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Navigating Accessibility Beyond Built Environments

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Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Rick Hansen Foundation’s #APN2024 Accessibility Professional Network event in Vancouver, BC. The event was an enlightening experience, filled with engaging conversations revolving around topics ranging from neurodiversity and the built environment to accessibility in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) planning, and designing inclusive schools to meet building standards.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the event was the commitment to accessibility. Throughout the sessions, there were four interpreters available, ensuring that participants who were deaf or hard of hearing could fully engage in the discussions. The captions were provided on the screen, making the event accessible to individuals with varying communication needs. The event featured hearing loops provided by Bettear, enhancing accessibility for individuals with hearing aids or cochlear implants. This technology allowed participants to directly receive amplified sound from microphones, further facilitating their engagement with the content. This dedication to inclusivity set a powerful precedent for the importance of accessibility in all aspects of professional gatherings.

On Day 2 of the event, participants had the opportunity to delve deeper into the topic of understanding access standards through a panel discussion featuring a couple of deaf panelists and other experts led by Christopher Sutton. This session provided invaluable insights into new research on the needs and preferences for a unified experience of accessibility. The panelists discussed the crucial role that research plays in guiding standards and took a deeper look at emerging fresh perspectives to improve the design and application of standards.

Expanding our perspective beyond physical spaces, I propose that everyone prioritize communication accessibility in their processes. Communication extends beyond spoken words; it includes signage with braille and QR code to access to auditory messages with captions and sign language interpretation, and various other forms of conveying information. It is imperative for us to consider how we can make our communication channels, such as digital platforms, announcements, and buildings, accessible to everyone. This underscores the significance of inclusive practices at every stage of planning and implementation when collaborating with employees to ensure access in their built program. By doing so, we can guarantee that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate and engage in any environment they work in and from. I urge everyone to embrace this direction and endeavor to create more inclusive environments and interactions for all.

One key takeaway from the event was the recognition that creating truly inclusive spaces requires collaboration, empathy, and a commitment to listening to the voices of diverse communities. By centering the experiences and needs of individuals with disabilities, we can work towards building environments that are not only accessible but also welcoming and empowering for all.

The #APN2024 event served as a reminder of the progress we’ve made in the realm of accessibility and the work that still lies ahead. It highlighted the importance of ongoing education, advocacy, and action to ensure that accessibility remains a priority in all facets of society.

As I reflect on my time at the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Accessibility Professional Network event, I am motivated to continue championing inclusivity and accessibility in my own work on inclusive communication and interactions. Together, we can create a world where everyone has equal access and opportunity, regardless of their abilities.

Image:
Far left an interpreter on stage with student interpreter in front to support interpreting for the audience (me).
Chair: Christopher Sutton, CEO, Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility
Speakers:
Anna Wren, Project Coordinator, Canadian Association of the Deaf
Sarah-Anne Hrycenko, Supply Specialist, PSPC-Procurement Assistance Canada
Mikkio Terashima, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University
Maureen Haan – CEO, Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) 
Facing the speakers are a team of 4 interpreters sitting facing them, selected to speak for chair at times and two panelists who are Deaf and interpret what is said.
On far right a photographer shows up to capture the multi language setup. Above right is large screen displaying the topic of this discussion.

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