Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
The Media Coverage on Accessibility Issues Just Keeps on Coming!
January 30, 2024
Three news reports we set out here give you a good snapshot of how so many different accessibility issues keep cropping up in the media.
- The January 25, 2024 City News Toronto report highlights the serious dangers that electric scooters pose for people with disabilities and seniors.
- The January 25, 2024 CBC News report addresses a new app that promises ways to help deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing people address communication barriers.
- The January 27, 2024 CBC News report talks about another app that can help people with disabilities find out what accessibility features are available at Metrolinx transit stations.
In the case of the latter two of these three news reports, the media brought the story to the AODA Alliance for its comment. We did not initiate those two stories. The first of these three stories was published in response to the AODA Alliances January 24, 2024 news release.
Regarding the third story, we emphasize that we are huge fans of the Access Now app. It is good that it will be used to let people know about accessibility features at Metrolinx stations.
However, Metrolinx has no excuses for continuing to have any accessibility barriers at any transit stations. It has had 19 years since the AODA was passed, 39 years since the disability equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms went into effect, and 42 years since the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to include equality for people with disabilities. Check out the AODA Alliance’s widely viewed 2018 video that shows serious disability problems at new and recently-renovated Toronto area transit stations, including at least some that were built or renovated under Metrolinx.
How can you help? Contact the media with stories about specific disability barriers you face. Invite them to contact the AODA Alliance to comment! Help us get the public spotlight to illuminate these barriers and how to fix them.
There are now only 337 days left until 2025, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s deadline for the Ontario Government to lead this province to become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities. The Ford Government has still not announced any comprehensive plan to effectively address the inaccessibility crisis which the Government-appointed Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review declared last year. The Ford Government has not even agreed that Ontarians with disabilities face an inaccessibility crisis.
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City News Toronto January 25, 2524
Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2024/01/25/toronto-e-scooter-ban-disability-advocates/
‘A silent menace’: Disability advocates urge Toronto to enforce e-scooter ban
Disability advocates raise alarm over e-scooters
Advocates are calling on the city of Toronto to maintain and enforce the e-scooter ban, arguing it poses a danger to disabled and senior residents. Michelle Mackey reports on why the issue is being raised now.
By Michael Ranger and Michelle Mackey
Despite not being allowed on streets, sidewalks, or bike lanes in Toronto, disability advocates say e-scooters are everywhere and they are urging the city to start imposing the rules preventing their use.
Arguing the two-wheel micro-mobility vehicles pose a danger to disabled and senior residents, advocates want the city to maintain and enforce the ban on the vehicles, saying they are still being widely used across the city.
A virtual public meeting on Tuesday evening, hosted by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, focused on the e-scooters and growing concerns the city will reconsider the ban on them.
“Because they are a silent menace, someone like me who is blind can’t tell if they are coming up in front of me or behind me,” says David Lepofsky, who spoke at the public forum.
“Too often in cities they are left lying around the sidewalk,” he says. “For blind people they are a tripping hazard. For people in wheelchairs they are an accessibility barrier.”
E-scooters could be making a comeback in Toronto
Micro mobility revolution races ahead, as policymakers and police try to keep up
The meeting comes ahead of a city staff report on micro-mobility set to be delivered to the Infrastructure and Environment committee next month. The report is expected to include future plans for the electric vehicles.
In a statement to CityNews, the city says they are currently developing a new micro-mobility strategy which will consider how other cities are managing e-scooters by “engaging a wide range of interested parties,” including members of the accessibility community.
Those in favour of e-scooters say there are steps the city could take to make them safer, arguing they are environmentally friendly and help reduce congestion in the city.
Recommendations for safer use include barrier preventing technology and audible sound emission for people with low-vision.
“My difficulty as a blind person is I can’t jump out of the way,” says Ian, who took part in Tuesday’s meeting. “I have no idea what direction to move in.”
Currently, e-scooters, considered standing electric kick-scooters, are not allowed to be operated, left, stored or parked on any public street in Toronto. This includes bicycle lanes, cycle tracks, trails, paths, sidewalks or parks under multiple Municipal Code Chapters.
Toronto city council voted to opt out of the province’s e-scooter pilot in May 2021. The program allows municipalities to choose where and how the vehicles can be used.
CBC News January 25, 2024
Windsor entrepreneur hopes app can make a difference for people who are deaf, hard of hearing
App launched in 2022, already has 13,000 users
A man holds a phone while smiling.
Saamer Mansoor, 31, is the creator of the BeAware app, which transcribes conversations for people who are hearing impaired. He also charges businesses and institutions to provide this service for larger events or talks. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)
Windsor entrepreneur Saamer Mansoor hopes the transcription app he’s created can break barriers for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The 31-year-old was recently accepted to showcase his app, BeAware Deaf Assistant, at the Consumers Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month — a show that brings together the latest technological breakthroughs and innovators.
The app’s main purpose is to provide a real-time transcription of what is being so that a person who is hard of hearing or deaf can read the screen and know what is being said aloud. This feature can be used without internet and transcribes multiple languages.
There’s also a setting that allows the app to pick up on loud sounds in a person’s environment and alert them by flashing their phone’s light to signal that there is a loud noise.
A screen shows a microphone and text above that reads, ‘I can’t hear you clearly. I use this tool to understand what people are saying. Please speak into the mic.’
This is a screenshot of the app, BeAware Deaf Assistant. (BeAware Deaf Assistant app)
Both of these uses are free for people to use.
“People who are unemployed because of disability have disabilities that we can enable, if you provide a solution, you can essentially bring them into the workforce,” he said.
“It has been a really gratifying journey.”
Mansoor, who was born in Saudi Arabia, went to university in the U.S. and moved to Windsor four years ago. He had been working in app development and in 2021, he and a few friends brainstormed the idea. The following year the app launched.
“A lot of us had either family that is deaf and hard of hearing, we had friends who are in the Deaf community, we had taken sign language classes before, and so we had a lot of friends who were close to the community and that really helped us do our research essentially,” said Mansoor.
In the last year, Mansoor has also added a conference captioning app, through which he charges institutions or businesses to use the service for lectures or large events.
This allows people in the audience who are hard of hearing to scan a QR code and get a transcription of what is being said, right to their phone.
Most recently, he says Michigan State University used his app for a graduation ceremony.
He says this feature of his app is what makes it different from other transcription services.
As of last month, Mansoor says they have 13,000 people across the world who are using the app.
A few months ago, he says he also launched a health scribe app, which can be used to transcribe for people in medical settings.
Each of his apps can also provide a translation into different languages if needed.
Mansoor says that at the CES he also took part in a Shark Tank casting call and anticipates he’ll know whether he’ll be part of the show by the end of January.
Tech advancements and accessibility
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, is not familiar with BeAware, but he uses technology to help him navigate his everyday life as someone who is blind.
He says there have been huge advancements in technology that have made everyday life for people with disabilities more accessible.
David Lepofsky chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. (Paul Smith/CBC)
In the early 1980s, he remembers using one of the first devices used to scan a book and read it out loud. He says it cost $50,000 US. And yet today, he uses an iPhone with free apps.
“The experience of living with vision loss has been completely redefined through emerging technology through my life,” says Lepofsky who is also a visiting research professor of disability rights at the faculty of law at Western University.
But Lepofsky says that technology can also create barriers, which entrepreneurs need to be mindful of.
“So if someone releases a new iPhone app or web application, which is not designed to work with and interact with our access technology, not designed to be used with our screen reader on our phone or on a website, then what it amounts to is a series of new barriers, making things actually worse,” he said.
Lepofsky says the solution to this is to “require by law and enforce the law that new technologies need to effectively accommodate the needs of all users, including users with disabilities.”
This story has been updated to clarify that some of the services developed by Saamer Mansoor are available through separate apps.
CBC News January 27, 2024
Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/lite/story/1.7093846
A new map shows which Metrolinx stations are accessible. Advocates say they’d rather have accessible transit
Ethan Lang | CBC News | Posted: Saturday, January 27th, 2024 5:00 AM | Last Updated: January 27th
Agency partners with AccessNow app to identify accessibility gaps, help people with disabilities plan trips
Caption: A new app will map accessibility features at Metrolinx operated transit stations. Metrolinx says the app is just part of its work to make transit more accessible for everyone. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)
Metrolinx has introduced a map showing accessibility features at it stations to make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate transit across Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area — but some advocates say that does nothing to remove barriers.
The digital map was created in partnership with AccessNow, an app that allows users to rate and share information about public places based on how accessible they are.
Under the new partnership, Metrolinx is providing information about GO Transit and UP Express stations, like whether there are elevators, audio aids, or PRESTO machines with Braille, so that users can plan transit rides based on their needs.
AccessNow founder Maayan Ziv says while Metrolinx will keep that information updated, the map will also rely on the input of the people who use it.
“It’s actually a collaboration between people with lived experience of disabilities, who were directly involved in assessing the experiences that they have at Metrolinx stations,” she said.
Image | AccessNow Metrolinx app
Caption: On the map, Metrolinx stations with a blue check mark have accessibility information deemed up to date and accurate by AccessNow and Metrolinx. (AccessNow)
Feedback from users is then shared with Metrolinx, she says, which gives the agency a better idea of what accessibility gaps need to be addressed.
‘We should have fully accessible transit’
But those gaps are still there, and some advocates say a map isn’t enough.
“It’s helpful to know if there are accessibility features,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “But this is all symptomatic of a huge problem. We should have fully accessible transit stations in all locations.”
Image | David Lepofsky
Caption: David Lepofsky is Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)
Aside from that, Lepofsky says, even if the map says there’s a feature like an elevator at a station, there’s no guarantee that elevator will be working.
Lepofsky, who is blind, says transit in the GTHA is currently a two-tiered system with a far worse quality of service available to people with disabilities. He says gaps in service don’t need to be identified so people can work around them — they should be fixed.
“So that we don’t need this information at all.”
App won’t help meet accessibility target: advocate
Ontario Disabilities Coalition spokesperson Anthony Frisina says the map is a step in the right direction, but like Lepofsky, he says there’s far more work to be done, especially in light of the province’s 19-year-old commitment to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.
He says an accessibility map may make commutes easier to plan, but he’d like to see a transit system accessible enough that people with disabilities don’t have to plan around anything at all. “The biggest challenge for commuters that require accessible transit is really the time management: having to book in advance, not being able to really do anything spot, spontaneously,” Frisina said. “We need to get from point A to point B when we need to, not when the system allows us to.”
Metrolinx says app just one part of accessibility work
Metrolinx declined to provide an interview for this story. But in an email, spokesperson Andrea Ernesaks says the agency is working to improve accessibility in its service in other ways. That includes the use of braille in stations and more space on buses for service animals.
Metrolinx also consults with people with disabilities, Ernesaks says, and has a standing accessibility advisory committee that has helped implement a universal design standard for all Metrolinx projects since 2019.
“The app will improve the customer experience by providing up-to-date trip planning information,” Ernesaks wrote, “while also allowing us to receive direct feedback from customers through accessibility reviews of our GO and UP stations.”