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While infrastructure is important, barriers can be more than just physical.
Even a few minutes of putting oneself in another person's shoes (or wheelchair) could make a big difference. Accessibility is a right. Just by being born we all have human rights. We don't need to do or be anything special. Equality is - or should be - ours, just because we exist.
When Rick Hansen first started his tour, the cinema in his hometown didn't have an accessibility ramp.
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I did not get to usher my parents into old age, or really even into retirement living. My grandparents had all passed away by the time I was 19 years old. I have no direct experience caring for elderly people. As a result, I'm not sure what I can expect my own day-to-day life to look like when I am "old."
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For someone who has a mobility challenge, vision or hearing loss, or uses an assistive device to get around, daily decisions are not so carefree. Stores and shops need to be researched ahead of time to make sure they are accessible. Aspects of daily life that most take for granted can be riddled with accessibility challenges. In Canada and around the world, people with disabilities are still limited by physical barriers in the built environment -- and there is urgent need for change.
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Accessibility has become a scary word for a lot of businesses, especially in Ontario with the looming deadlines of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which requires that web content pass WCAG 2.0 level AA accessibility guidelines by 2021. It might be less intimidating to think of accessibility as a design philosophy.
As a person with a disability, I consider technology an incredible gift. It has opened up the world to me. Like Hugh Herr, the biophysicist who specializes in robotics, says, "Remove technology and I am imprisoned. All I can do is crawl. But with it I am free." Free.
"It's just another barrier that's being thrown up for people who already are known to have difficulties getting around physically."
With "Future Day" a week away, there have been many recent articles on "What Did Back To The Future Get Right?" Rather than bore you with a typical comparison, I thought I'd take a different approach, and highlight how both the BTTF trilogy and Demolition Man made technological predictions of a more inclusive and accessible world.
"No matter what the person's barrier is, they should be able to vote."
I am hard of hearing and rely on lipreading. Video can be difficult, for a variety of reasons, including camera angle, voice-overs, sound effects, accents, and animation. Every time captioning fails at the movies, I am reminded of my inability to participate in activities many Canadians take for granted. I feel belittled, squashed, unimportant.
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Looking back on the past six years, the team is often asked how we managed to grow a simple 100-person event organized in just eight weeks to a 1,000+ person conference, streamed to thousands more online, which has become the most watched TEDx event in Canada and one of the largest in the world.
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Many Canadians -- the younger generations especially -- lack a basic historical knowledge, and in this regard the commemoration activities launched by the Conservatives are welcome. But if the Tories are truly in favour of upholding this country's history, the most fundamental thing they must do is make information accessible to historians.
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In 2005, the Province of Ontario enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The thing that is missing from the AODA (in my opinion) is the lived experience of Ontarians with disabilities.
Whether you're a billionaire, a small business owner, a student, or a retiree, I hope that you will make it a New Year's resolution to volunteer in your community. I can promise you that the personal benefits will be at least as great, and probably more long-lasting, than giving up chocolate or joining a gym!
The quest for a more inclusive accessibility symbol continues. The re-worked designs will be featured at next year's DEEP Conference -- which will be held in conjunction with The Accessibility Conference hosted by Guelph University -- for the delegates' input.
The nub of my and others' unease with the current International Symbol of Access is that it excludes over 97 per cent of people with disabilities, because it is all about wheelchairs, rather than accessibility. To those who fear that the competition I've launched is aimed at throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and getting rid of the wheelchair symbol altogether: this is definitely not the case. What I'm asking is for designers to reimagine the concept of accessibility and to come up with a revised symbol or set of symbols that will be more inclusive.
I've been reflecting on the fun experiences my family and friends had this summer. My thoughts inevitably also turn to those with new health challenges and disabilities, and their caregivers, the people who are supporting them. I've learned that there are many wonderful opportunities to get out and create lasting happy memories, participate in things that bring joy, and still manage the care.
In 1969, the universal symbol for accessibility -- a blue square overlaid in white with the stylized image of a figure in a wheelchair -- made its first appearance. But the symbol is still built around a stick figure -- not a person. But the most important problem with the International Symbol of Access is this: it is exclusionary. The symbol is all about the wheelchair -- even though the majority of disabilities are not mobility-related. That is why, with the enthusiastic co-operation of the Ontario College of Art and Design University, I have launched an international competition to find a contemporary symbol.
My goal has always been to build an even greater awareness of our need to move from a view that accessibility is just about getting in and out of buildings to a view of intentionally designing and creating fully inclusive communities, so that people with disabilities can fully participate.
This spring, one brand new film festival is using Montreal's cultural benefits to highlight issues of accessibility and inclusion. Regarding Disability: A Film Festival will make its debut in Montreal on March 21 and will run in various locations until the 28.
During his 22 years at CityTV, David Onley was an anchor, producer, science and technology specialist and weatherman. He was also Canada's first senior newscaster with a visible disability. Having lived with polio and post-polio syndrome since the age of three, he has broken down many social barriers. He has worked tirelessly to improve accessibility for all.