Clearing Our Path – Summit 2022: What we heard!
Funded by The Government of Canada – Accessibility Standards Canada
In February of 2022, CNIB held its inaugural public consultation on guidelines published on clearing our path. Funded in part through a 3-year agreement with Accessibility Standards Canada, the project will deliver recommendations to government regarding accessibility standards; specifically, as these standards effect people living with sight loss or those who are blind.
CNIB’s guidelines informed 17 breakout discussions all of which were hosted by members from Canada’s disability community, experts working in the accessibility field and CNIB volunteers. This document aims to summarize the emerging themes from the summit. In doing so, CNIB is providing opportunity for additional input to those who reference the existing guidelines and or those who provide consulting services on accessibility. These individuals or organizations include both volunteer advocates who are often at the forefront of mitigating barriers faced by people with sight loss or other disabilities or professionals with accreditation in related fields such as architecture, design or standards compliance. Comments are captured as provided with no attempt to categorize or filter based on who shared their perspective.
The summit was hosted virtually using Zoom. In total, over the 2-day event, 408 attendees participated in either the 17 breakout discussions or the three keynote addresses.
What we heard
Session 101: Interior Spaces — Amenities, Washrooms, Meeting Rooms (105 attendees)
Persons with disabilities continue to encounter barriers when visiting or working in office buildings. These range from lack of truncated domes at the tops of steps, to narrow impassable walkways.
The dynamic nature of modern offices can both create unnecessary, easily avoidable barriers and isolate workers with disabilities. Some of these barriers are temporary—created as a result of renovations—or as a result of organizations reconfiguring workspaces.
Hot desks – flexible work areas. With return to work initiatives coming out of COVID-19, the needs of employees with disabilities must not be left to chance. If they are, then this population will find themselves further marginalized or even left behind. Conventional office spaces are changing rapidly but the needs of persons with disabilities continue to be managed as an afterthought. Today, temporary designated work spaces are shared amongst employees who may rarely need to visit a centralized work location. Employees arrive at work and find the first available space from which they will work that day. Attendees in this discussion indicated that these “hot desks” often are absent of accessibility requirements such as adjustable heights or the ability to use specialized equipment such as large monitors. At the same time, other attendees indicated that within these dynamic work spaces, designated desk spaces can cause persons with disabilities to be isolated from their team unless thought and forethought of the needs of someone with a disability are taken into consideration.
While designers and property managers are aware of technical codes, accessibility Items are generally not at the forefront of this awareness. The result is that these professionals often make judgement calls based on inadequate guidance and/or training. CNIB’s guidelines were cited as helpful, but needing more clarity, better examples and more illustrative best practices.
Several attendees who self-identified as working in the design field were very open as to the lack of training which was provided in their education. The major concern is that if standards such as the National Building Code are minimal when it comes to accessibility needs and post-secondary institutions do not include ample education on accessibility, how will things progress?
While outside the scope of CNIB’s project, comments regarding appliances found in residential units further illustrated the challenges facing persons with sight loss. An example given was a lack of colour contrast between appliances and other fixtures making living spaces difficult to navigate.
Based on comments provided in this session, the following recommendations are being provided.
- Office designers, property managers and those with any degree of engagement in planning interior spaces need additional resources and training on planning for the needs of persons with disabilities.
- Regardless of what post-COVID-19 work spaces look like, an inclusive lens must be applied which does not marginalize employees with disabilities.
- CNIB’s guidelines, while helpful, need to be expanded and provide better/more illustrative examples.
Session 102: Indoor navigation (62 attendees)
Indoor spaces, particularly large open areas, continue to create considerable barriers for people with sight loss. From a lack of way finding strategies to emerging elevator technologies to navigating indoor spaces remains challenging
- Tactile way finding surface indicators, including textured flooring needs to be an integral part of any indoor wayfinding strategy.
- Dispatch destination elevators need to adopt standards to incorporate accessibility considerations. These standards need to provide multiple modalities through which persons with perceptual disabilities can interact and use the systems.
- Lighting inside elevator cars can create additional barriers especially for persons who are deafblind.
Session 103: Emergency Preparedness Evacuation Plans (37 attendees)
Definitions of what constitutes an emergency need to be carefully reviewed. Given the increase in climate events, emergency plans need to better consider people with sight loss; what happens when emergencies occur. The ability of first responders to provide appropriate assistance was mentioned given the needs of persons with sight loss may not be well understood by first responders.
Emergency evacuation plans can, if properly communicated, save someone’s life. However, these emergency plans must be widely distributed and in formats accessible to an array of audiences.
Emergency plans need to clearly identify where safe exit routes exist. These should not be limited to only doors and steps but also describe in plain language where muster areas are located. For residential facilities such as condominium complexes or apartment buildings having designated people who can act as points of contact for persons with disabilities would enhance evacuations. Emergency telephones, placed consistently throughout a residential building would also be helpful. Ensuring that employers and employees are well versed as to evacuation procedures is an essential component to ensure that people with sight loss can safely and effectively exit in the event of an emergency.
Any emergency plan should be written using plain language. Instructions should be straightforward given that people’s ability to comprehend complex instructions may be diminished in an emergency.
Defibrillators are being installed at more public spaces. These devices and the instructions need to be readily available and in accessible formats, such as using large print or a QR code.
Training should be provided to first responders who deliver or conduct safety inspections. These professionals, given the important role they provide, need to receive awareness training so that they are equipped to speak to the needs of persons with disabilities in an emergency.
Safe areas of refuge have become widely adopted. These areas should be equipped with telephone or intercom systems. If printed signs are deployed advising of fire alarm testing, this information needs to also be communicated in accessible formats. Strategies need to be developed as to how first responders or persons responding to an emergency can communicate with persons with disabilities. A knock on the door in the middle of the night may not be answered; especially if the resident is deaf or deafblind. This could compromise the persons well-being or worse.
- Emergency plans must be widely distributed, be written using plain language and in formats accessible to an array of audiences.
- Employees and employers need to be well versed and understand how emergency evacuation plans apply to colleagues living with sight loss and/or other disabilities.
- Instructions on the use of Defibrillators or other life saving equipment must be made available in a variety of formats.
- Training for first responders needs to be developed so that they are better aware of how to assist a person living with sight loss in the event of an emergency.
- Safe refuge areas need to be equipped with a telephone or intercom system.
Session 104: Exterior Design Elements — Bike Lanes, Parking Lots, EV Charging Stations (137 attendees)
Challenges persist with the deployment of cycle tracks when they are close to bus stops. Tactile markings such as curbs, landscaping or rumble strips may be a suitable deterrent as attendees were consistent in their view that signage is ineffective. Concern about the use of electrical charging cords was raised due to the potential that these will create a tripping hazard.
Several comments were raised regarding guidelines published by CNIB to be more specific. While helpful, comments were made that the guidelines often fail to provide any recommendations as to various situations. Additional illustrative examples would be helpful as designers are still left unsure as to what best practices dictate.
Attendees suggested that wayfinding strategies would be helpful for environments where surfaces may not be rigid. Examples could include gravel parking lots.
Inconsistent approaches on deploying bike lanes across Canada’s differing between municipalities was identified as a challenge.
Utilizing weight detecting technology which would activate traffic lights at bus stops was suggested as one strategy by which cyclists could be encouraged to yield to pedestrians at bus stops.
Attendees were aware of a recent British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decision, but no consensus was reached as to the solution proposed by the adjudicator.
- The intersectionality between cycle tracks and bus stops is perceived as an area requiring better guidance.
- The proliferation of electric vehicle charging stations should not create new barriers for people with sight loss.
- CNIB’s guidelines would be more helpful if additional illustrative examples were available.
- Way finding guidelines for areas with non-rigid surfaces would be helpful.
Session 105: Paths of Travel Including Patios and Service Zones (63 attendees)
Examples of best practices were brought forward including colour contrasted ramps when the path of travel takes someone onto a street. However, the deployment of these appears to be inconsistent across Canada.
Rope/post barriers are more difficult to detect for pedestrians with sight loss as these are almost undetectable with a mobility and/or white cane
Snow poles could be red or orange with a visible top. This would improve their detectability given increased contrast.
- Temporary outdoor spaces need to ensure that barriers are cane detectible and colour contrasted to their surrounding space.
- Rope post barriers, while easily installed, should be avoided at all costs.
- Temporary barriers must be easily detectible using both high colour contrast and a mobility cane.
- Straight paths of travel should be maintained wherever possible but where a pedestrian is required to alter their course, their should be consistent accessible roots to follow.
Session 106: Public Transit — Buses and Trains (43 attendees)
The definition of an “accessible bus stop” would be helpful. Municipalities are looking at best practices and then adopting and implementing what they can.
A national standard would be helpful, not only for municipalities, but it could also create a consistent experience for passengers.
- Bus and rail vehicles should have consistent stopping positions that would make finding doors easier.
- Next stop announcements need to reflect appropriate audio queues when detours exist.
- Tactile signs such as those being installed in Vancouver will make locating a bus stop easier for persons living with sight loss.
- High colour contrast curbs such as those being installed in Victoria British Columbia should include tactile warning surface indicators.
- Customer service personnel to assist with navigating stations such as Vancouver’s Sky Train would make wayfinding a much less stressful experience.
- Directional tactile walking surface indicators located at the centre of platforms are an essential element to enhance wayfinding.
- Snow removal must be an essential and timely undertaking for all transit operators.
Session 202: Roundabouts, Traffic Circles and Traffic Calming (69 attendees)
Roundabouts and their deployment require increased collaboration.
People with sight loss feel that these structures were unsafe, and engineers perceived CNIB’s existing guidelines as overly prescriptive. While some attendees felt that navigating round abouts or other emerging traffic structures, perceived pedestrian safety was felt to be the major obstacle. Unfortunately, no recommendations were brought forward as to how to overcome this barrier.
Design professionals felt that pedestrians would take the path of least resistance — for example, the shortest route. In contrast, both orientation and mobility instructors and attendees said they would walk the extra distance to feel safe. There may be a compromise through installing more mid block crossings.
According to traffic engineers who were present, existing guidelines published by CNIB are not in alignment with current practice or scientific data.
- Vulnerable road users including people with sight loss need to be consulted when traffic structures like round abouts are being contemplated.
- Traffic planners and people living with sight loss should expand collaborative efforts to ensure that the needs of all pedestrians are considered.
Session 203: Shared Spaces Micro Mobility Devices Including E-Scooters and Delivery Robots (34 attendees)
Attendees were consistent in their view that emerging micro mobility transportation/delivery vehicles are creating unnecessary barriers for the sight loss community.
It was widely held that these devices are here to stay and that to lessen the impact on persons living with sight loss that expectations must be set out by municipalities as to the operation and parking of micro mobility devices.
There was consistent agreement amongst attendees that under no circumstances, should sidewalk riding be allowed. However, balancing this along side safety issues facing micro mobility riders while riding on streets remained unanswered.
- Clear municipal guidelines and by-laws need to be set and enforced.
- Micro mobility devices need to follow standards as to noise emission, size and profiles. It was felt by attendees that anything to improve predictability and detectability of emerging transportation/delivery devices would make community spaces more accessible.
- CNIB along with advocates from the disability community should ensure that their voices are heard as these emerging technologies continue to proliferate. Operators have demonstrated their ability to be effective/tireless lobbyists and the community of persons living with sight loss need to do likewise.
- Enforcement efforts, when education fails to bring about compliance on the part of riders, should be leveraged to ensure that public spaces remain accessible to Canadians living with sight loss or other disabilities.
- Deployment of micro mobility devices should only be considered when designated parking spaces are available.
- Administrative penalties were recommended as an effective deterrent to riding E-Scooters inappropriately.
Session 204: Multi-Use Trails (66 attendees)
Multi-use or shared trails are becoming increasingly more common across Canada. Accessibility barriers such as the ability to locate amenities to competing for access with cyclists or micro mobility devices.
- Textured surfaces along with good colour contrast would improve navigability along multi-use/shared trails.
- Using textured materials either along the edge of a trail or to identify decision points should be explored to improve navigability.
- Undertake research to identify which textured materials adds to navigability for persons with sight loss.
- Research as to the adoption of physical barriers to reduce conflicts between vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists should be explored.
- Not all trails should be designated as multi-use. Guidelines on when to designate trails as shared spaces and when to designate them as pedestrian access only would benefit vulnerable pedestrians.
- Provide more descriptions as to trail characteristics including potential conflict zones with skateboarding spaces or cycle trails. This information could be made freely available on websites.
- Deliver trail orientation sessions providing guided tours of public trails.
Session 205: Construction Sites, Maintenance Considerations and Service Zones (37 attendees)
Several suggestions were brought forward as to how people with sight loss could be made aware of sidewalk closures or the presence of construction sites. These temporary closures, some of which last months if not years create serious obstacles to someone’s ability to navigate sidewalks and streets.
- Sidewalk closures and other disruptions to accessible public rights of ways should be published both on websites and using public service announcements.
- Maps or other pictorial depictions of closures to public spaces should be accompanied with detailed narratives. People with sight loss should have the same level of detail describing closures. This information needs to be available in accessible formats and should be available on a variety of platforms.
- Develop comprehensive guidance materials for industry and municipalities as to how best to ensure that temporary disruptions do not create unnecessary barriers for persons with sight loss.
Session 206: Intersection Design — APS, Pedestrian Waiting Area Where Vehicles Have a Right-Turn Lane, Cut Curbs and TWSI Usage (76 attendees)
Inconsistent deployment of accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) despite the long-standing guidelines published by the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) and on CNIB’s guidelines is a recurring theme across Canada.
APS provide essential safety information for pedestrians with sight loss, yet their configuration and design are perceived as an after thought.
There are best practices being implemented internationally, but an attendee felt that North American manufacturers have chosen not to introduce these technologies into this market.
APS are perceived by residents living close to installations as noise pollution when in fact they provide essential safety information. As with most accommodations for persons with disabilities, APS benefit other pedestrians, some of whom may not be able to comprehend a signal or for a growing number of distracted pedestrians.
- Accessible pedestrian signals should be available at any intersection where traffic control devices are installed.
- Municipalities should explore emerging best practices being adopted in other countries to ensure that the most effective solutions are being deployed in Canadian cities.
- At minimum, installation and operation of APS should closely adhere to TAC and CNIB guidelines.
Session 301: The Importance of Lighting, Acoustics and Colour Contrast in Interior Spaces (65 attendees)
Attendees suggested that while guidelines pertaining to outdoor spaces may be well understood, requirements around lighting, contrast could be better.
- Additional/more detailed guidelines as to the use of mirrors, dimmer switches and/or lighting controls and tactile art with regards to the impact on way finding would prove helpful.
- Definitions and clarity around colour contrast would be helpful.
- CNIB’s guidelines, while helpful, should provide more, better examples.
- Workplaces should consider establishing accessibility committees. These committees could operate along side health and safety committees, a long-standing best practice in modern workplaces.
Session 302: Communication Systems, Directories, Service Counters, Virtual Agents – AIRA Be My Eyes (44 attendees)
Information systems, for the most, remain inaccessible to visitors with sight loss. Directories, information kiosks or even maps rely on a person’s ability to understand and see printed information. Counter staff, while helpful, are always not necessarily available particularly when visiting office buildings in off peek hours.
Self service kiosks are becoming increasingly prolific. They are being used in a growing number of environments including restaurants, hospitals and theatres not to mention retail outlets. While these devices can easily be made accessible, attendees suggested that considerable improvement is needed to the availability of usable systems by persons with sight loss. Examples of accessible self serve kiosks do exist, specifically, the Vancouver British Columbia translink fair payment system.
The availability of virtual live agent assistance has grown tremendously over the past few years. These technologies utilize a mobile application which connects with either a paid/trained agent (AIRA) or a volunteer (Be My Eyes).
Beacon technology was recommended as yet another means by which indoor spaces could be made accessible. These devices can be programmed to deliver extensive information providing increased accessibility for people living with sight loss.
- Strategies are needed to ensure that when information kiosks are provided as an alternative to visitor service personnel that these devices are both easily locatable and fully accessible to people living with sight loss.
- Further research is needed on beacon technology as a wayfinding aid and the transition between indoor and outdoor spaces.
- The use of live/virtual agents should be expanded in Canada. Installations such as that provided at the Greater Toronto Airport – Pearson – is one such example.
Session 303: How to Make Community Parks More Accessible for People who are Visually Impaired (45 attendees)
Attendees were unanimous in their view that public parks, regardless of size or location, provide tremendous benefits to everyone. In addition to opportunities to enjoy fresh air and remain active, the mental health benefits of active living were described as essential for everyone. Of note is that the summit took place 2 years into the global pandemic where many people were living in isolation.
Barriers to full enjoyment of public parks remain numerous ranging from a lack of appropriate wayfinding, unmaintained spaces and unequal access to information.
Several suggestions were raised as to how to address these barriers; discussed below.
There are a growing number of mobile apps which provide information in a variety of accessible means. One such example is Microsoft’s Soundscape which provides audible feedback on near by points of interest. It was suggested that information provided at parks would be made available through a mobile app providing visitors who are blind with an improved experience.
Other suggestions included using geo caching mobile apps, including trail information on platforms like Google or Apple maps or providing QR scannable codes on signs or information displays.
Attendees were unanimous that increased advocacy is needed at all levels in order that parks can become more accessible.
Discussion arose as to the usefulness of lighting as an accessibility consideration. Unfortunately, no concrete suggestions outside of lighting as a safety feature were mentioned.
A municipal representative mentioned that rubber surfaces may prove helpful as textured way finding. However, he went on to suggest that the costs may negate this unless more information as to the usefulness of this technique is available.
In CNIB’s discussion paper circulated in advance of the summit, information was provided on audible signs. Again, very little knowledge was available as to installations of this technology. It is highly likely that audible signs may not be as prevalent as expected. The rapid adoption of mobile devices and the various tools they offer may negate any benefits available through audible signs.
- Digital solutions should be better researched in order that their viability and usefulness can be better understood.
- Mobile apps such as Google and Apple maps should include better and more accessible information. These apps are freely available, widely understood and are frequently updated.
- Rubber Textured surfaces may prove to be effective as a way finding technique, but it was recommended that additional research would be required to support additional installations. The cost of this application can be considerable as was put forward by an attendee.
Session 304: First and Last Mile (47 attendees)
Attendees held various views as to the opportunities and challenges created by first/last mile. UBER and LYFT, popular ride sharing services, were not universally viewed as viable solutions. Several comments were made as to the provision of vehicle and driver identification, but concurrently, many attendees simply refuse to use these systems given the increasing occurrences of service denials when traveling with a guide dog. Even though ride share mobile aps do provide the ability to speak with a driver, attendees expressed some concerns as to their ability to communicate and request assistance.
“On demand public transit”, a system which provides shared transit using a real time model, can greatly enhance access to transportation services, especially in communities which have been traditionally underserved. The system differs from conventional fixed root bus service in that vehicles are dispatched only when requested. The system finds a centralized stop based on demand and vehicles will pick up passengers based on this model. However, these bus stops may not be accessible to people with sight loss if they are located on streets without sidewalks or require navigating unfamiliar environments.
Yet, if pick up or drop off locations are new or unknown to someone living with sight loss then their ability to orient themselves to the on-demand bus stop can create barriers.
Attendees expressed concern over the cessation of inter city bus roots brought about primarily with Gray Hound Bus Lines pulling service. Even though service still exists between major Canadian centres, rural communities remain very much under served. For people who are unable to drive, such as many of the attendees present for this session, this is proving to create more isolation.
Discussion also took place as to the proliferation of micro mobility devices, also known as e-scooters. These 2-wheel devices can create serious obstacles when haphazardly abandoned. Several concerns were also raised with the devices being ridden on sidewalks and shared pathways.
Attendees were clear that continued advocacy efforts are required and suggested that CNIB should continue to be active in these efforts.
Concerning the built environment attendees sited numerous examples of how the lack of predictability at random/arbitrary stops created barriers. Adopting organic or “pop-up” infrastructure which would be used to facilitate first/last mile transportation should be more uniform providing for predictability in how spaces can be navigated.
- Systems using mobile apps to request transportation services need to facilitate 2-way communications with drivers and/or operators.
- On-demand transit services must be able to provide a consistent location where passengers living with sight loss can meet their ride. Bus stops/pick up locations need to be accessible, situated in areas where sidewalks exist and on streets with appropriate accessibility features.
- Intercity transportation must become more robust if people living with sight loss or those unable to drive are to not experience increased isolation.
- Micro mobility devices such as shared or privately owned e-scooters must not be allowed to be ridden on sidewalks or to be haphazardly parked. Designated drop off zones should be established, and these must not be situated so as to create additional barriers for people living with sight loss.
Session 305: Shared Streets and Walkability — Making Shared Streets More Accessible for the Blind (108 attendees)
Increased competition for sidewalks were sited as a significant barrier facing attendees at this breakout session. Outdoor patios, sandwich board/temporary signs, cyclists and micro mobility devices were all identified as significant barriers. The scarce real estate which exists in many Canadian cities cannot be accessible to people with sight loss if they are required to navigate around the obstacles described above.
Outdoor patios, when not properly installed, often are placed directly over top of detectible warning surface indicators resulting in a path of travel that is not uniform, navigable or consistent.
Service zones, the area typically designated for the placement of amenities, are often difficult to detect for people relying on textured surfaces. Better use of texture, colour contrast and enforcement were sited as possible strategies to make sidewalks more accessible. At the same time, attendees were unanimous in that textured surfaces including curbs must not create barriers for people relying on mobility devices such as walkers or wheelchairs. Attendees suggested that better standards may be helpful in achieving this, but no specifics were provided.
Attendees suggested that in many cases their input is not sought when public spaces are being designed. While public consultations are increasingly more common, these consultations fail to provide a meaningful way for people with sight loss to be able to contribute.
Key highlights from this discussion group included:
- Restaurant patios obstructing a clear path of travel and the haphazard placement of temporary signs, such as, sandwich boards.
- Attendees expressed concern regarding their ability to delineate a path of travel from a roadside service zone (the area directly adjacent to a road typically used for furniture, trees and amenities). The delineation needs to be tactilely detectable but not create a tripping hazard or barrier for persons using mobility devices.
As stated at the beginning of this document, the information provided above is CNIB’s attempt at capturing comments brought forward by attendees at the 2-day summit. The audience was diverse consisting of people with disabilities, professionals and other lay persons. We make no apologies for instances where details are absent as we simply endeavoured to summarize “what we heard”.
CNIB appreciates the insights and recommendations brought forward throughout the two day Summit. We heard loud and clear that barriers persist within the built environment despite an abundance of guidance material, standards and guidelines.
Within the 17 breakout group discussions one recurring theme persisted: ongoing dialogue with persons living with disabilities needs to continue. The dialogue needs to be multifaceted in that stakeholders must continue to collaborate openly. This conversation needs to ensure that the theme of ‘nothing about us, without us’, permeates throughout society and especially when designing public spaces.
Many of the barriers discussed throughout the Summit are difficult to address because of infrastructure limitations, but looking at emergency procedures, simply making available suitable formats and training staff and/or residents would go a long way to ensure that people with sight loss or who are deafblind would not be forgotten in the event of an emergency.
CNIB’s guidelines, which underpinned the two day Summit were cited by attendees as helpful and informative. With visits to the Clearing Our Path website nearing 7,000 monthly visits would affirm this. However, attendees suggested that while helpful, many of CNIB’s guidelines needed to provide more depth and detail as those relying on the guidelines consistently encounter situations in which CNIB’s guidelines are silent. Other attendees felt that CNIB’s guidelines were not reflective of the needs of other users and as such were unnecessarily one-sided.
Moving forward, CNIB will leverage our research conducted over the past 18 months, the comments and suggestions brought forward at the Summit and subsequent conversations as we prepare our final recommendations to Accessibility Standards Canada.
Any comments regarding this document or the content found on CNIB’s Clearing Our Path website can be addressed to:
Lui Greco – email@example.com