First Reference Talks
Happy 2014! Well, it will be if you start preparing your multi-year accessibility plan under the AODA now
January 24, 2013
It’s January once again—another new year—2013! So, that means it’s time to think about January 2014! Businesses know as well as people how quickly a new year can arrive—along with the new obligations that go along with it. In this case, I’m talking about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and multi-year accessibility plans to meet the requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. Large organizations—those with 50 or more employees—must comply by 2014.
The regulation says large organizations with 50 or more employees must:
- Establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan, which outlines the organization’s strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet its requirements under this regulation;
- Post the accessibility plan on their website, if any, and provide the plan in an accessible format upon request; and
- Review and update the accessibility plan at least once every five years.
Remember, the integrated regulation includes standards on information and communications, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces.
Although an organization with fewer than 50 employees does not have to prepare a multi-year accessibility plan, it is a good practice to develop a multi-year plan so your organization has a clear strategy on how it intends to implement the requirements of the Integrated Regulation.
Want to go out for dinner, but aren’t sure which restaurants can accommodate your mobility aid? Or maybe you’re looking for a theatre that offers assisted listening devices? Several new online tools have been launched in the past year that can help.
The Rick Hansen Global Accessibility Map (GAM) allows anyone to submit reviews and rate restaurants, theatres, stores, workplaces, and other buildings and public places, in a similar manner as travel websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor. The key difference with GAM is that users can rate these places on a scale of 1 to 5 from a perspective of mobility, hearing or sight. These reviews and ratings are plotted onto an easy to use map and can then be searched for based on location, categories such as restaurants, hotels, or museums, or by accessibility type (mobility, sight and hearing). While the GAM currently features ratings and reviews primarily from Canada, selected ratings are also available from attractions around the world such as the London Eye and the Louvre. Traditional web and mobile device versions of the GAM are available.
Another alternative is Wheelmap, which features 216657 places at the time of writing. In contrast to the GAM, however, Wheelmap currently focuses entirely on wheelchair accessible places. Users can rate accessibility based on three simple levels: yes, limited, or no, and can perform searches in a similar manner as the GAM. One particularly useful Wheelmap feature for public transit riders is the availability of accessibility ratings for public transit stops and stations. Wheelmap can be used through their website or through Android and iPhone apps.
A third site is Rollsquare, which is similar to Wheelmap and also focuses on wheelchair users. While Rollsquare currently only contains reviews for several (mostly) European cities, the developers of Rollsquare have indicated they are open to adding new cities in the future.
Do you know of any other innovative accessible web apps like these? Follow us on Twitter @SPHAccess and let us know!
Inaccessible sidewalks are a significant barrier for people with disabilities. People who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters face rough rides when sidewalks are cracked and broken; in winter when snow and ice make some sidewalks impassible for wheeled devices; and especially when intersections lack curb ramps, which can make sidewalks completely inaccessible.
Sidewalks in disrepair are not just an issue for people with mobility devices, but for anyone walking down the street as well. It was reported recently in the Toronto Star that a simple cracked curb on King Street in Downtown Toronto, was responsible for a senior falling and breaking her wrist, necessitating months of painful recovery.
The situation is worse in suburban communities which often have inconsistent or completely missing sidewalks, forcing users to either share space with vehicles or attempt to navigate areas of grass or shoulders adjacent to the road that are not intended for pedestrians, let alone pedestrians with disabilities. However, adding sidewalks to streets that don’t currently have them is not as simple as it sounds. Residents of Scarborough’s Chine Drive have been fighting a proposal to construct a sidewalk on their street as part of a general street refurbishment project, even though it would provide easier access to a neighbourhood school for children in the surrounding community. Many of these children are currently driven to school due to the lack of sidewalks.
Looking abroad, the City of Los Angeles faces far greater sidewalk troubles: the city currently estimates that 42% of its 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in disrepair, with an estimated cost of $1.5 billion to repair and bring these sidewalks up to modern accessibility standards, including curb ramps at intersections. In addition, the City is currently facing four civil rights lawsuits that have been filed for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
People with vision loss also face barriers when street intersections lack tactile walking surface indicators at sidewalk curb ramps or are not equipped with audible pedestrian signals. In Kitchener, ON, pedestrians with vision loss have argued that they are at risk due to the location of pedestrian crossings at roundabouts, as there is no way for them to tell when it’s safe to cross the street. Traffic experts have argued that while moving the crosswalks to be outside the roundabouts would make crossing the streets easier for people with vision loss, that they would actually put other pedestrians at greater risk.
One potential solution for people with vision loss is a new smartphone application currently being developed at the University of Minnesota. The application is able to tell users with vision loss which direction they are heading, what street they are on, how many vehicle lanes they have to cross at intersections, and also allows users to request a walk signal simply by pushing a button on the phone by tying into existing Accessible Pedestrian Signals.
Advances in technology are changing the lives of people with disabilities, including people with autism. Recently, a “hackathon” was held where smartphone app developers created over 400 ideas for new applications to assist people with autism, ranging from apps that help teach life skills to others that help students with autism visualize information in different ways. Other smartphone apps have also been in the news recently, to help people with disabilities use these now ubiquitous devices.
However, not all autism technological advances are via smartphone. Researchers at the University of Victoria have developed a new software program called FaceMaze, a game which aims to help children with autism improve their facial recognition skills and learn to “speak” the language of smiles and frowns. In the game, children must match their facial expressions with the ones shown on virtual characters on the screen in order to advance through the game. The goal is to help children with autism learn how to participate in and react to social situations, and so far in clinical trials it seems to be working, with improvement found after only 20 hours of game play.
For more information about FaceMaze, or if your child is interested in participating, visit: http://web.uvic.ca/~carte/research.html
Smartphones, such as Android-powered devices, iPhones, and Blackberry’s, have become ubiquitous over the past few years. These phones, which typically embrace large touch screens over physical buttons and keyboards, are now replacing traditional cell phones, having accounted for 1/3 of all phones sold this summer. But what about people with disabilities, whether visual, auditory, or others? Can a person with a visual disability use an iPhone, despite the lack of a physical keyboard? Or how about a user with limited dexterity who cannot easily move their fingers around a touch screen, especially when completing an action like zooming in and out on a webpage typically requires the use of more than one finger? The answer is a resounding yes, they can!
The latest generations of smartphones, such as the new Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” devices, Apple’s iPhone series, and BlackBerry's all come with accessibility features built in. For example, iPhones let you turn the screen off entirely and navigate by touching the screen and receiving voice feedback, or navigating entirely by using voice control. Android 4.0 has a similar feature that lets users slide their fingers across the screen while providing voice feedback. A wide range of accessibility features for BlackBerry phones are also available, including everything from customizable notification vibrations to support for TTY devices.
Other options like magnification and different contrast settings are readily available for smartphones. For users with limited dexterity, Apple’s AssistiveTouch software lets you replace gestures (pinching with two fingers to zoom in, etc.), shaking the phone to undo typing, and other physical buttons (volume up and down, power off, etc), with a finger or stylus tap on the screen. Third party applications (“app”) are also readily available to solve problems for users with various disabilities. One example is an app that scans barcodes on products and reads the product name back to the user.
Software developers are just getting started on creating new and innovative ways for users with disabilities to use their smartphones. As these devices become even more popular, it will be interesting to see how accessible smartphones continue to evolve over the coming years.
When the topic of accessibility is discussed in the news, many people automatically think of wheelchairs and accessibility measures specifically to improve physical accessibility, such as ramps, curb cuts, and elevators, while other forms of disabilities are often overlooked. Many organizations are, however, beginning to take steps to improve accessibility for the millions of people with other disabilities. For example, as the baby boomer generation ages, measures are beginning to be implemented for the increasing numbers of Canadians over the age of 65 with hearing loss.
One accessibility technology that is beginning to take hold in Canada and the U.S. to help people with hearing loss is the hearing loop. Already common in the U.K., hearing loops take sound directly from a microphone or speaker and radiate it in a way that people with hearing aids and cochlear implants can easily pick up. Common applications are ticket counters, transit stations, and theatre auditoriums. Other common places where hearing loops are being implemented include churches, as they enable parishioners to easily hear sermons and music. In Canada, GO Transit is installing hearing loops at its ticket counters at Toronto's Union Station while in the U.S, one notable example of a large-scale hearing loop installation is in the New York subway system, where ticket booths at 500 stations are currently being outfitted with hearing loops. With hearing aids becoming increasingly compatible with hearing loop technology, hearing loops will likely become a "must have" in Canada, much like they already are in the U.K.
One of the most challenging disabilities to accommodate when designing the built environment is autism, especially when it comes to designing schools specifically for individuals with autism. Arch Daily found that no one is entirely sure whether the best way to accommodate individuals with autism is to design environments with subdued colours, little natural light, small spaces, low ceilings, or if in fact the exact opposite is true, and we should design large spaces, featuring plenty of natural light and high ceilings. No studies have yet been done to compare these two approaches, and so architects continue to debate the merits of each method.
Others are taking autism research in a different direction, by using technology to try and help people with autism. Researchers at the University of Southern California have recently found that robots can greatly assist in making emotional connections with children with autism, who often tend to have trouble interacting with humans. Also in California, software developers gathered recently at a "hackathon," which was held to help create new computer and smartphone applications specifically for people with autism. The end result was 421 different ideas for applications that aim to "give people with autism a voice" by helping people with autism learn or solve daily issues that they may have, such as basic tutorials on brushing teeth.
While the Ontario government has been developing and implementing new standards under the AODA, other organizations are proceeding to make advances in the way legislation is developed to address accessibility issues. Currently, the Law Commission of Ontario is developing a framework to evaluate both new and existing laws, policies, and procedures to ensure that they consider people with disabilities and promote positive outcomes, and do not create new accessibility barriers. A draft report has been released and responses from the public are being solicited until November 25, 2011.
In the US, advances in technology have led the Department of Transportation to propose new accessibility standards for the travel industry. These new standards would ensure equal access for everyone to websites, kiosks, and other self-service technology. Currently, self-service touch screen kiosks can pose a major accessibility barrier if they do not include features to allow for easy use by persons with vision loss (e.g., an easy to locate headphone jack with audio instructions). This issue even extends to new touch screen tablet computer devices, as Amazon.com has recently been criticized for failing to include accessibility features in it's newest touch screen device, the Kindle Fire.
In other technology news, Starbucks has recently introduced a payment/rewards card with Braille lettering, allowing users with vision loss to easily locate the right card.