By Kayla Preston-Lord, first-year student, Faculty of Art
Last Modified:02/03/2010 2:12:35 PM
years ago, the Government of Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which will update accessibility standards across the province. The act rolls out in five parts, with 2025 as the goal for a fully accessible Ontario. The first part, Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, came into effect on January 1 of this year, and requires every service provider to take part. This includes the faculty, staff and student monitors here at Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD).
As a student monitor for the Marketing & Communications department, I too am required to be brought up to AODA customer service standards. My supervisors, Sarah Mulholland and Larissa Kostoff, approached me last week to let me know I had to complete an online training module. I readied myself to begin, excited to learn something new about accessibility, but also half-expecting a dry hour filled with detailed building codes for ramps and elevators. When I opened up the training file, I was at first amused by the user-friendly design of the module, complete with smiling and blinking Flash-animated characters designed to guide you through the training. As I progressed through the modules, however, I realized that my notions of what “accessibility” truly encompasses couldn’t have been more outdated.
Subtly, the training module began to turn my mindset upside-down. Partway through, for example, I read a sentence that stuck with me:
“Much of what disables people is not a disability, but rather an inaccessible environment.” I did a double-take. The words hung there on the screen, burning through the pixels. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never thought of disability in this way. It seems that for as long as I can remember, a disability — whether visible or invisible — has been regarded as an affliction, something a person suffers from. The dominant viewpoint seemed to me to be one that depicted disabled persons as incapable of functioning properly in our environment, with the message being that we have to “fix” them — the disabled, that is. Only now am I beginning to see how problematic this point of view really is.
I decided to peruse the resources listed at the end of the AODA training module to reinforce my new understanding of disability. There, I stumbled upon
the website for the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD). As I was scrolling through the many position papers listed on the site, I came across another
life-altering sentence. “Deaf is a difference, not a disability. [Deaf persons] should be recognized and celebrated as a socio-cultural minority.” This
idea set off a spark in my mind: If Deaf (with a capital D) persons can be regarded as a minority akin to racial, ethnic and other cultural minority groups,
why can’t all disabled persons be regarded in this way? Instead of perceiving persons with varied disabilities as impaired or debilitated, we should recognize and respect their needs and lifestyles as purely different.
Even the word “disability” now leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s almost offensive,
incorporating such a negative pre-fix before the word “ability” — and thus imposing a sense of shame and wrongfulness upon those labeled with this term.
It seems incredibly backwards, to be using this word — all the more so when I think of how the AODA training is slowly turning my perception of disability
on its head. This is something I brought up with Jane Ngobia, Director of Diversity & Equity Initiatives at OCAD. “Many schools of thought are using the
term ‘differently abled’ as opposed to ‘disabled,’” she explained. Now that’s a title I can get behind — a term that truly reflects an improved understanding
of accessibility. “You can equate these differences in mobility, communication and learning, to other aspects of life,” Ngobia continued. “Such as differences in language, or even how many cultures use different utensils to eat.”
I remain impressed with the effect that the seemingly innocuous AODA training module has had on me. Excitedly, I see a huge role for artists and designers in accelerating the shift in accessibility philosophy — through engaging the public in dialogue surrounding disability, and also through designing inclusive tools and environments. What I have learned is that the construction of a truly inclusive, interactive society doesn’t begin with architectural blueprints. Rather, it begins with some healthy introspection into why inclusivity is important in the first place.