Optimal’s Accessibility Practice has a Challenge for our Clients and Readers!

Grand Bend Strip - May 28, 2008 - Access-Growl...

Grand Bend Strip – May 28, 2008 – Access-GrowlingGator0682 (Photo credit: CaseyLessard)

OPC’s Challenge to all Clients & Readers

On Monday “disable” yourself and try to do your everyday tasks for the entire day, from your commute to work to returning home to make a meal to heading to your gym for your exercise.

When we were students of the Rehabilitation Medicine; Physiotherapy program at the University of Toronto one of the earliest and most important lessons we learned during a lab was, “what is it like to have a disability”?

During the class we were each assigned a “disability”  which included anything from having to use a wheelchair for the day to wearing a pair of sunglasses which had been smeared with a clear gel; some of us had to wear earplugs in our ears and another group had to hold a tennis ball in the dominant hand which then had a sock placed over that hand.

The point?

The Professors at the U of T School of Rehabilitation medicine determined that the only way to really understand what it was like to have a visual deficit, like cataracts or glaucoma; a hearing deficit; a mobility related disability and arthritis in our hands was to actually “disable” ourselves.

And with all of the talks I have been delivering across Ontario about the AODA, the IASR and the Ontario Build Code to employers it seems it is now time to encourage clients, attendees and our Blog readers to also “disable” themselves in the same way.

I am now convinced that the only way for those with solely business agendas foremost on their minds (and remember I am also a small business owner who has budgets to make and stick to and business priorities to make and adhere to, along with Strategic Plans and many stakeholders to abide) is to have you think of your parent who has a disability and really consider what a day is like in their lives. Or if that is too difficult to conjure, then I recommend you disable yourselves and not stop the “disability” due to some inconvenience you experience in getting to the elevator fast enough, or being heard during a morning meeting, or being able to read from your computer screen.

It will only be with the same “exercises” our excellent Professors at the U of T has us undertake will this forever change all of our mindsets and prejudices and mythology even, about disability. Let’s face it; many of our readers, clients, designers and business decision makers including Building Owners and Builders do not want to think about disability let alone understand why the AODA is in place in Ontario (with more provinces to follow soon). The reality is that your co-worker beside you may have a cognitive disability such as depression, or the young woman down the hall from you may have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the client on the end of your phone may be 55 years old and struggling with their hearing. Disability is everywhere; it is unavoidable. At some point in yours and our lives we will have a short term and maybe even a permanent disability. And it will be precisely at that point where you will realize, “holy smokes these stairs from the subway are really tough on my knees; I cannot find my way around the Toronto Path system at all; I wish this elevator called out the floors for me etc etc.”

So its Monday and let’s decide which disability we will give ourselves. Let’s head to work, interact with our family, head to the gym and make our evening meals. Then let’s come back in a week’s time to talk about how our environments in all of these circumstances helped us to have “normal abilities and access” or how our environment, buildings, design, wayfinding and other people’s attitudes acted to “disable us”.

I look forward to hearing how this went for you. And at OPC we look forward to learning if your views about the AODA and the Ontario Build Code change in any way following this exercise.

JE Sleeth, K McCarthy, Jacob Thadackal, Alex Hardie and the human factors and design team at Optimal Performance.

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