Manatee County “Interpreter” Signs Nonsense ASL at Hurricane Irma Press Conference

I’m surprised that it took me until early this week to hear about this story, because it does appear that it was covered by several media outlets. But here we are. I only heard on the September 19th edition of The Daily Show that Manatee County in Florida fucked up with its ASL interpretation during a televised press conference designed to get evacuation information out to citizens just before Hurricane Irma hit.

Content Note: Ableism, Weather Emergency, Emergency Planning, Privilege, Classism, Disrespect, PWD as an afterthought

Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling. Keyword: Manatee County

Image Description: Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling.

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Seriously, Florida?

It’s this sort of thing that makes disabled people one of the most vulnerable groups in America when it comes to weather emergencies, as I’ve written about before.

The issue isn’t that Manatee County didn’t think about providing ASL interpretation, as you can see in this video. The person who uploaded this video captioned it with what the interpreter is signing, and I think it’s clear what the main issue is.

But for those who don’t want to/can’t watch the video…the issues are:

This is unacceptable and infuriating, for a few reasons.

To Start…

Certified interpreters were available. Florida Governor Rick Scott used interpreter Sam Harris:

Sarasota County also used a qualified interpreter at its news conferences.

VisCom, a company that has provided Manatee County with interpreters in the past, wasn’t called about providing services for Hurricane Irma communications. Charlene McCarthy, the founder of VisCom, had offered to send in an interpreter for a September 9 press conference in Manatee County, but her offer was declined; no interpreter was used for that press conference.

For some reason, Manatee County decided not to use an interpreter. It’s not as if no one was anticipating the need for a press conference; the media started talking about Irma and where she would at least potentially hit just after Hurricane Harvey landed.

Meet Me At Camera Three, Manatee County Administration

All this brings one word to mind: afterthought. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were an afterthought as you prepared to get potentially life-and-death information to your residents about a weather emergency. Think about what it must feel like to know you’re an afterthought.

It’s this half-ass attitude toward accessibility that continues to give disabled people the impression that their communities of residence don’t value their money, skills, desire to give back to their communities, or (in this case) even their lives. Go ahead and deny that this was the message you meant to send, Manatee County – it’s the message that you *did* send, with your failure to take simple steps to ensure that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in your communities got the same access to the life-and-death press conference information that hearing people did.

You owe your Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities an apology, and a promise that this won’t happen again.

And for Those of You Who’d Tell Me…

You know who you are, you keyboard warriors.

Yes, you. The ones making comments like these on the internet coverage:

  • Deaf people activate CLOSED CAPTIONING on their tv sets. I guess numbnuts in government and around the country are unaware of that secretive tidbit of information. They also get text messages, emails, instant messages and communications from each other/family and read local news. They can translate audio to text. It’s not like a reeetarded interpreter is their only source in the year 2017. Duhhh
  • “I think what is shocking is that in 2017, taxpayers have to pay for that nonsense. they practically give away voice to text software, and there are plenty of free apps that would instantaneously give the devil a much more complete picture of what the officials are saying…Shameful waste of money.”
  • “Considering the few people who require this, it was a waste of time anyhow”
  • “Reminds me of the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial, standing right next to Barry O and flailing about – that was quality comedy!”

Listen, folks. There are whole bunch of reasons why these comments are disgusting, but I don’t even need to get into them, because they’re all invalid for one, simple, legal reason:

Title II of the ADA dictates that “state and local governments must ensure that their communications, including emergency communications, are fully accessible to people with disabilities.” 

Accessibility is the law, and it’s been that way in America for 27 years. End of story.

But the fact that people felt comfortable letting fly with that sort  of ableist (not to mention classist, in some cases) shit  in the comments section of a story about how Manatee County’s lack of preparation meant that a group of disabled people didn’t get emergency information about a Category 5 hurricane….well, it made me feel ill. I wanted to draw some attention to it.

That sort of willful ignorance about the challenges that disabled face from the people in their  communities – well, it’s beyond disappointing.  It’s gross, really.

Seriously, America. Grow up.

Canada continues to send its thoughts and prayers for those affected by the recent hurricanes…

Interesting article on captioning vs ASL

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SunRise B&B Refuses Service to Visually Impaired Man Because of his Service Dog

My dad let me know about a story I missed last week, about a Toronto couple being turned away from a bed and breakfast in Prince Edward County, Ontario because of the service dog traveling with them. The owners of the Sunrise B&B in Bloomfield, Ontario are, according to CBC.ca, “upset about what happened,” but stand by their decision to insist that Jill Greenwood, her husband David (who is visually impaired), and his guide dog Romy, find alternate accommodation.

I have thoughts.

Content Note: Ableism, human rights violation, expectation of accommodation

Golden labrador guide dog lies on the grass, alert with head up. Dog's black harness is visible. Just off to the side, we see the ower's legs in blue jeans, and their white cane. Keyword: SunRise B&B

Image Description: Golden labrador guide dog lies on the grass, alert with head up. Dog’s black harness is visible. Just off to the side, we see the ower’s legs in blue jeans, and their white cane.

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Legally Speaking

John and Joan Stenning, the proprietors of the Sunrise B&B, say that the Greenwoods didn’t tell them them that they’d be coming with a service dog. They say that had they been told, they would have informed the Greenwoods that their “no pets” policy includes service animals.

That set off alarm bells in my head (as I’m sure it does for many readers) because most businesses know better than to try and bar a service animal.  However, in Ontario, a number of factors have collided to make the bed and breakfast industry a strange little pocket of the hospitality industry where lawyers can apparently argue that the Stennings didn’t break the law by denying service on the basis of a service animal:

However, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario did confirm that denying service to some because of their service animal violates the Ontario Bill of Rights, so I can’t see how how the Stennings or their lawyer can argue that they’re in the right.

Let’s unpack this a little more.

Public vs Private Space

I don’t know what the law has to say the status of your house as private space once you decide to rent rooms in it. But it seems to me that once you decide to open a business that lets the public into your life like that, you give up some of the right that you have to pull the “private space” card. I presume that no one held the Stennings at  gunpoint and demanded that they open a B&B. Anyone going into that business has to know that while they definitely have the right to set boundaries (within reason) about what guests can do, they also can no longer do exactly as they want in their home, all the time.

They may have to change behaviour to reflect that other people are in the house (keeping music and TV volume low, shorter showers, ensuring public gathering areas are always tidy.)

They may have to meet safety standards that they didn’t before.

Human rights standards need to be met. The Greenwoods aren’t interested in taking this to court, but maybe the next people with service dogs will be. The Stennings were just a step from violating the law under the AODA, and, if I understand the pending legislation correctly, would be in the wrong were it currently law:

(2)  No person, directly or indirectly, alone or with another, by himself, herself or itself or by the interposition of another, shall,

  (a)  deny to any person occupancy of any self-contained dwelling unit; or

  (b)  discriminate against any person with respect to any term or condition of occupancy of any self-contained dwelling unit,

for the reason that he or she is a person with a disability who is keeping or is customarily accompanied by a service dog, or who requires the accompaniment of a support person or the use of an assistive device to assist them with their service dog.

(Lawyers can feel free to tell me how I’m wrong, because the Stennings’ lawyer thinks I am…and Lord knows I’m no lawyer…)

And let’s not forget, they apparently violated the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If you don’t want to keep your home space private and not have business law affect it, don’t choose to run a business in your home.

And even if they weren’t in the wrong, or their behaviour had little chance in the near future of putting them in the wrong if repeated…what has refusing the Greenwoods service at the SunRise B&B got them? A bunch of negative publicity all over the internet – at least four different news articles, not including my blog post, plus the bad reviews on Facebook and the B&B listing sites.

I wonder if it was worth it.

Best for the Stennings and all other B&B owners who’d prefer to discriminate against those that use service animals to start thinking about how they’re going to deal with this issue, because mark my words…it won’t quietly go away.

Business Needs to be Business at the SunRise B&B

And if the Stennings and other B&B proprietors don’t like that idea…well, it’s really too bad.

People who rely on service animals aren’t doing so to be difficult. They have the animals because they’re disabled and the service animal helps them to function in society. Guide dogs in particular (like Romy) are expensive, highly trained, and they have papers to show they’ve been trained.

Denying someone service because of their guide dog is as bad as denying service (in an accessible building) to someone who uses a wheelchair, over concerns about the dirt that the chair will track in or that other guests will be disturbed by the sound of the elevator or find the electronic doors to be too slow to open and close, etc.

I admit that I don’t know what it takes to clean up a B&B thoroughly after a service animal has stayed there for a night or two.  But obviously other B&Bs manage it , because there are plenty of them in the US, and its Americans with Disabilities Act *does* require many B&Bs (there are exceptions, based on number of rooms to rent and whether the proprietor lives on premises) to accommodate people with service animals.    If a proprietor can’t manage whatever cleaning needs to be done, or can’t afford to hire help or someone to do it for them, then instead of painting disabled people and their service animals as a burden they shouldn’t be expected to shoulder, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the B&B business.

No other business owners in Ontario gets to pick and choose which pieces of accessibility legislation they feel like following – they have to accommodate disabled people. If added cost is involved, it’s a cost of doing business in Ontario.

Expectation of Accommodation

David Greenwood says he can’t remember whether he told the Stennings that he’d be traveling with Romy. Over and over again in the comments sections on media accounts of this story, I saw people saying that he should have made sure the the Stennings knew, in part because the “No Pet” policy for the SunRise B&B was posted on their website. To them I say:

And, as Kim Sauder said over at her blog, “Crippled Scholar”:

“It’s bad enough that systems aren’t in place to accommodate disabled people without advance warning (thus giving people an excuse to fall back on when a space isn’t accessible) but to suggest that we should have to announce our presence in situations we weren’t even expecting to require accommodations is absurd.”

Perhaps (and I realize I’m only speculating) that’s why David Greenwood can’t remember whether he mentioned he had a service animal when he made a reservation at the Sunrise B&B: it’s relatively difficult in 2017 to find a business that won’t accommodate a guide dog like Romy, that provides support because of a documented disability and has all the papers to prove it.

Perhaps he wasn’t thinking that much about it because he assumed that the Stennings, like most business owners in Ontario, know that you can’t deny service based on use of a service animal, and didn’t expect to have to identify himself in advance as disabled in order to receive accommodation.  After all, it’s also just a bad business decision to get embroiled in this sort of thing. When business owners try to bar people on the basis of needing a service animal – surprise! – it often makes the news.

As blatant ableism sometimes does.

Bottom Line

This was an unfortunate situation all around. Here are the takeaways as I see them:

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Canada Needs a Canadians with Disabilities Act

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I’ve been filling up your timelines a bit with some blitz activity. Depending on who you follow, you may be getting it in double or triple the amounts. If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely (correctly) figured that it has something to do with the election. Specifically, it has to do with people that would like to see the creation of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

Content Warning: Politics, Accessibility Issues, Red Tape

Road sign against a sky with a sunburst in the upper right corner. The lower sign on the post is a rectangle, white, with "Election Ahead" in black capital letters. A white Caution sign is directly above it - a white triangle with a bold red border and a large black exclamation point centred in it. Keyword: Canadians with Disabilities Act

Image Description: Road sign against a sky with a sunburst in the upper right corner. The lower sign on the post is a rectangle, white, with “Election Ahead” in black capital letters. A white Caution sign is directly above it – a white triangle with a bold red border and a large black exclamation point centred in it.

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When I say “election”, I don’t mean the American election. Canada is having a federal election. And, like the American election for the rest of the world, this particular Canadian election campaign has seemed just endless. After all, it’s gone on for nearly three months at this point, instead of the usual 6 weeks.

You heard me correctly. From start to finish, Canadian election season runs approximately 6 weeks. Usually. This time around, it’s been three months, and the Barrier Free Campaign and disability groups supporting it have taken advantage of the extra time to get a focused message out to the Members of Parliament and the media: It’s time that Canada had a Canadians with Disabilities Act at the federal level.

Canada Has No Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)

America is celebrating 25 years of its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – federal legislation that says that it’s illegal to discriminate against disabled people. That’s simplified, of course. The ADA serves a vital function:

prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.

Canada doesn’t have such a law at the federal level. Ontario has a provincial law called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and advocates fought hard to get it put it in place. However, the government’s adherence to the act has been…piecemeal, at best, lately. There’s a grand plan to have all public spaces publicly accessible by 2025, with a number of accessibility standards for both physical buildings and for customer service that first the private and then public sector have had to have met by this point. The prospect of financial penalties for organizations or businesses that failed to meet the standards was supposed to keep the public and private sector moving toward meeting the standards and 2025 goal.

But the AODA Alliance has known since 2013 that, despite election promises, the Ontario government hasn’t been enforcing violations of the Act, even though those responsible for enforcing the law know that up to 70% of the private sector is violating the reporting requirement and there is money to put toward inspections and enforcement.

The Alliance tried to address non-compliance issues with the government, but it just became another example of the push-pull interactions typical of Government-AODA Alliance interactions around accessibility:

Alliance: “Here are our concerns.”

Gov’t: “We promise that we will do this.”

Alliance (Later): “What’s the status on this? Here’s a report showing how you might do it, if you need help.”

Gov’t: “We’ll have a timeline for that on you soon.”

Alliance (Later): “It’s been nearly 403 days since you promised that you’d have a timeline on when this is going to be done…”

Gov’t: “We assure you that it’s a priority.”

And time passes and passes…and I walk around Ontario towns and cities silently wondering “I wonder how many of the accessibility standards this business has met? I wonder if the guy who owns this restaurant is even thinking about the 2025 deadline yet, and what the heck he’s going to do about the fact that his bathrooms are down a full flight of stairs?”

What Would A Canadians with Disabilities Act Do?

Good question.

I’m not so sure that making the federal government responsible for making Canada barrier-free would make it happen any more quickly or efficiently, but at least something might potentially happen in the rest of Canada, accessibility-wise, for disabled people. As I write this, Manitoba is the only other province/territory with legislation that protects disabled people against discrimination. I like the idea of a national Canadians with Disabilities Act that would guarantee that disabled people have full access to airlines and trains in Canada, and to Government of Canada services and website content, and to the ability to vote in a federal election unassisted.

This doesn’t eliminate the need for accessibility planning on the provincial level. That still needs to happen. But this is an important step that Canada needs to take as a country, so that disabled Canadians and non-disabled Canadians have the same rights.

We are all Canadians, after all.

Enter David Lepofsky and The Barrier Free Canada Campaign for a Canadians with Disabilities Act

So David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance and Barrier Free Canada (one of the most active disability activists in Ontario that I know of) has been on a Twitter-blitzing crusade for the past couple of weeks. He wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Members of Parliament up for election and the media outlets in Canada to know that:

  • A country-wide Canadians with Disability Act is something that has garnered a lot of support among disabled Canadians and their advocates (true)
  • Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised us a Canadians with Disabilities Act in 2006 and never followed through with it (true)
  • Disabled Canadians, their needs, and their desire for a Canadians with Disabilities Act are getting almost no media coverage during this election season (true).

And I would add: America made the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 fucking years ago, and the fact that we can’t get our act together to do it is, frankly, embarrassing.

I don’t join in on Twitter-blitzing that often, but for this cause I like the idea of a bunch of MPs and media people looking at their Twitter feeds and going, “Huh. I’m not quite sure who these people are, but this is the third day this week that they’ve jammed up my feed. They sure are persistent.” Maybe they’ll even look into what we have to say.

So if you can live through the Twitter blitz until the 19th, I’d appreciate it. I’d appreciate it even more if you joined in. We need every retweet that we can get.

Canadian friends, please send a letter of support for Barrier Free Canada to your local candidates. And get out and vote on October 19th!

Note: Originally I incorrectly stated that George W. Bush signed the ADA into law. It was actually George Bush Senior. Thanks to Matthew Smith for pointing out my error.

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