Acting Blind, It’s A thing!

When it comes to portraying people with disabilities in movies and/or series, it seems like producers are still missing the mark. Just a little caveat on my post. The topic is blind-centric, because that’s what I know. Other disabilities, (both visible and unseen) need to also be considered. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the “Daredevil” series, because everyone knows that I Am Daredevil! All kidding aside, Charlie Cox who played Matt Murdock (Daredevil) did a fantastic job, but I keep wondering… why wasn’t a blind person chosen for the part? Aren’t there blind actors out there? Do you have to be sighted to be a good, convincing blind person? Admittedly, I did consult on a series a few years back to help a sighted actor (act more blind), but I was pulled in after the series had already started. Turns out he was a nice guy, even took me out for beer and really got into his portrayal… did a pretty good job at that. I guess what I’m getting at is,

 

there needs to be a more concerted effort from the acting industry to reach out to the disability community and have a better representation of people with disabilities on screen. Things are changing, but it seems like a very slow process.

Just recently, I happened upon a casting call for a commercial where the company decided to reach out for a blind person to fill out one of the roles. Not because it was a blind role, but because they thought of being inclusive. I thought it was a breath of fresh air, still didn’t get the role though as they decided to go in a different direction, at least the thought was there.

 

This whole diatribe of mine stems from a series my wife mentioned to me last night called “In The Dark”. It sounds like a fantastic show and I’ll most likely watch it, because the main character is a blind woman with a guide dog. but you guessed it, the actor is not blind. There’s an article which describes as to why the producers came to this decision, so I’ll leave it to you to read it, but, I don’t know. I’m fairly well connected to social media, the blind community and the disability community in general, but I never did hear of a casting call for this part. Perhaps the industry just isn’t casting their talent acquisition feelers far enough, or the organizations they contacted just didn’t know how to handle their request? Who knows. At any rate, the article is found at the link below. I’d be curious to hear people’s comments.

 

‘In the Dark’ Producers: Why We Didn’t Cast a Blind Actress in Lead Role

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Digital Accessibility: A Love / Hate Relationship, Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 6:00 PM

I’m participating in a Digital accessibility round table in Toronto. See description below with a link to the Event bright tickets.
It’s opened to the public.  Space is limited.

 

Digital Accessibility: A Love / Hate Relationship, Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 6:00 PM |

 

Description
Join Wealthsimple and Fable Tech Labs to meet and learn from Toronto’s technology leaders in inclusive design and digital accessibility.
Schedule

6:00 – 6:30 p.m. : Networking
6:30 – 6:45 p.m. : Keynote
6:45 – 7:15p.m. : Panel
7:15 – 7:30. : Q&A
7:30 – 8:00 p.m. : Networking

Light refreshments and food will be served. There will be ASL interpreters at the event. To access the elevator, please enter through the 862 Richmond
Street West entrance (left side of the building). There will be signage to direct you.

For additional accommodations, please email
mallory@wealthsimple.com
Keynote

Samuel Proulx is an expert technology user today, but it didn’t start that way. Sam has had a love/hate relationship with technology since he was just
ten years old, using Windows 1995. As a blind user, he found the web to be an equalizer. As the Internet blossomed though, Sam grew with it, but has found
the equalizing effect it once had to be lost overtime.

Through his frustrations, Sam believes the Internet is strongest when it’s built by its users. Sam has managed online communities in various spaces for
18 years; he brings this expertise to Fable, helping us build an inclusive team of people from all walks of life, which spans across the entire country.

Description of Panel

Everyone has a different relationship with technology, often shaped by their abilities, opportunities, and life experiences. Our five panelists will touch
on the unique relationships that they have built with technology through online and offline communities. With topics ranging from first experiences with
technology to the independence technology has provided them, this discussion is sure to shine a light on the power, for better or worse, of technology
and community alike.

 

Panelists

Daniella Levy-Pinto, Accessibility Expert and Consultant

Martin Courcelles, Senior Accessibility Technology Specialist at OLG

Ka Yat Li, Accessibility and Usability Consultant

Vu Nguyen, Full-Stack Developer

Minette Samaroo, Accessibility Tester and Advocate of AEBC

EventBrite Tickets

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I Haven’t a Clew

It may seem that I don’t know how to spell, but turns out I found an interesting and intriguing little app. Clew is a way-finding utility that instead of relying on infrastructure such as beacons, uses the camera on the iPhone to record video and generates a breadcrumb-like map for the user to follow. Here’s what happens:
 The user taps on the “Start recording” button within the app,
 The user then walks with the phone’s camera pointing away from them, recording their surroundings,
 Once arrived at their destination, the user taps “Stop Recording”,
 The user can then tap on “Start Navigation” and “Get Directions”. The phone will then guide them by means of speech and sound effects back to their original starting point.

That’s mainly all there is to the app at present, but I imagine the app developer will add features such as saving routes, or sharing routes at a later date. Although this is a way-finding app geared towards blind users, I can imagine that once other features are added to the app, more people would find this rather handy.
You can find the app detailed description, a link to the IOS app store along with a video here:
Clew App Page

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It’s all about perspectives

For those who know me, you’ll inevitably have seen how I will shamelessly sacrifice myself for a good joke. Well, that content is more suited to Facebook, but nevertheless. I happened upon an NY Times Opinion piece Entitled: “How to really see a blind person”. It was well-written and did have some interesting content, but what hit me was how when I started comparing notes and wondering how I would react in the situations he describes, I realized
our experiences were so different simply because of perspective.
For example, For him, going through an airport is a nightmare. For me, it’s a chance to meet new people and
crack jokes with staff and security. For him, blindness is an obstacle, for me, it’s an ice breaker.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are days where I have pity parties, but again, it’s all perspective. There is no correct way to deal with blindness and we all cope differently. I guess I’m simply saying that I appreciate who I have become and enjoy laughing at myself. Being blind can be a regular sitcom, if you have the right perspective.

 

 

How To Really See A Blind Person

 

 

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A True Accessibility Win

Accessibility has always been a challenge for people with disabilities. I’m fortunate to live in the City of Toronto where I have the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, AODA. Enacted in 2005, it is supposed to enhance accessibility within our province and make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.
But now, there’s also whispers of a proposed federal accessibility guideline similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which possibly could make things easier for all Canadians with disabilities; not just key provinces.

Even though the act has made things easier for a person with a disability, in Ontario, there are still numerous physical and discriminatory challenges that frequently happen. Take for example riding transit. For a person with a mobile disability, not all subways are wheelchair accessible. The ones that are accessible may have issues such as broken-down elevators or elevators that are in perpetual repair. There’s one at Kennedy station for example that has been down since October and the wait for it to be back in service keeps being extended. See this story: Elevator down for Repairs

Snow proves to be quite the challenge as well. If sidewalks aren’t cleared after major storms, (which happens), this means anybody using mobility devices are stranded.
I recently had to reach out to my city representative, as it had been more than 72 hours and the sidewalks had still not been ploughed which could be deemed a safety issue for everyone. Things seem to have improved since then. For information on sidewalk clearing in Toronto, read this story: It snowed. Now who has to do the shoveling?

As a blind person, I frequently encounter discrimination when using taxis or ride share services. The most recent situation was last Tuesday morning when an Uber Assist driver stated he had dog allergies and drove away. To his credit, he did order another car for me, but that’s beside the point. If you’re going to drive for Uber Assist, you are going to encounter dogs. I gather the one hour online training had not sunk in with this particular driver. I reached out to both Uber and Uber Canada on Twitter, but they have not responded as of this writing. Turns out this is not an isolated issue either. See this story: UberAssist driver fined for denying ride to Paralympian

Okay, but what about the accessibility win you ask? Well, this is exciting, for me anyway. I frequently use the Kennedy subway station. Currently, there is a lot of construction around that area due to the Eglinton Crosstown project. Pedestrian traffic has been affected and rerouted via a lighted intersection. This is all fine and dandy, but the lighted intersection did not have audible pedestrian signals. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue, as I can read traffic fairly well. But this particular intersection has 2 bus turning lanes, pass through traffic for the parking lot and passenger drop off area; so yeah, pretty busy and confusing.

Addressing this issue proved to be more challenging than I first had thought. The transit folks said it wasn’t their issue, since the intersection is owned by the city, even though it’s on transit property. Turns out this was true, as what I thought was a driveway is actually a street. So off I go to bug the city about the intersection. They stated they could fix it within 4 hours. I was ecstatic. It was short-lived however, as I got a callback to inform me that a 4 hour turn-around is for a broken or defective traffic light. In order to have an accessibility assessment for this crossing, a request would have to be created and this would take a minimum of 9 months for it to be acted upon. I put in the request, without too much hope. Four hours to 9 months for a solution is pretty disheartening.

A few days later, I figured it was time to try a new tactic.
I decided to approach the Crosstown folks and my local city representative… and this is where the magic begins. I explained the situation via a well-worded email. The response was swift, (under an hour), and audible pedestrian signals were installed by end of day! That sort of thing is unheard of in Toronto. It’s been my experience that to install an audible signal on an existing traffic light location, it takes up to 3 years for it to happen. The last 3 requests that I have made through the city were installed after I moved away from the areas and that defeats the purpose; although I’m sure other people benefit from them.

Anyway, all this to say a simple thank you to the folks at MetroLinx working on the CrossTown project and also the construction team that installed the audible signals. It’s because of your swift response and actions that myself and others are now able to safely cross a very busy intersection. This is a true example of how accessibility can be quickly implemented when we all work together. Hopefully, the city of Toronto could learn from this example and expediate the installation of audible traffic signals. Why not just make it a standard that all new traffic signals include the audible feature!

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Employment for People With Disabilities

For most of who read this, you may already know that I am a blind individual. For those who don’t, surprise! It’s not something I hide, nor can I; what with my cute black lab guide dog. But, when it comes to life’s challenges, such as applying for a job, or even finding a life partner, divulging that I had a disability was never the first thing on my mind. For me, being blind has always been of a lesser concern. It’s not to say that I haven’t confronted adversity, or have been denied experiences because someone else deemed it to be too difficult, or dangerous for me. Anybody who visits my work cubicle and sees my skydiving certificate will realize that there is more to Martin than just being blind.

As for job interviews and the like, my parents have always told me to “show people your best side.” I guess what they meant by that was to show your potential employer your virtues and don’t be shy to sell yourself. It also doesn’t hurt that I bring all of my access technology to all interviews and demo their benefits. This in turn, breaks down the possible barriers that an employer might have and they can evaluate you as they would any other candidate. Despite all of my efforts, there have been some disappointing interviews where my disability became an issue, but I figure, it’s their loss, not mine.

With this preamble, I present to you an interesting entry of a woman dealing with a physical disability and her own experiences when applying for a job.
Employment for People With Disabilities is Dire

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When we design for disability, we all benefit

While recently trolling my social media accounts, I came upon this great Ted Talk.  For those who have worked with me, you’ll know that I’m all about accessibility and usability.  But hearing from me all the time about such topics rather gets old.  I figured I’d share this particular talk from Elise Roy.  Her experiences are quite different from mine, as she was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf at an early age.  However, like me, she has accepted her disability and has found clever solutions to everyday problems.  So check this TedTalk out.  It’s very much worth the time.

 

Elise Roy: When we design for disability, we all benefit. TED Talk

 

 

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Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Being the techno-geek and gadget-hoarder that I fully admit to, the following article rings true for me in so many ways. One of my side-hobbies is to offer my consultative services to various individuals/inventors, so as to comment on their products and/or devices that they are designing for the blind population throughout the world. Admittedly, some things that I evaluate are pretty amazing, while others? Well, read the article and you’ll find a few examples of badly researched ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad inventors and developers are out there, thinking out of the box, trying to help with the challenges that blind people encounter from a day to day basis. But, it’s important to ask your target audience, what are the challenges and how could we better address them. And what’s the deal with all of these vibrating way-finding devices anyway? Everything from vibrating shoes, belts, bracelets and even a wearable clip. The premise is similar in all these devices: get close to an object and the product will vibrate, alerting you to an obstacle. Admittedly, this would be great for finding the end of a Tim Hortons lineup, but I digress. Of course, these aren’t stand-alone solutions, they are an augmentative way-finding product. So I shouldn’t be too hard on them.

At any rate, I could wax on this topic Ad nauseam, but figure you’ll get more out of that blog entry I referred to above. Besides, it has a catchy name; catchier than mine anyway.
Blind Eye for the Sighted Guy

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Access For All and my involvement

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a PSA for the Rick Hansen Foundation.  Its slogan was Access For All.  But besides the PSA, they also did a blog interview on yours truly.  You can find both the interview and the PSA by following this link: http://bit.ly/249uH3Z

Enjoy!

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Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

What is this you say? Glad you asked.  Global Accessibility Awareness Day is celebrated on the 3rd Thursday of May.  In its 5th year of existence, its goal is still to bring awareness and educate the technology community on how to make all things accessible.

When I look back at the advances that have been made in accessibility over the years, it still amazes me.  I remember when the first automated teller machines were coming out in early 90s.  By then, the computers I used spoke to me via specialized programs with hardware-based text-to-speech.  They sounded terrible by the way, but they got the job done.
So why couldn’t the teller machines speak as well?  Why did it take so long?  I think it’s partly because speech technology wasn’t robust enough at the time and had to mature in order for it to be financially feasible.   Also, banks needed to be made aware that a portion of their clientele was not able to access their machines on their own.  The last piece was for the banks to require bank machine manufactures to implement accessibility into their design.  I’m sure legislation played a big part into getting things done, but the fact remains that I can now do my own banking like everybody else.  I can go to virtually any teller machine and voila, an ear phone jack. Plug in and I’m off to the races.
That’s what it essentially boils down to.  Most of the time, small modifications and enhancements enable a person with disability their independence.

Over the years, in my career which has turned out to be all about accessibility, I find myself spending a lot of time convincing people about the virtues of accessibility.  People tend to think that, I am requesting changes to web pages, work processes, document enhancements and the like only to benefit me; because I’m the blind guy.  The trick is to get individuals to see the bigger picture.  Accessibility doesn’t just affect a few token individuals.  The benefits can enhance all of our experiences.  One last story, only because I think it’s a great example of accessibility and usability success.  There was a web site here at work that many people accessed frequently.  I was one of those people.  The page had been coded using JAVA applets and other magic tricks.  Out of a lot of guess work and determination, I was finally able to access what I needed from that site, but suffice it to say that the experience was not fun at all.  I therefore slated this site as an accessibility fail and started discussing alternatives with my colleagues.  It turns out that I wasn’t the only one having issues with the site.  Because of the way things were coded on the page, it was only accessible via computer-based browsers; no mobile devices and/or tablets.  Jump forward 6 months…  After a few meetings, some beta-testing work from yours truly, and we have a fully accessible site, WCAG 2.0 Level AA and it’s also usable from mobile and tablets.  Everybody wins!

So, pause on this day and take an opportunity to think about accessibility for all.
Visit the GAAD website for further info:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

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