Tag Archives: Access to Information

Voting Day Blues

I have been very hyped about this election. Why?  I have chomped at the bit in anticipation of dramatically and meaningfully casting my inaccessible ballot at the polling station. Let me remind you about the core elements of a democratic vote; secret, independent and verifiable. I have gone on and on, to EVERYONE who will listen and to some who won’t, about the importance of these elements, the sanctity of the electoral process, and how I am denied this right by virtue of inaction on the part of Elections Canada. I am blind, as are hundreds of thousands of other voters. We do not have electronic voting in Canada. We do not have telephone voting. We do not have voting machines at the polls. We do not have Braille ballots. I thought that today I would be pumped and ready to let loose my schpeel at the Presbyterian church where I would be voting. I ran through my dialogue, my diatribe, my kvetching complaint, like a Shakespearean actor preparing for Stratford.

Here’s what really happened. I made it to the church, and found myself outside with a woman in a wheelchair attempting to open a monstrously large door (no automatic opener). I opened it for her, but it was not wide enough. A worker from the poll came and helped to open another door. I commented wryly about Elections Canada and their accessible voting sites. She commiserated. By this point, I had, for some reason, already lost my oomph.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or ‘my time of the month’.  Some one came over as Opal and I walked into the large church basement. The usual useless pointing and “over there” was followed by an arm-grab which I yanked away.  Someone else gave sensible directions to the table I needed.  My ID was requested and checked.  I did NOT give a long-winded lecture on the difficulty blind people have in meeting ID requirements, given that we don’t have driver’s license and many of us have no passport. Some of us choose not to have or use a charitable ID (CNIB) for reasons which are too numerous and complicated for this blog.  I provided my stunning photo ID cards which have a photo of Opal and me posing together (CGDB and the Attorney General of Ontario), but my Guide dog ID cards do not have my address on them, so I added a phone bill. I had considered bringing a Braille bill, but I did not want to be turned away. At this point, the DRO asked if I wanted a Braille template. My interest peaked, as I thought I had discussed this ad nauseum with Silvestre from elections Canada and had confirmed there would be no Braille on the ballot, and to expect the usual flaky template. Now I had no idea what they were offering me.  I asked (just to confuse them) if it was contracted or uncontracted Braille. The had no clue, so I let them off the hook and told them that I knew both, so it did’nt matter.  The DRO put the ballot into the ‘Braille template’ and then came the offer to “come into the voting area with you”. I said I would pass, given that I had this allegedly accessible Braille template in my hand.  Opal and I parked ourselves behind the privacy screen at a little table. I started to read the template. Numbers. Just numbers! I called out, “um, there’s no names here, just numbers”.  The old lady who had grabbed me when I came in, offered to read the names to me. I said that would not do. The DRO guy came over and offered to read them “as they appear in sequence. then you pick the braille number”, he said with full expectation that somehow this would be acceptable to me. I had PLANNED to make a big ‘to-do’, maybe proclaim myself the Rosa Parks of the voting blind, given that I am repeatedly told that blind people ‘have found this acceptable for years’. Instead, I told him “no thanks”, and ” if I can’t read it for myself”…( in a country where government material must be provided in alternate formats by law),  “I’ll have to  spoil my ballot”. He apologised (as everyone always does). I scrawled multiple X’s in allthe holes in my template and ballot and handed it to the old lady. She wisely did not attempt to go into the  insufferably patronizing routine of allowing me to put it in the box, but quickly disposed of it, stuffing it into the ballot box herself.   I walked out, declining someone’s eager offer for me to use the elevator, saying, “my legs are fine, we’ll use the stairs”. I left deflated.   I did not call the media, or my party delegate, or the PM (who doesn’t give a flying f…k anyway), or the queen, or Silvestre at Elections Canada (who I’m guessing was pretty busy today). Instead, I went for my routine blood work and called it a day. I wish I was one of those clever musicians, ’cause I’d be writing a tune tonight…’Voting Day Blues’.

STOP PRESS!!! Megan Leslie, newbie NDP canditate and personal acquaiantance declared winner of Halifax riding! Go get em in Ottawa, kid…and remember your roots…and your blind friends…

Advertisements

A Blog is a Blog is a Blog…

This is the 173 rd blog I have written. The bean (stats) counter on this page reveals that 13,479 + hits have occurred…and still counting  like Micky D’s keeps track ….”139,000,000,000,001 (bad burgers) served”. Traffic has been low for some blogs and through the roof for others. I am grateful for the interesting assortment of loyal readers and occasional visitors.  I know that some readers occasionally find my opinions harsh, my tone insolent, my satiric wit inappropriate….but I would say this in all seriousness…actually, I think it was Voltaire who said, ” I may not believe in what you say, but I will fight to my death for your right to say it”….

What I do NOT appreciate are misguided comments regarding the content of this blog.  Allow me to explain. It seems an individual is on the receiving end of reading (er, listening to someone read  TO them) SELECT blogs and  select ‘comments’ which I have written in response to  reader comments. That person is ‘disturbed’ by my words. My first thoughts are, (now get this straight ‘reader’/paraphrasing guy!!) you are not reading this yourself. Neither of us knows if you are getting an accurate rendition (verbatim and complete) of what I have written.  Reading is very subjective and interpretive.  Tone, inflection, reading speed, response to punctuation etc are all factors in the process that impact our perception of the text.  You, sadly have no control over that because someone else is reading to you and we don’t know how well they are doing that.  You have apparently not listened to someone read those numerous  blogs I wrote which I know you would find astoundingly interesting, informative, and sympathetic to the human condition.  Assuming that you are getting  an accurate reading of the controversial ones,   my second thought is, GET A GRIP!   Yes, I do have strong opinions about many things…the CNIB for example. That is my right. I have not slandered them. They do a fine job of screwing themselves up.  As for the mayor and my comment about “short guy with a whiny voice”? I talked to him last night. We kibutzed and laughed. He’s OK with me and my blog. He also is grateful that I work so hard for his city without payment…and he IS short and does have a whiny voice. it seems you are the one with a problem. The problem? You are in that horrible, dependant situation of passively receiving bits of my blog via a  third party  because you can not access it independently. Frankly, I think THAT  is more of an issue than the contents of this blog. That aside, I would say that the essence of any communication and voicing of opinion,  lends itself to a contrary or different opinion on the topic by anyone and everyone who hears or reads it.  The minute we open our mouths in the morning and begin saying stuff … ” I don’t like big cities, or Republicans, or Liberals, or the taste of chicken, or the movie last night”, someone else is going to have another opinion. That’s life. You would have enjoyed the blogs I wrote that support your like-minded position….on gay rights, homophobia (see ‘God loves Everyone’)  tips on independent living, fairness to animals and more. Trouble is, nobody’s reading those to you. Hmm. Maybe you should get over to that charitable organization you feel I trash too much and see if they will find you some computer gear so that you can check my blog yourself. If you do not wish to do so, (or they won’t/can’t give you what you need–a more likely scenario), then realize that I usually voice my opinion and temper it by adding something to the effect that others may not share it.  While I may talk ABOUT  the organizations or groups that I am involved with, I do not speak FOR them.  It seems that your ‘reader’ is doing you a selective disservice. I can not write something that will interest or please every reader all of the time, or even half of them. What I do know is, that many people including: guide dog handlers and  puppy-raisers, animal lovers, a jeweler in Australia, an urban planner in the UK, guide dog trainers, a blind guy who applauded my blog on who is suited to having a guide dog,  several authors,  Unitarians, environmentalists, a micro publisher in California, a gay guy somewhere in the world,  a woman in Italy who has a blind friend, a budding film maker, a vacuum cleaner rep, many people who want their bus stops announced, friends, a centre for the blind in the Eastern USA, a small initiative to publish audio books in Africa….all of these people and many more have found something useful in my writing. Others? Some are not happy, but they tend not to comment directly on the blog or to me very much….they just bitch behind my back. The wonderful thing about freedom of speech and the information age, is how the inter-connectedness of the world becomes so evident. This is the end of this discussion my friend…unless your selective ‘reader’ does not pass THIS blog on too.

CNIB AGM and ‘Community Meetings’…be there and be heard

The CNIB is having their Annual General Meeting in Toronto on September 27 th, at least that’s what I was told. I could not confirm this on their website…guess they don’t want anyone to know.  The local Nova Scotia/PEI Division is having its ACM (“Annual Community Meeting”) on Wednesday, September 24th. A community meeting is the spin that the local deadheads have put on an AGM which does not present an annual financial report. I can’t seem to get any accurate accounting for what this organization does with its money…er, that would be the money they suck out of innocent people who donate to their financial campaigns…like the horribly tasteless and demeaning e-mail campaign which caused such an uproar recently. No matter.  I have resigned myself to the fact that accountability, consultation  and transparency are not words in the CNIB vocabulary or philosophy. Imagine my delight when the local whiz kid who just won the NDP nomination in Halifax (Megan Leslie) invited me to attend this community meeting with her. I guess she needs an entourage in the guise of a friendly blind friend who can create a potentially good reason to leave (“Opal has a play date in Chicago! Let’s go, Megan!”).  It will be fun, I’m sure to go to this thing and have a sensible ally. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians was calling for a cross-Canada series of protests at the CNIB offices on the day that CNIB has their AGM (September 27th, I think). Why? Let me count the ways CNIB merits a slap on the wrists;

1- They must be publicly accountable for the tasteless and demeaning e-mail campaign which was the icing on the nutty CNIB cupcake for many blind people this year.

2- The CNIB plans to change their constitution to allow for a sighted CEO/president. I guess little Jim Sanders is going to be going quietly into that good night. I think there must be a stipulation about employing a percentage of staff within CNIB who are blind.

3- The CNIB services across the country have taken a gigantic nosedive.

4- The current philosophy  of this merry band is a little skewed for many of us (not client centered, not service centered, not democratic), and

5- The monopolistic status of this organization that purports to speak on behalf of the blind.

So, if you are remotely interested in the rights of the blind, the nasty decline of services that the CNIB has taken, or the REALLY BAD IDEA of having a non-client as president of the CNIB (or at least a quota that ensures blind staff, and if you are tired about the dismal road that CNIB is travelling,  then get to a CNIB near you and voice your thoughts on it. Call the media! Call you friends and family and ask for their support in protesting on September 27th in Toronto, or at the numerous protests across Canada at CNIB offices planned that day…or you might go to a fake AGM, like the one here in Halifax which they are calling an Annual Community Meeting.

Opal Votes

Mum says we are going to the NDP nomination meeting to vote (for Megan Leslie). She didn’t seem too happy about it…says someone else is going to read the ballot, point where to sign, watch her do it and check it for her…so why bother?   She seemed to brighten up a moment later  when she got one of her ‘ideas’.  Now she says I AM GOING TO VOTE FOR HER!!! cause I’m so smart, and she trusts me and we’re going to make a statement about accessible voting for the blind. I don’t usually say much but now I get to make a statement….wow!

Hey Operator!

That’s right, I mean you, the  Bell Aliant operator on duty yesterday afternoon. Watch out lady, ’cause you’re in store for some deep doo dah. Did ya think I’d just ‘let it go’? Not a chance, babe. Sure, it took 30 minutes to go through the complaint process with the customer service department, but at least I have the reassurance that you will be ‘spoken to’. Maybe you will think twice before you say something stupid when a PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER dials and asks you how to go about making a conference call. Maybe you won’t say, “the number for the conference operator is in the phone book” in reply to a PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER who has told you that the Aliant web site is INACCESSIBLE and won’t cough up the information she needs. Maybe when that PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER says, “I can’t read the phone book” , your smart ass sarcastic reply will not be, “You can’t read?”  Maybe you won’t mutter to the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER, who tells you in frustration (even though it is none of your bloody business) that she is blind, “ok, wait a sec”  and follow that up by shouting, “What did you say?” when the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER says “thanks for that”.  Maybe you won’t proceed to grumble and send the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER into her own voicemail system instead of linking her to the conference call operator.  Yep, maybe you will just do your job in the first place and provide the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER with information instead of going down that murky road by asking, “can’t you read?”. Maybe the reprimand will include reading a fact sheet with statistical information about the 6,000,000  or more Canadians who can not read print because of a visual, perceptual or intellectual disability. Maybe your boss will tell you that it doesn’t matter why the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER can’t READ a phone book, or why they don’t HAVE a phone book, or why they don’t WANT to use their phone book…you just do what the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER requests.

STOP PRESS!!! This just in: Aliant Customer Service Management tippy-toeing very carefully all over an apology to Wise advice. It seems that the Aliant operator in question is going to have that informative talk with her supervisor this afternoon….

Accessible Voting–I’ll Vote For That!

The electoral process is still held in high regard by most of society. The right to participate in the democratic process has been hard fought by many groups. It continues to be fought in countries such as Zimbabwe.  Some Canadians take for granted the opportunity to participate FULLY in the democratic voting process.  This includes seeking nomination as a candidate, participating in candidate meetings, informing oneself about the party platforms, voting in secret, and being able to independently verify how one voted.   My parents instilled in me a healthy sense of responsibility about my ‘duty’ to vote. I have done so, at all levels of government, since I reached the age of majority. I have voted by proxy when I was out of the country. I have struggled to the polls on crutches.  There are three components that are essential to voting: 

  1. Secrecy: privacy
  2. Independent: without assistance from another person to choose and mark your choice.
  3. Verification: being able to check how you voted after you have marked it.

Voting has become more accessible for people who are disabled, however, it remains unacceptably inaccessible for most people who are blind, deaf-blind, or partially sighted.  Most often, a template is offered, but this offers no means of verification. Blind people usually must depend on voting with another person to set up the template etc.. Braille ballots are sometimes available, but Braille is not used by over 80% of adult people who are blind.  Some jurisdictions are attempting alternative means of voting for the blind. These include using on-site computers with audio, tactile, sip and puff interfaces which make it possible for people who are blind or quadriplegic to vote independently. Electronic (Internet) voting is also being tried (Halifax’s next municipal election will allow people to vote over the Net or with a cell phone and a pin number which they will receive in the mail). Intelivote Systems of Dartmouth NS is working to convince cities in Canada that electronic voting will increase voting stats, particularly with younger voters.  It also has environmental appeal. Me? I prefer the on-site buzz at the polls. BUT, I want to see the next provincial election here, to be fully accessible to me and others who have vision loss. I want the candidates to provide me and others who are partially sighted with their platform and  ‘pitch’ in alternate formats. I want to go to the polls and be given an accessible list of candidates names on the ballot (in Braille, audio electronic or large print) and I want to vote ALONE, and to CHECK MY CHOICE on my ballot MYSELF before I put it in the box. Tomorrow, I meet with my MLA, Graham Steele and a representative from the Elections Nova Scotia. Hmm. 

Wise Advice For Web Masters….on ACCESSIBILITY

Call me wishful. I had an inspired moment yesterday. The web master for our city’s web site contacted me after I had sent in a complaint about not being able to ‘read’ a lot of stuff on the HRM site with my screen reading software. Screen reading software (like Jaws or Guide) enables someone who cannot see their monitor (like blind folk), to listen to a mechanical or synthesized  voice reading whatever is on the screen;  e-mail, web page etc.  At least, that’s what is suppose to happen in  theory. In practice, many web sites are ridiculously difficult or impossible to navigate with Jaws. There is a movement afoot towards web accessibility standards. Retail giant, Target in the USA is in a legal battle with the NFB (National Federation of the Blind) over their inaccessible web site. Hmm.  Here’s my wise advice today for web masters (so that they can  ‘test’ their own sites for accessibility): go to the Freedom scientific site…

http://freedomscientific.com/fs_downloads/jaws.asp

 and download a FREE trial version of Jaws software. Learn to use it. Then turn your computer monitors OFF and navigate your own site using Jaws. Try the links, the documents, opening pages etc.  Have fun!