Friday, August 19, 2016

Come Out for TTC Accessibility for All!

Accessibility of all kinds is pitiful on Toronto's TTC.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 at 4:00pm
Please join us at Yonge and Bloor
To protest this blatant injustice towards our most vulnerable citizens.

When you protest the TTC's abysmal treatment of the disabled, we all win!

D!ONNE Renée is the organizer behind this event. If you have any questions, want to throw your virtual support behind her, or have comments, reach out to her via email or on Twitter at @OnElectionDay.

Click to listen to audio announcment.

The announcement reads:

Accessibility is a Right -- Not an Option

On Wednesday, August 31, 2016 - Between 4pm - 8pm, on behalf of community and Public interests, an #AccessibilityNow! TTC campaign/protest will take place starting in the Yonge and Bloor area to raise issues concerning discrimination based on disability, barriers, and ableism in transit and its services.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets out the interpretation for "barriers." Too many barriers exist within the TTC. It is not acceptable to take a "minimum/at least" approach in improving access for all. The standard should be a model that reflects an equal to or greater than the access that is currently available, model. The equal to or greater than the access that is currently available model is a model of equity and equality.

People have a right to access public systems; in this right, people should feel that they have the option to be free to choose whether they access those systems or not. We are all not free just to be.

Approximately 35 out of 65 subway stations are "partially accessible," on good days. Functioning equipment = good days. "Partially accessible" means that all patrons don't have the option to access the system for lack of elevators, Braille information and helps, proper signage (large print, clear, large-enough digital boards), functional escalators, inaccessible entrances/exits (now including Presto Card gates and readers) to subway stations, buses, streetcars, and extraordinary Wheel Trans wait/scheduling. Plus the TTC worsened accessibility when they began replacing the names of Toronto's subway lines with confusing numbers.

TTC (and transit across Ontario and Canada) must be proactive in its operations and provide equality in its services and not discriminate against anyone, including people with disabilities and/or people requiring accessible access in order to use its systems. TTC was able to find money to implement Presto Card systems into its subway, bus, and streetcar services even though the gate systems being used at subway and bus stations are all not accessible; but TTC seems to be unable to be actively proactive in ensuring that all areas of TTC are fully accessible.

While this event will take place in downtown Toronto, the issues and concerns being raised affect all of Ontario and Canada. We want everyone to have the ability to travel independently, or in group, as we so choose.

We want a barrier-free Canada.

Will you help?

Will you join the protest and invite others to do so too? Will you gather with community in accessibility advocacy? #AccessibilityNow #GetItRight #AODA #AODAFail

Monday, June 27, 2016

Letter to TTC CEO Byford re Subway Line Numbers

I wrote the following email to Mr. Byford and am told I'll be receiving a formal reply.

Dear Mr. Byford,

As you know through the TTC's generous donation of ad space, June is Brain Injury Awareness Month. I have a brain injury. The TTC allows me to be independent; however your decision to rename the subway lines to numbers has jeopardized mine and others' independence, and I have a question about that.

Numbers are confusing and meaningless. Numbers require memorization. And people with brain injury have poor memories. For example, we have to remind ourselves where we're going. We're not likely to remember a number, no matter how often we repeat it, but we can remember names because they have meaning and context. The Yonge Line runs up Yonge Street. If we want to go to Yonge, we know to head to the Yonge Line. We don't know if Line 2 is Yonge or 4 or maybe 1. Translating from a number to a name requires cognitive effort, eg, from Line 1 to Yonge Line to Yonge Street. People with brain issues don't have the cognitive resources to do that without being heavily fatigued. Some simply cannot. I happen to know the TTC quite well and have good numeracy skills, but even I find @TTCnotices and radio traffic announcements confusing and thus frustrating. No one I've spoken to with or without brain injury understand the numbers. Even when I try to explain them, I get blank stares and frustrated comments: why don't they just use the names? They wonder: When will you rescind the change to numbers, return our beloved TTC subway names to us?

When you confuse people, you frustrate them. And when you frustrate people with brain injury, many of whom also have PTSD, you increase the risk of rage. We have enough problems with TTC rage without the TTC introducing a new source.

You have set a noble goal of making the TTC a beacon of accessibility. I have used several English and non-English subway systems. New York's I found the worst to navigate because it uses numbers and letters. I recently used the London Underground. The Underground is far more accessible and inclusive for those of us with cognitive challenges than the TTC. Its subway line names have meaning; their use of colours enhance navigability. If they had used numbers, I as a tourist, would have been completely lost. Plus I would have had no sense of place or London's history, which as a tourist I value. Taking away the subway line names from the TTC has also taken away that historical sense tourists and Torontonians value so much.

Names are inclusive.

Numbers are not. I wrote on why numbers are not (evidence-based research is down at point 4):

You cannot make the TTC a beacon of accessibility as long as you use subway line numbers. My question: When will you delete the numbers and restore word names to the TTC's subway system?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,
Shireen Jeejeebhoy
Cabbing it not TTC'ing it as I recover from surgery and being less stressed for it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Party Politics Appeals to this Non-Partisan Blogger -- For A Moment

I watched the NDP's Convention Live Stream on CBC News' iPad app, well, I watched Tom Mulcair's speech and the voting afterward while I did the laundry or drank coffee and recovered from my month of crowdfunding. I thought as I watched: it's appealing being a party member. For a political junkie like me, it looked like a lot of fun!

Being a Canadian, I am free to vote in our elections for whichever candidate and party I want to -- if I was a party member, I could even vote against the party I'm a member of since every vote is a secret ballot and my ballot is exactly the same as every Canadian citizen's ballot. Being a non-partisan blogger and Canadian, I am free to choose which party I agree with at any given moment without feeling like I'm betraying anyone.

But there is no party of non-partisan Canadians.

The closest I got was the pre-social media group of non-partisan bloggers that James Bow founded. Many of us transitioned to social media back in 2008 or later . . . about the same time I outed myself by name and gender and expanded my postings to beyond politics. It got a little lonely.

But as a partisan Canadian, you're not lonely.

You get to be part of a group. You get to have your say and affect a party's policy direction. You get a say in who our future Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition will be. And you get to talk shop, debate heatedly, feel like you live in a democracy, and go home exhausted, on a high of being with other people like you.

It sure is appealing.

But ultimately, I'm not suited to group-think. I like groups that gather around other things like the Brain Injury Society of Toronto, where thinking or believing in a similar way is not the entrance to the group. In its mission, I belong. But in thought, I stand outside this group.

My freedom in non-partisanship comes at a price.

Monday, March 14, 2016

It's Getting Hairy on the Concussion Crowdfunding Front!

I want to publicly thank the many people who have encouraged and supported me in my efforts to update Concussion Is Brain Injury. Your kind words have lifted me up and kept me going.

However, I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock and need your help to climb over it.

Today’s publishing world is moving towards readers essentially pre-ordering books by joining in crowdfunding. Publishers want to see tangible interest in the books they think are worth publishing before they proceed. My publisher, Iguana Books, and I believe Concussion Is Brain Injury is worth seeing the light of day, but it won’t unless my crowdfunding efforts succeed in the next two weeks. So far, we’re not even at 10 percent of the goal. Eek! 

Concussion Is Brain Injury needs a rewrite to include a wealth of new brain injury research from the past three years, along with my own remarkable improvements and the methods I’ve used to achieve them. Crowdfunding will fund the editing, cover design, and the all-important marketing of my book.

this is an amazing book that really sheds the light on how little is known about concussion,and brain injuries my good friend Shireen Jeejeebhoy now  wants to publish a second edition but can only do this by raising money through crowdfunding .  Shireen Jeejeebhoy  has new ground breaking new material that challenges the status Quo about brain injuries and needs to be read and heard” - Nancy Howson as shared on Facebook.

Seeing readers who’ve put their money where their interest is will spur me on to write faster, which as you know can be a challenge with brain injury. But I’m up for it, to get Concussion Is Brain Injury out and into readers’ hands by the Fall. Are you?

If you have any questions about the book or PubLaunch, please don’t hesitate to email me through the yellow button on my PubLaunch web page or leave a comment on this post. Thank you for reading this and considering participating in my quest!!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Crowdfunding is Nail Biting!

Crowdfunding is so risky. You're seeing if anyone is interested in reading your book before you even put it out, or in the case of my biography/memoir Concussion Is Brain Injury, if anyone is interested in reading an update. Many indie authors are excited about crowdfunding, but I always was wary. I've taken risks with my health in order to get better, but publishing my writing . . . not like this! It's 10 days in, and it's not going so well. Kind of disheartening. I've received wonderful encouragement, notes of congratulations, supportive messages but so far, only 10 tangible backers -- only ten people and organizations have said with their cash that they want to read Concussion Is Brain Injury and believe it's worth backing.

How about you? Are you thinking about it, wondering if this is just another book on concussion -- yawn -- or still mulling over whether to back it? How about this, how about another excerpt? Will that help? I hear a resounding Maybe! So here it is:

Waiting, Waiting for the Worst News

April 3rd, I had my first IME: that’s Independent Medical Exam for those of you blessedly innocent of the medicine-through-insurance-company system. The idea is that after you are injured in a car crash, your doctor refers you to a physiotherapist, say, and the physiotherapist fills out a treatment plan for the insurer. Since naturally the GP you’ve been seeing for years can’t be trusted to know your health, the insurer, with governmental blessing, sends you to a doctor who knows squat about you because that way they can be trusted to advise what you really need. And to ensure true independence, the insurer pays the IME doctor so that s/he has zero obligation to you, the suffering claimant, under the do-no-harm rubric of society.

My first IME arrived the afternoon of Monday, April 3, 2000.

I was riddled with anxiety the night before because this IME was happening awfully early in the process. I’d been through Ontario’s insurance accident benefits system nine years earlier. I had a sense of how this system of expert-versus-expert worked, with me and my health care team struggling against it to make me better.

It’s horrible.

It’s a ritual of being told the date of your appointment and being told you have to show up, even if it means cancelling the medical appointments designed to get you better. It’s a ritual of the doctor examining you in such a way so as to determine you are fine. It’s a ritual of pain, confusion, fatigue that attacks your honesty and your health, yet if you don’t remain calm and be co-operative, you will be blackmarked. That means denial of your treatment plans — the lifeline to getting better. It’s a ritual of waiting to hear the verdict while reports are written and the insurer decides if they’ll pay the clinic or therapist to continue to heal you. It’s a ritual of you begging the therapist or clinic to keep you on while we all wait — or after the plan is denied so that your treatment won’t be interrupted, for interrupted treatment means setbacks, maybe even permanent disability.
But I knew the system. I knew how to behave, what to say. I knew how to protect my muscles and other parts from being re-injured. Yet I felt completely overwhelmed, terrified that the IME would derail my plan of action to get back to writing Lifeliner.

Between the severe pain in my right injured shoulder and my fear, I couldn’t fall asleep the night of April 2nd. I remember lying on my back, praying for release from this hell. I couldn’t fathom why the insurance company had scheduled it only two or so months after my crash. In my experience, they usually waited longer before they began the IME ritual. Maybe it was because I had successfully fought them for good treatment and income support after my 1991 crash when they had begun questioning my treatments. Maybe they recognized me as a claimant who would not be deterred in my fight for my health and who knew the real expense of treatment and lost income. I don’t know.

I only felt confusion and fear.

And then . . .

I sensed God’s presence over my head like a golden light looking down upon me. It reminded me of when I was six years old. I was sitting on the floor in Sunday School with the other children in this new land my parents had brought me to. I was probably sitting lotus style, for I hadn’t yet mastered cross-legged though was trying to in order to fit in. One of the mothers sat on a chair in front of us, her acoustic guitar on her lap. I stared at her straight black hair shining in the sunlight while her voice sweetly trilled one of the songs I was coming to know: “Jesus Loves Me.” The other kids were singing along with her. All of a sudden I felt Jesus near me as if he was a golden light around and speaking within me. I knew without a doubt that Jesus loved me. It didn’t matter that I was considered a brat, bossy, stubborn, relentlessly asking questions, too dark, too light, too small — it took over a year for me to catch up to the nutrition status of Canadian children — Jesus loved the whole of me. And then the presence was gone. It was back to normal in that room — except that my heart sang that at least one being loved me no matter what.

All that ran through my mind as I stared up at the ceiling in April 2000 and felt that almost-long-forgotten presence as God reassured me and stopped the thoughts running around my head like a hamster on a vicious wheel. It would be all right.

I slept.

That treatment plan was stamped approved.

I continued my physiotherapy and acupuncture and psychology appointments.

And my relationship with God changed dramatically after that.

A good thing, for it wasn’t long before the news worsened.

I had no idea when I went in for my regular weekly appointment with my psychologist that he’d be changing my life from one of planned rehabilitation to one of waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

For the worst diagnosis in my life.

Luckily, I had no affect — that is, no emotions.

My emotions had been severed from the rest of me. Sometimes they blew through a short circuit in my damaged neurons and rocked my world into a bawling mass of pain and confusion. But most of the time, they slept. So that’s how I waited: anxious, forgetting about it, no feeling, disbelief.

Oblivious in a way.

The day my psychologist sat down in front of me, leaned forward to look at me eye to eye, and told me what he believed -- that I had a closed head injury and needed to have my physiatrist refer me to the right specialist -- I did what I was told. I did it though I couldn’t comprehend his calm bombshell in any way other than intellectually. You have no idea how much your emotions help you think until they are shut off like a dried-up well. Yes, I understood his words. Yes, I followed his instructions. Yes, I acted and spoke and told people as if I understood what he’d said, as if I believed what he said. The logical part of my brain continued to work, albeit glacially; it told me his diagnosis made sense.

But I couldn’t absorb it.

And so I forgot about it.

I returned to rehabilitating my neck and shoulders. That I understood, for I had suffered similar whiplash and seatbelt injuries in 1991. I knew who to see, what to do. I knew about the métier of insurance companies. I knew about keeping on top of the paper trail. I knew everything.

But I didn’t.

When my psychologist told me he had to teach me a visualization exercise to reach the peace deep within me, for I would need it in the months to come, I had no idea how correct he was. I couldn’t fathom the brutal hell of brain injury that drowned my life in a tsunami that swept over me like a black, invisible monster. Even years later, I couldn’t perceive the churning waters I was in. My subconscious had no such trouble.

One day I told my psychologist of a dream I had.

I was in a cove. Before me were boulders rising out of the water. Behind and to the left and right of me lay the land. Amorphous green trees surrounded me. The black, glistening boulders loomed out of the calm water of deceptive depths to block my escape. Every time I clambered over one, another would rise up ahead of me. Always before me were ragged rows of water-rubbed round boulders and rocks, their blackness both glistened and sucked in all the light.

I couldn’t escape.

I still cannot.

The depth of the water beyond the boulders terrified me, for I didn’t know what lay beneath or if a boulder would suddenly pop up.

As I waited to see the specialist, I kept on, perceiving only the moment, following my schedule as best I could. My memory problems were becoming too obvious to ignore any more. I had trouble reading the numbers in my day timer. I could read them, yet I misread them. My attention hopped from eating to my pain to my husband’s deep voice to my dog woofing at the door to my fatigue to trying to remember what I was supposed to be doing, all in about a minute. I had to buy a PDA. I chose a Visor. This appealed to my computer-loving heart — I hadn’t yet faced up to the fact that my ability to work with computers had been severely damaged. I could still use one, but I couldn’t trouble-shoot them at all (I had always been my family and friends’ personal IT department) and typing or mousing or trying to read the screen quickly brought on extreme tiredness and pain.

By the time I got my Visor, my assessment appointment at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI), Rumsey Centre, came up. I was still waiting for my physiatrist appointment. You would think the possibility of a closed head injury would open doors tout de suite. Nope. I waited three months for the physiatrist, about four for the TRI appointment, and then another couple for the psychiatrist.

The Occupational Therapist (OT) who assessed me at TRI said I was typical for closed head injury. She recommended I be admitted to the one-on-one outpatient neurorehab, pending official diagnosis by the psychiatrist. The logical part of my brain nodded; the coping part wept in relief that I was typical because then my experience was real and the doubting Thomases in my life would have to see my injury; the emotional part burst through briefly and decided it was having no part of this conversation.

I think after that, I didn’t talk much about it. Or think about it. I focused my fractured attention on my insurance case, my physiotherapy and acupuncture and psychology appointments, my husband’s life, and the endless IMEs I was sent to.

The day I saw the diagnosing psychiatrist, I didn’t know what I feared more: being told I had a closed head injury or being told I was malingering.

At least the wait was over.

Except it wasn’t.

The psychiatrist said he was positive I had a closed head injury. Unwittingly, he parrotted the OT when he said I was typical. He ordered a SPECT scan even though he said it would show no damage so many months after the injury. But he wanted me to have it anyway for research purposes at least.

I waited. What’s a few weeks after so many months of waiting? I was so afraid. I didn’t want to be this injured. I was supposed to be writing Lifeliner. I had been lapping up life right up until the moment of the crash, when seconds after our car had been slammed into twice, I sobbed like Job, like I had lost everything: my family, my job, my friends, myself. I had picked myself up minutes later with a plan: I would attack rehab like a full-time job and be back to writing in three months. Later, I amended it to six. Then September 2000 arrived, and I was still not back to writing and now this awful diagnosis sat over me.

When the psychiatrist’s office called me to come in a week earlier than scheduled, I told my husband in my new monotone that something was up. But I refused to face what my mind already knew. I was terrified and still worried the psychiatrist would say I was just malingering. I was a neurotic hypochondriac. All the problems I was starting to become aware of — brain injury takes away your ability to perceive yourself — were “in my mind.”

That’s what he would say, I thought to myself.

I didn’t know which was worse: to have a closed head injury or to have the people who loved me be right: I was malingering, depressed, and needed to get on with things.

I had a closed head injury.

The diagnosing psychiatrist said there was only one treatment, experimental yes, but the rest were placebos. I had two years in which to improve; after that, wherever I was at in two years forever I would remain. But Aricept showed promise to ease short-term memory problems. I needed to take it. He wanted me in the research trial, for it was my only chance.

Only one problem: it was contraindicated for people with asthma. And my asthma had returned with my brain injury like a coughing dog. It freaked me out. So taking a drug that triggers it? Shudder. My husband was furious I didn’t say yes to the drug instantly. As he drove, we argued over the Aricept all the way home. He said in frustration: I was to take it. Why wouldn’t I take it? I don’t accept his opinion. I should take it.

The thought that this was my only chance confounded me. Maybe I should take it. What if I didn’t take it? Would I be forever injured? And anyway, how could I be injured? The scan results were definitive. The psychiatrist was adamant. My psychologist and TRI were all in agreement: I was typical for closed head injury. I had a brain injury. I needed rehab and treatment.

Later, alone in the kitchen with my dog, I called up my father to tell him the news. He and I spoke clinically about my diagnosis, probable outcome, and the drug because that’s how we talk all things medical in my family. But my injury had changed me, though I knew it not. I couldn’t make a decision to save my life. And so in my new, unfamiliar state of indecision — on top of my normal way of seeing and arguing both sides first — I suggested I should take it. My father huffed: I shouldn’t take it. I don’t accept his opinion. It’s your decision.

What should I do? Whatever I did, someone would be mad at me. I didn’t want anyone to be mad at me; I only wanted to get better.

I phoned my mother at work.

You need to know something about my mother. When she’s at work or scheduled for work, she ain’t coming over or taking me to a doctor or to the ER. It's a British cultural thing, and I was used to figuring out how to take care of myself. But as soon as I heard her voice, I needed my mother beside me instantly. My voice cracked. I heard my voice in disbelief. My voice doesn’t crack. I had mastered my emotions decades ago. When I cried, it was rare and not from zero to full blowout in an instant, and I didn’t cry in front of people. Surely, hearing this strange behaviour and awful news, my mother would come right over. Surely, she could find another nurse to take over her shift on the cancer ward for a couple of hours at least. A child in distress would be accepted.

She called my sister to go on over to my place in her stead.

My sister didn’t really know what to say. My thoughts were smothered; my emotions had disappeared again. So I didn’t know what to say either. That’s what I remember most about that time after my diagnosis: not knowing what to think or feel, except for sudden cracks when emotions rocketed out, only to disappear as the cracks sealed up again.

My best friend, BF, called. Relief. In her take-charge voice, BF prescribed tea, some croissants I had bought on my way home from the psychiatrist, and chocolate. After work, she and her husband brought me a chocolate cake. I remember the round cake frosted in waves of chocolate icing sitting high on its green plastic plate, covered by a clear plastic dome with corrugated sides. It was for medicine, she told me, not for sharing. They left. I took it into my kitchen, my dog trailing me, and ate a slice. Fatigue, confusion, fear blanketed me like smog.

I felt very alone.

Copyright Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy 2016

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Crowdfunding for Concussion Is Brain Injury

I write on my other blog about brain injury aka concussion. As you may have guessed from some of my posts, brain injury has become a big topic for me, not only in trying to describe it, but also to talk about the lack of understanding, the promise of new treatments, and advocating for accommodation. I wrote a book on it back in 2012, and I always intended to update it.

I'm finally ready!

Today, I’m leaping into the world of crowdfunding. It’s a big risk because you’re asking people to put their cash and their faith in you towards launching your books out of your computer and into print, to take what only you and a few others have seen and turn it into paperbacks and ebooks that anyone around the world can read. I’ve always admired people who crowdfund. Their inspiration, my editor at Iguana Books, and my own circumstances have combined to make me take this leap at last for Concussion Is Brain Injury.

The crowdfunding is to update it. I want to make it better for readers. I want to enrich and enhance it with ground-breaking new sections that challenge the status quo, sections on the raw reality of relationships, the truth about our emotions, my thoughts on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), faith after injury, rehabilitating reading in the knowledge economy, and a promising new treatment that I kickstarted.

To that end, I need your help to fund the services I need to bring this book to readers. The funds raised through PubLaunch – a crowdfunding site designed specifically for authors and readers – will go towards professional editing, a new exciting cover design, better packaging, and a robust marketing campaign. I have set up some great rewards for you in return for your generous support, including prints of my original photography, special edition hardcover copies, and copies of my previous books.

The target of $11,000 (Canadian) will cover all expenses. Won’t you join me in making this second edition happen? Please click the link below to check out the campaign:

I look forward to you participating!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Speak Up for Accessibility in TTC Survey Till February 11th

The TTC is running a survey purportedly on service standards yet with nary a word on accessibility and skewed towards not building subways.

Service includes accessibility. Service includes how easy it is to use the system. Yet the survey doesn't include one question related to cognitive, physical, or mental accessibility, other than pitting the number of route transfers against local bus options. That should not be an either/or option.

This survey is strictly geared to the young, healthy downtowner who already has subway access. It seems like it's designed to justify not extending the Sheppard subway line to Scarborough Town Centre as originally designed, perhaps cancelling the Scarborough subway, and putting off the Downtown Relief Line.

Route transfers -- the bane of my life -- is the only remote nod to accessibility.

The best way to get attention is to stay focused on one or two things: route transfers and subway line names. So I urge you to take this survey and select the option "Reduced need to transfer from one vehicle to another" everywhere it's mentioned as the Most Important. Or if it's not in one of the options but "Routes that are more direct -- on major roads only (faster travel and longer walks)" is, choose it as Most Important, for it's code for subway line.

When both options are listed choose "Reduced need to transfer from one vehicle to another" as Most Important because it supports both extending the Sheppard and Bloor-Danforth lines as well as putting in more bus routes. In this case, you may also see an option for "Shorter walk to station/stops" or "Routes that are less direct -- serve local neighbourhoods (slower travel and shorter walks)." These are code for Scarborough LRT over extending the Bloor-Danforth line; same with Sheppard Line. Choose those as Least Important when choosing "Reduced need to transfer" or "Routes that are more direct" as Most Important to emphasize you want the TTC to build the bloody subways already.

Fighting for more local bus routes will soon be easier with Uber coming into the market anyway, so we don't need to agitate for those. But we do need to agitate for subways -- a proper seamless transit backbone, not a hodge podge of subways and LRTs-trying-to-be-subways, requiring more energy from us to use and transfer from one to the other.*

You will then be asked either/or questions.

Continue to choose for fewer transfers, eg, choose "Service that allows me to make my trip on one vehicle, but involves more stops in local neighbourhoods resulting in a longer overall travel time." This is obviously a bus that goes from A to B. The alternative "Service that provides a more direct service, but requires one or more transfers resulting in an shorter overall travel time" describes adding an LRT and transfer point at the end of the Bloor-Danforth and Sheppard Lines instead of extending the subways.

Choose "A longer walk to my stop if it means a shorter travel time to get to my destination." This is code for subways because for some reason, the thinking is subways always require long walks to get to them. (In London, UK, that's not the case because they've continued to build subways over the decades unlike us.)

"A shorter walk to my stop if it means a longer travel time to get to my destination" is code for LRTs (or buses instead of subways) because the expert opinion is walks to LRT stops are always shorter than subway stops. Um, no.

If you get an either/or question about buses, I chose "walks to/from bus stops with less direct and less frequent service through local neighbourhoods resulting in longer overall travel time" because buses specifically should be about local access and short walks. The alternative is about using buses instead of LRTs, streetcars, or subways. I don't feel like being shoe-horned into buses instead of being able to use a streetcar or subway.

You will then be asked to rank your top 4 priorities. Put "The number of transfers you are required to make" at the top and "The time it takes to walk to/from your stop" at the bottom. Yes, the latter is important, but this is code for not building more subways. If people say they want shorter walks, the experts will say, see, people don't want subways. They want LRTs. I put second "The time you wait for the bus/streetcar/subway" because frequent service on any kind of route is important plus it emphasizes the need for subways.

Speaking of subways, in the final screen asking for your opinion about the survey, in the box where you can type your thoughts, ask why no accessibility questions and to change the subway line names back to their original name and ditch the numbers. An example:

"Why were there no questions about accessibility? Why no questions about subway line names? Changing the names to numbers has made it harder to use. Please change subway line names back to their original names and ditch the numbers."

Here’s the survey. Please take it and speak up for the only accessibility issue that they address -- reducing transfers -- and speak up for restoring subway line names. Thanks!

*I believe we need a coherent network of buses for local use, LRTs as feeder networks, and a robust subway network mirrored on the surface by buses that cover off the streets in between subway stops for local commuters. We do not have a robust subway network at all. London, UK is a great model. Using LRTs instead of subways ignores how geographically large Toronto is and the increasing volumes of people who need to use high-speed public transit.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Democracy 2015: Who To Vote for in Canada's Federal Election?

I couldn’t wait for this election. Stephen Harper has taken past Liberal power-concentration moves and put afterburners on them, coalescing power into his hands and the PMO under his direction. When, as a teen or young adult, I used to cynically opine we had five-year elected dictatorships, I had no idea just how democratic and a free-for-all of free voices Canada’s late 20th-century Parliament was compared to what it has become. As far as I’m concerned, the single most important issue facing Canada is her democracy.

Our democracy underpins every aspect of our lives.

We citizens are supposed to protect it. But successive elections have led to MPs becoming trained seals – to the point where Tony Clement’s Twitter account went from entertaining to more boring than paint drying under, one presumes, PMO orders – thankfully, he’s slowly reverting to form. Worse, after 2011, one wonders if Cabinet has any say in government matters, and certainly we learnt that the Senate majority no longer retained its independence as part of the Senate’s sober, second thought role but jumped to Harper’s commands. If ever there was a reason for Senate Reform, that was it.
We Canadians haven’t protected our democracy. It’s now resuscitation time!

Bill C-51 cuts at the heart of Canada. What are we protecting if we kill our democracy to protect it? The heart of a free democracy is anonymity and privacy. Canada has faced terrorists (remember the FLQ?) and wars before, and we survived them. We even emerged from the Cold War intact. And we thrived after each danger passed. Why do we need to become essentially a police state now? And if we do, haven’t the terrorists won by turning us into them: a bunch of quislings who genuflect to the threatening cries of authoritarian, rich men?

Our first past the post system and the reversal of former Prime Minister Chretien’s party funding initiative means that we have a minority of votes ruling the majority. Canada was founded on compromise and coalition. We historically excel at that, and we haven’t yet fallen down in division at the drop of a pin, unlike others. So why have we become so afraid of coalitions? Because some man, wearing the guise of PM, told us to be?

We Canadian citizens need each one of our votes to count. To do that in the modern era, we need democratic reform.

Corporations have become increasingly powerful and seemingly rule governments these days. It’s not like we haven’t seen this in the past. I believe the 19th century saw rich men ruling through politicians; but then their monopolies were broken up, and government became more reflective of the people not the few. However, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, under the guise of free trade, is going to bind our governments to corporate demands. Although our media have focused on the dairy and auto sectors, these are the free-trade fronts of a corporatization and criminalization deal that will affect everyone from Asian countries trying to reduce their smoking rates to us in Canada trying to afford medicines to Canadians trying to become active, cutting-edge members of the Information Age.
Confirmed: 20-year copyright term extensions, new rules that would induce ISPs to block websites, and criminal penalties for the circumvention of digital locks.”, 9 October 2015
As an author who rather doesn’t like people ripping off her work, I don’t see the point of copyright law that extends 70 years after my death. Once I’m dead, it will no longer affect me how my work is demolished, distorted, or used. I do think copyright 50 years after my death, as it is under Canadian law, is sufficient. Generous, even.

No entity should be blocking websites. We frown on China doing that, so why would it be OK at a corporation’s demand? That’s antithetical to democracy and rather like one group of people burning books because they don’t like what another group of people are doing – and having the law help them set the fire.
Also, as an author who wants readers to read her works as easily as they do print books, I object to digital locks. The people who’re interested in pirating my stuff won’t be deterred by a lock and everyone else is pissed off at the restrictions they impose. The only reason I see for the use of a digital lock is with library ebooks so that they will expire automatically. As for suggesting that breaking copyright is criminal . . . well, that’s a first! And dangerous. When we criminalize behaviour that has never been criminal before, we go down the road of Prohibition, one we’re still mired in when it comes to “illegal” drugs. (Only Portugal has gotten itself fully out of that muck and is benefitting as a result.)

Repeal of Bill C-51, exposing TPP to the light and renegotiating so that it is strictly about trade and will not put corporations above governments, and democratic reform so that Parliament rules our democracy, not one man who leads a bulging office of boys “in short pants,” are what I’m looking for in choosing where to mark my X on the ballot.

The only two parties that meets my criteria are the NDP and the Green Party.
And one last thing: we vote for one person to represent us in our Parliament. We do not directly elect our Prime Minister. Once I’d narrowed down the parties to those who will resuscitate our democracy, it now comes down to which of their candidates in my riding will best represent me.

Choose your MP wisely.

#TTCAccess -- Pilot for New Streetcar Shelter Maps, a Review

As I mentioned in a previous post, Ian Dickson (@TTCDesign) challenged me at the TTC's Public Forum on Accessibility to look at the TTC’s new shelter maps that they’re piloting at some streetcar stops on King. Apparently, there hasn’t been as much feedback as they normally get when they do something new. I went to a couple of streetcar stops on King and took a gander. I scratched my head at the one at King and York and walked on to find another one. The one at King and Bay was much easier to perceive, primarily because the map “faced” the direction I was facing. I didn’t have to turn around to look at the north-south street depicted on the map – I could look straight through the shelter opening and see the street depicted. All I had to do was move my eyeballs.

Shelter Maps

So here are a few thoughts. The good stuff first!

Good Things:

  1. Clean. The map is definitely cleaner in design than the old map.
  2. Direction facing where you’re looking. King and Bay map is oriented well because when you’re facing the map, you can look down the street you’re facing and have it be the same one in the same direction as on the map.
  3. Inset local area map well designed. Except for the numbers requiring translation, the use of colour (for my eyes anyway) and fonts make it easy to perceive and read.
  4. Provision of contact info. Having web, Twitter, and phone numbers all easily readable at the bottom, as well as providing names and icons of two apps, is very useful.
  5. Route frequency info.


  1. Looks confusing for some reason. Given its fairly minimalist design, it’s confusing that it looks confusing. It took me awhile  to realize why I had to stare at the local transit network map: with no route names on the map it looks confusing right away. Standard street maps have street names not numbers on them, unless the name is the number like with Highway 401. (I’ve noticed street names not Highway numbers became more common in urban areas.)
  2. Requires memory. I have to look down at the number chart – I mean the route frequency chart – to match numbers on the map with the names of the routes and subway lines. I then have to retain those translations in my head when I look back up at the map. If there were two routes – King and Bay, for example – this may not be a problem. But there are several.
  3. Direction opposite to where facing. King and York is oriented the wrong way for the direction you’re looking at when looking at the map. King and Bay immediately made more sense because it shows only the direction you’re facing.
  4. Inset local area map clear, yet not clear. The map itself is well designed. But again using numbers for streetcar routes and subway lines, thus taxing poor working memory to use the translation aka route frequency chart, doesn’t make the map instantly clear.
  5. Translation charts needed. Maps should be clear by themselves. There should only be “north” and, if needed, a distance icon; streets and routes should need no legend or translation chart. The need for translation charts not only clutters up the poster, but also makes the maps themselves confusing until one understands the translations. When you’re in a hurry, and the streetcar is coming, you don’t have time to translate. Also stress worsens cognitive abilities like memory and comprehension. A streetcar approaching you as you’re trying to read the map is going to stress you out and make reading the map harder.
  6. Legend. Has the frequency line style changed? I didn’t notice the difference in line thicknesses on the map until I looked at the Legend. Wasn’t the old infrequent service line style a dashed line? That’s more distinguishable than a thinner line.
  7. Subway Line Names. Again, the subway line names have been taken off the map. There’s plenty of room to put them on the map itself; it would make the map instantly understandable if the names were attached to their lines.
  8. TTC Route Frequency Chart. This is both a translation chart and a route frequency chart. The route frequency becomes less visible when you’re busy trying to translate the numbers on the map to understandable names. Having the names on the map lines means that when you’re looking at this chart, you’ll see the frequency first because you won’t be filling up your brain space with having to first translate numbers to names. The frequency lines will then look less like clutter – which they did to me when I was trying to figure the map out – and more like useful information.
  9. Glass glare. There’s an awful lot of glare from the glass that interferes with seeing the map clearly. It was worse at King and Bay than King and York, maybe from the surrounding office buildings?? Perhaps another material could be used that has no glare but is durable.

I would take a leaf from street maps which use thick yellow lines to denote highway routes and use a thick yellow line down Yonge Street on the inset map to denote the Yonge Line so that one can instantly see where the subway aka the high-speed underground public transit is.

These maps are a definite improvement on the old, and a good start to making shelter maps useful to the harried commuter and tourist alike.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

#TTCAccess -- New Streetcar Stop Request Buttons Inaccessible

I wrote earlier on the TTC’s annual Public Forum on Accessibility and on my conversation with Ian Dickson,  @TTC Design, on subway line names and signage. Today’s post is on my excellent conversation with the Chief Engineer – Rail Vehicles about the new streetcar’s stop request buttons.

I had looked forward to the new streetcars.

New has always been better with previous vehicle rollouts – except for no longer allowing kids (including adult ones) to look out the front of new subway trains – and so I had assumed that requesting a stop on the new streetcars would be much easier, especially since the driver is now less accessible to riders. I assumed incorrectly. Does no one – at the TTC or in the media—ever assess anything for practical accessibility? Sigh.

The current streetcars have a pull line running along the top of the windows, accessible only to tall people who can stretch across seats or to people who can stand and reach up from their seat right underneath it. Everyone else must ask someone to pull it.

The new streetcars have stop request buttons like the TTC buses. But unlike the buses, they are, well, a little hard to find. On the buses, the buttons are on every pole near priority seats. On the new streetcars . . .  Um . . . well, apparently, they’re there.

The problem was that I only looked for them when seated and needed to push the button. They weren’t where I expected them to be; they were on the poles across the aisle or way down the aisle on the same side, not on the poles right where I was sitting on the priority seats. Not good if one has balance problems.

At the TTC Public Forum Marketplace, Greg Ernst, Chief Engineer – Rail Vehicles, listened patiently to my complaint and then pointed to a profile of the new streetcar he was standing next to to indicate where stop request buttons should be. He explained that they were 1.5m apart, alternating on either side of the streetcar. I tried to explain that people sitting on priority seats need a button on the poles they’re sitting right next to. After awhile, it dawned on me that I had assumed incorrectly that these streetcars are tested in real-world conditions for practical accessibility. Every 1.5m sounds great in theory; but when you have to hang onto the pole to stand up and keep hanging on until you exit, a button across from you or on the same side but down a few seats might as well not exist.

TTC New Streetcar Stop Request Button Locations

Ernst said he would email me the graphic showing the stop request button locations. He did! I’d post it for you to see, but I didn’t receive permission (if I do, I’ll add it). The graphic indicates that there are 17 buttons in total; minimum of one within 1.5m of the centre of any fixed seat; and minimum of one within 1.0m of the centre of each doorway. In that same email, he explained something I hadn’t known:

Please note that the door request Push Buttons mounted on each set of door panels also serve as Stop Request buttons if the car is in motion or if the doors have not been enabled. Obviously if the car is stopped and the doors enabled, those door panel buttons will actually open the doors for you.

That’s very helpful to know. For me, that means I can stand up and push the door button while still hanging onto the pole if I need to (like many people, sometimes I can balance on the subway without hanging on, as a way to practice my balance, less so on streetcars, not on buses; other days, no way on any vehicle). Unfortunately, the door button as a stop request still won’t help those who have to wait until the streetcar comes to a full stop before they can stand up to exit.

I want to end this series with noting that all the TTC staff I spoke to were respectful, listened to me, and answered my questions without trying to fob me off. They may not have agreed with me, and I may not have changed minds, but TTC staff didn’t give me lip service like politicians have. And unlike most of the politically-elected TTC Commission, staff showed up in the evening to the Forum. That counts for a lot. I will keep tweeting on this subject and blogging when I can until the TTC becomes accessible to everyone physically, visually, auditorally, stress-wise, and most of all for those of us with brain issues -- cognitively.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

#TTCAccess -- Cognitive and Visual Accessibility of TTC Signage

As I mentioned in my last blog post on the TTC’s Public Forum on accessibility, I spoke one-on-one with Ian Dickson @TTCDesign about the subway line names. We also spoke briefly about cognitive and visual accessibility of the TTC’s signage. I noted that the TTC signs are hard to discern for three reasons:

  1. Black is hard to see.
  2. Size is too small.
  3. Too much extra information.

1. Dickson said white text on black is more visible. Um, well, books since time immemorial use white pages for better readability not dark coloured or black ones. And most posters seem to use light-coloured backgrounds. And I’ve had to help people standing right underneath white-text-on-black-background signs who were unable to see them. But since our talk I looked around at all the TTC signage to see how readable those black-background signs are. I would say the really big ones that are up high running along the edge of the platform with simple information like “South to York Mills” are. This rare one is so clear, you can read it easily through the train windows! Awesome. Too bad it's a one off.

Sheppard Station Sign

But even though TTC stations are not dark -- they’re pretty bright for subway stations, actually -- the small signs from the Exit signs to the maps are hard to spot and to read. The London Underground signs with their white backgrounds were much, much easier for me to spot and discern. From a quick search, I found these articles on readability (they looked at screens, but probably applies to paper signs too):

2. Aside from black vs. white, the sign’s size and extraneous information makes a difference too. The bigger the sign, the easier it is to read. There’s no reason the TTC can’t use the entire wall height for their platform map signs, like the London Underground does. This would also be helpful for short people who currently have to look up, way up, to be able to read the map. That means they’re looking at the maps from a greater distance than tall people. Toronto is a city of immigrants, many of whom come from countries where people are shorter than the average Caucasian Canadian.

3. The maps should show only where you are and where you’re going. TTC maps show all the stations on the line. I’ve had to help people confused from all the extraneous information who thought the train was going in the opposite direction indicated. London Underground signs don’t confuse people with information they don’t need. You only need to know where the train at this platform is going, not where it’s been.

Train Maps

If the TTC used the entire height of the wall for their signs, used white backgrounds for maps, and kept the information to need-to-know, which the London Underground does, their signs would be easier to see.

But judge for yourself.

London Underground TTC Platform Signs

The London Underground sign is on the left; so big, it dwarfed me. The TTC sign on the right is way above my eye level and small. The photos in the collage are straight out of my iPhone.

Looking at these photos brings up one more issue: Is “Northbound” more informative than “Platform 1”?  I don’t know. Some riders need to know compass direction; others couldn’t care less. But the 1 on the TTC sign could mean Platform 1 to tourists. More confusion.

Other signage problems include: Exit signs are hard to find and to see; time to next train, and the time of day are hard to see unless I’m standing right underneath the screen; same with entering stations when looking for system-status information.

London Underground TTC Exit Signs

Exit signs should be plentiful and visible. Yellow is the most visible colour. Step off a train on the London Underground and you immediately see a “Way Out” sign. No need to hunt for it. Well, in most stations because in some the signs are not as visible as in others; still, it’s better than seeing nothing as at Spadina station above.

Dickson told me of the new international standard of a green Exit sign. See below comparison image. I’d forgotten I’d seen them all around the Underground. The TTC standard is that they’re visible for four hours after a power shutdown and/or emergency. (The Australian Accessible Exit Sign Project is working to include accessible information in the ISO standard.) I wasn’t sure how visible green is, but upon reflection (no pun intended!), I can see how this shade of green is quite visible and also green means “go” so it can implicitly encourage people to move in that direction. However, they’re kind of small and high up on the TTC. And the TTC should still place anything-but-black-highly-visible exit signs all along the platform so that no matter where you step off the train you know immediately in which direction to go.

London Underground TTC Exit Signs

Next: time of day and time to next train are given short shrift on the TTC. Time to next train is squeezed into the corner of a large ad/news screen on the platform. I literally cannot read it unless I’m within a metre of the sign. Same with time of day, which also has the added annoyance of disappearing when an ad takes up the entire screen except for time to next train. No such problem on the Underground. Visible everywhere.

Central Line Time

The TTC is putting up helpful screens at subway station entrances telling you about problems on the system. However, the essential information is squeezed into a line at the bottom of a massive ad on the screen. Hard to see from any distance; requires you to stand there while you’re, as usual late, as the message plays in one-line increments. The Underground had signs, but not in every station, and I don’t know how well they work because as, when the voice overhead in a train said, “This is your service update. We have good service,” one passenger quipped: “they wouldn’t say they have bad service, would they?”

Dickson challenged me to look at a pilot map initiative in TTC bus and streetcar shelters. I did take a look but haven’t had a chance to think about it. I’ll write about it later.

And one odd note. The next-bus information screens at bus platforms become wholly black when wearing polarizing sunglasses! If you’re myopic, removing said sunglasses doesn’t solve anything either. Now the times are visible but blurry!!