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man holding a book entitled "Just Call Me Seemore"

Stephen Barker on The Accessible Podcast

On this week’s episode of The Accessible Podcast, my guest is Stephen Barker, author of  a memoir called “Just Call Me Seemore”

The transcript of the show follows.

Transcript The Accessible Podcast, December 17, 2018

(Jingle)

man holding a book entitled "Just Call Me Seemore"
Stephen Barker, author of “Just Call Me Seemore”

(female voice talking on music): Hello and welcome to the Accessible Podcast, an audio experience for all audiences. I am Andreea Demirgian, your host. Today my guest is Stephen Barker, author of “Just Call Me Seemore”, a memoir that sold over 200 copies at the first book signing back in October. Stephen Barker was a flight attendant and has been all over the world, he has seen the 7 Wonders and more, but his book is not about his travels, as you might expect. In his mid-thirties, while leading a normal life, his world was turned upside down. He went blind. In this inspiring and humorous memoir, Stephen chronicles how, within a relatively short time span, he had to face the fear and the challenges of blindness and the trauma of losing close family members to cancer.

The turning point came when he discovered the Lions Foundation Dog Guides program and was given his “new set of eyes,” a black Labrador named Zulu. With his furry guardian angel, the first of two guide dogs over a period of ten years, he regained his independence and a reason to live. His descriptions of training at the dog guide school and the day-to-day incidents that he faces as a blind person make for at times hilarious and always fascinating and insightful reading. Stephen’s sense of humor and hope, combined with the kindness shown to him by so many people, help him overcome everything that life throws at him.

Recently I have had the pleasure of talking to Stephen about his book, and here is what he had to say about his writing journey.

(music)

(voice over music) Andreea Demirgian: Stephen Barker, thank you for joining me.  Tell us about your book.

(music fades out while Stephen is speaking)

Stephen Barker: Yes, in the early 2000s I started to lose my eyesight and on my birthday in 2009 I awoke and I had gone totally blind. So along my way, the journey that I was on with adapting to this new life, I found that there are a lot of positive things. I was meeting people who were so kind and generous, strangers who would help me. Then I was introduced to the Lions Foundation of Canada dog guide program, and I decided I would go there and live and train for a month to receive a guide dog because I thought that would bring me more independence. So the book really is the story about that: my journey into blindness and how it became more of a gift and not a hindrance.

Two black Labradors with pink party hats, lying on a carpet
Keagan and Zulu, Stephen’s “new set of eyes”

In 2008 when I first started losing my eyesight, I was introduced to my first guide-dog, Zulu. I worked and trained with Zulu and life was all good, or so I thought. When I got home I was adjusted to the dog and I was starting to navigate my streets again, and it was like I was human again, I could do things I haven’t been able to do before: just walking out alone by myself was impossible when my eyesight was going. After about a year, I noticed things were going wrong with Zulu. She would wander out in the street while we were walking and it was getting dangerous, but every time the trainer came out, when I would call to tell her about this, Zulu would be fine. In the end, it turned out Zulu had a thyroid problem. When she was getting tired, she was just shutting off. They said she could no longer work, and they wanted to retire her, so I kept her as a pet. In 2010, I returned to the school to get my second set of new eyes, Keagan. So I attended the school in August of 2010, to train for another month with him, so that’s the dog I’m currently working with now, to this day.

AD: Why did you feel the need to write this book?

Man wearing a black suit, holding the leash of a Labrador guide dog
Stephen and his second set of eyes, Keagan,.

SB: I felt, you know, it’s really weird, because, one day I just was sitting and I thought: I really need to start writing down all of these experiences that are happening to me. There was one couple in particular who I had met through a friend of mine. He does an annual golf tournament that raises money for the school in Oakville because The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guide Program in Oakville receives no Government funding.  There’s absolutely no Government funding to have people receive guide dogs, so it’s all done on charity and donations.  A friend of mine has a golf tournament every year, I speak at it every year when they have it. I had met a lot of people there and this one couple, in particular, I’ve become quite fond of, Matt and Evelyn Lawless. Well, one day, Matt and Evelyn were watching TV and saw these glasses that could help blind people see, so they had emailed a friend of mine and said: “You know if these would help Stephen, we would pay for them”. Well, they were like $10,000. So right at that moment, I was very touched by that: just a few days before that, before this call about the glasses, Evelyn had been diagnosed with terminal cancer! So, to me I felt like there was somebody who just found out, they were going to die and here they are, trying to offer me sight. To me, that was so touching! I knew that I needed to write these experiences down so that others can benefit from it.

AD: When did you start writing the book, how long ago?

SB: About five years ago I actually started writing it. The writing part came fast and it was almost like I had – which sounds weird – but it’s almost like I had help writing it. I felt like I was guided to write it. I pounded it out on my laptop in a terrible rough copy and then I started working on fixing it up. I guess I never really intended it to be a book. I thought I would write this thing and all the people who are in it, who had helped me, I would print it out, even on my printer, and give them a copy. Just to show them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me along my journey. But a friend of mine had seen it. I showed her, I was telling her about it and she said to me: “You need to get this put into a book”, she said it, like “it really has to become a story”. Of course, you don’t know if she’s just being nice because she’s your friend and she’s just saying that. But I started that process and she had Creative Writing skills, while I didn’t know anything about writing a book, I could tell the story but I am not a professional writer.

We kind of sat down, and, painstakingly, for a year, we were taking a rough copy and putting it into a more readable copy, trying to fix it up as best we could. But we would do that once a week for about two hours, so it was taking a long time. And then, in the middle of that process, I got cancer and I had to stop because I was having Chemoradiation and I was too sick to do anything. So, it kind of sat again for a long time, maybe another six months, and then she said to me: “Are we gonna get back to that book?” after I had started to recover. And she persuaded me, I just got back on the book, and we started working on it. Then I had to find an editor because somebody had mentioned that would be much less tedious for us to be doing this for 2 hours a week for years at a time to try and get it fixed up.

The editor had my book for 17 months and didn’t do anything. And I kept emailing and saying “What’s going on?” and he was like “Oh, I am working on it, it takes time”, and months would go by and then a couple of times he told me it was finished and he would be sending it to me. I was excited, it’s been so long, this journey. So I just said to him: “This is unacceptable, I don’t want to use anymore, and I would like my money back” and he said: “No, you’re not getting your 1500 dollars, I did four pages and that’s worth that.” So, then I was left with nothing, again.

In the meantime, I had lost touch with the lady who recommended him to me, but she was talking to a friend that I know and they told her that this person hasn’t done my book. Well, she got in touch with me and she said to me “Stephen, I’m going to get this finished for you, we’re going to get this book done, it will be ready in three months.”

The book was out in October, so she took it and finished it. She left everything in that I had put, like it was all of my emotion, because that was very important to me, to have the book emotional. I wanted it to be as raw as my emotions were with everything in that book, so she did that for me. When I got it and I finally read it, I was just so happy, because it was exactly the story that I had told. She also has added photos in. I was never going to do that. I just thought: “Well, I can’t see, so why should other people look at photos?”

She talked me into it.  She said to me: “Do you have any photos from when you were a baby?” and I said, “I do not, I have to ask my sister.” In my book, in the preface, I talk about when I was six years old because I remember this as clear as day: I was standing in downtown Hamilton with my mother, at the bus stop. I was 6 years old and I saw a blind lady and her guide dog trying to cross the street at King and James, which was a really busy street at the time. And I remember I looked at my mom and I looked at the woman and I thought: “Why isn’t my mom doing something, that lady’s going to be killed!” Anyway, she crossed the street and I was like “Wow!” But I remember a horrible feeling came over me at six years old: I thought if I was ever blind I’d kill myself. I thought: “How would they dress themselves, who feeds them, how do they live?” And so, from that moment on, at six years old, I thought: “If I ever become blind, I would kill myself”.

6 year old Stephen Barker smiling on a busy street.
6-year-old Stephen Barker, on the day he first saw a blind lady crossing a street with her guide dog.

The photo thing came in, because when she asked about baby photo if I didn’t have any, I remembered from that day, that exact day, downtown with my mom, with the blind lady, a photographer just after that stopped my mom. He would go around downtown taking photos of people. It was like $3 or something. He snapped a photo of me standing on the street. I found the photo that went exactly with the same day when I saw the blind lady. So she put it in the book for me.

It kind of made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. When these little things happen, as I was going along, you know, I felt like everything was just happening for a reason.

AD:  What would you say is the most intense chapter in your book?

SB: Well, there’s a lot of them, it’s got a tissue alert. People will comment to me and say: “Oh, I really cried at this part or that part!” But everybody’s crying at a different part. I made the book so that everybody who reads it can relate to something in it. I mean, so, it could be a sad part, it might not affect you, but the next person who reads it might have had a similar experience in their life, so it’s emotional for them.

I like the part in the book when I’m talking about when I first got my first guide dog and the emotions that went through me, because, when you lose your sight, there are things that you cannot obviously do yourself. I had stopped walking, going out on my walks, because you don’t want to be a burden on anybody. Before I lost my eyesight, I was a flight attendant, so I had flown all over the world, I’ve seen the Colosseum in Rome on New Year’s Eve with fireworks going off over it! I’ve seen all that beautiful stuff, so when I started to lose my sight when friends would ask me out, I would say “No.” I didn’t want to be a burden. I mean, I wouldn’t tell them that, I’d just decline the invitations and anything that had to do with mobility or anything like that, I just started staying home. Well, that’s when I realized after a while that my house was becoming my prison. I needed to do something about it, so I ended up looking up the information for the school and that’s when I finally got in touch with them because I knew I had to change something to get myself back to where I was before. I had to find myself.

AD: If somebody is about to lose sight and finds this book, how much do you think it would be a comfort for them?

SB: I wrote it so that you don’t have to have a disability at all to read it. You don’t have to be in a wheelchair or blind, you could be just having a bad day and you can read this book and I guarantee it’ll pull you out of where you are and that was my goal: If I could just change someone’s life by them reading this book, then that’s all I wanted out of it. And I specifically did that, I made it so that I wasn’t gearing it specifically to someone with a disability, I just wanted to show that the human spirit is much stronger than any of us know, and we can get through anything and everything, with the help of our friends. Just if we embrace everything and just follow the path, go the way you think is the right way and then you’ll get through it. And when you read this…  I mean, so much has happened to me in the book, that you would think, oh, like you, yourself probably think: “I couldn’t have done that, how did he survive?” But what do you do? You either move forward in your life when something happens, or you can sit and rot and feel sorry for yourself.  I wasn’t going to do that. So… I want other people to read this and see that there’s hope.

AD: When you held your book in your hands for the first time, what was that like?

SB: Oh, when it came, the printer delivered them to me, the actual book designer and he said to me: “Do you want to open a box and hold a book?” At first, I couldn’t, it was almost like opening a tomb for me. Also in the book, after I lost my sight, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and was palliative, she was dying… She wanted to die at home so even though I was blind I did my best to make that happen for her. And then, at the time she was diagnosed with lung cancer, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer, then my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. So all three of them are sick and dying. So when I got the box and I held the book, that came to me like: my mother was there, my brother was there, my father was there, the lady that was going to buy me that glasses to help me see, she had passed away, so it was all these memories in this book. So that was coming into me, too, when I held this book. All these things were just so emotional to me, there’s just so much emotion in the book, so much of my raw emotion! I just say it like it is in the book. It was beautiful, but it was very emotional.

AD: How was your book launch?

SB: I had a book signing at Canadian Tire because the owner of Canadian Tire in Grimsby, here where I live, her and her husband… I’ve become good friends with them. We do a lot of fundraising for dog guides. She had a big book signing at the store and oh, I sold like maybe two hundred books. It went really well and I got to meet my editor for the first time and the book designer came, and we all went out for lunch, a bunch of us. So it was very good.

I’ve had a couple of stints, not very big ones. Public speaking, I like doing, so that’s my next thing: I would like to get into the public speaking area and travel around talking, because it’s a good emotional thing to hear from an actual person, to sit and listen to. I can look at myself now and when I read the book, I can see everything happens for a reason, the events, the things that have happened, it was almost like everything was planned out. And now that I wrote the book I can look at it and actually see that. Now it seems like “Wow, my life was planned out, the whole thing”. The things I did happened at the right time; I need to share this with other people. That’s my next goal to do a lot of speaking for it.

AD: Is your book available also in Braille?

SB: No, it was going to cost like $10,000 to do a Braille copy so we had decided that even the title we might do in Braille, on the front, but it was very expensive. I chose, when I put it online, I paid extra to have it put into e-books and Kindle and paperback, because then, my other visually impaired or blind friends can now read it on their devices. If they download the e-book version, they can read it with their screen reader, so it’s accessible for that. But the CNIB is talking about putting it into a talking book for me, so that would be a great help. That would be my dream, getting it into the talking book version.

AD: That’s great. So your book is available on Amazon. Where else?

SB: It’s in over two hundred online bookstores, including Amazon Canada, Amazon.com, Amazon UK and Chapters Indigo. I’ve seen it in Japanese and Polish and French. So if you just Google “Just call me Seemore” it comes up at all these bookstores online.  It’s just been an amazing journey.

AD: When is your next public appearance?

SB: In January the Chapters Bookstore in Stoney Creek is having me in for a book signing, I don’t have a date yet but I know it’s in January. In March, The Lions Foundation is run by Lions Club, like local Lions Club, they’re all across US and Canada and they’re having their big conference in St Catharines in March and they’ve asked me to come and speak and then sell books after. So that’ll be a big one for me because there are five hundred people there. So that’ll be a big one.  And then the Grimsby Library is having me in for a book reading on March 27th because I donated a book to the library here, so that’ll be nice

(music fades in)

AD: That was Stephen Barker, talking about the path from light into darkness, a path of self-discovery and a journey to a different form of light. Stephen says that you never really see until you stop seeing. Don’t miss his book, “Just call me Seemore”, now available on Amazon.

Here, at the Accessible Podcast, we’re trying to bring the world closer to all audiences. If you have a story like Stephen’s, we’d like to hear from you! Send an email to contact@andreeademirgian.com and we will get in touch right away.

I am your host, Andreea Demirgian. Thank you for listening to The Accessible Podcast.

(music fades out)

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Accessible kiosks at Tim Hortons… Oh, Wait!

Early this week, my family and I stepped into a Tim Hortons together, probably the first time since last summer. Don’t get me wrong, we love coffee, we just prefer to brew it at home. We do go at Tim’s when we travel or are caught up running errands. But, it’s not on our daily route.

As we stood in line, I have noticed the glistening Touch Screen Kiosk, inviting us to order faster. I am not a fan of touchscreen kiosks, especially the parking kiosks and the ATMs. I am not particularly thrilled about the library self-help stations, either. What if you can’t see the screens? What if you need to feel some ridges to know where to press or some palpable arrows to be able to navigate the up-down-left-right of the screen?

Touch-screen Kiosk with accessibility mode
Touch-screen Kiosk with accessibility mode

Well… To my surprise, the Tim Hortons Kiosk had a big virtual button, saying: View in Accessible Mode. Oh, my curiosity was sparked in an instant. I wanted to know HOW do you make a touch-screen accessible.

So, I started pressing virtual buttons, trying to make sense of it. It took me a few minutes to understand it and at one point I did ask one of the employees, who didn’t quite get what I was asking. At first, she tried to show me how to use the kiosk. I said: “Yes, I get it, but here it says: view in accessibility mode, I want to understand what is accessible about this screen”. About 5 minutes and two supervisors later, I finally got it. Here we go:

 

Numeric and arrows pad
This arrows pad makes the Kiosk Accessible to blind people

Under the numeric pad used to pay for your order, there is one more contraption. It consists of a smaller pad with arrows, a headphone jack (yay) and a volume button. Now, isn’t that smart?

I didn’t have any phones on me but, talking to my engineer husband, we could assume the following: a person who is blind or has low vision, can walk to the kiosk and find the phones jack and insert his/her headphones, signaling that someone needs to use the screen in accessibility mode. At that point, the kiosk starts talking. There is a button that allows you to adjust the volume. The arrow buttons have ridges that make it easy to navigate the screen.

The home screen is stripped of all the images of each of the products, but it now lists the menu, so the customer can select what he/she wants to buy.

What can I say! I was very impressed.

Today I went back, with my headphones, ready to test how accessible these terminals really are. Guess what! If it’s there it doesn’t really mean it works. Both Kiosks in my local Tim Hortons don’t work. I asked for the help of the Assistant Manager. I explained why I was interested. She said no one has ever used those.

But how could they have used those? Although there are some lit led lights under the arrows, they are unresponsive and so is the volume button. The Assistant Manager was gracious enough and promised to contact the kiosks provider to ask about how we turn the arrows on. I left my number and my email. We’ll see when I get an answer.

Well, I guess it’s a good start, Tim Hortons.  Next step would be: make sure the accessibility mode can be accessed and used. Third step: train the employees, let them know, in case someone ever does want to use the kiosks and needs the accessibility feature. It’s been three months since these kiosks have been installed in my local Tim Hortons and yet, in two different days no one could really help me. Maybe it’s just this one coffee shop. Maybe it’s all over the place.

I don’t mean to say that people who are blind can’t have coffee at Timmie’s. They probably do and I do not presume to speak in their name. But, as an Ontarian, I would love to see that the Accessibility features that started to appear in our daily lives actually work.

Real Accessibility matters.

 

The Issue with ISSUU: A full-screen reader is not a screen reader

As I was preparing for the interview with my next guest on The Accessible Podcast, I have received an electronic copy of a magazine featuring him. That took me to a website that my interviewee cannot really use, as it is not accessible to screen readers.

The website is ISSUU and it hosts numerous magazines. People have been complaining about the lack of accessibility since 2013, as I could find on a WebAIM discussion thread 

ISSUU promised on Twitter they are working on it, sometimes in 2016. To the day, ISSUU’s idea of accessibility is a full-screen reader included in a paid plan, starting at 19 USD per month.  At first sight, you might expect that for 19 dollars per month, your readers will get access to the information you are posting on ISSUU. Surprise! They don’t. They just get “fewer distractions”.

This full-screen reader isn’t accessible to screen reading software, either. As I understand, it just takes away the adverts and the covers of other magazines, but it does not solve the accessibility problem. No matter what assistive devices or software a visually impaired reader might use, when they get to the actual pages of the magazine, there is a great silence. Nothing comes out of the speakers.

So don’t let yourselves be tricked by this pun: a full-screen reader is not visible to screen readers, it means just a bigger page on your screen. The actual information you might be expecting is still embedded in a Flash element that assistive software cannot access.

I would really like to hear from my readers who use assistive technologies:  what platforms do you use to get your information online? Which are the friendliest magazine websites that you can really access?

Thank you in advance!

 

The Reel Words Award for Excellence in Captioning

Reel Words, a company based in Toronto that offers subtitles and captions editing, has announced an award meant to encourage filmmakers to make films accessible to more viewers. I have interviewed Vanessa Wells, the initiator of this Award to find out more.

A transcript of my conversation with Vanessa Wells follows:

Transcript of “The Accessible Podcast”

Date: November 30, 2018

Title: The Reel Words Award for Excellence in Captioning

(Jingle: male voice over music: The Accessible Podcast)

(instrumental music – piano)

(Andreea Demirgian) Hello and welcome to the Accessible Podcast, an audio experience for all audiences. I am Andreea Demirgian, your host. Captioning a movie is crucial for more people than you would think. Not only members of the Deaf community benefit from having good quality captions. Newcomers to Canada, people for whom English is a Second language, as well as children, can better understand the message filmmakers are trying to convey if they can also see the words on the screen. But not all captions are equal. More often than you might think, they can be considered rather craptions than captions. Many independent filmmakers state they cannot afford to include captions, but there are government funding sources available to have them created by professionals.

Founded by Vanessa Wells, Reel Words is a company based in Toronto that offers subtitles and captions editing. A couple of weeks ago, Reel Words has announced an award meant to encourage filmmakers to adopt the best practices of captioning, in order to make films accessible to more viewers. I’ve had the privilege to sit down with Vanessa and talk about the Reel Words award.

(music fades out)

AD: Can you please tell me a few words about your company first, about Reel Words?

Vanessa Wells: Sure, hi Andreea! So, Reel Words Subtitles and Captioning Editing is self-explanatory, but what I do is I work for production houses predominantly in Europe but also in the UK and elsewhere and I also work in conjunction with subtitlers and captioners directly so if they’ve been hired by another company I am not necessarily their client but I am the subtitler’s client.

AD: Tell us a few words about the award that you have recently announced, the Reel Words Award?

VW: I initially set this up because when I was interviewed last winter on the radio about my work and why I was trying to increase awareness about it I started thinking afterward, after the interview, about… you know, people have been inquiring for this for thirty years and yeah, we have more captioning now but it’s not necessarily better. So I was wondering what is it about the model of complaining and explaining one’s rights that is getting us nowhere. And I thought well, maybe… maybe that’s not the only route I need to go, maybe I need to do something more along the lines of education with the filmmakers of today and hopefully, five or ten years down the road, they will just be seen as just a normal step of production.

AD: What exactly are you offering?

VW: We are offering a 500-dollar reward for the most excellent submission that we get of captioning for this award. It can be for people who already do include captioning with their films, but also if there are people who never thought about it but said oh that’s something I should look into, and we’re equally open to newbies as well. And I’ve been speaking with some filmmakers, making inquiries, it does seem that the will is there, I just need to get the word out more and perhaps educate people who haven’t really included that before.

AD: So your offer expires at the end of this year?

VW: The submissions can be made up until the end of January 2019 and then we’ll have a month or two to shortlist them and probably late March the Jury and I will sit down together and go over the last 5-10 entries and choose the winner.

AD: Who is in the jury?

VW: So I have Rob Harvie, who is well known in the Accessible Media world not only through his work but he also teaches at Mohawk College, I also have three people involved in the filmmaking word who are members of the Deaf Community. So I have asked Michael McNeely who actually identifies as Deaf-Blind, he’s made films and has also been a juror for the Reel Abilities Film Festival. I have Nicola Di Capua who is a deaf filmmaker and he premiered his film at Reel Abilities last year and Chantal Deguire who is a francophone deaf filmmaker and she I think her film is coming out anytime now or early winter.

AD: So your target is the independent filmmakers, really?

VW: That’s right, so we said independent, emerging, even students, even high school students, that’s fine, we just didn’t wanna get people who have made, you know, big huge films with wide distributions that are really, really aware of the resources, they can hire some big name production house to do the captions, we didn’t feel that would be fair so we are targeting newer and/or younger filmmakers.

AD: Are you hoping that these captioned movies will be in the Reel Abilities Film Festival?

VW: Well, we’ve initiated discussions with them and they have graciously decided that we can present the award at the next film festival, next May-June, but that would be pretty exciting if we got to provide their debut there, so we’ll take that up in the spring.

AD: Do you have any submissions yet?

VW: I have a couple of people who have said they just wanted to tie up some loose ends so they have talked to me about some inquiries and then they’re gonna submit. I’ve had good interest, not surprisingly, from the Accessible Media Community and a couple of people said they were gonna get in touch with me maybe help spread the word on their platforms which is great.

AD: Will this be an annual award or is this a one time offer?

VW: No, we’re hoping to carry it out annually. And I don’t really have a definition of success for this award, like, I’m not gonna say “Oh, I need this number of submissions” to feel like I did a really good job. My goal is to increase awareness and educate people, particularly filmmakers. So if it doesn’t make as big a splash as it did now in its second year, that’s fine, at least we have started the conversation with people who are in film and tv production.

AD: How did the Disabilities Community receive the news about this award?

VW: They have been our biggest supporters; they were really pleased. As you know they are always frustrated by corporate attitudes and government attitudes, although you know, you can have a Monday Morning showing of your “Black Panther” or whatever is cool at the moment… So they just feel that one more venue to support their needs of excellent captioning is very welcome.

AD: You have the guidelines posted on the website of the award

VW: I do.

AD: Would you like to review them briefly?

VW: Sure. There’s a lot of them, so I will just give you some highlights. We’re asking that people not send films much longer than 90 minutes, keeping in mind that I have to watch all of them, if you have a short film, that’s fine, but there need to be a minimum of one thousand caption words for that. And the submission process is really simple, there’s a contact and submit button on the website for people to send it in and so we’re looking for people who have a film that’s primarily in English, so the captions are English. Sometimes when there’s foreign language within that, that’s fine, but we ask that they also subtitle that. We’ve got some requirements about, you know…, depending on where you live, because this is an international award, we ask that you use a standard, convention style guide spelling dictionary for your region so we don’t want people using the American Webster’s Dictionary but British punctuation and whatnot. So we’re just looking for consistency.

AD: You said that this is an International award. Did you reach out to the international community of independent filmmakers? Did you have any answers from them?

VW: Sure I did, one of them was in England… It’s interesting, you know, whenever this comes up, people are chiming in from all over the world and they are all saying the same thing and unfortunately, it seems that poor or non-existing captions is the status quo almost everywhere.

(music)

AD: Submissions for the Reel Words Award are welcome now until January 31, 2019.  The winner will be notified by April and awarded at the Reel Abilities Film Festival in Toronto in May 2019. That was Reel Words’ Vanessa Wells, on the Reel Words Award that recognizes Excellence in Caption Editing. For more information on this award, visit the Reel Words website.

I am Andreea Demirgian, thank you for listening to the Accessible Podcast. Don’t forget to share our link with all your friends, help us spread the word that Accessibility Matters.

Don’t Miss a Great Show With Adapted Performances, this July in Toronto!

A Poster for "Generally Hospital" Show
The Poster for the Show

Calling all Comedy Lovers! Don’t miss the adapted performances of “Generally Hospital” at The Fringe Festival in Toronto, this July! 

“Generally Hospital”, a sketch comedy revue, will be performed at this
year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, from July 4th to 15th at the Tarragon
Extra-Space! 

“Generally Hospital” is a comedic show about a serious place: the hospital.
From impossible rules for newborn babies, songs about death, and finding love in a room filled with farts: you are in for an hour of laughter, tears, and other bodily functions.

This show lifts the veil that shrouds the medical institution and shows that when it comes down to it, we’re all human. The creators of the show strongly believe in the power of laughter to ease people into potentially tense and personal subject matter, and as a tool to connect us all and foster empathy while ultimately having a positive experience. 

To provide better access to the show, the producers are excited to be offering the following adapted performances:

Relaxed performance (July 13th)

In this performance, we welcome all patrons including those with an autism
spectrum condition, sensory or communication disorder, ADD/ADHD, a learning
disability, or anyone who would benefit from a relaxed atmosphere. During
the performance patrons will be free to exit and re-enter the theatre,
retreat to a quiet space if experiencing sensory overload, or speak out
loud. It will also feature pre-show information (such as when to expect
loud noises), a reduction in special effects lighting, and partially dimmed
house lights.

ASL interpreted performance (July 14th)

This performance will feature 2 interpreters who will stand in a clearly
visible position at all times and interpret the spoken and heard aspects of
the show using American Sign Language for patrons who are Deaf or have
hearing loss.

Audio described performance (July 15th)

This performance will improve access for patrons who are blind or
partially sighted. It may also benefit an older audience who might not
class themselves as having a disability. Kat Germain from Live Audio
Describe will provide a live verbal description of the essential elements
of a performance (sets, costumes, and non-verbal onstage action) in order
to help listeners share the total experience.

The venue is also wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices
are available through the theatre.

Order your tickets on the show’s page on the Fringe Toronto Festival’s website. 

Send us your reviews of the adapted performances! 

Captioning Solutions for Videos Posted Online

Rob Harvie is a captioning specialist. I have talked to him about the best captioning software that can be used by small companies or podcasters that want to make their content accessible. 
The script of my conversation with Rob follows:
[Reporter] What is the best software for in-house captioning?
[Rob] There’s a variety of them, and they range in cost from $10,000 through to about a hundred dollars. The larger your organization, the better it can warrant the more expensive or multi-feature captioning tool. And you can find them by doing searches.
I can name names, but I’m not going to, because I’m also going to recommend that you consider outsourcing your captioning. I’m all for internal proficiency, but captioning and capturing accurately can take a lot of time, plus, you want multiple proofing stages beyond that, and it may not be quite within your capacity to allocate the human resources and the training time and up-skilling time for them in order to caption, so an alternative to it is to look at some of the captioning services that exist.
Some of them are South of the border, they may not get your regional spellings correctly or Canadian spellings… but it might be more affordable in the long run, and accurate.
[Reporter] Most people would be tempted to turn to YouTube captioning. 
Why would say that’s not the best bet? 
[Rob] I’m sorry, can you repeat that? Good case in point.
YouTube is actually a pretty good bet for captioning, if you’re going to be involved in the captioning. But to rely upon YouTube’s automated captioning is asking for trouble, because YouTube’s leveraging AI or algorithms to process the speech, but the recognition of it can’t contextualize very well. So if you’re okay with having a robot as it were, putting words into your mouth, that you didn’t actually say… or that of your boss’ or that of your CEOs… Umm…Be prepared for the repercussions.
[Reporter] How expensive is to outsource your captioning?
[Rob] It can range, it depends on whether it’s done at a broadcast basis as an accommodation or for your clients and… different services have different sorts of levels of accuracy, of what you want to be worried of. But if it is sensitive information, you can’t afford to have wrong, it might run upwards of $500 an hour, or, roughly, somewhere between the eight to ten dollars a minute range.
[Reporter] Ok and if you cannot afford to outsource captioning, and you want to buy something that you have in-house because you’re going to do it very often…
[Rob] Right!
[Reporter] Which would be the best solution for a small company, what software would you recommend?
[Rob] Right off the bat you can use YouTube for free. You don’t have to rely upon the automated captioning, but you can use it itself and something called the caption editor.
[laughs] Now, I may have the name of that wrong. But it’s built right into YouTube 
and if you have an account, you can go in and build captions yourself. 
On through the about a hundred dollar range tools, like we used in this program in class, 
is something called Movie Captioner and Inqscribe. (INQ Scribe), were two affordable solutions which have a reasonably good workflow. Keep in mind that it takes about roughly often eight to ten times the amount of time to caption something than the length of the original content. So one minute of spoken content can take you eight or ten minutes to do that… that small portion.
On up through, again, $10,000 solutions that are more suitable for broadcast type situations or context.
[Reporter] What would be the most useful argument that you can make for a CEO
to convince him that he has to do the captioning of all the videos that they put on line?
[Rob] Well I’m not necessarily behind that you need to caption everything that you ever did, into perpetuity, because you might have hundreds of thousands of hours of video, 
and while it’s a great idea to crack that open, to make it accessible to everyone, 
it might be considered undue hardship, or not practicable to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to do this. But you might want to have everything that you’re… as of a certain date, more accessible posted to the web. So you might say, well going back a year or going back two years, or as of February 31st… Well, February doesn’t have that many days, but, let’s say… March 1st, everything that goes up from now on, we’re planning to build into our infrastructure a workflow, and people in order to do this, and it’s possible to do…. Public perception, meeting your stakeholders needs, 
being able to communicate more effectively….
[Reporter] What about the Return of the Investment?
[Rob] well that’s… that’s a good question. I don’t have any stats to claim that you’re going to necessarily get this sort of percentage, but I think, pretty sure, you’re going to reclaim any of those expenses put in, in other ways. You’re going to be more appealing to those who want your products and services, again, your stakeholders are going to feel included
not being extremely frustrated that they’re not, and you’re avoiding a potential penalty 
dished out by the province, who could, in effect, hit you with a fine. Unlikely to happen, 
but if it hit the press that’s just as bad to you. You might be earmarked by a lobby group,
or advocate who’s fighting for the rights of those with disabilities and you don’t want to be in the papers.
[Reporter] Thank you so much.

Are captions and transcripts enough to make a podcast accessible?

A few weeks ago I sat down with Erin Poudrier, ASL interpreter, and we discussed about podcast accessibility. Erin is a huge fan of podcasts, especially those posted by the CBC.

The transcript of our conversation, as it has been posted on YouTube follows: 

[Reporter] Can you please tell me why do you think podcasts should be captioned and transcribed?
[Erin] I think that podcasts should be made accessible to the Deaf community because so many times I have been listening… I do a lot of listening to podcasts myself, specifically CBC documentaries podcasts and so many times I’m listening to these podcasts and these stories, and I think “Oh, my deaf friend or the deaf person that I’ve been working with would be so interested in this topic and I can’t even forward the story to them like I would any kind of other story. And it’s… I feel the frustration, and, actually,  most of the time they’re unaware of what they’re missing. 

[Reporter] So what do you think is the best solution to serve the Deaf community when it comes to making podcasts more accessible?
[Erin] I think that having an interpreter… interpreted story would be the best way of actually offering full accessibility because in stories, you have… it’s not… stories are not linear. Stories are complicated, they’re layered, they’re rich, they’re full of different… kind of ideas. When it’s translated into an English captioning or transcripts, it’s not the same feel from them, you can’t relate to it as much when you have this kind of barrier of language. When it’s produced in their natural language, it’s more dynamic, it’s more tangible, it’s more relatable, all of the goals to which a storyline is trying to develop with their reader or with their audience. So I really do believe that it should be provided
in ASL interpretation. 

[Reporter] But what about the costs? ’Cause I believe ASL interpretation is not a cheap service, isn’t it? So, if you have to think about the costs that producers of podcasts
have to take into consideration, is that something that they can really go for or is this just wishful thinking?
[Erin] I think that it comes down to values, to what audience are you valuing: are you valuing just only one type of audience, or do you want to be inclusive of everyone… kind of… in Canada. It’s really… for me it comes down to human rights. and so are you going to kind of ignore one population and say that they are not
valued enough to provide this when you’re choosing to maybe use your money elsewhere I think it comes down to prioritizing and when there’s a will, there’s a way.
[Reporter] Thank you.

The Clock Is Ticking for Ontario’s Education Accessibility Standards

 

A puzzled girl in front of a board covered in equations.
Ontario’s education system is not designed to fully include students with disabilities in mainstream classes.

More than 330,000 students in Ontario-funded schools have special education needs. But Ontario’s education system is not designed to fully include students with disabilities in mainstream classes. According to The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), by 2025, our province should be accessible to all its citizens, regardless of their abilities. Over the next three years, legislators will have to approve The Education Accessibility Standard, to ensure that all students with disabilities have equal access to the education system. That cannot be done without removing and preventing recurring accessibility barriers that impede students with disabilities from fully participating and attaining their potential.

Education Is A Right, Not A Privilege

The Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees the right to equal treatment in education, without discrimination. Under the Education Act, the Ministry of Education must identify exceptional pupils and ensure that all of them can access special education programs and services without payment of fees. School boards are required to develop a special education plan outlining programs and services. But, as good as things might look on paper, often, students with disabilities are not properly accommodated. In some cases, they fall through the cracks of the system, and sometimes just leave school.

Recently, 22 major disabilities organisations wrote an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne, underlining that “An Education Accessibility Standard should be designed to remove recurring accessibility barriers in our education system, so students with disabilities and their families don’t have to sue one barrier at a time, one education organization at a time.”  But which are the barriers mentioned in this open letter and what solutions are there to overcome them? Let’s find out from the people that face them every day.

Unexpected Barriers In Unexpected Places

Image of a boy with his head in his palms, looking at a notebook.
It may take up to 12 months for a child with special education needs to be identified and to receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

It’s not always a too tight door, no elevators or the lack of a ramp that prevent children from going to school. Disabilities are sometimes invisible. Let’s take learning disabilities for example. It may take up to 12 months for a child with special education needs to be identified and to receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The process is long and confusing and often parents complain about the lack of transparency and the difficulty of obtaining information about the available facilities and accommodations. Also, as the 2016 final report of the Barbara Hall review of TDSB governance mentions: “Parents expressed frustration at their inability to advocate for their children’s special education needs in an effective way. They feel isolated, afraid and unsure of how to work with the school board administration to support their children’s learning needs.”  Denisa Stoenescu Tutoveanu, mother of Alex, an ASD child, says that as a parent, she constantly needs to follow up with the school, to do extra research and keep herself informed, to be on the same page as the school, regarding the child’s progress. And if she doesn’t agree with her son’s Education Plan, there is no legal mean of attack. “ Structure the process more and make it straight forward.” she says, “Please, always listen and take the parents’ word because they know their kids the best, incorporate what they do privately in the child’s daily routine in school, so everyone is on the same page. Have meetings every 4-6 weeks, or as often as possible, so by working together, the system really helps the special needs kids to progress and be appreciated.” (Read the rest of the interview on the autor’s blog).

Once the IEP is drafted, it has to be implemented and, as Carry Kayton, a Special Education Teacher in Peel, told us: “The largest barrier is getting teachers on board, having them understand the IEP, and having them implement it. It’s not that they don’t want to implement IEPs, but they are overwhelmed, there is so much to do and it increases every year. Sometimes IEPs are too complicated and have unrealistic expectations. Kids are identified too late.”

Indeed, many teachers have to deal to up to 12 different IEPs in a class of 30 students. Not all teachers are trained in Special Education and there are not enough Educational Assistants for academic support. But some are willing to walk the extra mile, as you can see in the video below.

What Should Be Done

Jen Stevenson, Special Education Teacher Consultant for TDSB, has a few recommendations for the Education Accessibility Standards that might help not only students with IEPs, but kids in general: “We should be open to inclusive practices.  The fixed mindset must change. Some kids are in IEPs unnecessarily. Putting different strategies in place for different kids is just good teaching practice. If more school boards embraced that way of thinking, we would have fewer IEPs, but more successful kids. Job embedded training for teachers is needed, not a one size fits all course, but a targeted professional learning model. Class sizes should be smaller and more Educational Assistants should be there for academic support. Teachers should have more time to plan for students who need additional supports. We should come up with better transition plans for middle-school and high school, so kids are not lost to the system once they leave elementary schools. These are just a few that come to mind.” (Read the rest of the interview on the autor’s blog)

The Education Accessibility Standard should also require that the principles of Universal Design for Learning are incorporated into the curriculum taught in Ontario’s schools. It would be far easier to include students with disabilities in the mainstream educational setting, if instructors prepare their lesson plans with UDL in mind. As for parents, they expect less bureacracy and also a fair internal appeal process for the education accommodation issues. They need at least a clearer and faster assessment process, access to information and the right to have a say in their children’s IEPs.

These are just a few of the aspects that The Education Accessibility Standards should address in the next three years to meet the IASR deadlines. The Education Standards Development Committee hasn’t been appointed yet. So, call your MP, send an e-mail, ask a question: what more should Ontarians do to make sure their children can fully participate and be included in the education system, on an equality footing?

 

Levente Janosi: Closed Captioning Has Come a Long Way

Levente Janosi is the President of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association chapter in Hamilton. Last year in November we sat down and discussed how important closed captioning is for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and how it has evolved in the past few years. A transcript of my conversation with him follows.

[Background noise, music throughout]

[Reporter] So, Mr. Janosi, thank you so much for granting me this interview. I was wondering, you as an end-user of closed captioning, what’s your experience with closed captioning in Canada?

[Janosi] So first of, probably the best thing I would like to say about closed captioning is… the technology came a long way in the last few years, and it became a lot better. Probably the only thing, when it’s properly turned on, once it’s set up and you’ve ironed out the kinks and stuff like that, and you set it up, closed captioning on television works like a charm. Obviously, if it’s not live, it’s good. Live closed captioning, obviously, it’s got a way to go, obviously. Because what happens is, many times, specially myself, who’s hard of hearing, but I can also hear and I read lips, and with the hard of hearing, the visual aspect is very important. So when you’re reading lips and you are also looking at the closed captioning, it’s fairly important to be in sync, without a delay. Probably the delay is the biggest focus that needs to be taken into consideration, to become a little bit better.

[Reporter] The industry aims for a 3 seconds delay at the most, but often they cannot reach that. How does that affect you?

[Janosi] Sometimes what happens is… because of the reading of the lips in real time and then hearing, and also having hearing, like I am not totally, profound deaf, I am just hard of hearing, so with the delay that I hear, if there’s a 3 seconds delay, that’s quite a lot of delay. And then, it becomes a little bit confusing, because what I read on the lips is totally different from what I actually hear or read.

[Reporter] If you would have the chance to speak to somebody in the industry who deals with ruling closed captioning, what would you tell them?

[Janosi] Probably the best advice that I could give them is to have actually hard of hearing people present when they are actually doing it. I… Through my life I was in research and I know the best research is actually having people who are affected the most involved in the research. So if you’re making captioning and putting something together, and you’re putting the captioning down, have somebody else, not just a technical person, but somebody else actually be present, somebody who is hard of hearing, that can give you real-time feedback as well.

[Reporter] Right now, every broadcaster has its own set of rules when it comes to closed captioning. How does that make you feel, when closed captioning differ from one provider to another?

[Janosi] So, I don’t want to be negative about it, because obviously we came a long way and the industry… obviously, anything that’s not live is pretty much closed captioned, you can create it. But there’s a lot of websites right now, that you go to and you actually don’t have closed captioning underneath it. So as long as they could put processes in place to make it better and also to provide feedback… because if you have a favorite website… I watch Ted.com many times and in the past few years… I remember I stopped looking at it. But in the past few years, now they actually have everything closed captioned and most of their presentations are closed captioned, so that’s really, really helpful.

[Reporter] So how optimistic are you for the future with this technology, just coming out everyday?

[Janosi] I am optimistic, from a sense that… there is gonna be technology out there to solve the issues. How the technologies are gonna work together and play well in the same sandbox? That’s a question. That’s a bigger question. I come from the IT industry in my professional life, so I do know that Microsoft and Google, and Twitter, social media, Facebook, even though each of them do the right things, they’re still competing against each other, so, everybody is gonna push their own technology. And, hopefully, there’s gonna be somebody who advances the solutions that much more. And it’s actually… I’m not saying competition is all bad. Competition could be good and bad. It is bad when people are not standardizing on a solution. But on the flip side of it, it’s also good, because one raises the bar for the other one.

[Reporter] Thank you very much for your time.

 

Vanessa Wells, captioning specialist: People who are hard of hearing absolutely have the right to captioning.

Vanessa Wells is a captioning specialist. She says that people with disabilities are sometimes invisible but they absolutely have the right to captions. A transcript of my interview with her follows: 

[Reporter] Why should organizations care about captioning?

[Vanessa] I think a lot of corporations feel that they don’t have… “We don’t have anyone deaf working for us and not many deaf people use our services”, but, they’re saying that because they don’t, perhaps, know the actual statistics. I keep hearing approximations in Western World countries, that about 10% of people have some degree of either deafness, or hearing problems, or being hard of hearing. So, if that’s 1 in 10, it’s quite commonly held, there’s 10% of the market right there, and a lot of people, especially in employment situations, social situations, they don’t want to talk about their deafness or their hearing issues. I have hearing conditions myself, no one wants to hear me going on about my problems hearing. So a lot of us just don’t even bother explaining. So we’re kind of invisible, and I think, with increased awareness about accessibility and legislation coming out in many countries sort of simultaneously, people are going to wake up and realize that it’s not as few people as they think. So, in terms of people with hearing problems, they absolutely have the right to captioning, to have access to content. On my blog I had a friend who’s got 20% hearing. I had her write about her experience and one of the things that really struck my heart was… She said: “When I have captions, I feel like I can participate in society.” And that really affected me.

[Reporter] Most of the businessmen that are CEOs of their own companies worry about the Return of Investment. What advice would you give them?

[Vanessa] Again… someone needs to point at the bottom line to them, that they’ve got a 10% population they’re ignoring and I was hearing, actually, overall disability rates are around 15%, and if you can’t appeal to a CEO on the bottom line, I don’t know what else can convince them. Short of giving them experiences with potential customers and potential employees and showing them how much these services are needed. And unless, perhaps they don’t have someone in their social circle or their family, with those problems I think that they’re quite oblivious, but they need educating.

 [Reporter] Thank you very much.

 [Vanessa] You’re welcome.