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:











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*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.

























2 comments:

Celia M. High Heeled Life said...

Great article!! You go girl ... you are very well versed on the TTC and your efforts and persistence will benefit many in the years to come, keep up the great work (fight). Yes, I agree adults also need to understand invisible disabilities exist and not to just assume. Being a new TTC patron (because of my invisible disabilities) I'm just starting to get a first hand view/experience of people and how selfish they can be. Recently a pregnant woman basically ran onto a bus I was on - stood in front of me. At first I thought I hope someone gets up for her ...and when no one did ... I thought I only have a few stops to go maybe I'll be able to manage (for going my own needs to sit)- as I was thinking and was about to get up - she began texting on her phone and was sturdier than most people on the bus. Finally a young man began to get up to offer her his seat ... I motioned to her that someone was offering up their seat ... which in her texting she was oblivious too!! ... As she made her way to the seat next to me - she leaned over and said "just so you know you are sitting in an accessible seat" SERIOUSLY!!!! - was she so self absorb to think I would be sitting there if I didn't need to sit - to safely use the bus???? I managed to lean over calmly (to my own surprise) and responded "Just so you know I have a disability and need to be seated" - instead of asking why - she gave me the once over - smirked and said Really??? ... had she asked - she would have learned I have an artificial elbow and the weakness in that arm makes it unsafe to use it to steady- hold on ... there are days my ankle and pelvic/hip make me very unsteady let alone on a swaying bus and some drivers rough stops and go ... while I admired her for her balance - she was cursing me for not looking like I have a disability. Invisible disabilities really need to be addressed perhaps a "scarlet letter" so we don't have to explain ourselves or feel the anxiety as we step on TTC of whether a seat is available or not - and if not hoping that there is some place to lean up against to help keep us safe, steady and from falling onto the floor (like I have almost a couple of times). Having said all that I recently witnessed a young man ( about 12 or so ) offer up his seat to a woman with a stroller -- all on his own. I complemented him and he smiled.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Celia: that's appalling, your experience, but unfortunately not surprising, given that the TTC barely acknowledges invisible disabilities so why would self-absorbed members of the public be able to see them? I'd have been unwisely tempted to pour on the gross factor: saying with a smile, would you like me to peel back my skin so that you can see my artificial elbow or perhaps my damaged joints? Or ask her: how long is your disability going to last? And when she says six months or five, say: I wasn't talking about your pregnancy.

You're a class act, Celia! It will serve you well as you get used to riding "the better way." :) Thank you for commenting!!