Accessibility

Demystifying Disability with the Cape Chamber of Commerce

LoisDon’t get me wrong – I love sharing my story and inspiring audiences to see their lives and their challenges in a different way as an inspirational speaker. It’s always a privilege to be given the opportunity to do so. But equally important to me is the opportunity of speaking to business audiences about the capabilities of people who are so often marginalised in the job market because of the misperceptions about disability.

Which is why I was so delighted to tackle the topics of the barriers faced by people living with disabilities at the Cape Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast event a fortnight ago. Being able to address a subject that is so close to my heart with my ideal audience was like receiving a gift!

Speaking to the members of the Cape Chamber of Commerce was a great experience –the group of over 50 people were clearly engaged with the information I was sharing and I received some great questions afterwards.

The most exciting aspect for me was how interested people seemed in making their products and services inclusive to those with disabilities, whether it be in making their websites more accessible to visually impaired customers, or in understanding how to make their workplaces accessible to those with a mobility impairment. And we touched on a related topic that’s very close to my heart – that of increasing employment of persons with disabilities.

My hope is that I’ll have the opportunity of engaging more with members of the Cape Chamber, either as a group or in their individual capacities, whether it’s to give them information on the accessibility of their websites, facilitate an assessment of the physical accessibility of their workspace, or to come and speak (formally or informally) to their teams about disability, diversity and inclusion.

My thanks to Bruce Wade and Linda Roopen for giving me the opportunity of speaking to members of the Cape Chamber of Commerce. I certainly hope it won’t be the last time I do so! XXXXX

Berlin: Another Great Accessible Travel Experience

Cds IMG 0069The Reichstag is one of Berlin’s most well-known sites. It’s synonymous with a whole lot of history, having been the seat of German government from 1894 until it was seriously damaged in a mysterious fire in 1933, an act that has historically been linked to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. Following the split of Berlin into East and West, both governments moved their location – I grew up with Bonn being the centre of West Germany’s government. It was only after the reunification of Germany took place in 1990 that the building was completely restored and from 1999 its once again housed the German government.

With all this history in mind it was obvious that we would try to explore the Reichstag. Incidentally, while they do offer tours, you have to pre-book and may have your reservation cancelled at any time. That happened to us when we first booked, but thankfully our second attempt was successful.

What I didn’t expect when I visited the Reichstag was how accessible the tour would be for me as a blind tourist. We were met at the door, escorted through security and guided directly to an elevator that’s used by people working in the building, rather than the tourist elevators that go directly to the famous Reichstag dome.

When we reached the glorious glass dome overlooking Berlin I was offered an audio guide and a set of tactile images of many of Berlin’s best known sites that can be seen from the dome. I was even asked if I’d like to take the tactile representations with me on the tour but since the box was bulky, not to mention heavy, I declined with a smile and thanks. But I did take the audio guide.

From there the tour follows a set route around the inside of the dome. I was able to trace my way round using the handrail and the audio guide automatically triggered at specific points – if you stop, so does the audio recording. I thought this was a great approach since we all walk at different speeds and you don’t have to fumble with the unit to get it to play when you stop.

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The tour gives you a bird’s eye view of Berlin, which again was a different perspective from that I’d seen before. It also gives you the opportunity to look down into the chamber where the government sits, which is interesting in its own way. And yes, I’m totally aware how odd both of those statements sound coming from a blind person.

It’s not only visually impaired tourists whose needs are catered for at the Reichstag. There were no steps in the route we used to access the dome, and the entire tour of the dome is done using ramps. Not only does this make it accessible for people with mobility impairments but it also keeps people moving smoothly without bottlenecks – no fast-moving people getting frustrated by those who take time climbing stairs!

We often hear references to German efficiency and, having toured the Reichstag, I can certainly attest to that national trait! My only disappointment was that I still don’t have a definitive answer to who set that mysterious fire in 1933!

Louis on the Block – Another Great Place for Guide Dogs

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It’s really not hard to find an enticing restaurant in Cape Town, no matter what type of food you’re looking for. I’ve already written a number of reviews of places that welcome Fiji and this is another of those. But this restaurant, Louis on the Block, in Bergvliet, has an added bonus – they’ve made their venue accessible to people who are mobility impaired as well.

Craig, Fiji and I have eaten at Louis on the Block in Children’s Way, Bergvliet a number of times. Not only do we enjoy their delicious, reasonably priced food and good service, but I’m always impressed by how disability-aware they are.

My guide dog, Fiji, is always warmly welcomed into the restaurant. On one momentous previous visit Fiji was offered not just a bowl of water but a snack as well, which she was most put out when I declined. I know some of you may be thinking it was unfair of me to deprive her of her snack when Craig and I got to eat. Here’s the thing: if Fiji learns to look for food at restaurants she’s slipped over the line into begging – and a begging dog is downright unpleasant for everyone!

What really impresses me about Louis on the Block is that the restaurant is also accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though there are steps up to the main entrance, they have a second stepless entrance that’ll easily accommodate wheelchairs. The tables aren’t crammed together so the space is fairly easily navigable, and the restrooms are also spacious enough to allow access to a wheelchair.

Over the years I’ve been to a large number of restaurants that are happy to accommodate my visual impairment and my guide dog. Sadly I doubt the same is true for a person with a mobility impairment. So it’s really great to experience a restaurant that is so aware of the needs of all their customers, no matter what!

If you’ve never been to Louis on the Block in Bergvliet, Fiji and I would definitely recommend you give them a try –with apologies from Fiji for not being able to vouch for the food herself.

Getting to Grips with the Question of Employment… Or the Lack Thereof 02

In my last post I referred to a recent article from the Cape Argus newspaper. It’s relevant to this post as well – here’s a link to the article if you want to read it: https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-argus/20180502/281814284483805

The Cape Argus article says that companies should have budget specifically for reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. In the case of visual impairment this would tend to be technology to help us access information, like screen readers, and text or object recognition products. The perception is that these technologies are prohibitively expensive.

Here’s my thoughts on that perception…

I’m not going to argue that we don’t need these technologies – looking at how much time I spend on my laptop and smart phone with accessible software I find it hard to remember how we used to cope before. What I’m arguing is the perception – the assumption – that it’s expensive to provide these digital accommodations.

Sure, some commercial software solutions do carry a cost, but these are not the only solutions. And I think the decision of whether to pay for a commercial solution will depend on the perceived value. Certainly, in South Africa, the commercial solutions are out of reach of many individuals so, if the employer decides this is the way they want to go it would probably be at the employer’s expense.

Let’s look at some of the other options:

Over the past few years the assistive technology landscape has changed. Increasingly we’re seeing technology companies including in-built accessible software into their products – all Apple products now have in-build screen reader and magnifier software, Microsoft also has in-build accessible software, and the number of free or discretionary cost solutions are constantly growing. These options mean that more individuals are able to access assistive technology without breaking the bank.

What does that mean? Let’s say I was to consider applying for a position with a company, which I’m not right now, I could approach a job interview with all the assistive technology solutions already in place – hence no cost to the company unless they decided to use the more expensive commercial products. Using my existing software and various free apps on my iPhone I’m able to access almost any information I’m likely to need.

Are these free solutions as good? Certainly I find they enable me to do all I need to do, though at times I may need to hunt for the solution. I can’t say I’ve done an exhaustive comparison but certainly I Haven’t found anything I can’t do on my current screen reader that I could on the commercial equivalent.

And yet the perception persists that making reasonable accommodations will be expensive.

I suppose it’s logical – very few people with no lings to the disability world know what solutions are available, and you’re unlikely to be told about the free options if you ask a commercial vendor. So it’s up to us, as visually impaired people, to make other’s aware of what we can access.

I know the focus of my posts is on the issue of barriers to employment that exist for people with visual impairments, rather than all disabilities. This is the area I have direct personal experience in. However, I know the principles hold across the spectrum of other disabilities.

If you’d like more information on anything I’ve said in this post, please feel free to contact me – this is a subject very close to my heart… as is decreasing the barriers to employment so often faced by persons with disabilities.

PS Please share this article with anyone you know who might need to read it – let’s work together to increase the inclusion of those who are visually impaired into society and the workplace!

Getting to Grips with the Question of Employment… Or the Lack Thereof 01

Cds 2017 04 18 20 49 22 The Cape Argus newspaper recently published an article entitled “We’re human, too, you know” giving an overview of the realities faced by South African people with disabilities. The article stated that in 2016 less than 1% of South African persons with disabilities are employed.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand why so few of the 1.4 million blind and visually impaired South Africans are employed. Here’s a few of the reasons people have given me for why they think this is so:

1. It’s hard finding visually impaired candidates with the skills, training and/or experience 2. The cost of necessary accommodations required to employ a visually impaired person is high. 3. Unconscious bias in the placement process

I want to consider each of these in a separate article so I can explain my thinking without having to rush.

Let’s start by looking at finding visually impaired candidates to fill positions. I want to start by posing a simple question – is it plausible that 99% of those with a visual impairment aren’t interested in being employed? Because isn’t that what’s implied if one blindly (pun intended) accepts there are no visually impaired candidates out there?

Okay, so it would seem there are candidates. But do these candidates have the skills, training and experience for jobs on the market?

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity of working with blind and visually impaired learners. I usually leave the sessions impressed and inspired at the skills, confidence and motivation the learners demonstrate. Often by necessity, they have developed strong problem-solving skills, are innovative thinkers and are effective communicators – I say these sought-after business skills are developed by necessity because they are skills we are forced to use on a daily basis as visually impaired people navigating the sighted world.

Then consider the blind and visually impaired graduates who successfully complete degrees or other qualifications. And those who have done so in the past and are still out there looking for work, and those who have been doing so for months, if not years.

I know of several organisations who run learnerships for youth with disabilities, helping them to develop job-related skills, which adds to the number of skilled visually impaired candidates out there seeking employment.

I’ll admit it may be challenging finding visually impaired candidates with extensive previous experience, which may at times be a factor in the candidate assessment process. With employment levels currently being so low in the visually impaired community it’s unlikely there is huge pool of visually impaired candidates with vast amounts of job experience out there. So I think it becomes a self-perpetuating problem –the only way to grow the number of visually impaired people with experience in a job is to start off by hiring more visually impaired people so they can gain that experience.

We also live at a time when technology is helping to make an ever-increasing number of jobs possible for us, when our access to information and services is greater than ever before. I think most people would be startled at how few jobs are currently inaccessible for someone who cannot see. This, of course, raises the question of the costs of accommodating the needs of visually impaired employees – but more on that in a future article.

I’ve been told by a number of people in Human Resources that they’ve never received a job application from a visually impaired candidate. Just as I’ve spoken to a number of visually impaired job seekers who have struggled to find work.

Is it possible that the problem is in connecting the two? Or are there other factors adding to the question? And, if the solution is as simple as that, what forums connecting visually impaired job seekers with organisations looking to hire them exist? And how are they reaching their target markets? Are they reaching their target markets?

I know there are greater minds than mine working on the diverse aspects of this issue. I acknowledge the many individuals and organisations who are doing amazing work to increase the inclusion and employment of visually impaired persons.

My intention in writing these articles is to add my voice to the conversation and to offer my perspective to those with whom I’m connected – you never know what ideas may be sparked by one simple post.

PS If you’d like to read the Cape Argus article cited in this post, you can find it here: https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-argus/20180502/281814284483805

PPS Please share this article with anyone you know who might need to read it – let’s work together to increase the inclusion of those who are visually impaired into society and the workplace!

X Let’s be honest, anyone who’s been looking for work for a long time is going to feel disheartened. Add to that the awareness that less than 1% of their community are employed and it becomes a little more easy to understand the difficulty wow, that’s quite a challenging mindset to overcome. XXX

Anyone for Pizza?

NewImageOur first stop on the tour of guide dog-friendly places Fiji and I go to was our nearby Woolworths retail store. Today we’re walking just a few steps away from Woolworths and stopping for a cup of tea… or a delicious meal , if you’re feeling a little peckish.

In fact Sostanza, the coffee shop/restaurant we’re about to visit is so close to Woolworths that I usually instruct Fiji to find the counter in Woolworths and navigate my way from there – when we first learned our way to the coffee shop Fiji tried going straight there, stopping at each table to say hello to the people sitting there. It wasn’t long before I figured out that it was easier for me to navigate from Woolworths, so that’s what I taught her to do.

Over the years my guide dogs and I have had issues gaining entry into a fair number of restaurants – not a lot, but enough for me to call the instances easily to mind. But we’ve never had a problem at Sostanza– in fact, they’re welcoming to all dogs, though I think Fiji and her guide dog colleagues are the only ones allowed to sit inside; other dogs have to sit in the corridor.

We’ve had a number of funny experiences at Sostanza – like the 5-year old girl who was convinced Fiji was cold lying on the floor and sacrificed her own seat-cushion for my dog. And the day Fiji was pulling to get to the people at the table behind me and it was only after I’d chastised her that I realized we knew them. And last week a Jack Russel was whining piteously to be allowed to come and play with Fiji – and Fiji simply turned her back and went to sleep.

Sure, Fiji often has people coming across to pet her but I’ve never had to yell at a fellow patron for trying to slip her food, and it’s a great opportunity for me to tell people about the amazing work being done by the SA Guide-Dogs Association in training these remarkable animals.

Not only is Sostanza welcoming to guide dogs, they also serve amazing food – whether you’re looking for a tasty breakfast, a scrumptious lunch or just a slice of cake with your tea or coffee. As for the pizzas… Well, let’s just say that Sostanza makes what I consider to be the best pizzas in Cape Town and leave it at that!

I doubt you’d be interested to hear about the other places Fiji and I visit at the Old Bakery Centre – especially since one is the cash machine and the other we only went into by accident when the passage to Woolworths was temporarily blocked. So we’re going to go further afield on the next stages of our tour of guide dog-friendly places.

In the meantime, anyone feel like a pizza?

Proposed New Accessibility Emoji

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I love using emoji – sometimes they so exactly capture what you’re trying to convey, where you’d need a whole bunch of words.

So I was intrigued when I listened to a recent episode of the Assistive Technology Update podcast and heard an article about some new emoji that are being considered – including emoji of guide and service dogs, people in wheelchairs, people with white mobility canes, hearing aids and prosthetic limbs.

I was interested to note that it is Apple who have put these new emoji forward for consideration – well done, Apple!

Here’s a link to the article about the new emoji from the Assistive Technology Update podcast show-notes. Why not take a look and tell me what you think.

http://bit.ly/2IQaIoq

Starting the Tour of Local Places Fiji and I Are Welcome

NewImageA little while back I said I wanted to start a series of articles recognizing places that were welcoming to my guide dog. Here’s the first of those articles.

I live in Lakeside, in Cape Town. Our closest shopping area is the Old Bakery Centre, so named because it used to be a bakery. When we first moved into the house I would regularly wake to the scent of freshly baking bread – Mmmm…

So I want to take you on a tour of some of the local shops and restaurants who not only accommodate, but go out of their way to welcome my guide dog and I – and the Old Bakery Woolworths is going to be our first stop.

Fiji has been trained to walk straight to the counter where the tills are located in Woolworths. Whenever we enter, the employees greet me and either offer assistance immediately or politely ask me to wait for a minute or two while they finish up with their current customer. Then they assist by collecting the items I need and bringing them so I can look at them before I pay. Admittedly it’s a small Woolworths and my needs aren’t overly complex – besides which, I keep my shopping list short since I’ll have to carry everything home in a backpack.

On occasion I accompany the assistant to select the items I need, especially if I’m buying fresh produce, but usually I stand out of the way and let the assistant manage the process. Yes, I am aware that there are several apps and other assistive technology devices that would let me shop pretty much on my own and maybe one day I’ll do so. For now I just find it easier to shop this way and the assistants are amazingly efficient in how they help me. And it makes a huge difference to me.

I’ve heard of so many cases where a visually impaired person has been refused entry into a shop because they have a working animal with them. We’ve even had a few instances where it’s happened to Fiji and me, even once in a different Woolworths. So I’m truly appreciative of the amazing service I receive at the Old Bakery Woolworths in Lakeside.

The next stop on our tour of local places where my guide dog is welcome isn’t far away. In fact, next time I want to tell you about the coffee shop/pizzeria right next to Woolworths, who also look after Fiji and me as if we’re royalty.

But that’ll have to wait for another day…

Paws for Thought – An Announcement from Fiji

Cds DSCF5922I’m wagging so hard right now that I think my tail might just fly off! You won’t believe what’s happening!

Mom and I are going to write a book together… In fact, I’m going to write the book and mom will just co-write it with me. Don’t you think that will be exciting?

We’re only in the planning stages right now but we often have long conversations about what we think should and shouldn’t go into the book. I still disagree with mom that we should include stories of me being naughty – she says it will make me more human (I think she means canine). But ultimately I’ve never written a book before and mom’s written five, so maybe I ought to listen to her.

What I really wanted to say is that if you have any ideas about what you’d like to see in the book, you must just let mom and I know… I promise we’ll consider them!

And we’ll most definitely let you know how we’re getting on as our plans develop and we start putting paw to paper.But no pre-orders yet, please – it’s a little early for that.

Wow… me, a published author… wag wag wag wag wag wag

Appreciating My Reality

Cds IMG 0065It won’t surprise you to know I have a fairly extensive global network of blind and visually impaired people on social media. I also listen to several podcasts by and about people who are visually impaired. Recently I’ve been amazed how often I’ve heard stories of people being refused access to places and services because they have guide dogs.

Which got me thinking – Fiji and I have been working together for just over 2 years. Add that to the years I worked with my previous guide dogs, Leila and Eccles, and you land up with a scarily large number.

In all that time I’ve really never had a major problem accessing places and services with my dogs. Sure, there have been times that I’ve been challenged about bringing a dog into ashop or restaurant, but we’ve always managed to resolve the problem then and there.

And yes, there have been times I’ve become frustrated at the increasing amount of bureaucracy that’s required when travelling by air with Fiji but, believe me, the administrative hoops Fiji and I have to jump through are minor compared to what some of our international colleagues have to.

I’ve also heard horror stories from friends in other cities in South Africa, so maybe Cape Town is just a really special place. To be fair, I haven’t experienced problems in Johannesburg but Fiji and I haven’t really travelled much together outside of Cape Town– at least, not yet!

Fiji and I regularly go to new places and make use of services and are usually welcomed and treated with respect. So I want to start acknowledging some of the places she and I go and acknowledge their fantastic service to us. .

Why not suggest a few places you feel we ought to try – if we can get there, we’d be happy to do so and share about our great experiences. And we’d love the opportunity to show the rest of the world what a great place Cape Town is to work with a guide dog

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