by the committee members and the organizations they interact with.  In short, we relied on word of mouth to promote the Tele Town Hall meetings, and by copying representatives of the blindness, low vision and deafblind organizations on our radar it was hoped that news of this initiative would be circulated to their respective networks.  It was noted that the first meeting had the largest number of participants, with numbers decreasing as we moved into the final two gatherings.

 

This report looks at the discussion that occurred during each of the town hall meetings and attempts to put forward some suggestions and challenges to individuals and organizations working in the sector and what that might look like. It should be noted that even though the role of service providers like CNIB was not the main goal of this discussion, it does factor into the ongoing relationships between people and organizations representing people who are blind, partially sighted and deafblind.

 

Premise:

 

It is understood that within the blind, low vision and deafblind community there exists a wide range of people whose experiences, thoughts and attitudes are affected by whether their vision loss is congenital/ Adventitious, their individual independent living goals/skills, interest levels in advocacy, participation goals, and community/family/social support systems.  It stands to reason then that we will have received a wide range of opinions about whether or not existing Canadian organizations ought to be amalgamated, whether the vision loss community should collaborate more closely, where the shortcomings are, how they can be solved and who should do the solving.  The clear message received asked that all those things that make us unique be considered by the organizations of and for the blind, partially sighted and deafblind as they develop services, programs and engage in advocacy.  It is the Tele Town Hall Committee’s opinion that no real concise direction was determined through it all, and that the suggestions found herein were gleaned out of the comments submitted and thoughts expressed by participants.

 

 

 

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting #1

 

October 2016: Let’s Get It Out There

The first Tele Town Hall meeting asked four questions.

  • Question 1: In order to ensure that people who are blind, partially sighted, or deaf-blind continue to have a strong voice in Canada, what do you think the national consumer movement should look like in the future?

Between the panelists and the participants on the phone many issues were noted as being important, namely that: means of engaging youth in advocacy and setting future directions remains important and as yet not well done; that technology has made a big difference in our lives, and that sorting out what the next burning issues are will be important to get done; a united voice is important so letting go of the past is crucial to ongoing collaboration and unity; it’s important to articulate on personal benefits derived from advocacy efforts as a means of increasing engagement; organizational independence is important, as is the demarcation of consumer verses service organizations for public understanding, and; it was noted that good collaboration is possible without the need for amalgamation.  Much discussion ensued related to funding the work of advocacy through strong mandate articulation, the sale of current consumables/services to members as a means of benefiting them now for advocacy benefits down the road.  It was noted that the two largest consumer groups in the USA work fairly well at the local level, and not always as well nationally.  It was suggested that better networking and mentoring programs are needed as a means of increasing youth engagement, as is the study of other successful movements like the “Women’s movement”.  It was suggested that research grants could be a means of funding advocacy efforts.  In order to give the blind, partially sighted and deafblind population a stronger voice suggestions were made around the creation of service organizations made up of primarily consumers of the service.

  • Question 2: Canada is a small country in population; however, it is geographically quite large. Would it be better in Canada to ensure that, on a national level, there is one organization of the blind, partially sighted and deafblind working on projects and advocacy to help strengthen community activities provincially and locally?

Between the panelists and participants the important ideas seemed to be that: funders appreciate strategic partnerships; that collaboration can happen without the need for amalgamation; that organizations need to strengthen their coalition building processes so that work can carry on despite personnel changes; that staff/volunteer time be allocated to developing joint position papers on issues related to vision impairment and rehabilitation, and; that all current organizations are meeting different needs for their constituents, a goal that any one organization would struggle to fulfill.  Participants agreed that the specializing of some organizations is helpful to the overall community provided collaboration works well, like having braille, dog guide and other specific organizations.  Respect for each other and the various skills we bring to the table individually and organizationally is important to maintain.  Some expressed distaste for conflict between organizations, especially between service and consumer organizations.  These distinctions can end up being clouded today when service organizations conduct work traditionally reserved for consumers, and when consumer organizations begin to deliver services to their members and other blindness, low vision and deafblind service consumers.  Some expressed that service organizations have no business doing advocacy, and would have no place being a part of any kind of coalition or network of consumer groups.  The issue of Canada’s dual language was raised as a high cost item for all organizations.  National organizations should work solely on national initiatives, and local organizations should focus on local issues.  Either way, information about who does what for whom is an important communications strategy for all involved to consider for the benefit of members, consumers and the general public.

  • Question 3: National, provincial, and local organizations have tried working in coalitions. Are you aware of any activities that these coalitions have done? Would you support a more formal working relationship between the existing national organizations of the blind?

Between the panelists and participants a range of opinions were expressed that included: coalitions can include cross disabilities, which can be a powerful statement to the general public; ground rules need to be negotiated early on how coalitions will be staff/funding resourced and populated; service providers can be invited under the understanding that consumers will speak on behalf of the members; formal working relationships and agreement to participate in a coalition on a specific issue works best to ensuring continued success even as representatives and personalities change; opportunities exist for coalitions to work on employment and other issues, and strategies to work toward them ought to be articulated and goals set for such coalitions to move forward; the DASM report (Developing Alternative Service Models) by BOOST written in the 1970’s is still a good model for consumer groups to work on in developing their strategies for future service delivery goals; conflicts should be worked out behind closed doors with unified fronts being exhibited in public, and; some believe that only organizations “of the blind, partially sighted and deafblind” should make up advocacy coalitions, and others indicated that issue by issue decisions can be made on such strategies, and that limiting membership in this way can leave a coalition without adequate resources to get the job done if some organizations are left out.

  • Question 4: Why do you think the blindness community is so fragmented in its approach to advocacy and community activities?

Between the panelists and participants it was noted that: when viewing advocacy on an issue by issue basis there is little in the way of fragmentation; the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community is broad raged in terms of degree of remaining vision, which leads to different accommodation needs that can often be viewed as fragmentation; where ever disagreement exists between individuals and/or organizations we might be better served by viewing that as a starting place to build consensus rather than separation; we can better utilize communications technology to bridge the geographic divides as we work toward finding common ground upon which to agree; blind, low vision and deafblind pride is something toward which we might try to move and to develop consensus, recognizing that those who identify as having low vision tend to resist the word blind; we might need a “blind revolution” in Canada, and that the National Accessibility Act is now before Parliament it presents a good opportunity for organizations to coalesce; the Consumer Access Group (CAG) seems to have failed to mount a sustained coalition, which appears to be an important thing to do according to some participant’s sentiments; some people believe that CNIB is one of the shackles holding back blind, partially sighted and deafblind consumers, and that Federal Government funds given to CNIB would be better spent on advocacy with the consumer groups; fragmentation, if it exists can be mitigated by using an inclusive cross-disability approach and networking with a variety of experts and those with the lived experience of vision loss; in Quebec there seems to be less fragmentation in the blind, partially sighted and deafblind consumer sector which is thought by some to be as a result of the Provincial Government being the rehab service provider, and that they don’t come to the table purporting to speak on behalf of their blind, partially sighted and deafblind citizens; egoism, lack of respect and unprofessional behaviour among some advocates reduces the whole community and ought not be tolerated; within the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community we must learn to be tolerant of the ranges of skills, vision acuity and levels of adjustment we’re all experiencing, and in order to be inclusive within our own community we should establish advocacy train the trainer sessions and adjustment to blindness, vision loss and deafblindness peer mentoring gatherings with a view to coaching consumers to become better service consumers; coalitions can be coalitions of three, which can then be built into larger forces for good and positive movement; some fragmentation exists due to services available for children and seniors, with a perceived gap for the working age group;

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting #2

 

March 4, 2017: Let’s Get It Out There

The second Tele Town Hall meeting asked four questions.

  • Question 1: How should service and advocacy organizations be transparent and accountable to the community?

Between the panelists and participants it was thought that: more open decision making and communications processes between organizations and with members would move us toward more accountability and transparency; there’s a perception that some organizations work at cross purposes, which might be mitigated through a conscious effort to build trust; that accountability means someone, organization or individual, should take the lead role in setting goals through consensus building; some existing organizational structures may be transformed into coalition style advocacy efforts, and some may need to be dissolved; some believe that CNIB isn’t serving the blind, partially sighted and deafblind in ways that is perceived by the general public, funders and government decision makers; there is a lack of separation between what the consumer movement and the CNIB do on behalf of the blind, partially sighted and deafblind in Canada in terms of advocacy; it was suggested that CNIB be broken up into provincial self-governing blindness , low vision and deafblindness rehab organizations, then establish Boards of Directors consisting of consumer group members elected by their members leading to accountable, effective, progressive service delivery; consumer organizations should meet annually to share advocacy goals and determine which organization will work on which priority; with increased reporting to the consumer movement on government grants and funding as to services delivered and outcomes achieved, more and better accountability to the end user can be achieved; a “Watch-Dog” organization should be established that would deliver an annual report card on service and consumer organizations based on three criteria, Tell us what you’re going to do, Tell us about it as you do it and Tell us how you did at the end, and; CNIB appears to be more concerned with its continued relevance, funding, and identity rather than the needs of blind, partially sighted and deafblind consumers, and that consumer groups taking matters into their own hands is seen as a threat.

  • Question 2: How do we engage individuals and the blindness community concerning our needs and rights in the broader Canadian society?

Between the panelists and participants it was thought that: individuals who want a better way must take responsibility to work toward it; consumer organizations only work if there’s a community that comprises it; cross organizational collaboration is essential; small incremental gains should be celebrated if it moves toward the greater good; for increased engagement and participation all forms of communications should be used, telephone, face-to-face and written participation; to engage youth in advocacy different forms of communication need to be employed, that there be a set of concrete actions with immediate results for them to stay engaged, those who didn’t attend “schools for the blind” may not be well connected in the blind, partially sighted or deafblind communities, and may not want to be outside of sporting and similar activities; organizations who are successful in engaging youth ought to be sought out for advice; some of today’s youth have multiple disabilities which makes advanced advocacy more difficult; we need to engage them In activities that will build their skills sets and resumes; older citizens who lose sight are also without a blind community to identify with, and they too must be engaged in ways that bring them into the fold rather than alienate them; engaging with cross disability organizations is a great way to take our message to the masses; we need a more unified message from the consumer movement to take to CNIB so as to articulate the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community’s real needs; one size does not fit all, and that organizations have to remain conscious of varying needs, skills and abilities of individuals, and to articulate that clearly to the general public, funders and government decision makers;

  • Question 3: What specific actions can individuals and organizations take to promote transparency, integrity, accountability, and respect?

Between panelists and participants it was thought that: we all must be clear when doing self-advocacy that it is our opinion and not necessarily the needs of the community; As both organizations and individuals, we need to act and be transparent with what we do for the different segments of our community, deafblind, multi-disabled and/or LGBTQ; we must refrain from judging others and to offer understanding and support for our differences, preferences and independence goals; assumptions can lead to fragmentation, conflict and general misunderstanding, as might be some of the comments shared regarding youth through these meetings with no known youth attending to speak on their own behalf; silos are believed to exist in the community, which leads to closed communications, lack of trust between organizations and to confusing messaging broadcast to the general public; more research is needed to establish the real needs of blind, partially sighted and deafblind consumers so that an information hub can be developed; we should lead by example  to promote trust, integrity and respect by demonstrating the same; we should “Be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as doves”: On a personal level, be respectful of others – but analyse the situation and have an understanding of the landscape as not everything is as it appears to be, particularly where individual and organizational power imbalances exist; the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community might do well to select a national awareness day aimed at promoting the abilities and needs of those living with blindness, vision loss and deafblindness; we should be respectful of others without playing into stereotypes of those “nice polite blind people”, other advocacy endeavours don’t always play by nice rules; the more experienced advocates might want to be less intimidating when working with the less experienced among us, and to seek such opportunities to coach and mentor, and; we should individually and organizationally express appreciation when decisions are made and action taken that supports growth, forward movement and the achievement of our goals for independence, inclusion and autonomy.

  • Question 4: What should be included in rules of engagement that would govern ongoing collaboration in the blindness community?

Between the panelists and participants it was thought that: little steps build trust for bigger steps, and that we should individually and organizationally focus on the message trying to look past “delivery style” and personal flair – all collaboration efforts should begin with a reminder of the importance of focusing on the content and not the messenger or delivery; we should want to, and demand to be part of the decision making process where consumable services are debated and established; when we recruit for work on an advocacy initiative we must ensure that we’ve brought to play all the experts and relevant information with which to make the best decisions and action plans; the establishment of best practices communications is a great way to share results, policies and strategies; rules for engagement with service providers is different than within the consumer movement; the consumer movement needs to support each other with letters of support when goals are achieved and the community’s agenda is advanced by any organization, and; coalition efforts ought to be established on a case by case basis rather than expecting them to survive across several differing initiatives.

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting #3

 

October 14, 2017: Advocacy without Borders

The third Tele Town Hall meeting asked presenters to tell us about the consumer and rehabilitation services systems in their countries.

Martine Abel-Williamson talked about the importance of differentiating our access needs from the needs of people with physical disabilities.  NZ has one service provider and people are served in their homes primarily.  NZ got its first blindness org in 1945 about when the CCB was started in Canada, and shortly after the NFB was started in the USA.  It’s when blind people started to want autonomy and independence.  Martine talked about the need for local and international collaboration as well, and the importance of having a good peer mentoring strategy and a legal aid program to assist persons with disabilities when their rights are violated or ignored.

Fran Cutler talked about what’s available in Australia, starting out with the need for a really good website targeted to each region of the country as the basis for good advocacy, information sharing and dissemination.  The use of all the social media channels today has also become most important for keeping people informed and moving them to action when needed.  She talked about the post cards used to alert people to hazards left on sidewalks that have the organization’s name and contact info on it.  Most rehab services are office based in Australia as 2/3 of the population lives in 5 major Cities.  Consumers in Australia are often asked to consult on matters of public access, and because voting is compulsory they are working hard at ensuring an inclusive and cost effective voting system.  Guide Dogs Australia uses a billboard showing 30 people using white canes with one dog guide user, with the slogan that says, we train 30 blind people to move around independently with a cane for every Guide Dog user.  Theirs is a home based rehab service model.  Fran also indicated that the Australian organizations she spoke of seem to have carved out their own specialties, with one focussing mostly on advocacy, two on rehab services and another on public awareness and education.  She didn’t say a lot about collaboration, animosity or political disagreements.

The need to consider services and advocacy from the indigenous person’s perspective was raised, where some collaboration work is being done internationally, in New Zealand, but not in Australia or Canada.  Both speakers indicated that some advocacy has worked in educating decision makers and that much more needs to be done in order to achieve some degree of consistency.  Technology support is another area where consistency isn’t always apparent.  When government seeks advice on issues of blindness it appears that the higher profile organizations are called upon.  New Zealand appears to have something similar to Canada’s Consumer Access Group that functions reasonably well.  In terms of learning from each other what works in the advocacy arena, both presenters suggested that we don’t give up trying to find reasons to work together to advance our agenda.

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting #4

 

November 18, 2017: Advocacy without Borders. The forth Tele Town Hall meeting asked presenters to tell us about the consumer and rehabilitation services systems in their countries.

 

Mitch Pomarance gave us an overview of the American system of Federal and State funding of rehab services, which in California used to include everyone who lost sight, and more recently has been curtailed to focus on the working age population.  Due to funding pressures, there appears to be some friction in the USA between the Independent Living movement and the blindness specific service and advocacy areas regarding who’s best equipped to deliver good independence skills to the blind population.  Mitch talked about a time about 20 years ago when the two large consumer organizations in California worked together to advocate for a separate rehab organization for the blind, and that even though they didn’t get the organization, they did get a separate division within the State Rehabilitation Agency for persons with disabilities.  California has established a 13-member advisory body that meets quarterly to advise the Rehab Agency on matters of importance to the blind community which is made up of people from the two consumer organizations, service providers, consumers and others.  Mitch indicated that the collaborative framework has worked well and is worth spending energy on.

John Panarese talked about how different rehab outcomes exist in the 50 States of the Union.  It seems that despite having two large and powerful consumer advocacy organizations in the USA they still end up with differences in how rehab services are delivered from State to State.  John has noticed too that despite the two large consumer organizations there are a lot of individuals who don’t know how to advocate for themselves.  It was also stated that consumers need to learn how to articulate their needs, strategize on how to best achieve them and insist that the rehab organization provide that which is needed and not that which is convenient to the service provider.  John emphasized the need/desire for one over-arching consumer organization that could represent blind persons so that consistency might be achieved, and politics reduced.  He expressed the importance of educating the consumer to their rights, responsibilities and the need for them to take charge of their lives and the path of travel.

Questions around the working relationship between the two consumer groups indicated that although it works well sometimes, trust and power struggles usually cause collaborations to falter.  Clarification was given to the role of the ADA in the USA.  It only covers matters of access and accommodation, and doesn’t touch areas related to rehabilitation.  As in Canada, the access needs of physically disabled citizens enjoys a higher priority than do blindness related issues.  The consumer groups in the USA are structured with Divisions dealing with separate issues like, deafblind, employment, dog guides, LGBTQ, lawyers, teachers, children etc.  On the question of consumer groups working together Mitch indicated that the NFB and the ACB will amalgamate shortly after the Democratic and Republican Parties join forces.  Everybody has their own philosophy, goals and desires and the best we can do is to learn how to work together with respect and understanding.  The question of attitudes about blindness among the general public was discussed, and despite much effort being spent on this issue by both consumer organizations in the USA, there is still a long way to go.  Blindness is still one of the top three feared disabilities and little has changed in that regard over the years.

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting #5

 

March 10, 2018: Have Your Final Say

The fifth Tele Town Hall meeting asked five questions.

  • How well do current blindness/low vision rehabilitation services organizations in Canada serve your needs?  Or do they not serve your needs as the case may be?  (I.E. Are your personally happy with existing Canadian blindness rehabilitation services?)

Participants indicated that: low vision issues are not well understood by the general public and that service organizations could do a better job of disseminating information about the difference between blind and low vision; The geography of Canada is such that in rural areas little in the way of rehab service is available or delivered making independence more difficult to achieve; Given the constant change to the assistive technology in our lives it has created a need for more and ongoing training, and there is not enough mobility training available to blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadians; The monopoly in the Canadian Rehabilitation Services sector needs to change so that competition can start to drive innovation, and that entrepreneurial opportunities for blind, partially sighted and deafblind citizens ought to be made available in this regard through open tendering of those available funding dollars; In Quebec where the province funds rehabilitation there appears to be a hierarchy of service availability with blindness services like Orientation and Mobility falling behind other services; The pan-disability employment services currently operating in BC means that staff there no little about blindness, low vision or deafblindness, and the CNIB and our consumer organizations have not done well to educate them, leading to a less than helpful level of service to the end consumer; The ongoing upgrading needed to our assistive technology and the training required in order to stay abreast of it is lacking, as is the funding necessary to keep up with these constant changes; With CNIB moving to a provincially funded Rehabilitation Organization model perhaps increased opportunities will be generated for entrepreneurs to enter the sector, and; In Nova Scotia blindness rehabilitation has been funded by the province for about 2 years, and so far no increase or improvement has been noticed.

  • How well do blindness/low vision advocacy support organizations in Canada serve your needs?  How are they not serving your needs as the case may be?  (I.E Are you personally happy with the existing consumer advocacy and support movements in Canada)?

Participants indicated that: we need unity with autonomy, unity with diversity rather than amalgamation of the consumer movement; we don’t always work well together in some pockets of the country, and in others it works a little better; the consumer movement in Quebec isn’t as strong because all rehabilitation services are provincially funded, and that as similar strategies are employed in other parts of Canada similar things might start to happen, and hopefully we can learn from each other; the CAG initiative has worked to some degree, however because it is financially dependent on CNIB there has been some reluctance to criticize them for fear of losing that funding and administrative support; among the post-secondary student population there is little connection to the existing consumer organizations which is leaving them disconnected and unaffiliated; the older adult who lost sight after a lifetime of vision are not well represented in the consumer movement, as well as those who live with low vision, and that our consumer organizations need to broaden their programs and recruiting efforts to engage those two groups more effectively; consumers from foreign backgrounds are not well assimilated into the blindness, low vision and deafblindness consumer movements or in society generally, so more needs to be done to ensure that all are included; the changes to the role of the service provider whereby they are taking on a larger advocacy role is causing a scary future for the consumer movement in Canada, so where we can we must find ways to unify or run the risk of losing our identity; there is a lack of accountability and transparency at the national level in the consumer organizations that isn’t so prevalent provincially and locally; too many consumer organizations have not done and are not doing enough succession planning to replace the few people who seem to do most of the advocacy work, which has led to the closure of one BC organization so far, and; the CNIB is the “go-to” organization for most governments, the media and the general public like it or not, so consumer organizations are wise to work with them if we’re to succeed.

  • If not, what will make them more responsive to the needs of blind, low vision, and deafblind Canadians and make agencies flexible enough to move the with the merging societal demand?  If we don’t think that rehabilitation and advocacy organizations are filling our needs, what sorts of things will make it better?  What sorts of things will make them more ready to shift with the times?

Participants indicated that: in the consumer movement we are the blind speaking for ourselves and not like the CNIB which speaks on our behalf, and if some of their clients want to be involved in advocacy they should join one of the groups and encourage the CNIB to be a better rehabilitation organization; there is a need for more mentorship programs for students coming out of secondary and post-secondary schools and wanting to join or re-join the work force; when working toward more and better mentorship programs we need more consideration given to the diversity within our community related to age, degree of vision loss, education, skills, culture, language and independence goals; our consumer organizations ought to appoint annually a consumer advocacy coordinator to whom the members can upload issues, and from whom they may determine what successes have been achieved, and that this person from each organization meet as a group periodically to establish priorities for the group to work on; the large dog guide schools often provide advocacy support on issues, and so to should the CNIB if they have the funds to do so, and the consumer organizations should be able and willing to work with them to advance the cause; we need more work done by organizations like the Consumer Access Group, and we need to encourage and educate each other on strategies of individual advocacy so that we can do more for ourselves, and by extension more for the entire community, and; we need to work out who has the skills, knowledge and ability to move issues forward, and work together to support each other toward resolution for the benefit of the community.

  • What strategies are required if we are to strengthen the voice of blind Canadians with government, communities, employers, (i.e. do blind Canadians need one single strong voice in order to advance our needs?)

Participants indicated that: although it might be difficult to bring the consumer organizations together to speak from one voice, we need to find some avenues where that can happen on an issue by issue basis, like public and government education around the abilities of blind, partially sighted and deafblind people and their needs in terms of rehabilitation if we’re to improve employment and societal inclusion deficits; we need to have the resources, time and energy in order to carry the torch of advocacy, and where that is found we need to gather behind it and work at moving the community forward, and that’s how the CNIB and CCD have gotten to “top-of-mind” today; we need a diverse, multi-skilled national consumer advocacy group that will focus on blindness, low vision and deafblindness issues, as well as age related and cultural issues; we need to recruit more worker bees to help carry the load; we need to work in the cross disability arena as a means of getting our priorities in front of a larger segment of the general public and decision makers; those of us with the lived experience of blindness, low vision or deafblindness are best situated to speak on our behalf rather than having someone else speak for us, and; technology is so important today in leveling the playing field, and there’s not enough understanding about the difference it can make, nor is there enough training in its use.

  • What strategies can blind Canadians employ to amplify their voices in order to be better heard within Canadian organizations of an organizations for the blind?  (I.E. do blind Canadians want to be more involved in driving the organizations that provide rehabilitation services in Canada?)

Participants indicated that: the CNIB National and Division Boards are mostly made up of sighted business people for purposes of fundraising and that staff make all the service, budget and strategic decisions, and that’s very dysfunctional. Their boards need to be reduced to about 12 members and that all seats be taken up by blind, partially sighted or deafblind Canadians; we must speak out when we see organizations intensifying the fear of blindness through their fundraising and other messaging; we need to be seen, we need to be persistent and we need to get and stay involved in order to move our agenda forward, let’s be the squeaky wheel; in order to acquire the technology and training that will allow us to participate in Canadian society we need funding, and that funding will only happen when the decision makers understand how important basic participation is to the eventual success of each of us; in order to seek the support of the public in our organizations we need to put forward a positive reflection of blindness, low vision and deafblindness, not a pitiful one; in acknowledging the hard work and dedication of those who have done the work to date, and in acknowledging that we who have the lived experience are key to telling the story and raising expectations, we must keep in mind the importance of bringing with us those allies who can help to elevate our issues and support our efforts; technology has connected us, and it disconnects us, it’s a friend and a foe due to its constant changing nature, it helps bring young people together and it keeps seniors from fully participating and it’s not going to go away so let’s find out how to make it work for us; fundraising works when it pulls at heart strings rather than at success stories so we’ll likely continue to see that style of letter coming from the CNIB, and we have to remember that many who are starting on their vision loss journey can identify with the sentiments expressed in heart-string fundraising, and; if we’re to engage young blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadians we will want to ensure we’re communicating through all forms of social media.

 

Conclusions:

 

The Tele Town Hall Committee through a series of conference call meetings since the first such gathering in October 2016 has attempted to foster a system based on both individual and organizational mutual respect, and the goal to seek opportunities to foster the dream of achieving excellence within the consumer and vision rehabilitation fields in Canada.  The motto, “Nothing about us without us” rang true and strong throughout the initial three open discussion gatherings, and from the presenters recruited to show us how things are done in Australia/New Zealand and in the USA during the “Advocacy Without Borders” segment of the Tele Town Hall meetings.  These premises will be woven throughout the comments that conclude this final report.

 

Rehabilitation Services:

 

CNIB is often believed to be one of the barriers keeping blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadians from achieving forward movement in terms of inclusion, Human Rights and true independence, and if those barriers are to be clearly articulated and worked on the consumer movement must come together to set goals, strategies’ and timelines aimed at affecting some of the changes we might wish to see.

 

Decisions based on science, not myth:

 

Participants were unified in the belief that we must ensure the best information is gathered/researched and subject matter experts recruited regarding advocacy issues being worked on, and for decisions being made that concern the blind and low vision community.  No one thought it a good idea to operate on assumptions, stories or long held myths and beliefs if we’re to improve consumerism and/or the blindness, vision loss or deafblindness rehabilitation system in Canada.

 

Hear the message, not the messenger:

 

It was also noted on several occasions that when debating/discussing issues it is the desire of participants that we will individually and organizationally stay focussed on the message and not the messenger when offering our input, criticism and suggestions, and that it is equally important to hear only the message when receiving input from others.  It is our responsibility to deliver respectful messaging, and to receive it in ways that foster cooperation, mutual understanding and respect.  To agree is not always necessary or required for the community’s agenda to be moved to a better place.

 

Sharing information:

 

Several participants during the different segments of the series asked that we continue seeking new ways to set-up systems for the ongoing sharing of individual and organizational points of view, which already exists by email and periodic conference calls.  To engage youth the consumer organizations ought to study the best ways to achieve participation, and to start by gaging the level of interest and the types of issues most important to that community

 

Engaging youth:

 

Engaging youth in the consumer advocacy movement was discussed with only a very small number of them participating in the Tele Town Hall meetings, so anything coming out of these meetings is conjecture and not based on their meaningful input.  A study needs to be undertaken to determine how they might be invited to participate in continuing to build toward our collective future.

 

Engaging seniors:

 

Older citizens who lose sight are often without a blind, partially sighted or deafblind community to identify with in the same way younger people are if they’ve attended a “school for the blind”, and they too must be engaged by the consumer sector in ways that bring them into the fold and utilizes their experience and knowledge rather than alienate them.

 

Leadership growth and technology:

 

Succession planning is a major issue within the consumer organizations of people who are blind, partially sighted and deafblind. As we become more technically dominated, it is even more important to identify potential upcoming leaders and show them the value of collective action within one of the consumer organizations. Today, many young people see social media as the way to invoke social change. We need to work with them to show them that social media is only one tool in the toolbox that they can use to make change happen

 

Unity where we can:

 

One thing that was learned through this process is that a lack of unity within the population of people who are blind, partially sighted and/or deaf blind is a common issue in many different countries. Because of our different life experiences and the fact that blindness itself can’t be a unifying factor as with other societal issues, we need to look at where we can be successful as a larger group and work towards a common front on those specific issues so government and other organizations will listen to us as consumers instead of utilizing the conquer and divide strategy that has been used all too often in the past.  For unity to work, each of us must be respectful and non-judgmental about the differing skill levels and needs of others, whether it be due to age, degree of vision loss, type of vision loss, time of life when vision loss occurred, culture, and independence goals desired.

 

Public/Government education:

 

Participants expressed multiple times how important it is to educate funders, the general public, government decision makers and the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community about the difference between a consumer organization and a rehabilitation service provider.

 

Celebrate victories:

 

Too often we hear sentiments that we’ve failed if we’ve only achieved part of our advocacy goal, and that’s hurting the community.  Participants expressed a desire to celebrate some small victories along the way as a means of keeping the energy levels up, and from which to springboard to the next success story.

 

 

 

Strategic partnerships:

 

In this day and age, governments, funders and most of the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community appreciate strategic partnerships on important issues, and that came through in comments delivered by Tele Town Hall participants.  As well, it was reflected in some of the comments that more cross disability collaboration is needed in order to have our needs heard and recognized more broadly by governments, funders and the general public.

 

Blindness awareness:

 

September is often used as an opportunity to promote blindness, vision loss and deafblindness prevention work, CNIB uses May for Vision Awareness Month and the CCB uses the first week in February to promote White Cane Week.  It was suggested that the community of blind, partially sighted and deafblind consumers and consumer groups focus on one annual day/weekend/week to promote awareness of our abilities and needs.

 

Consensus building:

 

The message that participants desire to see multiple Canadian consumer organizations joining together to establish an arms-length advocacy coalition aimed at pursuing issues of common concern/importance was heard often and loudly.  We also often heard the belief that building consensus is a key to success when organizations undertake to work on an issue together.

 

Coalition strategies:

 

Currently, The Consumer Access Group (CAG), is the only active national forum where various blindness, low vision and deafblindness organizations gather on a regular bases to share information and potentially develop strategies for working on issues of common concern. The CAG has done some work at developing position papers on some issues of general concern (See above link). However, there has not been the efforts necessary to ensure there is broad knowledge of this work even within the population of people who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind.

 

Success stories exist:

 

In order for CAG to be truly effective, a method of broader input into the activities of the coalition could be developed that might look similar to how the Hands Off Our Harnesses Coalition of Guide and Service Dogs is operating. IN this case, there is a social media presence, a discussion list for interested parties and a few people carrying out the detailed work of the coalition. CAG may want to focus on a couple of specific activities and work towards a broader decision making structure that is effective and inclusive and efficient.

 

Questions of the Blind, partially sighted and deafblind sector regarding Next Steps:

 

Given the above introduction, comments and conclusions your committee would like to offer a challenge to the leaders of all blindness, low vision and deafblind consumer organizations in Canada to come together to answer a few simple questions, and to begin the work of coalition and consensus building with the view to constructing a road to that better day we all seek.

 

Although the work of this Committee has concluded, it is our fervent dream that the current and future leaders in the Canadian consumer movement will take up the challenges issued in these pages, and that one day blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadians will have a meaningful seat at the decision making tables related to our participation in community life, that all will offer us the respect we deserve for our abilities, dreams and goals, and that we will truly speak for ourselves to ears that know it is the only way forward.

 

  1. The Tele Town Hall Committee challenges each and every blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadian to share this report to the staff, volunteers and members of organizations who serve and support your needs, rights and responsibilities.  Think about it. To gain an edge, the evil one needs only to get able men and women to see themselves as neutrals. Make sure that this will never be the case with you!”  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” –Edmund Burke.
  2. The Tele Town Hall Committee challenges the blind, partially sighted and deafblind consumer sector to begin working toward the day when rehabilitation service providers are no longer at the Government table deciding our fate or speaking on our behalf.  We must embrace the motto, “What’s about us is up to us”.
  3. The Tele Town Hall Committee challenges all Canadian consumer organizations to continue similar consultation efforts that lead to the compilation of the information in this report as a means of further engaging the blind, partially sighted and deafblind community toward increased involvement in their own future.  “Nothing about us without us”.
  4. The Tele Town Hall Committee challenges the Board Chairs of every blindness, low vision and deafblind consumer organization in Canada to meet before the end of 2018 to begin the process of developing go-forward strategies to improve and strengthen the “voice of the blind” in Canada.  “If we think we can or if we think we can’t, we’re right.” Henry Ford.

 

Respectfully submitted on August 17, 2018:

 

Donna Jodhan, Richard Marion and Albert Ruel, report authors on behalf of the entire Committee, the Let’s Get It Out There tele town hall team Richard Marion, Anthony Tibbs, Melanie Marsden, Albert Ruel, Paul Edwards, Robin East, Louise Gillis, Pat Seed, Jane Blaine, Kim Kilpatrick, and Donna Jodhan

 

 

Mission Statement

 

Appendix A

 

Tele Town Hall Organizing Committee

Revised Sat 9/9/2017 1:11 PM

 

Nothing worthwhile in the world happens that doesn’t begin with a dream.

It is the mission of this Town Hall organizing Committee to provide an opportunity for people who are Blind, Partially Sighted and Deaf Blind In Canada to explore, together, options and opportunities that will make life better for All Canadians.

 

We, the Town Hall Organizing Committee, are a group of individuals, with a variety of affiliations and interests, who are committed to forwarding the betterment of the lives of blind, partially sighted and Deaf Blind Canadians by providing town halls at which information can be shared.

 

As Facilitators of these Town Halls, we have chosen speakers from all over the world who, themselves, are Blind, Partially Sighted, or Deaf Blind. They will explain the agencies and services in their part of the world, and how those who are Blind, Partially Sighted, and Deaf Blind obtain and receive services within their region.

 

They will also provide information about any peer interaction and peer support Best practices that they have experienced.

 

Each Town Hall will include time for participants to ask questions of the speakers.

 

It is our hope that, after consumers have had a chance to attend and participate in these town halls, they will be in a position to take what has been learned to develop some consensus about the future direction of services and activities for those who are blind, Partially Sighted and Deaf Blind in Canada.

 

It is at that point, that we, who are Blind, Partially Sighted and Deaf Blind in Canada, can all meet, together, to provide recommendations and design a process to affect Positive change in the wider community.

 

CCB Press Release: Accessible Canada Act

CCB Press Release: Accessible Canada Act
list of 4 items
Subscribe
Past Issues
RSS
Translate
list end
View this email in your browser
Canadian Council of the Blind Logo
Press Release re Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81):

As President of the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), it is a pleasure to send this message to inform you, about the proposed Accessible Canada Act. We
want to thank Minister Duncan for introducing the act, as well as Minister Qualtrough for the initial steps in the process. This Act has been through the
first reading and tabled until fall sitting.
Thank you to all of you who attended the consultations held in your communities over the past two years. We as an organization have had representation
in meetings with the Ministry of Disabilities, Sports and Science on this act as well. We are pleased with the bill once passed, and any amendments that
may come, will ensure that our shared spaces will be more accessible to all, job opportunities will increase and transportation improved.

Please read the letter from Government of Canada below for further details.

Sincerely,

Louise Gillis, National President
The Canadian Council of the Blind
100-20 James St.
Ottawa, ON
K2P 0T6

Minister Duncan introduces the proposed Accessible Canada Act

From:
Employment and Social Development Canada

News release

Most significant progress for people with disabilities in over 30 years

June 20, 2018                    Gatineau, Quebec
Employment and Social Development Canada

Today, following the most inclusive and accessible consultation with Canadians with disabilities and with the disability community, the Honourable Kirsty
Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, introduced the proposed Accessible Canada Act to Parliament. This historic
legislation would enable the Government of Canada to take a proactive approach to end systemic discrimination of people with disabilities.

The goal of the legislation is to benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, through the progressive realization of a barrier-free
Canada. The act would establish a model to eliminate accessibility barriers and lead to more consistent accessibility in areas under federal jurisdiction
across Canada.

The bill outlines how the Government of Canada will require organizations under federal jurisdiction to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility,
including in:

list of 6 items
• the built environment (buildings and public spaces);
• employment (job opportunities and employment policies and practices);
• information and communication technologies (digital content and technologies used to access it);
• the procurement of goods and services;
• the delivery of programs and services; and
• transportation (by air as well as by rail, ferry and bus carriers that operate across provincial, territorial or international borders).
list end

The Government of Canada is providing funding of approximately $290 million over six years that will further the objectives of the new legislation.

The act would strengthen the existing rights and protections for people with disabilities, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian
Human Rights Act and Canada’s approval of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It will do this through the development,
implementation and enforcement of accessibility standards, as well as the monitoring of outcomes in priority areas. These requirements will be enforced
by the new powers and enforcement measures needed to ensure compliance, and overall implementation will be monitored. No longer will Canadians with disabilities
be expected to fix the system through human rights complaints, instead, new proactive compliance measures will ensure that organizations under federal
jurisdiction are held accountable to ensuring accessible practices.

As the Government of Canada moves forward with the implementation of the proposed act, continued and meaningful participation by Canadians with disabilities
will be crucial towards realizing a barrier-free Canada.

The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO) will be Canada’s first-ever standards development organization exclusively dedicated
to accessibility issues and will be led by persons with disabilities.

In keeping with the objectives of the bill and respecting the Government’s approach to historic and modern treaties, we will also support the work of First
Nations leaders and communities to improve accessibility on reserve.

While this legislation is a significant first step in ensuring a barrier-free Canada for all Canadians, the Government of Canada will work collaboratively
with partners in both the public and private sectors to create opportunities for full participation by people with disabilities in their communities and
workplaces, and to help change the way society thinks, talks and acts about disability and accessibility.

Quotes
block quote
“Society benefits when all Canadians can fully participate. The proposed accessible Canada act represents the most important federal legislative advancement
of disability rights in Canada in over 30 years. Thank you to the many community leaders and advocates who have worked for years and decades to make this
happen. With the proposed act now in Parliament, we are one step closer to our goal: to have a truly inclusive and accessible Canada.”

– The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
block quote end

block quote
“Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone in improving accessibility for all Canadians. As a life-long advocate for disability rights and a person
living with a disability myself, I am proud to lead a portfolio tasked with enhancing accessibility in federal buildings and establishing an accessible
procurement resource centre. This important work will help ensure the goods and services purchased and offered by the Government of Canada are more accessible
for all Canadians.”

– The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement
block quote end

Quick facts
list of 4 items
• In 2012, approximately 14 percent of Canadians aged 15 years or older reported having a disability.

• Between 2011 and 2016, disability-related complaints represented just over half of all the discrimination complaints received by the Canadian Human Rights
Commission.

• The 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability indicates that there are approximately 412,000 people with disabilities who had the potential and willingness
to work, but who were unable to secure or retain employment.

• According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, 49 percent of people with disabilities aged 25 to 64 were employed, compared with 79 percent of
Canadians without disabilities.
list end

Related products
list of 4 items
• Summary of the accessible Canada act
• Backgrounder: Tabling the proposed Accessible Canada Act – Engagement
• Backgrounder: Accessible Government
• Backgrounder: Opportunities Fund enhancements support recruitment and retention of persons with disabilities
list end

Associated links
list of 2 items
• Accessible Canada
• What we learned report
list end
Twitter
Facebook
Website
Copyright © 2018 The Canadian Council of the Blind, All rights reserved.

 

Guest Post: Barrier Free Canada Press Release, June 22, 2018

Barrier Free Canada applauds the tabling of the Accessible Canada Act by the

Minister of Science, Sport, and Persons with Disabilities

OTTAWA (June 22, 2018) – Barrier Free Canada/Canada sans barrières (BFC/CSB)

is celebrating the introduction on Wednesday of the long-awaited federal

accessibility legislation, the Accessible Canada Act. It is hoped that the

legislation will help to make accessibility and inclusion a priority for all

federally-regulated and federally-funded organizations.

Over the past several years, BFC/CSB and a myriad of other charitable and

not-for-profit organizations have worked tirelessly holding consultations,

conducting research, and preparing recommendations and advisory reports to

inform the content of this federal legislation.

“Wednesday was a momentous day,” said Donna Jodhan, President and founder of

BFC/CSB. “Canadians with disabilities have long dreamt of the day when

accessibility and inclusion in government services would be clearly

mandated, and we are now one step closer to that full inclusion.”

In 2010, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of

Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), pledging to address the exclusion and

accessibility barriers that people with disabilities face in Canada. The

introduction of this legislation is a tangible step toward making this a

lived reality for Canadians with disabilities.

Legislation exists to protect the rights of Canadians with disabilities

within the federal sector, such as the Canadian Human Rights Code, the

Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the UNCRPD itself. But as Anthony Tibbs,

Treasurer of BFC/CSB and a lawyer with Merchant Law Group explained, “These

tools are reactive and provide remediation for people whose rights have been

denied – but only if the person is willing or able to fight through a court

process. What Canada needs, and what we hope this legislation will offer,

are proactive standards (and meaningful oversight) to prevent the

discrimination from happening and take the enforcement obligation off the

backs of the people who are meant to be protected.”

Jodhan added, “A few years ago I was forced to take the federal government

to Court because government web sites and online services were needlessly

inaccessible to me as a person who is blind. I hope that federal legislation

mandating accessibility will avoid anyone else having to repeat that

adventure in the future.”

BFC/CSB will be reviewing the proposed law in detail in preparation for

hearings anticipated to be held after parliament returns by the committees

tasked with reviewing the legislation.

BFC/CSB is a non-partisan not-for-profit organization that has been

advocating for legislation to ensure accessibility and inclusion for

Canadians with disabilities at both the federal and provincial levels for

more than five years.

# # #

For more information, write to info@barrierfreecanada.org or call Anthony

Tibbs (514-248-7777).

Accessibility Article: Why do gyms make things so difficult for blind people? The Guardian, Feb 26, 2018

 

Why do gyms make things so difficult for blind people?

 

When smartphones, TVs and even washing machines are set up for visually impaired people to use, why isn’t exercise equipment?

 

Amar Latif

 

The Guardian, Feb 26, 2018 07.00 GMT  Last modified on Mon 26 Feb 2018 12.18 GMT

 

If, like me, you want to keep fit and healthy, your first port of call is usually your local gym or health club. However, if, like me, you are also blind, keeping active can be a minefield of inaccessible technology, awkward conversations and frustrating barriers. And mine is hardly a rare issue:

more than two million people in Britain are living with sight loss, and the RNIB predicts this will double by 2050.

 

When I was four years old, doctors broke the news to my parents that by my mid-to-late teens, I would become incurably blind. I remember waking up one morning, aged 18, and not being able to see the poster at the end of my bed.

I was walking around crashing into things. By this time, my mother had already banned me from riding my bike – though that didn’t stop me – until I rode headfirst into a skip, somersaulted and landed in the rubbish. As I was flying through the air, I realised it was probably best to call time on my cycling career.

 

Throughout my life, I have had to learn to overcome barriers. People told me I couldn’t become an accountant because I was blind, but I ended up overseeing a team of sighted employees as a management accountant for BT.

People told me I couldn’t travel as a solo blind traveller, so I set up Traveleyes, a travel company that pairs up blind and sighted travellers to explore the world together. I lead a lot of these trips as a blind tour manager, often the more active and adventurous ones, so I need to keep fit.

If on a trip, I am going to be taking a group cycling for 50km or spending eight hours walking through the Bulgarian mountains, I need to be in good shape.

 

Exercise is therefore very important to me, as it is with so many of us. But it’s harder for blind and visually impaired (VI) people to walk and exercise freely; jogging in the park or cycling outdoors is impossible on your own.

That’s where gyms should come in. Sadly, however, they are often woefully inaccessible and can be daunting for those with sight loss. Let’s start with

equipment: exercise tech nowadays is incredibly advanced. All-singing, all-dancing machines can be found in most gyms and they track everything from heart rate to calories burned. Clearly, millions of pounds and thousands of hours have gone into their development and production. And yet it would appear that not a second thought has been given to users with sight loss. Touch screens, inaccessible buttons and lights are all commonplace.

Great for you light-dependent folk, but for us VIs, it’s a struggle.

 

‘It wouldn’t be hard to put some braille on the buttons.’

 

And there really is no excuse – all manner of tech these days, from iPhones to TVs, calculators to washing machines have accessibility built in, so why not exercise machines? It wouldn’t be hard to put some braille on the buttons or have a headphone slot or Bluetooth compatibility for audio, like on most cash machines. Indeed, the simplest solutions are often the best.

 

But the tech is just the start. Getting from one machine to another, selecting weights and getting proper instruction are all barriers for the blind gym-goer. Not to mention yoga, pilates and spin classes. My sister is taking legal action against her gym for not allowing her to take a class because of her blindness.

 

Lots of gyms offer a free pass to someone, usually a friend or relative, who can assist you during your workout. This is all well and good, but I can’t always find someone willing to come with me. It’s not fair on me, or my potential guide, to have to compromise on times and dates.

 

For me, exercising is a very personal thing. I like to listen to music and let my mind wander on a treadmill, or when lifting weights. According to the Royal College of Physicians, if you keep active, you are less likely to be depressed or anxious and more likely to feel good about yourself. And this can be even more pivotal for those with sight loss. A study in 2016 found that more than four in 10 people attending low-vision clinics had symptoms of clinical depression. But inaccessible hurdles leave lots of VI people unable to use the gym to its maximum potential. It’s no surprise that an RNIB survey in 2015 found that 31% of blind and partially sighted people felt moderately or completely cut off from people and things around them, and 50% felt they were frequently limited in the activities they could take part in. Yet nearly two-thirds said they would like to do more physical activity.

 

At Traveleyes, we are constantly busting myths about what blind people can do. From skiing in the Alps to climbing mountains, sailing and skydiving, we challenge these preconceptions. One initiative we use to help us achieve this is our international schools programme. We take students, aged from 14 to 17, from large schools across the world, and partner them up with our blind travellers to be their sighted guides. This gives them a first-hand experience of blindness, will help to challenge any stereotypical views they may have and hopefully take this experience into later life.

 

I’m stubborn, though. My philosophy is that if things aren’t accessible, don’t wait until they are. So I roll up my sleeves and work until I’m in a place where I can help change the system. When it comes to fitness, I often work out with a friend who is at a similar level to me, and I also work out at home – expensive equipment is all very well, but you can just add some weights or cardio to your routine.

 

Working out and keeping healthy works best when it’s also fun, so if you are struggling to keep to an exercise schedule, try something a little bit different, such as paddle boarding or boxing, or take part in a group activity or challenge, to give you that bit of motivation you need. We all live busy lives, but I learned that it is easier than you think to fit exercises into your daily routine. And if there are any gyms or health clubs out there that want pointers on how to be more accessible, or any VI people who want to talk about exercise, working out or keeping active, I am always happy to talk.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/26/why-do-gyms-make-things-so-difficult-for-blind-people?utm_source=Traveleyes+Newsletter&utm_campaign=3e9aee5391-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2b96ae54c9-3e9aee5391-137598537

 

Guest Post: Please Submit Your Access Stories Related to the British Columbia Guide and Service Dog Act, Canadian Federation of the Blind

Access Stories Related to the British Columbia Guide and Service Dog Act

 

From the time when the province of British Columbia first introduced Bill 17, which has now become the British Columbia Guide and Service Dog Act, the Canadian Federation of the Blind (along with other rights holders) has warned that some of its provisions would create access problems.  In particular, we warned that the emphasis on stopping members of the public from claiming that their pets are service dogs could lead to increased scrutiny of legitimate guide and service dog handlers.  We feared that the portion of the definition of “guide dog” that defines a guide dog as one that has been certified by the province would lead to a two tier system that would leave those from outside British Columbia unprotected.  We also raised the alarm about the stated intention to use a “graduated enforcement” strategy rather than a stringent implementation of applicable fines in cases of access denial.

 

This is a request for those of you who live in British Columbia, have visited the province, or know someone who has had difficulty because of the BC guide and service dog law.

 

We need your stories.  Because the provincial system for handling access issues has been so ineffective, government officials who need to know about problems with the new law aren’t being made aware of them.  If you’ve been asked to present identification before being allowed to access a public place or had service or access refusals, we need to know what happened, when it happened, and the end result.  Even if you were able to negotiate the issues successfully, the fact that you faced issues is extremely significant.  If you are from outside of British Columbia and were denied enforcement because you lack BC certification, we need to know that, too.  Your experience could help educate lawmakers about the unintended consequences of the British Columbia law.

 

You can write me at president@cfb.ca with your story.  If you have questions, phone me toll-free at (866) 670-0052.

 

Mary Ellen Gabias, President

Canadian Federation of the Blind

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting Summary Notes, October 29, 2016 and March 4, 2017

As you consider whether or not to participate in Saturday’s American presentation I offer you the questions and meeting summaries from our first two Canadian Tele Town Hall meetings.

 

Tele Town Hall Meeting Questions and Summary Notes:

First Meeting Questions, October 29th, 2016:

 

  1. In order to ensure that people who are blind, partially sighted or deaf/blind continue to have a strong voice in Canada, what do you think the national consumer movement should look like in the future?
  2. Canada is a small country in population. However, it is geographically quite large.  Would it be better in Canada to ensure that on a national level there is one organization of the blind working on projects and advocacy to help strengthen community activities provincially and locally?
  3. National, provincial and local organizations have tried working in coalitions. Are you aware of any activities that these coalitions have done?  Would you support a more formal working relationship between the existing national organizations of the blind?
  4. Why do you think the blindness community is so fragmented in its approach to advocacy and community activities?

 

Summary notes have been written and attached to this communication and are titled: Meeting Notes – #1 Final 2016Oct29.docx

 

Second Meeting Questions, March 4, 2017:

 

  1. How should service and advocacy organizations be transparent and accountable to the community?
  2. How do we engage individuals and organizations in the blindness community concerning our needs and rights in the broader Canadian Society?
  3. What specific actions can individuals and organizations take to promote transparency, integrity, accountability and respect?
  4. What should be included in Rules of Engagement that will govern ongoing collaboration in the blindness community?

 

Summary notes have been written and attached to this communication and are titled: Meeting Notes – #2 – Final 2017Mar04.docx

 

 

 

Guest Post: NAGDU Guide & Service Animal Advocacy & Information mobile app, by the National Association of Guide Dog Users, (NAGDU)

Hi GTT Participants.  Here’s a press release related to an app regarding Service Dog Legislation in Canada and the USA that Dog Guide users might want to have at their fingertips.  It is a project of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, (NAGDU) and it was recently updated to work with iOS 11, and an Android version will soon be released as well.  Read on, and if it’s of interest to you it will be found on the App Store by searching for the following:

 

NAGDU

 

Leading Guide Dog Users’ Membership & Advocacy Organization Releases New Mobile App

 

When the National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), a strong & proud division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), launched the NAGDU Guide & Service Animal Advocacy & Information mobile app in September 2014, it was hailed as an innovative ambitious project. This mobile app was the first to compile all the relevant state and federal service animal laws in the United States, along with associated guidance articles to help service animal users and businesses alike understand their rights and responsibilities. Over the past three years, this mobile app has been downloaded by nearly 5,000 iOS users and has been helpful in resolving numerous access issues across the country!

 

Now, with the advent of iOS 11 and with the input from hundreds of users, the National Association of Guide Dog Users is excited to announce the release of version 2.0 of the NAGDU Guide & Service Dog advocacy & Information mobile app for iOS and, by the end of September, its Android version. Here is what you will find in version 2.0:

 

  • Updated information on each state statute
  • The laws for each of the Canadian provinces
  • The ability to download the app from the Canadian app store
  • The complete regulations concerning service animals from the U.S. Department of Justice
  • Specific guidance for industries of concern to service dog users
  • Frequently Asked Questions to help these industries understand their rights & responsibilities
  • A direct email button to get more specific guidance & offer suggestions
  • A direct telephone connection to speak with a trained advocate
  • A more dynamic app with frequent updates
  • An Android version by September 30

 

“Those of us who use service dogs experience discrimination more frequently than most are aware,” says Marion Gwizdala, a guide dog user who serves as the NAGDU president. “We believe this new app will help guide & other service dog users better advocate for themselves, while providing accurate information to the general public and places of public accommodation so that instances of discrimination are resolved quickly and amicably!”

 

This incredible app is provided absolutely free as a public service by the National Association of Guide Dog Users and was created with the generous support of Aaron Cannon, a blind Software Accessibility Engineer and member of NAGDU. We also extend a special word of thanks to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center for the use of their legal research and information on state and provincial laws.  Before this announcement was even released, the app had been downloaded more than 1400 times! To download your free copy of this awesome mobile app, simply go to the App Store and type “NAGDU” in the search field; it’s that easy! Once you download the app, please browse through the information and send us your feedback. You can do this directly from the app by using the “send an email” feature. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you to raze the expectations of the blind in the United States so we can live the lives we want!

 

For more information about the National Association of Guide Dog Users or the National Federation of the blind, please visit the following websites:

 

National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU)

http://nagdu.org

 

National Federation of the Blind (NFB)

http://nfb.org

 

About NAGDU

 

The National Association of Guide dog Users is the nation’s leading membership and advocacy organization for blind people who use guide dogs.  NAGDU is a strong and proud division of the National Federation of the Blind. NAGDU conducts public awareness campaigns on issues of guide dog use, provides advocacy support for guide dog handlers who face discrimination, supports sound policy and effective legislation to protect the rights of guide dog users, offers educational programs to school and civic organizations, and functions as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind. For more information about the National Association of Guide Dog Users and to support our work, you can visit our website at <HTTP://WWW.NAGDU.ORG>, send an email message to <Info@NAGDU.ORG>, or call (813) 626-2789.

 

About the National Federation of the Blind

 

        The National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States. The NFB knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back.

        The Federation provides scholarships to blind students; support for those who are blind or losing their eyesight; advocacy for the blind facing discrimination; and educational programs for the general public on topics of blindness. The NFB is not an organization that speaks on behalf of the blind; we are the blind speaking for ourselves.

 

For more information about the National Federation of the Blind or to support our work, please visit <http://nfb.org> or call (410) 659-9314.

 

 

 

Marion Gwizdala, President

National Association of Guide Dog Users Inc. (NAGDU)

National Federation of the Blind

(813) 626-2789

President@NAGDU.ORG

 

 

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise expectations because low expectations create barriers between blind  people and our dreams. You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back.

RNIB: Factsheet for Employers and Employment Professionals; Guidance and good practice for Risk Assessors

Factsheet for employers and employment

professionals

Blind and partially sighted people at work

 – Guidance and good practice for Risk

Assessors

 

About this factsheet

 

This factsheet is for anyone who needs help with safety management in a place where blind or partially sighted people work. Blind and partially sighted people compete for, perform and succeed in a wide range of jobs. Many need little or no adjustment to their workplace or to working practices, and yet many employers worry about employing blind and partially sighted people, sometimes having concerns for their safety and for the safety of others.

 

This guidance has been compiled in consultation with: health and safety professionals; people in the workplace who assess the risks to employees; employers; and with blind and partially sighted people. We aim to help risk assessors by providing the information they need to reach decisions, and ensure a safe environment with safe working guidelines.

 

Contents:

 

  1. The need for Guidance
  2. Blind and partially sighted people at work
  3. The process of Risk Assessment
  4. Key points for Risk Assessment
  5. Common issues

 

5.1   Dealing with Guide Dogs

5.2   Mobility and travel

5.3   Lighting

5.4   Trip hazards

5.5   Lone working

5.6   Evacuating the building

5.7   Stairs

5.8   Safe use of computer systems

5.9   Machinery

5.10 Caring for others

 

  1. References
  2. Sources of help and further information

 

 

1. The need for guidance

 

Carrying out a risk assessment of the workplace or an activity for blind or partially sighted people doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can sometimes be a daunting prospect. If you haven’t worked with blind people before, it can be very easy to over-estimate risks or make assumptions about what blind people can or can’t do.

 

People who risk assess the workplaces and activities of blind and partially sighted people, looking for advice, often approach RNIB. While we are aware that mistakes can be made, we also know that risks can be managed successfully and we want to share good practice.

 

This guidance has been produced to highlight some of the things that we’re often asked about, share examples of successful risk management and suggest sources of help.

 

We are also aware that risk assessment, or health and safety in general, has been used as an excuse not to employ blind and partially sighted people (Hurstfield et al, 2003). We hope that the guidance we have put together will help to overcome unnecessary barriers.

 

Most importantly, we hope that this guidance helps you to reach informed decisions and, in so doing, ensures that blind and partially sighted people can continue to work effectively and safely.

 

 

2. Blind and partially sighted people at work

 

In the middle of the last century, blind people were encouraged to work in specific occupations. These included jobs as switchboard operators, masseurs, piano tuners and even basket weavers.

 

Things have changed quite considerably and blind and partially sighted people now succeed in a range of jobs across different sectors. “This IS Working 2” (RNIB, 2009), gave examples of ten people working as: a company director, senior physiotherapist, sales and marketing manager, shop owner, policy officer, development and funding officer, teacher, administrative assistant, and outreach worker. A copy of this document, which includes testimonials from employers, can be fond here: http://www.rnib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss/working/successstories/Pages/success_stories.aspx

 

Blind people do succeed at work. When safety management works well, we know that all employees, including blind and partially sighted people, can work safely.

 

 

3. The process of risk assessment

 

Employers are required by law to manage health and safety in the workplace. Each organisation will have their own ways of doing this and the roles of individual risk assessors can be different.

 

This document does not deal with the mechanics of undertaking and recording risk assessments. The principles are the same for everyone, but guidance is already available on dealing with “disability” in relation to safety management. See, for example, ‘Health and Safety for Disabled People and Their Employers (Health and Safety Executive and DRC).

 

IOSH, the Chartered body for health and safety professionals, offers advice on their website about the responsibilities that the Equality Act imposes on those who manage safety.

 

They specifically suggest that:

 

  • the Equality Act has an effect on the way you
  • manage safety.
  • while you may be able to use health and safety issues related to disability as a reason not to employ someone – or to refuse a service to someone – you can only do so if certain conditions are met.
  • if the safety of a task may be affected by someone’s disability, then a risk assessment should be carried out for everyone, not just for disabled employees.
  • if you don’t document the steps you’ve taken to consult disabled workers or customers, and to make reasonable adjustments, your organisation could be involved in an expensive tribunal case.

 

This factsheet will focus on how risk assessment can affect blind and partially sighted people at work.

 

 

4. Key points for risk assessment

 

In general, the following points will help to shape your risk assessments:

 

4.1 Risk assessments should address a task and everyone

involved

 

Whilst the legislation requires employers to identify groups that might be at risk of harm, telling someone that “you must be risk assessed” sends out a negative message. In a way, it suggests that the individual is the issue, when this is clearly not the case. It sounds much more positive to tell someone that activities are being assessed.

 

4.2 The individuals involved must be consulted

 

The Health and Safety Executive’s “Five Steps to Risk Assessment” recommends that: ‘In all cases, you should make sure that you involve your staff or their representatives in the process. They will have useful information about how the work is done that will make your assessment of the risk more thorough and effective.’

 

Your blind or partially sighted employee is usually the best person to describe how their sight loss affects them and you should be able to tap in to that knowledge. Risk assessments carried out without the involvement of blind and partially sighted employees are significantly more likely to be inaccurate.

 

4.3 “Adjustments” must be considered as part of the process

 

Employers have a responsibility to make “reasonable adjustments” to working practices and physical features. This is likely to include the provision of auxiliary aids. While this might be beyond your area of responsibility as a risk assessor, you must be prepared to take proposed changes into account.

 

4.4 It is important that you do not make assumptions about

the level of someone’s functional vision

 

Most blind people have some useful vision. Some people will be able to see fine detail, while some may have very good peripheral vision. Even people with the same eye condition can have widely different levels of useful sight.

 

Employers often ask for medical guidance to help understand what people can or can’t see. However, this is often presented in medical terms and is usually lacking an occupational focus.

 

Asking the individual to describe their sight is often the best way to gather information to assess risk. Professionals who work with blind and partially sighted people at work can be another source of information. Making assumptions about what people can and can’t see will produce flawed risk assessments.

 

 

5. Common issues

 

Employers often contact RNIB to ask for advice about specific worries they have about the safety of a blind or partially sighted colleague. Things we have been asked about include:

 

5.1 Guide Dogs at work

 

Guide dogs are one example of an aid to mobility. However, it has been estimated that as few as one or two per cent of blind or partially sighted people use guide dogs to get around. It is therefore important that you don’t assume that people either use guide dogs, or choose to bring them to work.

 

Having said that, if an employee brings a guide dog to work, proper planning is required to ensure that things run smoothly.

 

We have been asked about accommodating guide dogs at work and, in most cases, working practices can be adopted to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment.

 

Some of the common questions revolve around:

 

Toileting – a suitable area must be identified for the guide dog. While in some places there are very obvious locations for this, some companies (particularly in town centres) find this difficult.

 

Moving around building – the extent to which a blind person uses a guide dog once at their workstation will vary, depending on the person’s other mobility skills and knowledge of the environment. It is important that the guide dog user is aware of his or her responsibilities. Working rules should be established. These could include where the dog goes when not “on harness” or how often breaks are required.

 

Induction/emergency procedures – it may be necessary to review your evacuation plans. There may already be a structure in place (such as personal emergency evacuation plans) to facilitate this within your organisation. Standard instructions, such as those issued during induction should be available in the correct format for the employee to read.

 

Colleagues – the extent to which colleagues interact with guide dog users is likely to vary. There are both positive and negatives to this. For example, colleagues can distract a working dog, or alternatively can assist with “walking” the dog. Colleagues may need to be told of their responsibilities.  For example, they may need to know when it might be appropriate to play with or to walk the dog, or to know when the dog is working.

 

Allergy/Fear of dogs/cultural influences – Some thought may need to be given to where guide dogs are based while people are working to allay concerns.

 

If in any doubt about any aspect of working with Guide Dogs, representatives from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association will want to help you with this.

 

5.2 Mobility and travel

 

When considering potential risks involved in travelling, it is important to bear in mind that most blind or partially sighted people will travel easily with no problems. Some may need support.

 

Blind and partially sighted people have varying levels of sight and particular eye conditions affect sight in different ways. We can’t assume that people with the same eye condition are affected in the same way, as people with the same eye condition often see the world in entirely different ways. Familiarity with the area and environmental factors, such as lighting, are other things that can affect someone’s mobility.

 

Additionally, people adjust to sight loss in different ways. It is safe to say that the mobility skills of blind and partially sighted people vary considerably.  Some people travel independently, while others use mobility aids or support from others to travel.

 

It probably goes without saying that an individual should be consulted when considering potential risks with travel. It is also good practice to ensure that any concerns about mobility are kept in perspective – issues should not be allowed to be blown out of proportion.

 

If an individual is looking for mobility support for specific parts of their travel, two agencies might be able to help.

 

In each local authority area, there are mobility specialists, sometimes known as rehabilitation workers, who can teach people how to use mobility aids and help them learn to navigate routes. They either work for the local authority social work team, or the organisation that holds the register of blind and partially sighted people.

 

The Access to Work programme supports people at work and individuals can apply for financial assistance to travel to and from work and within work. The Access to Work programme can only cover the additional costs of travelling to meet disability-related and it is not intended to replace the standard costs involved in business use.

 

5.3 Lighting

 

Both the quality and quantity of lighting has a significant impact on all working environments. For some people, it can help to create a comfortable workplace. For others, lighting can pose a barrier to effective working.

 

Guidance on lighting levels tends to be either general, aimed at a technical audience, or individual, based on one person’s experience. For example, Building Site (1995), suggests that light levels are crucial. It suggests that lux levels (a measure of luminance) for blind and partially sighted people should be 25 per cent to 50 per cent above the “general” level.

 

The difficulty with such generalised recommendations is that individual blind and partially sighted people have very different needs. Increasing the general “background” lighting levels might not necessarily make a working environment safer or more comfortable.

 

For some people, increasing background light would be helpful. But it might be more effective to introduce additional light sources, rather than make the existing fittings brighter. This is particularly true if units can be switched on and off to allow more control over lux levels.

 

Other people find it difficult to work with high levels of lighting and prefer a darker working environment.

 

As well as the amount of light, the source of light is also an important factor.   Many people find that natural light is best. This can mean that making the best of light from windows is preferable to using electric lighting. Similarly, some people find that light fittings emulating natural light (daylight bulbs) are very effective.

 

The key to resolving lighting issues is to talk to the people involved and call in specialists where necessary. Sometimes simple changes can make a huge difference to a working environment. At other times, more work is required to strike a balance between the needs of one individual among a group of other employees.

 

5.4 Trip hazards

 

Research suggests that blind and partially sighted people are more likely to trip than sighted people (Legood et al, 2009). Yet, when we introduce controls to reduce risk, it is very important to keep a sense of perspective. Introducing “no-go” areas, such as stairs or in specific areas you perceive as dangerous, can be discriminatory. It is very unlikely that the only way to manage potential trip hazards is to exclude people from certain areas, as other alternative steps can be taken to reduce risk. Most blind and partially sighted people can navigate around buildings and other workplaces. If you feel strongly that there are parts of a workplace that are not safe, you should seek advice.

 

5.5 Lone working

 

Working alone is an integral part of many jobs. Whether this involves visiting customers at home, working from other premises, travelling either locally or more widely or working at home.

 

Lone working is an area that often raises concerns for employers. But while there may be occasions when a blind or partially sighted person is exposed to risk, these risks are often no greater than a sighted colleague would face.

 

It is very easy to make assumptions about potential dangers and introduce unnecessary risk controls. And yet, very many blind or partially sighted people work successfully and safely on their own, sometimes in challenging environments.

 

Considering risks

 

It is important to consider how an individual is affected by sight loss.  Some people travel independently and confidently. Others look for support, particularly in unfamiliar environments.

 

Some employers have found it helpful to consider the extent of an individual’s sight loss. Having an understanding of what a person can or cannot see can make it easier to discuss risks. Medical “evidence” is not likely to help with this. A diagnosis does not usually describe the extent of functional vision.  Most of the time, your blind or partially sighted employee is the best person to describe this to you.

 

Minimising risk

 

Your starting point for managing risks should be the systems you already have in place for your lone workers. Your local working practices must be robust and comprehensive, so that the work of all of your lone-working employees is covered. Your blind or partially sighted employee is no different in this respect.

 

5.6 Evacuating the building

 

Most blind and partially sighted people will understand the need for plans to deal with unexpected evacuations, for example, in the case of fire.   Employers generally deal with evacuation routes, procedures and assembly points during an employee’s induction period.

 

It is important to ensure that written evacuation procedures are available in different formats during induction. For example, having a Word version of the procedures available will allow most users of access technology to read them.

 

Some blind or partially sighted people would welcome the chance to familiarise themselves with the main routes and practise leaving the building by emergency exits. This could be arranged with their line manager when starting work.

 

If a blind or partially sighted person is finding it difficult to learn routes and needs some support, it may be appropriate to allocate a “buddy” to assist with evacuation until routes are learned.

 

Further information can be found in the publication “Fire Safety Risk Assessment: Means of Escape for Disabled People”, Department of Communities and Local Government, 2007.

 

5.7 Stairs

 

While risk assessing the use of stairs, your starting point should be to assume that blind and partially sighted people are subject to the same risks as any other employee. Therefore, any steps you might take to reduce risk apply to all employees.

 

If you believe that there are risks to stair users, you may want to consider the following extracts form Building Sight:

 

“Lighting on stairs should be sufficient to highlight any obstructions on the flight of the stairs, but should highlight the treads as opposed to the risers to emphasise each step.  It is very important that ceiling-mounted luminaires do not become a glare source – they should be well shielded. Alternatively, large-area, low-brightness sources can be mounted on a side or facing wall.”

 

“The stair covering should not have a pattern that can cause confusion between tread and riser or between one tread and another.”

 

It is worth pointing out that making physical changes of this type may be the responsibility of your landlord, but this does not mean that you shouldn’t raise the issues with them.

 

5.8 Safe use of computer systems

 

Employers are required to “analyse workstations, and assess and reduce risks. Employers need to look at the whole workstation including equipment, furniture, and the work environment; the job being done; and any special needs of individual staff. The regulations apply where staff habitually use display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work.” (HSE, 2006).

 

It is entirely likely, then, that the needs of blind and partially sighted people will be highlighted as part of a general risk assessment of display screen equipment.

 

In addition to this, employees will often highlight difficulties in using computer systems related to their sight. Unless the individual has a good idea of their requirements, it is usually a good idea to seek specialist advice. RNIB or Action for Blind People offices will be able to recommend ways to make it easier to change the way screens look, or alternative ways of accessing screen content.

 

 

5.9  Machinery

 

Employers often have legitimate concerns about blind or partially sighted people operating power tools, hand tools or other machinery such as grass cutting or gardening power tools.

 

There will be times when you will need to eliminate risk by specifying tools that should not be used at work.
However, it is very important to discuss with an individual exactly how their sight restricts them and how real the risks are. Bear in mind that some new employees may underplay any difficulties as they may have had negative experiences with past employers.

 

Another factor to take into account is the environment in which people will be working. If you can control the immediate work area, machinery can be made safe to use. For example, in a factory, machines can be fitted with guards and walkways restricted to improve the safety of the work environment. If you are in doubt, ask for advice.

 

5.10 Caring for others

 

Many blind and partially sighted people work in jobs where they provide social care services. This can include working in nurseries, care homes and delivering community services.

 

As you would expect, the generic risk assessments carried out to cover the working routines of care workers are often sufficient to ensure a safe working environment for blind and partially sighted people.

 

However, employers sometimes have concerns about certain aspects of working that could be perceived as dangerous. These could include, for example:

 

 

Reading facial expressions to predict behaviour:

 

This is a contentious issue. The vast majority of blind or partially sighted people will be able to read facial expressions, but some will find it difficult or impossible. Logically, this could suggest that a blind person may be at higher risk of sudden changes in behaviour.

 

However, there is a considerable body of research that shows how people are able to perceive mood or feelings from verbal communication only. So the extent of the risk involved is not at all clear.

 

Reducing risk in this situation calls for a balanced judgement based on an understanding of an individual’s sight and the requirements of the job.

 

Missing visual cues, such as evidence of substance misuse or

concealed weapons:

 

Potential hazards of this kind could be addressed by adopting working practices that apply to all employees. This could include ensuring that thorough background information is obtained with referrals. Additionally, initial assessments of the individual customers should cover the likelihood of issues arising. There may be situations where it is safer for people to work in pairs.

 

Reading correspondence while visiting customers:

 

In some jobs, workers may be required to read forms or letters when visiting people in their homes or other settings. Generally, this can be overcome by using access technology, such as portable video magnifiers or scanners.

 

Perceived difficulties dealing with children:

 

Nurseries, after school clubs and similar establishments that provide childcare services have well-developed risk management systems in place. If a blind or partially sighted person starts work, the working practices in place are often robust enough to ensure safe working.

 

Occasionally, parents have concerns about blind or partially sighted people caring for their children. Concerns could include tripping, not seeing children putting things in their mouths, escorting children in the local area or identifying parents when children are collected.

 

In your role as a risk assessor, you should discuss concerns with the individual to establish whether any of these concerns are genuine and if so how they could be minimised. For example, another worker could check the identity of parents collecting children.

 

It is really important that the concerns of parents are not confused with actual risk.

 

 

6. References

 

‘Building Sight: A handbook of building and interior design solutions to include the needs of visually impaired people’, P Barker, J Barrick and R Wilson, London HMSO in Association with RNIB, 1995

 

‘Fire Safety Risk Assessment: Means of Escape for Disabled People’, Department of Communities and Local Government, 2007

 

‘Five Steps to Risk Assessment’, Health and Safety Executive

 

‘Health and Safety for Disabled People and Their Employers’, HSE and DRC

 

J Hurstfield et al, ‘The extent of use of health and safety as a false excuse for not employing sick or disabled persons’, research report 167, HRC/DRC, 2003

 

JMU Access Partnership, Fact Sheet 24 – Lighting

 

Legood R, Scuffham PA and Cryer C, “Are we blind to injuries in the visually impaired?  A review of the literature”, June 2009

 

RNIB and Thomas Pocklington Trust, ‘Make the most of your sight, Improve the lighting in your home”, RNIB and Thomas Pocklington Trust, 2009

 

‘This is Working 2’, RNIB, October 2009

 

‘Working with VDUs’, HSE leaflet INDG36(rev3), revised 12/06

 

 

7. Sources of help and further information

 

7.1 RNIB and Action for Blind People

 

Employment services for employers

 

We can help you retain a current employee who is losing their sight, and we can help you to take on someone who is visually impaired.

 

Advances in technology mean that visually impaired people can now overcome many of the barriers to work that they faced in the past, and government schemes like Access to Work mean that many of the costs can be met.

 

We provide a number of services that can be directly commissioned by employers. These include:

 

  • Work-based assessments – a visit to a workplace, by one of our specialists, to evaluate the potential for equipment, software, and adjustments that would better allow an employee to fulfil their role.
  • 1 to 1 access technology training. Our technology specialists can visit your workplace and provide training tailored to suit your employee’s needs.
  • Visual and disability awareness training.

 

For further information about any of these services, please contact us via our website or directly via our employment services mailbox:

 

Web site: www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices

 

Email: employmentservices@rnib.org.uk

 

Employment factsheets

 

We currently produce the following factsheets for employers and employment professionals:

 

  • Access to Work
  • RNIB work-based assessment services
  • Blind and partially sighted people at work – Guidance and good practice for Risk Assessors
  • Testing the compatibility of access software and IT applications
  • Guidelines on meeting the needs of visually impaired delegates on training courses

 

In addition to this you may like to check out our ‘This IS Working’ documents, which showcase blind and partially sighted people working in a range of occupations, and include testimonials from employers, as well as our ‘Vocational rehabilitation’ document, which sets out the business case for retaining newly disabled staff.

 

All of these factsheets and documents can be found in the employment professionals section of our website www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices which also contains the latest research in the field, as well as information on IT and accessibility, the Equality Act, success stories, and more.

 

We also produce a number of factsheets aimed at blind and partially sighted people, on a range of employment related issues. These can be found at www.rnib.org.uk/employment

 

RNIB Helpline

 

The RNIB Helpline can refer you to an employment specialist for further advice and guidance. RNIB Helpline can also help you by providing information and advice on a range of topics, such as eye health, the latest products, leisure opportunities, benefits advice and emotional support.

 

Call the Helpline team on 0303 123 9999 or email helpline@rnib.org.uk

 

7.2 Access to Work

 

Access to Work is a scheme run by Jobcentre Plus. The scheme provides advice, grant funding, and practical support to disabled people and employers to help overcome work related obstacles resulting from a disability. Read our Access to Work factsheet, or visit the Access to Work pages at www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices to learn more about qualifying for the scheme. Further details are also available at www.directgov.uk

 

7.3 Guide Dogs

 

The best place to find out information relating to guide dogs. Visit: www.guidedogs.org.uk

 

7.4 The Health and Safety Executive

 

HSE is responsible for enforcing health and safety at workplaces. Visit: www.hse.gov.uk

 

7.5 Equality and Human Rights Commission

 

The Equality and Human Rights commission have a statutory remit to promote and monitor human rights; and to protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine “protected” grounds – age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. The website includes a section on employment.

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/

 

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/your-rights/disability/disability-in-employment/

 

Factsheet updated: April 2013