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.” openmedia.ca, 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!!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

#TTCAccess -- One-on-One with TTC Design on Subway Line Names

I attended the TTC’s legally mandated annual public forum on accessibility and blogged on it last week. Today, I share what happened during one of the one-on-one conversations with TTC staff during Part One of the forum.

I wanted to talk to someone about the renaming of subway line names to numbers. I know, I know, the TTC insists they haven’t renamed them. But they use the real names of the subway lines less and less and quite often not at all, only referring to them by numbers. So, de facto, they have renamed them. Anyway, I asked one of the pleasant volunteers at the entrance who to talk to. The TTC has taken lessons from Wal-Mart. The volunteer not only walked me to the Marketplace where the one-on-one discussions were happening, but also asked her boss who I should talk to. Her boss walked me the few short steps to Ian Dickson, the TTC Design guy. We commenced a pleasant conversation on why I think they’re wrong, and they think it’s the best solution.

I’d been told the renaming to numbers was to help tourists and people unfamiliar with the system, which made me wonder who the TTC thought they were serving. But Dickson seemed puzzled by that. From what I recall, he said that the main reasons for going with numbers were:

  1. The subway stations are small, 1950s’ design, and there’s no room for the full names of the subway lines in many places.
  2. They needed a unifier.
  3. What to call the Eglinton Crosstown is such a conundrum, easier to go with numbers.
  4. They’re easier than word names.
  5. And I noted he called the subway line names “legacy names.”

1. You can’t get around the solid fact that some subway stations are small, have low ceilings. However, the same holds true for many stations in the London Underground. Some of their stations are cavernous, with ceilings seemingly up to the sky, while others are like holes in the ground such that tall people have to duck to ensure they don’t bang heads. One memorable station on the London Underground’s Northern line has so little room that you go down the stairs, turn right immediately to avoid hitting the side of the tunnel wall, take a few steps to the platform, and a metal barrier ensures you don’t take one too many and end up on the tracks. Yet somehow their signage still clearly tells you the name of the line without having to revert to numbers. You can see the full-height sign clearly from the top of the stairs in this Flickr user’s photo of a tiny tunnel. That sign will have the line name on it. So station size is a red herring. It's more a matter of the TTC not using the wall height to its full advantage.

2. Colour is the best unifier. It’s an instant visual way for people to know what line they’re on. The TTC already uses colours but not as effectively as the London Underground does. The Underground uses colour everywhere.

Central Line Red

See all that red – the doors, the poles inside the train? That’s the Central line colour (see image below for line colours). The train poles are even colour coded to the lines they run on!

Good Service

The signage showing commuters which platform to go to, and the signage inside the trains, uses the line colours. The colours are in the identifying bars (above image) and along the top of the signs (below image), as well as the subway lines. These signs, aside from their sheer size, are a whole lot easier to visually and cognitively understand because of their use of colour and white background and showing only the stops you’d be heading to, unlike the TTC signs, which I ignore because my eyes and brain just go, ummm, OK, I don’t get this, stop looking at it!

Bayswater Platform Signs

3. So here’s the problem. For example: There’s an Eglinton station, an Eglinton West station, and then an Eglinton line. Three Eglintons? How would commuters distinguish between them when they already confuse the stations Eglinton with Eglinton West? Dickson also said that the Bloor-Danforth is known as the crosstown. I had to digest that because I hadn’t heard that before. It’s not even true in a geographic sense because the Bloor-Danforth line ends at the Scarborough border; even with the new extension (if it’s ever built), it still won’t go anywhere near Toronto’s eastern edge. Neither will the new Eglinton Crosstown line. However, it’s been called the Crosstown for so long, and it does go east-west somewhere in the north-south middle of the city, it makes sense to name it “Crosstown” sans “Eglinton.” Or “Midtown” line. Both give context: this line crosses the city or this line is the one for midtown, that is, the middle of the city, both north-south and east-west. Problem solved.

4. Numbers are not easier than names. I had a discussion with a guy on Twitter who tweets “on sensory user experience & cognition, accessibility” about this issue. Alastair Somerville noted:

Dickson asked me for research. The first is George Miller’s research on numbers. Normal people can hold 7 +/- 2 items in memory. That means we should assume a normal person can hold 5 subway line numbers in memory; for someone with a brain injury that drops. In other words, Toronto already has the maximum number of subway lines a person can memorize if labelled with numbers. No new subway lines can be added to the TTC sans causing great navigational hardship for people with cognitive and navigational issues. Yet already it’s difficult for me to remember which number belongs to which line, and I absolutely love numbers. I asked @Acuity_Design for research links for why the difficulty, and he sent me two references. Twitter folk are wonderful!

In short: numbers put more load on the cognitive system than names do. More load equals fewer resources for memory and less energy. No wonder I’m tired just using the TTC!

5. Language is important. Dickson called “Bloor-Danforth” and “Yonge-University-Spadina” “legacy names.” The word “legacy” tells me that the word names are on the way out. I already don’t hear them used in the automated stop announcements when the Yonge Line train arrives at Bloor station and the pleasant voice announces this is the station for “Line 2” – she does not say, “Bloor-Danforth line.” The reasons Dickson gave for going with numbers, mainly no room, doesn’t apply in an announcement. You can say Bloor-Danforth in plenty of time, and until recently, that is what the announcement was.

The names with context and memory are Bloor-Danforth, Yonge, University, and Spadina. The Bloor-Danforth line is one continuous stretch, and so it makes sense to keep that as the name. But the Yonge-University-Spadina line is broken up at natural points – the interchanges at Bloor, Union, and St. George. When I spoke to people, the names that made the most sense to them were not the acronyms – BD or YUS – or numbers – but the names Yonge, University, Spadina, and Bloor-Danforth. As Somerville said, start with user language.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

#TTCAccess – The Legally Mandated TTC Public Forum on TTC Accessibility

I’ve been complaining on Twitter for awhile about the TTC changing its subway line names to numbers. Where in the world other than Toronto do bureaucrats decide to change names of a decades-old system and the Mayor shrugs his shoulders and says, I no like but not my place to comment? Mayor John Tory is apparently all for supporting Toronto’s most vulnerable citizens and for improving accessibility – as long as no action required. And so it’s up to us citizens to advocate for ourselves. David Lepofsky has been a beacon since the 20th century in advocating for customer service for all; I knew of him long before I suffered my brain injury. And I thought of him when I began my lone, ad hoc Twitter campaign against the changing of subway line names.

I brought up this cognitive accessibility issue with one of the BIST (Brain Injury Society of Toronto) Board members. At their September meeting, they decided that if I wanted to attend the TTC’s public forum on accessibility, one of their members would accompany me. That member emailed me a couple of days before the forum. I thought, oh, hmmm, I’m going to be exhausted, wiped out, drained doing that on top of this week’s schedule. Yup, going!

She picked me up, and we crawled through rush hour traffic to the Automotive Building at the CNE, now dubbed the Allstream Centre in Toronto’s continuing efforts to confuse people in pursuit of bucks. I can see why the TTC thought renaming the lines would meet with no opposition. After all, the Mayor and Toronto Council say nothing when our old buildings and landmarks are renamed in favour of people and corporations. And then renamed again. No one ever considers (1) history and pride of place and (2) memory issues and the inability to remember changing names.*
And (3) when it comes to the TTC replacing words with numbers, numbers are abstract, have no contextual meaning, are hard to memorize when you have more than 4 (we have four lines now, what happens when the fifth is built?), and make it cognitively challenging to navigate the subway system.
The TTC Public Forum was educational.
There were two parts:

1. The Marketplace or Open House, where posters on easels dotted the perimeter of the space, each poster highlighting some aspect of accessibility, eg, the new streetcars, and where TTC staff spoke one-on-one to people in front of these posters. To find who you wanted to talk to, you asked a volunteer, although looking for the poster you were interested in was how you were supposed to do it. More in a later post.

2. The Public Forum, held in a cavernous space filled with hundreds of people who came to talk to the panel members who sat up on a dais at the front. After TTC Chair Josh Colle, ACAT chief, and the Deputy CEO spoke, a moderator independent of the TTC ineptly moderated the two-minutes per person rule as the public asked questions and flung comments at the panel. We were also handed cards at the entrance if we were unable to ask a question verbally, and we were given the hashtag #TTCAccess to ask questions through.

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Part One was infinitely more enlightening on TTC thinking and productive than Part Two. Part Two was exhausting and frustrating but educational on what the disabled public experiences. I assumed it would be like other forums I’ve attended where a person asks a question, and the panel answers. Nope.

The TTC had divided the room into six areas; in each area stood a person with a microphone. The moderator went around the room from the front right hexadrant to the back to the middle ending in the left front hexadrant, giving one person in each section a chance to ask a question or make a comment before moving on to the next section. At the end of the first round, he didn’t stop and have the panel answer as I had expected. Instead, he directed another round of questions. And another round. And another. As the evening wore on, people in the last section got a little testy as they felt they were being skipped over and not given equal opportunity to ask questions.

On either side of the panel were two massive screens. The top three-quarters or so were the slides for the speechifying. The bottom had closed captioning. In a brilliant move, the signers for the deaf stood dead centre of the closed captioning. The Twitter hashtag #TTCAccess was not streamed up onto the screens. Why not?

It was a good half hour before the panel answered all the questions and comments that had piled up. I’d long since forgotten what all had been asked, but apparently CEO Andy Byford had been writing down the ones he wanted to answer. Speaking for the first time that evening, Byford addressed the problem of getting to the buses at Warden station. Warden is like Islington station where each bus platform has its own set of stairs. Needless to say, anyone who has trouble with steps, whether walking with a cane or in a wheelchair, cannot get to the buses. If you can get up to the bus level, then you run the risk of being mowed down as you go along the asphalt to the platform you want to reach. Byford said the TTC is aware of the situation, but it’s complicated to fix because they have to redesign the station completely (in order for it to become like the dark-as-night Eglinton station bus loading area, where the buses are all in one space, and you have to walk a short distance or a long one along the platform to get to your bus, but it’s all on one level).

In all the discussions of the Scarborough subway, I don’t recall that redesigning Warden station is urgently needed so that people of all abilities can use it, not just the able-bodied. That’s how little regard the city, province, and TTC give accessibility.

Byford said that each morning, every bus is checked for ramp failures before leaving the garage. I heard no one mention stop announcement failures, and Byford didn’t mention if the overhead signs and audio are checked too.

Byford also talked about why and how they are rolling out the new, accessible streetcars. I had not heard before, on Twitter or in the media, that the reason they began with the Spadina route is because it’s the shortest. They have to upgrade the wiring to accommodate the new streetcars, as well as the platforms (on some of the lines; the rest you exit directly onto the road). It’s not just a matter of randomly placing new streetcars on routes. Upgrade route; place new streetcars on route. The benefit is greater when go route by route, filling each route with its quota of new cars before moving on to the next. Spadina being  the shortest makes it faster to do. My impression was that Spadina was Toronto’s first LRT route and very busy, so that’s why it was first. Shows you how much media and TTC watchers get wrong sometimes.

Byford agreed with an irate patron and promised that from now on, the TTC will send out an alert when accessible streetcars are removed from a route. This came up because during the Pan American Games, accessible streetcars appeared on the Bathurst streetcar line. Afterward, not sure when, they were removed, leaving a patron stranded.

Byford said the TTC is committed to courtesy campaigns. Not like the TTC of the 20th century, they’re not. They’re barely visible, and they need to be gender balanced too, I thought. But I’d forgotten: the TTC is using YouTube. The problem is very little marketing of their great videos. It’s kind of one-off tweets.

After Byford addressed a very few of the many questions asked, and none from Twitter as they hadn’t been asked out loud yet and were nowhere to be seen on the ginormous screens, we returned to the rounds of questions.

I began to slump in my chair. We were about to leave when a woman totally invisible to me read out the questions on cards and my first tweeted question – and only the first one. Is her Twitter feed super slow, I wondered? We stayed, but the rounds continued. We were about to leave again when the moderator said we will have the panel answer in a minute. The rounds continued. We were about to leave when the moderator said, we’ll get to the panel after this question. And oh, one more there, he said – because that front left section was getting raucously annoyed at having their forest of waving hands ignored.

This time the Deputy CEO answered. I don’t recall what he said; it was very little. And he didn’t address my question at all. We left.

CEO Byford and the Deputy CEO assured the audience that all the questions would be answered on the TTC website. I wondered how the woman who said she had no Internet access would be able to read her answer to her question. As of the end of the week, the report is not yet up. No answers yet.
David Lepofsky wanted the panel to answer less in order to give the public more time to ask their questions. The problem is that there is no accountability when people ask and the ones who have the power don’t have to look them in the eye and answer. Simply showing up to listen and then having some staff member post answers behind the safety of a website “wall” means no change need occur.

Part One though does create accountability. When you’re standing right in front of the person who has the authority and power to change something and telling them the problem with their approach, you can tell if they’re listening, you can tell if they get it or are too mired in their expertise to understand the practical consequences of their decisions, you have a chance to change their mind, and you know that your question hasn’t disappeared into an anonymous website void.

I don’t know if Part One continued after Part Two began because we went around the dividing wall into the Public Forum area thinking we would learn from the top people how the TTC was going to improve its accessibility. This is what we learnt:
  • TTC riders assault people with visible disabilities, and TTC security lets the assaulters go before the police arrive.
  • Wheel-Trans is chronically late. In my opinion, it’s unfixable -- it’s what happens when the regular TTC system is inaccessible, requiring a door-to-door service, and the roads are congested so that, like everyone else, Wheel-Trans drivers have to fight whack-a-mole with badly timed traffic lights, construction, and collisions. The city itself is inaccessible.
  • TTC bus drivers have made a disabled person in their wheelchair wait while they pack the bus with able-bodied folk, then say, oops, no room, and zoom away, leaving the disabled person stuck on the curb alone. I would just like to say that in the 1980s, I sat on a packed New York city bus and watched while a driver let down a ramp and waited while the person in a wheelchair parked themselves and the rest of the passengers shuffled around to make room, before zooming off, leaving no one at the curb alone. This is the effect of a national disabilities act that the US has had in place for over a quarter of a century. So-called progressive Torontonians are disgusting.
  • Since John Tory waxed poetic about letting kids ride free on the TTC, the kids hog the seats, not letting people with even obvious physical disabilities sit.
  • An ambassador program in all the schools for children in grades four, five, six could teach children how to treat other TTC patrons with respect and courtesy and teach them to recognize when a person with a disability needs a seat. Great idea from the crowd!
  • Adult patrons won’t get off the priority seats to allow a person with a walker or scooter to park themselves in that designated-for-them space, out of the way of others.
  • My thoughts: Adult patrons need education too on both visible and invisible disabilities and what those priority seats are for. Heavily marketed video and simple, compelling signage to educate! Not text-heavy posters. 
  • People with disabilities are as blithely blind to the problems people with other kinds of disabilities have and get annoyed when disabilities other than theirs have to be accommodated.
  • Wheelchairs still get stuck in the gap between the new subway trains and the platforms. No response from TTC when it happened to one guy.
  • People with disabilities are not heard, not listened to, not respected, given lip service, and trotted out by progressive politicians who won’t spend the bucks or the effort to actually include them in society, including by Mayor John Tory and the TTC. When you include the most vulnerable, you make life in Toronto better and easier for everyone. The TTC and politicians don’t recognize this axiom at all. Some TTC staff are so immersed in their expertise, they actually can’t hear you when you point out the practical effect of their decisions makes life difficult. As for politicians . . . well:
  • TTC staff take this forum more seriously than the TTC Commissioners.
TTC Commissioners who believe it’s important to listen to the least-heard segment of the public:
  • TTC Chair Councillor Josh Colle
  • TTC Commissioner Councillor Shelley Carroll
  • TTC Vice-Chair and Commissioner (citizen) Alan Heisey for the Open House (which means he didn’t hear the voices of the disabled public who spoke at the forum)
  • Chair of Toronto’s Disability Committee Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam
TTC Commissioners and politicians who don’t think it’s important to hear directly from the disabled public:

The TTC holds these Public Forums annually. They are required under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). But the TTC decides the design of the forum and who attends.

As for wanting to be that beacon as the TTC stated at the start of the forum, just for starters, might want to work on these:

I’ll write later about what I learnt in the one-on-one discussions. But here are my questions:


*One of the fun parts of writing a novel in Toronto is taking TTC and local political trends to their seemingly absurd (but increasingly less absurd) extreme. In my time travel novel Time and Space, streets and buildings get renamed regularly. But no one gets confused because the chips in their brains keep them abreast of where they are.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Experiencing the Toronto Pan American 2015 Games

I live in Toronto. I watched as successive governments sort of didn’t pay much attention to the upcoming Pan Am Games, even cancelling the Waterfront LRT. Most cities get new public transit and their city spruced up for big Games. Not Toronto. Or so I thought.

Well, I was right about the public transit expansion. They got around our dreadfully inadequate TTC by telling people to not travel, changing one lane on Toronto highways to three-people-or-more HOV lanes, getting buses for the athletes, and getting lots and lots of cars driven by lots and lots of volunteers, and increasing subway frequency. At the last minute, they got a few projects finished. Finally the three sisters are on again!
The Three Sisters
At last, Queens Quay is open for people, bikes, streetcars, and cars and looking very, very pretty. Union Station is finished too, with a yummy, hopping Union Station Market out front. If you haven’t been down to see and taste, you must go. And in between the still-sad, neglected parts of our city, people party, athletes play, and Pan Am cultural exhibits await our visits.

When I heard that the venue for the sailing races was free, I was off like a shot, my big camera in hand. An opportunity to relax, watch a Pan Am sports – my very first international Games ever, part of the Olympics too – and take my camera for a spin – what more could I ask for a summer day? Later I visited a couple of the cultural exhibits, clicking as I went. My Flickr album in progress till end of the Games:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

From Sea to Lake to Shining Sea: Happy Canada Day 2014

Gwaii Haanas on the west coast, a Toronto beach on Lake Ontario, Baie de Chaleur on the east coast in New Brunswick: the beautiful waters of the greatest country in the world! Happy Canada Day! Bonne FĂȘte du Canada!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Brain Injury Friendly Way to Socialize: My Article in March 2014 OBIA Review

My Article in OBIA Review!

Because of my Twitter activities and launching #ABIchat last year, the Communications and Program Assistant at OBIA, the Ontario Brain Injury Association, contacted me about writing an article on social media for their magazine OBIA Review. It’s rather nice to be invited out of the blue to write something, and so I did. Back in January. Just in time for their deadline. And then I promptly forgot all about it.

Forgetting isn’t always a good thing. But in this case  . . .  imagine my delighted surprise when the March 2014 issue (PDF) on social media came in my mail, and I opened it up. Actually, I opened it up after someone tweeted out their kudos, and I had to go look what they were talking about. Oh dear, brain injury strikes again. But wow -- so cool to see my byline!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Email to TTC Re Changing Our Subway Names and Toronto History

I tweeted my outrage about the TTC changing subway line names to incomprehensible numbers to @BradTTC and our new TTC Chair Maria Augimeri. Brad Ross, the Head of Communications at the TTC, invited me to email my feedback to wayfinding [at] ttc.ca which I’ve decided to publish here.

Could you envision Toronto City Council changing the name of Yonge Street to 1 Street? Well, this is what the TTC is doing to our subway lines. Subway lines are underground routes for trains carrying people just like streets are routes for cars or bikes or buses carrying people. Our routes were named at the time of their creation, and main route names are rarely if ever changed because of their history and because it would cause major confusion.

Yet this is what the TTC plans on doing with not one but all of its underground routes. Worse, it's changing names to numbers, going from words with meaning to numbers that are inherently meaningless. Why? To improve navigability. Really? How is going from names that reflect the geography of the streets above, names that have meaning and history, require no memorization to have meaning to the user, and are familiar to every Torontonian no matter how cognitively challenged, to numbers that have zero correlation with the streets above, no history, and no meaning sans memorization, improving navigability?

Isn't it bad enough that Torontonians every few years have to relearn names of major buildings and lose part of their history without the TTC adding to our historical annihilation?

And when numeracy skills continue to be problematic and people hate numbers, how is going to numbers improving navigability?

subway sign 1 line Shireen Jeejeebhoy Mar 2014

If navigation is to be improved it should be improved with those who have the hardest time with it in mind: those of us with brain injury, memory issues, navigation issues. Changing names to numbers makes it immensely challenging. When I look at the new signage (see pictures), even though I'm fully aware "1" is a substitute for Yonge-University-Spadina, only the direction as stated in words eg "southbound", is clear to me. "1" has no meaning, and so I'm lost. And especially when I look at the big wide sign (see picture) I ask: Is this the subway line I'm supposed to be on? Where is the name of the line?!!

With only 2.5 lines and a stump RT at the end, it's hard enough. But if we had a robust world-class network like the New York system, it would be impossible to know where I was or to correlate with the above-ground city geography. We orient ourselves outside best. We can only orient ourselves underground by having a name connection that obviously links under to above. Numbers do not. At all.

I used the New York and London subways before my brain injury. I found the use of numbers and letters to name the NY lines obfuscating. I had to memorize in order to orient myself. And even though I had a photographic memory back then, it was still ridiculously too hard for just wanting to visit. And as a tourist, I often thought only the locals could navigate the NY system easily. In contrast, London using names made it easier, even when those names had no connection to the city above, like the Circle Line. At least I knew if I missed my stop, I could stay on and it would circle back around. I wouldn't have remembered that and been even more panicked if it had been named 10.

southbound subway line 1 sign Shireen Jeejeebhoy March 2014Numbers gain meaning and are understood through association with words. Names have meaning in and of themselves. No memorization required when use word names unlike numbers or letters. Calling "southbound" "1" is as meaningful as calling Yonge-University-Spadina line "1". 1 only makes sense if a person *can* memorize.

Brain injury is a hidden epidemic, people with memory problems are more numerous than you would think, changing to numbers is causing all sorts of upset.

Changing our history is just outrageous.

And one last note: I know my south from my west at least. But [someone I know] constantly gets all those mixed up. When she can't memorize numbers and has no clue where southbound will take her, how is this "new" "improved" signage going to increase her ability to get around? It won't. It'll make it much harder. This is the opposite of inclusive. Accessibility isn't just about wheelchairs, it's also about cognition.

Best regards,

Shireen Jeejeebhoy