Services and accommodations provided to the disabled should be on par with those provided to the general population
Offering ways for disabled clients or customers to access one’s business or institution that are of significantly lower quality than that offered to the general population is unacceptable.
You may have read my previous piece, This Is What Ableism Looks Like, in which I described my frustrating experiences with our city’s public libraries. This began all the way back in early March, and I did not get a “resolution” until May 17, a full two and a half months later.
You know what their resolution was?
Essentially, the exact same system they’d already had in place, the very system which had caused problems to begin with.
Ignorance and inefficiencies
In March I shared how I needed to book the tutorial room at a branch close to my home. The only option available on the website at that time was to call the brach directly, which I am unable to do as I am hard of hearing.
When I inquired about accessible options, I was asked to email the central libraries administrative account, which connected me with someone overseeing all municipal libraries — we have 20 different branches in the city of Winnipeg alone.
The auto-reply on the email advised it would take 48–72 hours to receive a response.
In addition to having to wait 2–3 business days to have my email acknowledged, the central administrator didn’t even have access to the tutorial rooms schedule, so they then had to contact the branch directly to ensure availability prior to confirming my booking with me.
Talk about an inefficient system.
It gets more ridiculous
In April things came to a head. After multiple negative experiences with the branch staff being rude and pushy with myself (and my young student!), I contacted their coordinator to ask for assistance, accessibility, and accountability.
It took a week just for the coordinator to offer to book the room for me, resulting in the same inefficient process as before — someone else having to contact the branch on my behalf in order to confirm availability and make the booking.
Not only that, but this resolution only helps me.
It is estimated that 4% of Canadians are Deaf (and that’s based on 2012 data, our population has grown significantly in the past decade). Extrapolating to Manitobans (the province in which I reside), our population is currently 1.3 million, 4% of which is 52,000 citizens.
Those are just the people who were included in the 2012 census data, and doesn’t include non-speaking individuals, or those who for whatever reason cannot speak or hear on the phone.
I’m one of at least 52,000 citizens who might benefit from alternative means of accessing services.
I was not looking for an individual solution, leaving the problem for the next person to deal with, I was looking for a broader solution that would help other patrons as well.
I had also asked for their plan to educate their library staff on providing courteous and accessible services to disabled, Deaf, Hard of Hearing, non-speaking, and neurodivergent patrons.
Those questions were not answered.
I expressed these concerns to the coordinator, and we emailed back and forth a few times in mid-April.
A resolution!… ?
About two weeks ago, I finally received a response with an updated plan. This is the brilliant plan which took them 2 1/2 months to develop:
Let me see if I understand this correctly.
The procedure they had in place when I inquired in March was for me to send an email to the central administrator, wait for them to contact the branch directly, then wait for them to reply to my email to confirm the booking.
This process would take 2–3 business days by email, and 2–3 minutes for those who could contact the branch directly by phone.
With me so far?
Their new procedure — after a long and gruelling 2 1/2 months of planning — is for me to email “special services”, wait for them to contact the branch directly, then wait for them to email me back and confirm the booking.
I shit you not.
I didn’t want to be impulsive and react with a less-than-professional reply, so I took a breath and clicked the link they provided to see if I there was better information provided on their public website. I hoped there was more to this than what I was gathering from the email.
Here’s what I found:
Now it won’t take 48–72 hours to receive a response — oh no, that wouldn’t do! It will take up to 72 hours. See the difference?
I send my request to a different email address, wait the same length of time (or longer), for the same result.
This is what passes for accessibility in our public sector. It’s not just libraries, that’s for certain.
If you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, consider this: how many non-disabled people kick up a fuss over much smaller inconveniences? Wanna know why?
Well for one, they may feel entitled, be used to getting their way, and used to having the world revolve around them. That’s one easy. Even more telling, they come up against these barriers so infrequently, it feels like a Really Big Deal when they encounter one.
The irony of it is accommodations for disabled people often make life easier and more accessible for everyone, not just those for whom the accommodations were made.
Accommodations for disabled people often make life easier and more accessible for everyone.
Let’s imagine patrons were able to email each library branch directly. This would allow Deaf people to access services in a timely manner. This may also help non-speaking, hard of hearing, and neurodivergent people do the same.
This would provide options for people with auditory processing disorder (APD), who hear fine, but struggle to process information aurally, or people with anxiety who find phone conversations incredibly stressful.
Electronic communication helps people with memory challenges, who need written documentation to refer back to for when they forget important details.
It could be useful for people who work day jobs and are not allowed to use their phones or make personal phone calls during work hours. They can’t call the library once it’s closed, but they can send an email and receive a response the following day.
I could go on (you know I can).
These are small examples of change that needs to happen on a much larger scale. Our public institutions, especially those which are funded by us, the tax-payers, need to be the first to set the example and create change.
Until then, I’ll have plenty of fodder for my articles, that’s for sure.
© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB
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Performative Accessibility Is Good For Business, Not Disabled People
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