Update: You can now listen to the full show online (plus added bonus segments!) Full transcript below.
Are people disabled or is it our environment that is disabling? – This was the question I posed to CBC Radio when they asked me what I wanted to talk about on the radio.
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with CBC Radio – on Monday I’ll be hosting a one hour special about accessibility and inclusive design. I know right?! Huge news. It’s the first time I have ever done anything like this and I am so pumped to finally tell you about it.
I teamed up with awesome producer Denis Calnan (which was major jokes) to explore spaces in Toronto that may or may not be inclusive. We set out on a mission to share as many perspectives as we possibly could about what it’s like to live in a world that isn’t fully accessible. Running all over the city, we interviewed amazing people with all different types of abilities. We spoke with artists, lawyers, business owners, activists, designers, performers, psychologists and more. We heard funny stories, discovered accessible places, and learned about some of the obstacles that exist when living in Toronto with a disability.
Tune in on Monday, February 15 at 12pm EST on CBC Radio One (99.1) to catch Shifting Space.
Here are just some of the voices you can expect to hear on the show:
- Tim Rose, Disability Positive
- Kevin Shaw, Zagga Entertainment
- Luke Anderson, StopGap Foundation
- Mad pride cartoonist Sara Fin
- Comedian Andre H Arruda
- Lawyer and Disability Rights Activist David Shannon
Thanks goes out to all the incredible guests who contributed to making this magic with Denis and me. I am so thrilled to be airing this show as it is rich with the perspectives of people with lived experience of disability. (Transcript available at the end of the page.)
First floor, going down.
Gabby: It usually starts with, like “Yes, we’re completely accessible but you need to use like the side door.” It’s never just the side door. It’s always something like an intricate path up 17 elevators and maybe asking like four people for directions and perhaps to get to the place you want to go to.
Andre: So I knocked on the window and eventually someone came out of work there and they’re like, “Can I help you?” and I said “Well, yeah, I need to get in here.” “Like well yeah, come on in.” I said, “Well there’s a step right here.” They’re like, “Oh well you’re scared of this heavy is that one step and I think that one step ticks me off more than an entire staircase because that one step is everywhere.
Tina: I think humor is so important on both sides. It’s important for the individual with the disability because you can’t stay in that moment of always, you know, I’m struggling. There’s a barrier, you know, you’ve got to overcome so much.
Please stand clear of the doors.
Maayan [narrating]: This is Shifting Space. I’m Maayan Ziv.
Imagine this: A world where the doors don’t open and stairs lead nowhere. Where you pick up the phone and there’s no dial tone. The internet is in the language you don’t understand. Nothing works the way you want it to. It’s like the environment was built for someone else. 4 million Canadians live with a disability and this is what it feels like.
Twenty-five years ago, I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. I’ve lived my life in the perspective of a wheelchair and wherever I go the first question I ask is “Will this space be accessible?”
The answer is not always clear and often I’ve got to be creative if I want to get to my destination. While others might walk through the front door I’ll find my way up makeshift ramps and on plywood pathways, muscular dudes will hoist my chair up a flight of stairs. These are the colorful solutions that get me through the door. I’ve been through alleyways, industrial kitchens and garbage chutes. I’ve been backstage and through loading docks finding those unconventional ways to get places.
In the next hour we’ll visit places that are perhaps familiar but will experience them through a new lens. As we delve into different perspectives: Are people disabled or is it our environment that’s disabling us?
Coming up we consider Shifting Space.
Maayan [narrating]: This is shifting space. I’m Maayan Ziv. In the next hour, we’re exploring. We’re taking you to a bunch of different places: a massive aquarium, an underground path. We’ll hear the humor that comes along with living in an inaccessible world. We’ll see what makes a place inclusive and how spaces can be challenging for people with disabilities. We’ll explore the physical, psychological and virtual spaces we move through.
As someone who uses a wheelchair to get around, I’m often in situations where I’ve got to get creative to find accessibility. Sometimes I’m in situations that are just ridiculous and it’s hilarious, and often having a disability means you just have to step back for a second and laugh about it.
Luke: My name is Luke Anderson. I went on an online date and it went really well. It was a great date. We had a fun night at dinner, a couple of drinks, and we walked down to the streetcar stop where she was gonna hop on the streetcar to go home and she leaned in for a smooch but she put her hand on my joystick. Not that joystick, the joystick of my chair to control my chair which made me ram into her so she ended up putting her other hand on my actual joystick, which was so awkward. But a riot. Hilarious. We ended up dating for quite a while after that despite the rocky start after that first day.
Samantha: Hi, my name is Samantha Walsh. I use a manual wheelchair so I’m visibly disabled I would have been like university age. We were leaving a bar and the bar had two steps so the bouncer said, facilitated me getting in. Someone had carried the wheelchair up the stairs and I came out after having a few drinks and decided that I was gonna bounce down the stairs in a wheelie. So, I can actually do this like when I was younger. I could bounce down wide set stairs in a wheelie. So I’m gonna do this but again,I’m not sober and the bouncer comes over and says like, “Miss. I don’t think she should do this. This seems unsafe and I said like, “What’s the worst that could happen? I’m gonna end up in a wheelchair?” And the guys behind us just lost it. They just carried me down the stairs. It was a much safer option.
Pina: Hi, my name is Pina D’Intino. When I think of funny moments in my life as a person with a visual disability, I remember a particular incident where I needed to go to the restroom and my dog at that time noticed that the doors to the women’s washroom had barriers and so just walked me around and I didn’t realize she was doing that. So right straight to the door, I walk in, find a stall and as I’m walking in and pushing on the door, there’s a man, obviously doing his business shouting “Hey, you’ve got the wrong bathroom!” And I sort of stood there for a moment and just said well, what does it matter I can’t see you anyway. And so he just chuckled and hurried out as fast as he could. And I don’t know who was embarrassed more, he or I.
Maayan [narrating]: Now we travel to a place that’s known to “wow” crowds and it wowed my first guest tonight at the Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto.
*audio from a scene at the aquarium*
Tim: There’s like four schools…
Maayan [narrating]: That’s Tim Rose. He’s the founder of Disability Positive, a disability consulting firm. This is his first time here. I asked him if he’d be willing to check out the accessibility of the Aquarium with me and so we’re just mic-ing up his chair.
Tim: I’m flexible, just not physically. Bah-rum-dum!
Maayan [narrating]: We haven’t even seen one fish yet and Tim’s already got an accessibility review.
Tim: First thing is that giant amazing ramp coming in from outside. The ramp is big and wide, and normally you get those really narrow ramps that only one wheelchair can fit in. Then two wheelchairs, one coming down and one coming up, you meet in the middle and you have that awkward who’s gonna back up moment. So even getting in the building door buttons were a good height, so I mean, that’s the first thing I noticed and we haven’t even gone in yet so that’s good.
Let’s venture this way. Gonna go into the Canadian waters. I feel my national pride. One thing I like about this aquarium already is that you can get wheelchairs right up to the glass. A lot of times there’s barriers or you know, security railings or that kind of thing. This is good in terms of viewing accessibly. Hello, Mr. Fish!
Maayan [narrating]: We move past tank after tank of lobsters, piranhas and eels.
Tim: There’s nice wide space between the tanks, that’s always good. It does make me want to eat seafood, is that a bad thing?
Maayan [narrating]: Although we’re here to check out the building’s accessibility, it’s hard not to get caught up in the cool sea life or seafood as Tim sees it.
Tim: That is a giant lobster! Oh my god that was like a mutant creature or something.
Maayan [narrating]: While there is a lot of space and the whole thing is basically a ramp there’s also a lot of kids.
Tim: Oh, stroller! I mean right away. I think this place is great but it also suffers from what a lot of major tourist attractions do, which is they’re hugely accessible without crowds in them, but when you get many many bodies the crowd management becomes tricky shuffle.Maayan [narrating]: So we hang back and let the school class ahead of us.
Tim: It’s a lot of fish hanging out there. Let’s count all of them on the radio.
Maayan [narrating]: We’re approaching the dangerous lagoon and a woman welcomes us…
Tim: Hi there!
Maayan [narrating]: …she invites us to get on a slow moving pathway.
Tim: Oh, on the moving walkway. Okay! I’ve never been on a moving walkway so I’m gonna try it. This is a new experience.
Maayan [narrating]: We’re moving through a glass tunnel with fish and sharks on the left and on the right and above.
Tim: And the giant stingray. He’s cool. I always loved giant stingrays as a kid. Right now we’re just kind of slowly sliding under a tank that’s both over our heads and on our flank here and it’s got a lot of coral in it, and I think that’s coral, and then I see a shark swimming away, and some other random fish that are somehow dangerous because they’re in the dangerous lagoon. There’s a potato cod they didn’t even know that was a thing. Oh, geez! Hello! Oh my god, there’s a shark! Not gonna lie this is kind of freaking me out.
Maayan [narrating]: …and Tim’s not talking about that shark that just swam over her head. He’s talking about the fact that he could drive his chair onto a moving pathway barrier-free.
Tim: This is awesome because normally when my chair is moving I am driving it but right now my chair is moving and I’m not driving it and that’s a little unsettling but in a good way. Clearly the staff have had some accessibility training here and some disability training, and actually when I came in and was waiting for you guys, they came over to see if I needed anything. I said no, I’m just waiting for people. So that’s really cool.
Maayan [narrating]: It’s like you come across this accessibility feature and it’s just so awesome that you forget everything else and it’s just wow you can be in the most amazing situation, but then all of a sudden that the accessibility is awesome, that’s what you’re thinking about. Forget the sharks. I’m on a moving pathway right now.
Tim: We’re gonna make it by the corner, yeah. Oh, and it’s still going! Like the length of this lagoon is.. it’s a very large lagoon. You can tell, I think as opposed to other kind of attractions, that this place was built very fairly recently, so they clearly thought about accessibility a lot. If this place had been built in 1985 I don’t know if you’d see the same commitment to accessibility and I don’t know if you’d see the same open spaces and that kind of thing. They’ve clearly put a lot of thought into it, which is good but that could be, and I think it is, a sign of the times. Now you have a lot more awareness around accessibility, a lot more people with disabilities out in the public eye, and you know people like Luke Anderson and things getting recognized for accessibility and so, you know tourist attractions that are built now and with the legislation you have to be accessible, so there’s no options. And so a lot of places are trying to, I find incorporated more now. And that’s not to say you won’t find issues recently built places, but I think for me any place that I’ve gone to like this one that’s new but I’ve always been far more impressed. There’s some kind of weird submarine thing coming up on our right.
Maayan [narrating]: After we finish the tour, Tim spoke about how the aquarium moves through multiple levels, and if we weren’t paying attention, we might not have even noticed.
Tim: The lack of elevators was really interesting because elevators are.. they’re good, they’re kind of a standard accessibility feature, but they can break or you know, you get that really annoying out of order sign. So the fact that in that space we went through three levels without ever having to risk an elevator was really really cool and it showed kind of a commitment to accessible design and to accessible spaces.
Maayan: What has your experience been in terms of attitudinal barriers I guess.
Tim: The fact that in 2015 people with disabilities are occasionally still on a fairly regular basis either denied an experience or asked to change their experience. And I know that my wife when we traveled together she identifies as being able-bodied and when we traveled together, people will like, when they want to talk to me, they’ll talk to me by talking to her because they assume that I can’t speak for myself, or you know, they’ll make assumptions about her and make assumptions that she obviously has a disability because we’re together. So I think that there’s a lot of, there’s a long way to go in creating a disability positive attitude including in tourism because people with disabilities spend money and by having non-accessible spaces you are closing off your attraction or your business to a lot of people who might otherwise patronize that business and spend money there.
*audio clip from a phone conversation*
Jim: Hi, my name is Jim Patterson Jr, and I’m the President of Ripley Entertainment.
Maayan [narrating]: I called up Ripley’s to see what the philosophy behind the building is. Jim Patterson says wheelchair accessibility was a major consideration in the design of the Toronto Aquarium.
Jim: There were two things we were trying to accomplish that we didn’t want any child in a wheelchair to come and not be able to experience the same things as any other kids in particular. And then secondly, we realized that even kids and babies and strollers enjoy looking at the animals and bringing the animals closer to their height level and making it accessible was actually beneficial. So yeah, it was totally our intention.
Maayan [narrating]: Now, listen to what he says here..
Jim: This was the third aquarium we built and in each one we’ve gotten a little better at making sure that if a stingray is swinging is swimming by that, you know, you can be sitting there in a wheelchair and still dip your hand in the water… and you know, graze your hand just like anybody else.
Maayan [narrating]: He says each time Ripley’s built an aquarium the company got better at integrating accessibility into the design. That trial and error process is what my next guest says is essential.
*audio from another conversation*
Luke: Good design is a repetitive approach. It’s a trial and error type of technique that over time we do come upon really really great invisible solutions. My name is Luke Anderson and I am President of the Stop Gap Foundation.
Maayan [narrating]: You might recognize Luke’s voice from his story earlier in the show. Stopgap works to eliminate barriers. It started in 2011.
Luke: …with the goal to raise awareness about barriers in our communities that prevent many people from accessing the spaces that they desire. So at that time we pulled together a bunch of volunteers and some building materials and we built 13 brightly painted ramps for businesses in the Junction neighborhood.
Maayan [narrating]: And the idea was so popular that now StopGap has applied 800 businesses with simple ramps.
Luke: The feedback from those first 13 ramps that we built was incredible. All of the community residents responded well to them. The business owners loved the ramps and it received so much feedback, so much interest and exposure, and we really realized that wow, painting a simple ramp a really bright color can affect change and, and yeah, change the way people see things in their communities. So we had to take the project to different parts of the city and so we did. We took it into Roncesvalle, Kensington Market, Mount Pleasant neighborhood, and then all of a sudden other groups of people from outside of the city started hearing about our ramps and they were interested in knowing how to bring a similar project to their communities. So we’ve got ramp projects popping up right across the country now from Halifax and Charlottetown on the East Coast to Vancouver and Prince George on the west coast and everywhere in between, and just simply painting a common object of really bright color is such an effective way to get people’s attention. How do we use that concept to bring about a conversation about accessibility?
Maayan [narrating]: He says the majority of restaurants and bars have stepped entry ways.
Luke: We’re talking A LOT of inaccessible spaces.
Maayan [narrating]: And here’s the key, Luke says accessibility and the StopGap ramps are not just for people with disabilities.
Luke: Not just people like myself who use wheelchairs but parents pushing strollers, delivery people, and the people that are joining those groups of people. Once you connect all of those dots you start to realize that everybody is affected by an inaccessible space.
Maayan [narrating]: Everybody’s affected by an inaccessible space. Some people might not agree with that and it all has to do with perception.
Kevin: Hi, my name is Kevin Shaw. I’m the President and Founder of Zagga Entertainment.
Maayan [narrating]: A startup company that enables people who are blind or have low vision to stream popular movies and TV shows with described video. I sat down in the Shifting Space studio with Kevin. I started out by asking him to define inclusive design for me.
Kevin: People aren’t disabled. It’s their environments that are disabling. And inclusive design really gets to the heart of the problem which is not the person with the disability, it’s the environment that’s not allowing them to do certain things. So a typical example of course we think of is, you know, a building with only stairs. Well that’s no good for somebody who’s in a wheelchair and there are ways that we can address those problems with incorporating the principles of universal design and inclusive design from the planning stages as opposed to sort of tacking on things and, you know, making things available to, you know, to people after the fact.
Maayan [narrating]: And that’s really an interesting notion rather than considering the person to be the one who is disabled but rather the environment. I can kind of see that that would expand beyond just people with disabilities, but actually to include everyone. You know, if all the streets were paved in silly putty, we might all have a difficult time getting around. Are there certain features or elements that are more inclusive that work that you could give us an example.
Kevin: Curb cuts which are, you know, the section of the sidewalk that dip down to the street level when you get to a corner. Those were originally put in place to assist wheelchair users to cross the street. And it’s now the standard way that we design intersections. Well, they don’t just benefit folks in wheelchairs, they benefit people who are pulling wheeled luggage, people with baby strollers, so right there that little design feature has given benefit to many more people. I’m sort of an apologetic Apple fanboy because Apple is really incorporated inclusive design into their DNA.
Maayan [narrating]: And here Kevin’s starting to get into the digital world of accessibility. We’re going to get further into that but first..
Gabby: Hi, my name is Gabby Carafa. Well I have a funny story about the time that I went to my own birthday at a club within an accessible bathroom and they told me that the club is accessible as long as I didn’t have to go to the bathroom and as long as my chair could go up one stair at the front. So it was this huge snowstorm and so we went to this club me and my friends who don’t have disabilities and I had to ended up having to go to the bathroom, so I had to convince a bouncer to carry me down this flight of stairs. It was quite funny because I know the staircase was really steep and I just kept saying kike if you dropped me do you think that like you’d get in trouble, like all this is like I’m not supposed to be carrying you down the stairs, and he had to go into the girl’s bathroom and sit me on the counter of the bathroom and my friends like no you can’t leave her there. You have to put her like you closer to the stall so she can go to the bathroom because like she.. he just sat me down like a doll on the on this like counter and so he was like, okay, so you like put me as close to the stall as possible and then had to carry me all the way back upstairs.
Andre: Hi, my name is Andre H. Arruda. I’m an actor and a stand-up comedian. My standup is the stories about my life and I just happen to be disabled person, so a lot of my stories, not all of them, have to do with that. I remember I did a show once and they were like these these young girls in the front row and the MC was like are you guys ready for next comedian? They’re all excited like, yay *fast hands clapping* comedy. And yeah, here’s Andre Arruda, and I came out from the door behind the stage and they were just like… *slow hands clapping* I can’t laugh at him. So when I get audiences like that that stuns silence I have to have that one joke that just makes fun of the fact that I am short. Or the fact that I am disabled just to let people know that yeah, I know that I am. It’s okay, you can laugh at it.
You’re a child and you see someone disabled. You go, Mommy, look at him. Or you see someone’s little, look at that guy, he’s my size, but he’s got a beard. And the parents usually go don’t, don’t, don’t. We don’t look at them. We don’t acknowledge them. That’s terrible for a parent to do. Just go, yeah, that is a human being who has to have a wheelchair or who didn’t grow a lot because he didn’t eat his vegetables. *laughs*
Tim: Hi, my name is Tim Rose. I was in university in Carleton University, and my roommate and I had class together. We’re both in wheelchairs, and he can only use his right hand and I can only use my left hand, and we pulled into this elevator together for the first time and I was closest to the buttons, but they were on my right side. Now normally if I’m alone in an elevator with the buttons on my right side, I can just turn my wheelchair around so my left hand is near the buttons and press the buttons and off we go but not when your roommate pulls in behind you. He can use the right hand but is not near the buttons. I’m near the buttons but I have my wrong hand facing and we just sat in the elevator for 20 minutes waiting for someone to call it either up or down for us to get out of the elevator. I burst out laughing and finally someone called the elevator either up or down And the door open and they said can we help you? And I said, oh yeah, we’ll just get out here and we just went about our day but that was one of those moments where you just kind of put your hand in your hands and laugh.
Maayan: So this one time I was pretty young and I was going trick-or-treating with my family. I was like, maybe eight. And we were going door to door and we reached a house that had steps to the entrance. And I remember the owner of the property came out and saw this girl waiting at the foot of the stairs with her trick or treating bag. So he came out to me and he said, oh hi, oh, wow, you’re so cute. Oh my god. I love your costume. I was probably a witch. I think I’d spent seven years in a row being a witch. He’s just filling my bag with candy and more candy and he’s just talking to me and you can see that he feels really bad. You know that his place isn’t accessible so then he says, so what are you for Halloween? And I just look at him and I say I’m a girl on a wheelchair. And he knew you could just see his face just drop. He obviously stopped giving me candy at that point and walked away. But I just found it so funny that he felt so bad that his place wasn’t accessible to the point where he was kind of pitying me and filling my bag with so much candy that I just, I had to have fun with it. And that’s where it started. So I was eight years old and I’ve been messing with people ever since.
Please stand clear of the doors.
Pina: I can’t tell you how many times people say to me, do you want to see something and then it’s like oh I should’ve have used the word see, for example. And so why not? I can see too. I can see with my hands. I can see what my ears. I see differently but I still see.
Tim: The fact that in that space we went through three levels without ever having to risk an elevator. It’s really really cool and it showed a commitment to accessible design.
Kevin: Inclusive design really gets to the heart of the problem which is not the person with the disability, it’s the environment that’s not allowing them to do certain things.
Maayan [narrating]: This is Shifting Space. I’m Mayan Ziv. In the first half hour of the show, we visited a giant aquarium. We met someone bridging the gap to create better accessibility and we explored physical spaces. We laughed about the corks of having a disability and just trying to get around.
This half-hour we’ll be venturing underground and through a mall. We’ll also delve into cyberspace. We’ll explore the importance of considering mental health when designing our environment. And we’ll look at the weight of the law when it comes to accessibility.
That’s coming up on Shifting Space. But first…
Kevin: Hi, my name is Kevin Shaw. I mean this is a classic one is when I fly on my own, I will walk off the plane, you know escorted by one of the flight attendants and I’m there with my cane. And at the end of the jetway, without fail, there’s always somebody there with a wheelchair and what’s this for? And they said well, this is for you. I’m like, what what am I gonna do with this? Am I pushing somebody? And I guess I figured that you know if I’m getting off a plane after four hours of sitting I should just, what? Do more sitting? And you know roll to the next exit, and I say no it’s okay, I can walk. Usually they insist once or twice and then I say no, I’m actually okay, let’s go, we’re wasting time.
Samantha: Hi, my name is Samantha Walsh. I was flying out of an international airport and they were doing the pat down and so you meet the officer that’s going to do the pat down and this is fairly standard travel because if you use a wheelchair you can’t get into the metal detectors so she tells me she’s just gonna pat the inside of my thigh until she hits resistance. And I said, oh so you’re just gonna pat the inside of my thigh ‘til you hit my crotch, and she says no, no, just ‘til I hit resistance, and I said like the top of my leg is my crotch and she said no, no, just ‘til I hit resistance, so we’re going back and forth and like, I’m gonna miss my flight, so I just go with you’re gonna pat the inside of my thigh until you hit resistance and so she does it and it’s like see, I just patted the inside of your thigh until I hit resistance, yeah til you hit my like my crotch, and then she says no, no, it’s not what I did, and I said like, I’m not upset about this, like I expected this, this is my millionth time traveling. So and she was like, well I didn’t hit your crotch, and so I winked at her and just said okay, you didn’t hit my crotch and went on, and the flight was great, the airport was great, it was a very pleasant experience which was just really funny because she wouldn’t acknowledge that she was hitting my crotch.
Pina: Hi, my name is Pina D’Intino. When I’m crossing the street and it was a busy intersection and my dog had decided that she wasn’t seeing any cars I guess, getting to her and she was crossing well there was this gentlemen rushing through the intersection and he’s honking honking honking and yells through the door and says, hey can’t you see there’s traffic! There’s cars coming here and I sort of stop and said no, I can’t. And the next thing I realize he actually parked the car and got out of the car and helped me cross and was so embarrassed by the fact that you know, he didn’t realize that I guess with the dog that I was blind.
Maayan: See, watch what I mean.
Maayan [narrating]: I’m with my producer at the Eaton Center in downtown Toronto.
Maayan: So we’re on the right side of the mall..
Maayan [narrating]: We’re going through the mall on an upper level
Maayan: …and we want to keep going right?
Maayan [narrating]: There are stairs ahead no ramp and I’m using a wheelchair.
Maayan: So that’s not gonna work. So basically we have to go all the way to the other side if we want to get out.
Maayan [narrating]: To find access to the ramp we have to backtrack and take a different route.
Maayan [narrating]: I set out on what becomes an obstacle course with the goal of finding my producer at the other end of the mall.
Maayan: Okay, honestly. It’s just easier for me to go outside the building to get to Queen because it’s so complicated inside.
Maayan [narrating]: After we meet up…
Maayan: I made it! It’s like a scavenger hunt.
Maayan [narrating]: He asks me about my experience…
Maayan: There’s a specific route that allows you to get to where you want to go and unless you know it, you will face obstacles where you turn around and reroute if you’re using a wheelchair or a stroller or you can’t do steps. So for me it’s kind of second nature already because I know the system and I think if you’re with me and you’ve never been here it’ll seem almost illogical because I go in directions that are irrational to where I need to actually end up but it’s because I have to modify my route in order to work with the environment rather than the environment just being accessible to me. So, not the easiest place for someone using a wheelchair to get around.
Maayan [narrating]: Next, the Path.
Maayan [narrating]: I asked Kevin Shaw, who you’ve heard from earlier, what it’s like to get around with a visual impairment in a similar environment. Together we go through some of Toronto’s underground path.
Kevin: Obviously, it’s sounds huge with the reverb. Very open, very noisy. There’s not a lot of. There’s not a lot of sort of sound markers to say where you are. Usually something good to have is some kind of textile or tactile marking on the floor to say okay, here you’re gonna go in a straight line as opposed to just kind of having this all be sort of like one type of flooring.
So usually in, you know, a space like this is kind of good because you can hear the sound changing a little bit. We went from a big sort of echoey space to, you know, a space that’s got a little bit of a reverb to it. You know, even in a space like this with just kind of tapping you can hear the refractions changing off the walls and stuff.
Maayan: Kevin, do you know where you are right now?
Kevin: I’m on a ramp facing a set of doors.
Maayan: Okay, yes in a parking garage. How we ended up here I don’t even know. But I’m just wondering in terms of signage when you go through the path it’s confusing even for me, so I’m wondering how you might navigate through a space like this.
Kevin: So in a space like this, there are, I mean, there are services out there from CNIB and other such agencies that’ll do orientation and mobility. So this is a place I had to be in let’s say every day. There are actually trained instructors who teach you how to navigate through a location like this, for something like this where I’m using it for the very first time, you know, I might not necessarily have the cues to know where I am obviously because I can’t read signs and that sort of thing. But you know, it’s certainly worth the adventure.
Maayan [narrating]: I promise in the first half hour that we would pick up where Kevin left off. On accessibility of the digital world.
Kevin: I’m sort of an apologetic Apple fanboy because Apple has really incorporated inclusive design into their DNA. For the first time I can now walk into an Apple Store and buy any device that they sell and have all of that accessibility built-in you know, so my phone talks to me, my computer talks to me. They come with large print capabilities. They have you know, the capability of reducing contrast, and you know, reducing motion for people who need that particular feature. There are a number of features for captioning and visual alerts and that sort of thing for folks who are deaf and hard of hearing. So what Apple has done is they’ve said, well we’re going to incorporate all of these few features so everyone can use our products. And in the old model I would have to go and buy, you know, a piece of software that would cost anywhere between 1200 to 1500 dollars just to make my computer talk. So the fact that Apple has now incorporated this not just into their devices but into their culture the way their programmers and developers think is, you know, a huge milestone for people like me. The online space is still sort of the wild west in terms of accessibility for folks with vision loss, so when somebody goes to a website they can obviously look and move their mouse and click on things and you know do drag and drop if they’re you know, making a web page or what have you. That’s not so easy for somebody who’s blind who is just using the keyboard and hearing the information sequentially read by, you know, their screen reader. But there are techniques out there, and I mean, you cannot survive today without using the internet, you know, certainly the online space and you know, with the apps and so forth, all the tools are there, all the Lego bricks are there, it’s just a matter of being being aware of them and going and getting them to build whatever it is that you need to build.
Maayan: You mentioned culture, do you think that this concept of in universal design and inclusive design and accessibility, are we looking at a shift in culture or is this really something that’s more practical?
Kevin: This is a really really great time for accessibility and universal design because I believe that we’re entering the golden age of accessibility. The power of computing is finally putting amazing tools into the hands of people with disabilities. You know, just the fact that now I’ve got a touchscreen mobile phone that talks to me, you know is being sort of a huge milestone but I also see another shift happening and in terms of standards and best practices and a shift in the way that people think.
We’re going to start to see inclusive design as a part of the planning process. So if I’m thinking of designing a new sports stadium, for example, I’m going to put accessibility into that sports stadium because I can find a way to beautifully incorporate it to the design of that particular building. As opposed to I’m going to design a building and now I’m going to incorporate a bunch of accessibility stuff just to keep legislators and lawmakers happy. We’re finally seeing the shift from accessibility being about disability to accessibility being about a whole bunch of different use cases that’s really going to accelerate in the next, you know, 10 to 15 years to the point where yes, we will have, you know, my coveted dream of the self-driving car that can take me from place to place. Or a building or a space or a website or an app that can be used by somebody regardless of their ability.
Sara: Hello my name is Sara Fin and I’m a Mad pride cartoonist.
Maayan [narrating]: From cyber and tech accessibility to making spaces accessible for those who struggle with mental health.
Sara: Inclusive space for me is not so much to do with the structure physically of a place so much as the perhaps the more mental perceptions people have of people with mental health challenges such as myself. I feel that it’s sort of a more metaphorical challenge that I face. I feel that inclusive space is, for me, is a place where I feel that people are of the mind where they can understand and support and be empathetic to people with mental health challenges.
Maayan [narrating]: I visited the Center of Addiction and Mental Health on Queen Street in Toronto. I met up with…
Sean: …Sean Kidd. I’m the Discipline Chief of Psychology at CAMH and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and work in the complex mental illness program here.
Maayan [narrating]: The Center’s in the process of redesigning its space.
*background noise with Sean speaking: Cinder block chic is what’s going on here..*
Maayan [narrating]: It’s moving from what Sean Kid calls “cinder block chic” to a more inclusive environment.
Sean: It’s a bit more a part of the neighborhood as opposed to kind of separate from the neighborhood.
Maayan [narrating]: I spoke with him in his office. He started by talking about inclusion beyond the physical space.
Sean: You know of course physical space is a lot less relevant for mental health and addictions concerns. It’s a lot more about cultures of inclusion and how people are interacting. It’s about sort of an ethic or a culture of inclusion that’s based in a set of values, feelings of belonging. We heard from some people that said, you know, as neighborhoods gentrify and businesses become more and more high-end, the people in the neighborhoods are wearing more expensive clothes or expensive cars, like it starts to just feel like a space that a person can’t/doesn’t feel like they fit anywhere or plug into.
Maayan [narrating]: He also spoke about ownership. Who owns the problem: the person with the disability?
Sean: There’s that element of resilience that comes with figuring out who owns the problem. So if a person comes in/approaching a space where there’s something discriminatory happening or there’s some kind of an access problem. If it’s seen as oh, you know, the person’s owning it is something wrong with me, you know that I’m not fitting in versus perceiving it as okay, this is somebody who’s, you know, infringing on people’s rights, this is a structural systemic problem. The problem is seen as outside the person. I think people’s self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy can be maintained more effectively. Sort of it’s where you position the issue. So I think design has a major role in health and wellness in general.
Maayan [narrating]: Earlier Sara Fin mentioned her comic. I spoke with her further drawing a link between her artistic practice and mine, photography.
Maayan: So I know in my own work as a photographer a lot of the photos that I put out kind of do stem from this perspective of advocacy or just shedding a light on the perspective of someone with a disability. Did your work, your art, begin within the CAMH environment?
Sara: Well, my comic is called Asylum Squad and it actually was the date, the original idea dates back to being a teenager on antidepressants and writing a silly comic in high school about a group of teenagers with mental illness who fight crime and that was sort of the basic premise. I came up with a book a couple years after I was discharged called the Psychosis Diaries, which is a collection of the first 44 strips that I produced while in the hospital and the comic is actually something that changed my life for the better because it opened a creative doorway. It kind of saved me from a life of banality and depression, and yeah, I just posting it online and getting feedback from other people who had been through similar situations systematically or psychologically, and then just now it’s getting gallery gigs and things are opening up and hey, I I’m even going to be making a film soon.
Maayan: It sounds amazing. Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Sara.
Sara: Okay. Thanks.
Nikoletta: Hi, my name is Nikoletta. When it comes to accessibility people think that if you just incorporate a ramp or an elevator into a building then everything is taken care of and it’s automatically accessible. Well, that’s not the case. You really have to consider the spatial setups of stores. So for example, I was doing a little bit of Christmas shopping this morning. The store seemed to be very spacious, that I was entering a little corner and I was picking up some fluffy slippers as a gift for somebody, and my wheelchair was making a little bit of a turn and I’m actually knocked over a huge stack of cards. So I turn around and there are about a hundred cards on the floor just scattered all over the place, but luckily I was the only person in that corner. I kind of just hoped that nobody noticed and I quietly rolled the other way.
Luke: My name is Luke Anderson. Okay, a bunch of us, a bunch of buddies that wanted to see a concert. So I bought tickets for all of us. They’re four good friends of mine and myself. I called ahead to see if the venue was accessible and the person that I talked to on the phone said it was. So I went ahead and bought the tickets without thinking. Yeah, they said it was accessible then great. So the day of the concert came around we show up at the venue and there’s 15 stairs that led up to the ground floor of this space. So I waited around and the bouncer came out and said okay, just hold on a minute. We’ll get you some help in a second which I thought meant somebody would come down and lead me to a back entrance or to a lift or an elevator or somewhere. But no. Their idea of access was bringing four huge bouncers down these steps to me because they were gonna lift me and my 450 pound wheelchair up these 15 steps. So there I am all excited to see this show with my good friends and we’re faced with this situation. Do we put my life in these four strangers’ hands or do we disappoint ourselves and turn around and leave? And I let these guys lift me in.
Gabby: Hi, my name is Gabby Carafa. There’s a few stories were related to me shopping because I do that quite a bit and a lot of times if the counters where you pay they’re not lowered, and so if the cashier is behind a wide countertop and then there’s her computer and then there’s the cashier themselves, there’s a big distance between the person trying to pay. And so there’s a lot of times where I’m waiting in line and the countertops are really high up and they don’t even see that I’m next in line that’s how high up they are, and they’re calling the person behind me to come forward, and you know, the person’s awkwardly pointing to me. They look really silly because it looks like they’re pointing on the ground and it’s me and they’re like, I’m not the next person then they’re being called forward. But this particular incident was just that I was paying for a meal and I couldn’t reach my meal and I couldn’t reach the cashier so she’s trying to add a $5 bill back and she basically has to like throw it to me and I’m hoping I catch it on the countertop.
Maayan [narrating]: We now head to Thunder Bay.
David: It’s a pretty icy day in Thunder Bay. Hi, my name’s Dave Shannon. I’m the Executive Director of an organization at Thunder Bay called Hanky Community Services for Independence. I’m also a lawyer in Thunder Bay who has worked in the area of human rights and accessibility issues for over 20 years.
Maayan [narrating]: He’s also a Member of the Order of Canada for his Championship of the Rights of People with Disabilities at the UN.
David: I was always stunned from the time of my accident the very clear difference on how I was perceived before my accident versus how I was perceived after. I know intrinsically and internally I knew I was the same and so whether it came to, whether it was discrimination or something as simple as a building a ramp and I continue to use that word simple because for example, it’s low cost. Many times the barriers are attitudinal. We forget that the commonality we all have is what makes us a very special about our humanity and that’s in many respects a simple recipe.
Maayan: It’s a simple idea, but perhaps not so simple to actually execute. Why do you think that is?
David: There’s deep historic divide between persons with a disability or how they are perceived and really what their potential is, and this does go back to a long view that isolated and/or institutionalized persons with a disability that started to change after World War II but we still are seeing the residual effects of that deeply ingrained historical and cultural reality for persons with a disability. I’m very optimistic the the opportunity for changes is here, however, we do have to shake off a few centuries of discrimination against persons with a disability.
Maayan: Looking at that built environment, what do you think are the next steps to actually create inclusive cultures?
David: We need to educate business owners on the importance of having a one-step solution, and I think that’s the low-hanging fruit. When we start seeing an example such as small ramps from there we can build in complexity and some of that for example perhaps, some of the more difficult areas of complexity is choice of transportation, ease of not worrying when you apply for a job, what you have to say about your disability and worry that you’re going to be screened out of the hiring process because the employer worries that they’re going to have to accommodate a disability. These are the higher end issues that then we need to deal with in a very positive and a very open way so that we can find solutions.
Maayan: What about the government? What do you think the government’s role is in creating accessibility?
David: In many respects, the government is to a degree trying to meet that role through the Accessibility Directorate in Ontario. I believe that the federal government can certainly up its game, and that is by creating: first, a Canadians with Disabilities Act; secondly, ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability; thirdly, funding in a very meaningful way, giving substantive funding increases to the office and disability issues; and then after that the federal government, I believe, can have a provincial, territorial and federal meeting on the issue of not just built environment, but on developing a disability agenda for the future.
Maayan: You’ve been on some wild trails to the North Pole. I was hoping you might be able to tell us a little bit about that experience and what you did there.
David: Yes, I was the first wheelchair user to go to the North Pole as or the first quadriplegic. That was an amazing time. I went with another lawyer from Thunder Bay. His name’s Chris Watkins. On April 11th, 2009, we made it to the North Pole and we’re able to hold up the Canadian flag and the United Nations flag in order to show the world that we’ve come, we have truly come a long way in accessibility.
Maayan: I believe you put an accessible parking sign up there as well. What were you hoping to achieve from that?
David: Yes, I planted it. A wheelchair accessible parking sign to say we can be your family, your lovers, your co-workers, your best friends, we all have a place in this grand project we call the human family. Now that we’ve got in place an Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We’ve got in place United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have very very mature human rights Codes and human rights Acts across Canada. We do have an environment ripe for change in Canada and right now political will is critical.
Luke: We really realized that wow, painting a simple ramp a really bright color can affect change, and yeah change the way people see things in their communities.
Sometimes we just have to laugh with it, right? I’ll walk into a room and sometimes the lights are you know, they’re trying to get something working, a projector working, or the lights are working, and I’ll just say hey, welcome to my world everybody!
David: I was always stunned from the time of my accident the very clear difference on how I was perceived before my accident versus how I was perceived after. I know intrinsically and internally I knew I was the same.
Tim: This is awesome cause normally when my chair is moving I am driving it but right now my chair is moving and I’m not driving it and that’s a little unsettling but in a good way.
Maayan [narrating]: Inclusive design has the potential to enable us all. When we move through spaces that are designed well we breathe better. We work, live and play better. And no one is disabled. Throughout history, our spaces have shifted as we have changed. We build bridges, make trains and planes to accommodate travel. We adapt our spaces to be more environmentally friendly. We install Wi-Fi hubs and beacons in our digital age. This is a relationship of cause and effect, shifts in our design thinking. As we move forward, how will we accommodate an aging population and people with disabilities? We may all need to consider how we’ll continue Shifting Space.
Special thanks to Tim Lorimer for his technical expertise. Thanks as well to Gene and Michael in Thunder Bay. Shifting space was produced at CBC in Toronto by Denis Calnan and me, Maayan Ziv.