Will New Accessibility Standards Prevent This From Happening Again?
November 18, 2010
Under pressure from the AODA Alliance, the McGuinty Government has agreed to take a second look at barriers impeding persons with disabilities when using the Presto Smart Card for paying public transit fares in Ontario. Recent correspondence from the Ontario Government to the AODA Alliance confirms this.
The Government hasn’t denied that these barriers against transit riders with disabilities exist. However, it has not agreed to halt deployment of the new inaccessible Presto technology, created with taxpayers’ money, until these barriers are fixed.
We await word on whether the Government’s forthcoming integrated accessibility standard, aimed at addressing barriers in public transit and other areas, will include strong and effective requirements to ensure the accessibility of comparable electronic self-serve kiosks. To date, the Government’s weak proposals for this standard wouldn’t stop this from happening again. In the U.S. a major blindness advocacy organization has sued a major airline for installing inaccessible electronic self-serve kiosks.
The McGuinty Government has used tax dollars to create a new “Smart Card” which public transit passengers could use to pay their fares on a number of public transit systems in Ontario. It has been proudly announcing the roll-out of the Presto Smart Card in a number of public transit systems. It is pressing local public transit authorities to adopt it. It strongly criticized the Toronto Transit Commission for rejecting the Presto Smart Card.
This past summer, the AODA Alliance revealed to the public that the McGuinty Government’s Presto Smart Card, created with our tax dollars, has barriers that impede public transit passengers with disabilities from being able to fully and independently use it. In August, 2010, we called on the McGuinty Government to halt the further deployment of the Presto Smart Card technology until these barriers have been removed. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06212010.asp
Last August, the Government initially defended the Presto Smart Card against our criticisms:
* It claimed the Presto Smart Card technology complied with accessibility standards. Yet none now govern these electronic self-serve kiosks.
* It claimed it consulted with persons with disabilities on the design of the Presto Smart Card. Yet, in response, we learned that the Government indeed had consulted with persons with disabilities on the Presto design. However, it had ignored the feedback from persons with disabilities that showed the Presto Smart Card technology had significant disability barriers. See:
2. New Developments
The Government recently wrote us twice in response to our August 15, 2010 letters to Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne (whose ministry is responsible for developing the Presto Smart Card) and Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur (whose ministry is responsible for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act). Minister Wynne wrote us on October 20, 2010. Minister Meilleur wrote us on October 21, 2010. Their letters are set out below.
These letters include statements on the Government’s commitment to accessibility that are quite similar to those we earlier received from the Presto Project itself. For example, Minister Wynne wrote: “PRESTO is committed to identifying, removing and preventing barriers for people with disabilities.” Yet the Presto team’s past conduct contradicts this rhetoric.
These two letters from the Government do not dispute that those barriers now exist, nor do they dispute that Presto was forewarned about them when it earlier consulted with persons with disabilities. They give no reasons why Presto ignored the earlier warnings about the barriers in this technology. They don’t try to justify Presto’s ignoring that feedback. They don’t claim it was impossible to design fully accessible technology. They similarly don’t dispute that there are no accessibility standards in force now that address the accessibility of electronic self-service kiosks.
These two letters commit that any future electronic self-serve kiosks will be designed to be accessible. This, unfortunately, gives little comfort. Presto earlier claimed to us that it is committed to accessibility. It claimed to us that this new technology, now being rolled out, is in fact accessible. Yet in reality it is not. The Government has not given us any reason to believe they will honour those commitments in the future any more than they have in the past.
These letters include a new commitment by Transportation Minister Wynne to have the Presto technology reviewed for accessibility problems. She wrote:
“I have asked staff to review compliance of the PRESTO system with all accessibility standards. I have also directed staff to reconstitute the Accessibility Advisory Committee and report back to me on its performance in the field with any changes that need to be made. The Accessibility Advisory Group recently held their first meeting and will be providing advice to us on the creation of a Ridership Focus Group.”
It is good that the Government is taking a second look at Presto’s accessibility problems, albeit rather belatedly. However, it is not clear to us that the Presto project team will listen any more effectively this time, when the same consultants again tell the Government that the current Presto technology has the barriers that they forewarned about in the past. We have no information that the Government has held accountable those officials who were responsible for not acting on the early warnings about barriers in the past. What is now needed is for the Government to direct the Presto Project to remove those barriers immediately and to ensure there are no new ones created.
Minister Wynne says that Presto is committed to keeping up with changes in technology. She wrote: “We understand that advancements to accessibility standards and guidelines are ongoing. PRESTO will evolve to meet the new standards. That is why we are working on developing a pilot program on a fully accessible self-serve PRESTO kiosk. Improvement will be based on advancements in technology and on the progress made in advancing accessibility standards and guidelines, such as those currently being approved for the AODA.”
These current Presto barriers show that the McGuinty Government, including its Presto team (which is part of the Government), is clearly not keeping up with technology. Technology has existed for years that would have prevented the barriers we made public this past summer. For example, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky told Minister Wynne’s and Minister Meilleur’s staff at their meeting earlier this fall of his hands-on experience this past summer with the accessible self-serve electronic kiosks throughout the Chicago subway system for buying a fare card, checking its balance and adding funds to the card. The McGuinty Government claims to be leading by example. This is not a good example to lead by.
Neither letter from the Government specifically addresses our call for the Government to halt deployment of the existing Presto Smart Card technology until the barriers in it are removed. At David Lepofsky’s meeting with the Minister’s staff earlier this fall, they referred him to the Government having signed contracts for the purchase of this technology. No specifics have been provided on how much the Government has already contracted for, or what the specific consequences would be for backing out of those contracts. In any event, the Government cannot contract out of its duties under the Human Rights Code. There is a need for accountability of those who signed any such contracts.
3. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE LONG TERM?
The McGuinty Government is now deciding what to include in its forthcoming new accessibility standards, to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. One important issue on which we have been quite active is ensuring that those new accessibility standards require new self-serve electronic kiosks for public goods and services, including in the public transit area, to be fully accessible to persons with disabilities. The Presto barriers are a powerful illustration of the need for those new accessibility standards to be strong and effective in this area.
At present, the Government only proposes that its weak integrated accessibility standard would require that an organization consider accessibility when designing an electronic self-serve kiosk. We want accessibility standards to require that each organization must actually deliver accessibility, not just think about it or talk about it.
The Government could claim that it “considered” accessibility when designing the inaccessible Presto Smart Card technology. That accomplished little here. Our comprehensive brief on the proposed integrated accessibility standard is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10082010.asp
Accessibility standards under the AODA are meant to eliminate the need for persons with disabilities to have to file human rights complaints one barrier at a time. In the U.S. the National Federation of the Blind recently filed a lawsuit against United Airlines for deploying inaccessible self-serve check-in kiosks at airports. See the NFB news release set out below.
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Also, please write the McGuinty Government to urge it to ensure that forthcoming new accessibility standards will require all self-serve electronic kiosks to actually be accessible to persons with disabilities. Write Premier McGuinty and Minister of Community and Social Services Madeleine Meilleur. Here is how to reach the Premier and the Minister:
To reach Premier McGuinty, you cannot write to a public email address. You have to go to a website page and enter your email message there. Go to: http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/feedback
The Premier’s other contact information is:
Hon. Premier Dalton McGuinty
Room 281, Legislative Building
Facsimile: (416) 325-9895
Voice phone: (416) 325-1941
To reach Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur:
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister
Community & Social Services
6th Floor, 80 Grosvenor Street
Facsimile: (416) 325-3347
Voice phone (toll free): (888) 789-4199
October 20, 2010
Mr. David Lepofsky, Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
Thank you for your letters of August 10, 2010 and August 15, 2010. I appreciate your continued interest in the ongoing development of the PRESTO System and was glad to have my staff meet with you to discuss our plan for moving forward. I believe we share a common interest in ensuring an effective and accessible system for the benefit of all transit riders.
We believe, in fact, that PRESTO has made advancements in providing transit customers — including persons with disabilities — more options and convenience in managing their transit fare payments.
The Ministry of Transportation and its municipal partners have worked closely with accessibility experts, transit authorities, municipalities and our customers in developing PRESTO fare card system. We listened to their feedback and made a number of specific improvements based on the feedback from the Accessibility Advisory Group, including:
- Raised the height of buttons and tactile embossed symbols
- Changed the card “tap” area so it now protrudes from the device itself
- Advised that any future self service kiosk would be fully accessible
- Introduced clearer and differentiated sound bites
- Developed the PRESTO website to WCAG Standards
- Posted ASL videos on the PRESTO website.
We are providing additional access for all transit users. The PRESTO system has been designed to provide alternative options and services for all customers, including those with disabilities, through the PRESTO website, Call Centre and in person at Customer Service Outlets. PRESTO provides multiple channels for customers to use the system: purchasing a card, loading money, and making an inquiry.
I have asked staff to review compliance of the PRESTO system with all accessibility standards. I have also directed staff to reconstitute the Accessibility Advisory Committee and report back to me on its performance in the field with any changes that need to be made. The Accessibility Advisory Group recently held their first meeting and will be providing advice to us on the creation of a Ridership Focus Group.
PRESTO is committed to identifying, removing and preventing barriers for people with disabilities. We understand that advancements to accessibility standards and guidelines are ongoing. PRESTO will evolve to meet the new standards. That is why we are working on developing a pilot program on a fully accessible self-serve PRESTO kiosk. Improvement will be based on advancements in technology and on the progress made in advancing accessibility standards and guidelines, such as those currently being approved for the AODA.
PRESTO and its transit agency partners are committed to continued improvement to the PRESTO fare payment system so it is accessible for persons with disabilities and inclusive for all Ontarians and visitors to the province. An Accessibility Framework has been developed to:
- Describe the measures taken to identify, remove and prevent barriers to persons with disabilities
- Identify areas for future improvements
- Identify roles.
PRESTO and partners recognize that additional work and ongoing development is required to meet PRESTO System’s overall commitment. PRESTO has established a strategy to ensure ongoing improvement, which includes four principles:
- Continually engage the accessibility community in PRESTO’s development
- Be proactive and encourage constant user feedback
- Ensure PRESTO System usability for persons with disabilities
- Ensure PRESTO meets broader Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act policy mandate.
PRESTO is in the process of reaching out to various accessibility stakeholders to promote the PRESTO electronic fare payment system and to encourage their feedback to assist us in making PRESTO the best product it can be. Obtaining feedback on using the devices from current and future customers in a real transit environment is vital in making improvements to PRESTO.
We will continue to work in partnership with our partner transit agencies to ensure the accessibility of devices and fare structure does not create barriers to take transit.
We appreciate your interest and feedback on PRESTO and your suggestions on how we can make the e-fare system even more accessible. We will continue to seek advice and input from our Accessibility Advisory Group, the equivalent Transit Advisory Committees, outside organizations and experts like you as new devices are developed and the technology evolves.
Thank you again for your continued interest in the development of the PRESTO system.
LETTER EMAILED TO AODA ALLIANCE ON OCTOBER 21, 2010
Mr. David Lepofsky
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
Thank you for your letter regarding the Public Transit PRESTO Smart Card System. I appreciate the time you have taken to share your concerns with me.
As you know, our goal is achieving an Ontario that is open to people of all abilities by 2025. While this goal is an end point, we are already working hard to break down barriers that people with disabilities face in our province. We recognize that accessibility is a complex issue and as we move forward, we will continue to view all the issues that affect our province through the lens of accessibility awareness.
Ensuring an effective and accessible public transit system is an important step toward building an Ontario that is accessible to people of all abilities.
While the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has the lead for the PRESTO Smart Card System, given the importance of this issue as it relates to accessibility, my ministry will continue to maintain an open dialogue with staff in that ministry.
A number of important improvements have already been made to the system based on feedback MTO has received from accessibility experts, transit authorities, municipalities and customers, including:
raising the height of the system’s buttons and tactile embossed symbols;
ensuring that the card “tap” area now protrudes from the device itself;
creating clearer and differentiated sound bites;
taking measures to ensure that all future self-service kiosks are fully accessible; and
developing the PRESTO website in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
It is also my understanding that MTO has taken measures to review the Presto Smart Card System on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance with all aspects of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
I look forward to your continued feedback and insight as we continue to work toward our shared goal of an accessible Ontario. Thank you again for writing and for your commitment to accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
[Original signed by]
c: The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation
NEWS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
United Airlines Discriminates Against Blind Passengers
National Federation of the Blind Files Suit Over Inaccessible Kiosks
San Francisco, California (October 25, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people and the leading advocate for accessible technology, and three blind individuals – Michael Hingson, Mike May, and Tina Thomas – who reside in California and frequently fly United, filed a class-action lawsuit today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against United Airlines.
United uses airport kiosks that employ touchscreen technology in a manner such that they cannot be used by blind passengers. Passengers who are able to use the kiosks can access information about flights, check in for flights, print tickets and boarding passes, select seats, upgrade to United’s business or first class cabins, check baggage, and perform other transactions relevant to their air travel plans. The suit alleges that United is violating the California Disabled Persons Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act because the services it provides through these kiosks are not available to blind passengers. United could easily add an audio interface, a tactile keyboard, or interactive screen reader technology that works with touchscreens to its kiosks, as other companies have done.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The airline industry has an unfortunate history of discriminating against blind passengers, and now United Airlines is repeating that history by deploying inaccessible technology that we cannot use. United is engaging in this blatant discrimination even though the technology to make its kiosks accessible is readily available, has been deployed by others, and will involve little cost to the company. Instead of enjoying the features and convenience of these kiosks, including a quicker and more convenient check-in process, blind passengers must wait in long lines at the ticket counter, even when they have already purchased their tickets and checked in online. We will not tolerate a separate and unequal experience for blind passengers and demand that United cease its discrimination against us as soon as practicable.”
Michael Hingson, a blind motivational speaker and president and owner of a technology sales company, said: “I have traveled throughout the United States and the world for my public speaking engagements and as a technology sales representative, yet I cannot independently check in at the airport. It frustrates me, as a frequent traveler and United passenger, that I must wait for a United employee to assist me with the kiosk, seek help from a sighted passenger (in which case I must share sensitive private information with a total stranger), or else stand in a long line in order to complete the airport check-in process. I hope that this lawsuit will serve as a wake-up call to United and that the airline will swiftly make its kiosks accessible.”
Mike May, CEO of the Sendero Group, a leading manufacturer of technology for the blind, said: “I have been working in the adaptive technology field for twenty years, and I know well that it is easy and practical for United to make its kiosks accessible. There is simply no excuse for the long wait and inconvenience that other blind United passengers and I continue to experience at airports.”
Tina Thomas, a member of the United States Paralympic Judo Team, said: “I find it extremely ironic that United, which touts itself as the official airline of the U.S. Paralympic Team, discriminates against me as a member of that team and as a blind person. I sincerely hope that United will make a more serious and tangible commitment to treating passengers with disabilities equally.”
Plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Daniel F. Goldstein and Gregory P. Care of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; and Laurence W. Paradis, Karla Gilbride, and Kevin Knestrick of the Berkeley firm Disability Rights Advocates.
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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO