Jul 19th 2010 at 12:00PM
Prestocard is a new project meant to make it easier for Ontarians in the GTA, Hamilton and Ottawa to pay their transit fare. Throughout the summer people will be able to travel through various transit systems in Ontario simply by loading money onto a card using the phone, the website or a kiosk. Once the card is loaded with the desired amount, the traveler simply waves it in front of the station’s reader and is on their way — whether by bus, GO Train or subway.
It’s fast, easy and convenient… for most of us.
That’s because if you have a disability, the system can’t be used without able-bodied intervention. If you have vision loss or are dyslexic you’ll need
someone to read the display above the reader to check your balance. If you have no range of motion in your arms, good luck waving the plastic card at all without some motherly figure in the line doing it for you. I wonder, when was the last time an able-bodied adult needed to be treated like a child? Yet
for the disabled person, inaccessibility of any kind makes such treatment a necessity.
Sure, the Prestocard makers counter that one can check their balance on a computer, by phone, or with the kiosk attendant, but as the chief watch dog for
the implementation of the Accessibility Ontarians with Disabilities Act [AODA] and chairman of its
Alliance, David Lepofsky points out: “Sighted passengers who can read the card-readers’ screen may not find a pay phone, or try to get a cell phone connection (if they have a cell phone) or line up for a customer service representative, nor own a computer with internet access.”
Just like that, convenient for everyone suddenly becomes convenient for most, but so what? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, right?
You might be able to swing that argument if a private corporation was heading this project, but Prestocard is actually backed by
Metrolinx (formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) and by extension, the Ontario government. The same government who plans to implement not only full accessibility for the transportation system, but also the entire province.
Maybe you don’t have a disability yourself, or even know someone who does, but it can’t feel good as an Ontario resident to know that your tax dollars
are going towards the active discrimination of Ontario’s disabled population (the largest in the country).
According to the project’s executive director at Presto Systems, Ernie Wallace, says that he is dedicated to assisting people with disabilities in a way
that maintains their dignity and independence; underscoring the respect Presto Systems has for disabled people, while being committed to meeting the standards set by the AODA.
In addition, he underlines that Prestocards is implementing a five-year plan to “extend Prestocard’s accessibility in subsequent stages” with the help
of an ad hoc advisory committee made up of “regional transit representatives familiar with accessibility issues (e.g. para transit) and various individuals from disability organizations.”
But as Lepofsky points out to Wallace in later correspondence, the AODA doesn’t have any legislation specific to the accessibility of electronic kiosks,
so there’s no way he can be in compliance with it. (Maybe Wallace didn’t read it that closely?) However, there is one thing that the legislative document
is very specific on:
” AODA 2001, Sec. 5. In deciding to purchase goods or services through the procurement process for the use of itself, its employees or the public, the
Government of Ontario shall have regard to the accessibility for persons with disabilities to the goods or services.” A clause also backed by The Human
There are only three issues Lepofsky wanted answers to: the first and most troubling being, that if the Prestocard project wasn’t “off the shelf technology”
and was custom built specifically for this initiative as Wallace had insisted in a prior conference call, why is it that simple accessibility features
couldn’t be included from day one? (Lepofsky points out that audio interfaces have read balances off bank ATMs to disabled patrons for quite some time)
Why did there need to be a five-year plan? After all, it would be more expensive to retrofit these features onto technology that has already been released
to the public. If the phone, internet and kiosks were sufficient for checking customer balances, the AODA Alliance chairman asserts that the company would
not be rolling out the card reader machines.
The AODA Alliance committee also expressed concern over the green and red audible tones that indicate whether there is money left on the card. They suggested that there also needed to be a yellow tone that indicates when the card only has enough money available for one last ride and needs to be reloaded following the trip. Wallace allegedly gave Lepofsky the brush off and said they’d look into it in the future. If that weren’t enough, the company has
not brought its website up to contemporary accessibility standards.
For all the practical answers Lepofsky sought as to whether these suggestions were being implemented and how they were making sure they were with accessibility standards to date (as Wallace had originally claimed) Wallace himself repeatedly replaced direct answers to these questions with PR spin — always making sure he was staying on message:
“We have and will continue to consult widely as we design and upgrade our infrastructure, web sites and systems. The PRESTO program approach is designed to allow transit customers with disabilities to be self-reliant and able to use the transit e-fare payment system at their own convenience with independence and dignity.
PRESTO has made significant progress to ensure the overall usability of the e-fare system for persons with disabilities. However, further work is still
to be completed to enhance the accessibility of the system. To this end, PRESTO is committed to continued improvement to it’s e-fare payment system so fare payment is accessible and inclusive for all Ontarians and visitors to the province (including persons with disabilities)”
It was a message so lacking in specifics and so close to that of a public relations automoton that one couldn’t help but think the Ontario government was
purposely erecting barriers against people with disabilities using taxpayer money. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time nobody thought of monetary accessibility.
In the U.S., all bills are the same colour, have no accessibility features, such as raised bumps or numbers, and are all the same uniform size. Frequently
blind customers in America must stamp their own money with a brailler or hole-punch before using it, for fear of being shortchanged by a corrupt register
attendant. Thankfully, The Bank of Canada was persuaded by a former CNIB administrator
to add accessibility features to their banknotes. That’s why you will find raised numbers, high contrast colours and a system of raised dot cells on every bill. The Euro takes it even further by making their color coded bills
varying sizes, so you don’t even have to feel around to tell what your holding. In Canada, it’s often questionable how easy it is to identify our bills with the raised dot system. Don’t worry though, the bank of Canada and CNIB give away free black bill readers that can read the microchip technology embedded in the bill and tell you its amount.
To date however, Ernie Wallace and Presto Systems have yet to directly answer David Lepofsky’s questions and implementation plans for the Prestocard system are scheduled to go on without any further reconsideration. David Lepofsky and the AODA Alliance is not giving up howerver, sending a parting shot:
“We have called on the Presto System to answer our as-yet unanswered questions, and to stop deployment of its smart card technology until our accessibility concerns have been fully addressed.”