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How to buy a hamburger without losing your self-esteem: bluetooth beacon technology in Toronto

By Mel Poluck.

When the CNIB (formerly the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) opened its community hub last summer in Yonge St., Toronto, it set its ambitions high.

“We moved in, sat down and thought ‘how can we make this neighbourhood the most accessible in Canada?’” says CNIB’s Kat Clarke, Specialist Lead (Toronto), Advocacy and Government Relations (Ontario).

“The closest intersection to us wasn’t accessible, so we advocated to the [local council] to make it more accessible, which they’ve done,” says Clarke.

Now, a CNIB pilot aims to take local accessibility a step further using simple technology. ‘ShopTalk: BlindSquare Enabled’, allows blind and visually impaired people to find their way around the interiors of shops, cafés and other businesses in the neighbourhood via an app on their phone.

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Conquering the website accessibility divide

By Donna Jodhan.

There is the digital divide and then there is the technology divide. Now I’d like to add the website accessibility divide to this list.

The ‘website accessibility divide’ refers to those of us who are unable to access websites due to navigable and usability reasons, versus those who do not have any difficulty accessing websites.

The former group often describes those of us who are visually impaired, and for me, as one who falls into this category, I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in my personal life whenever I am unable to do things such as: access information independently and in privacy; complete forms on my own; request information without having to ask for sighted help; download and read documents without having to ask for sighted assistance; read content on a website on my own.

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Accessible elections in Canada: Declaration of independence

In late 2013 the Canadian national elections agency Elections Canada formed an Advisory Group on Disability Issues, and I was invited to be a member. Initiatives the agency is working on include ensuring election staff are trained to meet the needs of voters with a disability; developing a Braille template to help Blind and partially-sighted voters; ensuring that voters with a disability can vote more independently and with greater privacy; and monitoring progress and how initiatives are being implemented.

This month, citizens in Toronto tested out some of these principles as they made a trip to the polls – their third in about five months – to vote for a new mayor; their local councillor; and a school board trustee in their area.

This time however, things were quite a bit different for voters with disabilities, as we were able to use a new “voter access terminal” allowing people with a disability to vote independently.

As a Blind voter, I was extremely excited about this new development as it gave me the opportunity to take my time when voting and I was able to do it without having to depend on a returning officer to help me.

I was able to take my headphones along and plug them into the terminal’s jack. There were several well defined buttons that were easy to distinguish, enabling one to review the list of names for each category; make repeated reviews; select a candidate for each position; and confirm one’s choice.

So in short, I was able to sit in front of this new voter access machine, fetch a list of candidates, make my choice from this list and then submit my choice. I also had the choice not to vote for anyone if I so chose.

The voice on this terminal was extremely clear and distinct and the beauty about it all is that I as a blind person was able to vote in private without anyone knowing whom I have voted for and at the end of it all I was able to remove my own ballot from the terminal’s output tray and place it myself into the ballot box.

Easy as anything, and a terrific invention: now let us see if this terminal will be able to make its way up the ladder to provincial and federal elections. Some time during the course of 2015, Canada will once more be going to the polls to elect a new federal government, and Elections Canada has already indicated that we can look forward to some important changes when it comes to improved accessibility for these elections as well.

I believe that if countries are truly serious about wanting persons with disabilities to be an active part of their voting population then it is vitally important for meaningful dialogue to take place between the governmental body in charge of the running of elections and a representative segment of organisations for and of those with disabilities. We should never assume that governments would naturally know how to proceed in a matter such as this and it is up to voters with disabilities to speak up in a meaningful way.

NOTE: Donna Jodhan is an accessibility and special needs business consultant and author.

Election access at heart of Canadian disability law campaign

The removal of barriers to voting and elections is among key principles of a new Canadians With Disabilities Act which a group of Canadian disability rights advocates is urging all the country’s main political parties to pledge to pass, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The campaign is spearheaded by a group of five leading disability campaigners led by Donna Jodhan, who in 2012 won a six-year legal battle to force the Canadian government to make its websites more accessible (see E-Access Bulletin September 2013). Other members of the “Barrier-free Canada steering committee” are Steven Christianson, advocacy manager at baby health charity March of Dimes; David Lepofsky, a law professor at University of Toronto; Jutta Treviranus, director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at Ontario College of Art & Design; and Marc Workman of the Canadian national blindness charity CNIB.

The group is urging all parties to support the principles behind passing a new law ahead of national elections set for October next year. “We believe more work is needed to ensure the rights of Canadians with disabilities remain intact”, Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin this week. “Web accessibility is just one component of our landscape and if we hope to become an equal partner in society then other rights need to be respected and preserved. We need to have equity with the mainstream world.”

The group has drawn up a list of 14 principles for the new law, which would echo the US Americans with Disabilities Act.

These include that it “should require providers… to ensure that their goods, services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities”; that the government of Canada should lead other sectors in achieving the aims of the new law; and that it should provide for a “prompt, independent and effective process for enforcement”.

The law should also require the government to review all current and future federal legislation and regulations to identify possible accessibility barriers that they may impose or permit, pass new legislation to address these barriers, the principles state. “As an immediate priority under these activities, the Government of Canada should get input from voters with disabilities on accessibility barriers in election campaigns and the voting process, and should develop reforms to remove and prevent such barriers.”

The final principle says: “The Canadians with Disabilities Act must be more than mere window dressing… It must have real force, effect and teeth.”