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Advocates For Sight Impaired Consumers

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Rita Dilek represents the NFB:AE on ASIC where she is also its Treasurer.

Founded in January 1998, Advocates for Sight Impaired Consumers (ASIC) is an independent consumer driven advocacy coalition which addresses issues affecting blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind consumers in the greater Vancouver area. Our goal is to promote independence, equal access and full participation in the community by advocating on matters of procedures, policies, actions and issues. We frequently collaborate with community partners and other organizations on issues of common concern, but we also accept requests from community members at large. Since our inception our activities have covered a broad spectrum including, but not limited to, advocating on behalf of guide dog users who have been denied access to various venues and accommodations, working for the installation of tactile edging on Skytrain platforms, lobbying government for alternate format publications and voter accessibility, introduction and broader use of accessible pedestrian signals and the introduction of DVS and rear window captioning services within major Canadian movie theatres.

Although our mandate is to serve consumers in the BC Lower Mainland, many of our projects have had a provincial or national scope, and some have even benefited other disability groups. In this article, we briefly review our philosophy and how we work, then discuss some of our major projects.

ASIC's philosophy is that "the needs of persons who are blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind are better met through a united effort of all involved and affected." The resources of all community partners and individuals can be combined to meet objectives. As a result, we work closely with community partners and other organizations who advocate on issues that might affect the community we serve. We disseminate information about available services and resources, as well as our current activities. By keeping ourselves and others informed about issues and problems, we ensure that advocacy work is based on the most current and accurate information, and that individuals have the knowledge required to advocate on their own behalf if they prefer. We try to arrange collaboration on issues of common concern and to formulate joint strategies, and at least avoid duplication of efforts. Our working board of fifteen is comprised of representatives from member organizations, as well as individuals elected at large by the consumer community. At the present time, our member organizations are: BC Association of the Deaf-blind, BC Blind Sports and Recreation Association, Canadian Council of the Blind BC/Yukon Division, Canadian National Institute for the Blind Lower Mainland/South Coast Client Services Committee, National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality Lower Mainland Chapter, and Western Association of Persons with Vision Impairment.

Below, we discuss some of our major projects, our achievements and the work that still needs to be done.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals:

We have been involved in the field of APS since our inception. ASIC has succeeded in introducing truly accessible pedestrian signals with locator tone and vibro-tactile arrow to assist the deaf-blind into the Vancouver area. We continue to advocate for the installation of more such units. In 2001 we assisted the North shore Advisory Committee on Disability Issues in opposing the North Vancouver traffic engineers, who had installed delayed activation into their audible traffic signals. The last such installation will be dismantled this fall. ASIC has also been a participant (along with other consumer groups, CNIB National, O and M instructors and traffic engineers) in the committee to draft a Canadian position pertaining to APS devices for presentation to the International Standards Organization. It is our hope that this collaborative position may eventually be adopted by the Traffic Association of Canada, and thereby become a national standard from coast to coast.

SkyTrain Accessibility:

Improving the accessibility of SkyTrain, the Greater Vancouver Area's Rapid Transit System, has been one of ASIC's major projects. After several years of negotiations and many broken promises by the SkyTrain administration, we have succeeded in ensuring that stations on the new Millennium Line have tactile edging on the platforms. This should greatly improve the safety of blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind users of the system. More recently, the retrofitting of stations on the old Expo Line was approved, and installation on these stations will commence in mid-November, 2002. Additional improvements for which we are working include voice enunciators in elevators serving multilevel stations, improved colour contrasting on stair edging and audible door locators for SkyTrain vehicles.

Other Transit Issues:

Another major issue that we are addressing is the need to improve access to the 98 B line stations in Richmond. As these are on traffic islands in the middle of a busy 6-lane highway, they represent a major hazard for members of our community. In addition, ASIC plays an active role on the board of ComPACT (Committee for the Promotion of Accessible Conventional Transit). In concert, we have worked on issues such as making bus stops "blind friendly" and safer for our community, and ensuring that major intersections and transfer points are announced on buses.

Access to Government Publications and Web Sites:

We continue our work to ensure that BC government publications and web sites are accessible to members of our community. Unfortunately, as there is no alternate format communications policy in place, we have had to push for each publication individually with the respective ministries. Most recently, we succeeded in making the BC Treaty Negotiations material available in audio format. The BC Health Guide website has been made more accessible, and we continue to work on making the Health guide available in other formats.

Elections BC:

As a result of last year's general elections and the more recent BC Treaty negotiations Referendum, ASIC fielded numerous concerns about the inability to privately access the voting ballot. After community consultation, we developed a sample template to be used with the ballots, and forwarded it additional suggestions regarding voter access to Elections BC.

Entertainment Book Master Indexes:

During the past year ASIC successfully negotiated with Entertainment Publications Inc. to obtain, on a yearly basis, etext versions of the master indexes to their popular Entertainment Books for all 15 regions in Canada. These can be obtained by writing to asic@telus.net.

Descriptive Video Services at Famous Players:

After two years of correspondence with Mr. John Bailey of Famous Players, ASIC was able to persuade the chain to make Descriptive Video Services (DVS) available in their theatres. The official launch took place on November 14, 2001 in Toronto, as the company wished to test the popularity of the service in a larger market. However, a number of Lower Mainland theatres are also now equipped with DVS technology. The same technology also provides Rear Window Captioning, which makes the movies accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. To find out which movies are currently being shown in DVS format, call your theatre or check the rwc/dvs link at www.famousplayers.ca.

Website Accessibility:

ASIC has recently formed a new committee aimed at ensuring website accessibility in local businesses whose sites are currently inaccessible, yet provide services and products of interest to blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind individuals. So far, we have targeted two companies: an online grocery store and a dairy food delivery service. We have received positive responses from both, and will notify the community via our email network when the sites have been made accessible. We urge anyone in the community to let us know of any other potentially useful web sites whose accessibility should be improved.

Disability Awareness Seminars:

Recognizing the need for disability awareness seminars to retailers and various service providers, ASIC is developing a speaker's bureau. The workshops that our members presented to the staff and merchants of the Richmond Centre mall and the staff of Westcoast Express were extremely well received.

Email Communication Network:

In order to disseminate important and/or time sensitive information to our community in a cost effective and efficient fashion, ASIC established the E-Mail Communication Network (ECN). This enables us to distribute consumer information to those computer users with access to E-mail accounts in order that they may receive consumer information and assist us by cross posting to various list serves and/or acting as conduits of this information to others in the community. This is not a list serve, which generally contains postings of on-going responses, but rather an information source for consumer issues and activities in which ASIC is currently engaged. Recognizing the value of this venue, GVTA/TransLink responded favorably to our suggestion that we post their bi-weekly "Buzzer" publication on our ECN. Transit users find this publication includes a flood of useful transit information, route interruptions or changes, Coming Events, etc. If you wish to subscribe to our Email Communication Network, please send email to asic@telus.net with "subscribe" in the subject line.