Blind people face new challenges to getting around the city
People with visual impairments say organizations often overlook their needs when adopting new services.
For most people, the elimination of a beeping sound on a keypad would seems innocuous, but for many vision impaired people in the city, it can seriously hamper how they get around.
A group of advocates for the blind is calling out the Société de transport de Montréal for violating its own universal accessibility policy by installing new keypads at several OPUS recharging machines that don’t provide an essential audio cue for blind users.
OPUS card rechargers currently have a service to allow those with visual impairments to plug in earphones for an audio guide. However, when users enter their payment information, new keypads now in use at certain métro stations no longer beep every time a person presses a button. That means users can’t be sure if they have properly entered their information.
Yvon Provencher, a spokesperson for the Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Montréal métropolitain (RAAMM), said the STM was aware that the sounds were required for visually impaired people to use the devices. He said without the beeps, blind users can’t have any confidence in the system, comparing it to fully sighted people being confronted with a screen that’s all black.
Provencher is not the only one with a beef against the STM or other public organizations for failing to adapt to the needs of those with disabilities.
STM spokesperson Philippe Déry said the agency suspended the replacement of the keypads until models with sound can be used. However, Provencher said the STM should not have had to wait for a public outcry to take such action.
“Why did they agree to buy this knowing there was a problem,” said Provencher, who is blind. “And if they didn’t ask the supplier for this, then why not?”
Notre-Dame-de-Grace resident Tina Mintz said she is not going to be seriously inconvenienced by the replacement of the keypads, since she usually recharges her card at a pharmacy. However she has noted that some new technology adopted by the transit agency that is supposed to help those with disabilities doesn’t always work perfectly.
“There are always little glitches,” she said. “It’s very nice that the buses and the métros now all have automatic announcements saying what station you are at, but I have learned you can’t always trust them, because sometimes there’s no audio, or they are out of synch. I was once on the métro and it announced we were at Champs-de-Mars, but it was a good thing I have a nose, because I could smell the pizza and I knew I was really at Berri-UQAM.”
Mintz travels the country with her guide dog, a yellow lab named Keanna, giving sensitivity training classes for a company called Kéroul. She said she has had mostly positive experiences with the STM.
“I only had one problem in 33 years taking the bus when a driver wouldn’t let me on with my dog, and the people in the bus stood up for me. I called a supervisor and the driver was disciplined right away.”
Mintz said her current beef is with the city of Montreal, which she said has shown ignorance to the needs of people with guide dogs in its new animal control bylaw.
Adopted in 2016, the bylaw requires any dog weighing more than 20 kilograms to wear a harness. However, that’s a problem for Mintz because it means neither she nor anyone else can take her dog for a leisurely walk. While the part of the bylaw banning pit bulls was recently repealed, the harness provision remains, and there are currently no exceptions for those who have guide dogs. Mintz is hoping the city reconsiders when it redrafts the bylaw later this year.
“My dog is in harness when she’s on duty,” Mintz said. “She’s not in harness when she wants to sniff other dogs, or sniff the grass or play or pee or poop. If you’re going to give me a $700 ticket for having my dog out of harness, that means she’s going to be on duty all the time when she’s outside, and that’s not fair.”
Mintz said she has mostly had positive experiences getting around the city with her guide dog, but she knows some people can have a problem with it, and she has at times been refused service.
“Most chain restaurants will understand this, but every so often, I’ll go to a small ethnic restaurant where I can have a problem. Whenever I go to a new restaurant, I go prepared to have that conversation,” Mintz said.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind hopes it can help Mintz spread the word about the rights of people with guide dogs. It is embarking on a new national campaign to raise awareness.
“I can tell you it’s a big problem across Canada,” said Victoria Nolan, the head of stakeholder relations and community engagement about service dogs for the CNIB. “I’m a guide dog user myself and it happens very frequently that I am refused service.”
Nolan, who is blind and has a guide dog, has filed numerous complaints about discrimination she has endured. She said authorities must make it easier for people with physical disabilities to get justice.
“If you file a complaint, it’s a very long and frustrating process that takes years,” she said. “(Discrimination) happens a lot, but people don’t want to file complaints because the process is (so cumbersome).”
Un article de Jason Magder, publié le 17 février 2018 dans le Montreal Gazette.