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Blind Parapan Athletes Face More Barriers Than Most

Advocates decry lack of braille in residence rooms and programs. KALIE SINCLAIR / Canadian Paralympic Committee

Goalball play Ahmad Ziedidavi, from Port Coquitlam, B.C., said this was one of the best-prepared Parapan cities, though the lack of braille on suite doors in the athletes’ village leaves a blind person “kind of lost.” By: Michael Robinson Staff Reporter, Published on Sat Aug 15 2015

Blind judo competitor Marissa Arndt, from St. Louis, Mo., says the friendliness of Torontonians has helped make the city more accessible, though she’s had to rely on “landmarks” to navigate the braille-free dorm.

Despite ramps and powered doors, the absence of a few, tiny dots at the Parapan Am Village dorms may have been the Games’ biggest barrier of all.

Some 325 Para-athletes with a visual impairment have competed in this year’s Games, which come to a close tonight. Ontario’s laws, however, do not require accessible signage, such as braille, on individual rooms.

This can put athletes like veteran Canadian goalball player Ahmad Ziedidavi in a tricky spot.

“If you want to look for your apartment suite and you don’t have anybody, you are kind of lost,” the Coquitlam, B.C., native said, adding that he did find braille on the elevators, but not on the residences’ apartment doors.

Nevertheless, he was “very impressed” with the Village.

“I’ve been to Previous Pan Am games and this was one of the best,” he said.

Accessibility advocate and lawyer David Lepofsky describes braille as “a bedrock accommodation” for people with vision loss.

“If a sign is posted in print so sighted people can read it, it is an obvious denial of equal treatment to not do the same for blind people in a format they can read,” he said.

“This is especially so for an event like the Parapan American Games, where the government is specifically inviting blind athletes to come to Canada to compete in sports specifically meant for blind athletes.”

“I did notice that there are no raised numbers or braille for the room numbers,” said Tiana Knight, a Calgary goalball player. “Most places now have both, or at least one. “It is sometimes difficult when you can’t read the number.”

Marissa Arndt, a blind judo athlete from St. Louis, Mo., said she has relied on “landmarks” to navigate the dorm.

“My room is on the corner, so I know if I get off the elevator I can feel a metal door and my friend’s room is one more door down,” said the 24-year-old, who compares her eyesight to looking through a tunnel the width of a straw.

Despite assistance from volunteers or her coach, “braille would have been helpful to do it on (my) own.”

TO2015 had volunteers and team officials to help blind athletes, a provision that met customer service requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Blane McPhail, a spokesperson for the provincial Minister of Sport, said the athletes’ village “met or exceeded stringent standards put forward by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) for those buildings.” He added that Toronto’s efforts also “were recognized by the Americas Paralympic Committee, which called Toronto the best prepared city to ever host the Parapan American Games in March.”

McPhail said many athletes have been “impressed by our commitment to accessibility.”

Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, however, panned the province for only meeting the law’s minimum regulatory requirements when it comes to accommodating visual impairments.

“It is truly astonishing that an event meant to celebrate the diversity and strength of athletes with disabilities has simply complied with bottom-line building standards,” said Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The issue is not limited solely to the dorms.

When Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, asked for braille print programming during the opening ceremonies, he was informed that none was available.

“They told sighted people they had a print program and they told blind people you don’t,” he said. “This is very blistering.

“How would sighted people feel if they only gave out braille copies of the program?”

Officials referred to printing costs and the ability for spectators to read accessible documents online as reasons behind their decision.

Earlier this year, the Americas Paralympic Committee called Toronto the best prepared city to ever host the Parapan American Games.

Reproduced from