AccessAbility Playbook - Play 2 Understand how barriers affect persons with disabilities

Play 2 Understand how barriers affect persons with disabilities

Someone living with a physical disability or a condition affecting mobility and agility

Many in this client group have visible disabilities. It is important to keep proper accessibility measures up to date, well understood, tested and maintained for functionality. Any improvements should go beyond the building codes and standards. For example, make it a business requirement to have service centres located near public transit, have parking close to the main entrance and test automatic door openers each day as part of standard procedures. This can help ensure the clients have a positive experience, even before they interact with your employees. Enable clients to get to your office and move around easily by having ramps where necessary, wide hallways and doorways, and accessible washrooms. Also think about integrating multi-level counters as part of your interior design standards.

To enhance the experience even more, you can have trained greeters (concierge) to welcome and screen people as they come in. You can even dedicate a priority area where clients have the opportunity to identify their needs or constraints to reduce their wait time to speak with a service agent.

Someone with a pain-related disability may not have much time or concentration to search for forms or contact information. They need to feel confident that they can complete their tasks. For someone with dexterity issues, holding a pen might be difficult. In this case, service agents should also be authorized to fill out a form on behalf of the client and provide a signature guide to assist in signing documents. Clients may also need ergonomic or specially designed keyboard or mouse such as on-screen keyboard with trackball, joysticks, or other pointing devices.

Possible in-person experience

  • Unable to walk very far or use stairs;
  • Difficulty holding onto railing;
  • Difficulty holding a pen and pulling up a chair to sit down;
  • Prone to fatigue and losing balance;
  • Unable to stand for long periods;
  • May require a wheelchair to move around.

Possible phone experience

  • May require more time to complete tasks;
  • Difficulty holding a phone and dialing or pressing numbers quickly;
  • Difficulty focusing when calls are long;
  • Shooting pain distracts;
  • Difficulty taking notes, communicating or concentrating.

Possible online experience

  • Visual problems due to headaches and migraines;
  • Difficulty typing, using a mouse or touch screens;
  • May require head pointer, mouth stick and other aids for typing;
  • Difficulty clicking small icons;
  • Difficulty sitting for long periods of time.

65% of Canadians living with a physical disability live with pain-related symptoms that occur every day.

2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)

“Often the counter height is not ideal and I need to pass my documentation above my head. And when I need to sign and the pen is attached to a string, I can’t even use it.”


Someone living with mental-health challenges

While mental health is rapidly becoming more understood by the general public, it is still a stigmatized condition. Persons living with mental health conditions face attitudinal barriers daily; in most cases, mental health issues are entirely invisible. However, when symptoms are apparent, persons may be judged harshly, making the situation even worse. Insensitivity and judgmental behaviour can be upsetting and may be a trigger for escalated behaviour.

Service by phone can be disorientating or confusing due to difficulty with focusing. Interactive voice response (IVR) calls can be very difficult to go through because of the series of options. Memory or comprehension challenges can sometimes force a person to hang up. Having the option of "press 0" to speak directly with an agent can be very helpful.

This client group can have a hard time accessing online services. Web designs should consider how the information is displayed and show clear information pathways (i.e. breaking down steps in the application process). Online application forms should not be time-bound. It should allow clients to save and continue at a later time should they need a break. Long periods of focus causes fatigue, which is worsened by noisy environments. Also, when websites are not in plain language or not using simple infographics to convey information, it can become overwhelming.

Possible in-person experience

  • Symptoms are misinterpreted;
  • Sudden change in tone and manner when being judged.

Possible phone experience

  • May require very simple questions and explanations;
  • Difficulty concentrating and sudden change in tone and manner.

Possible online experience

  • Difficulty finding or processing information if too detailed;
  • May be limited in the amount or kind of activities.

59,6% of Canadian youth living with a disability live with mental-health challenges.

2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)

“Why is the form so long and so complex to fill out?”


Someone living with a cognitive disability

A cognitive disability is described as a limitation affecting the brain or intellectual capacity, as well as learning abilities. It may be a result of a genetic condition, brain injury or degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. It relates to perception, attention, memory, motor skills, language or visual processing when trying to understand information, beginning or completing a task, remembering things or making decisions.

Clients may demonstrate a reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills, and to do things on their own. One thing to keep in mind is some of these individuals do not recognize themselves as having functional limitations, for instance those with Down's Syndrome, Autism or Cerebral Palsy. In other cases, learning disabilities are not apparent unless the client discloses their disability. For example, people living with Dyslexia or Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There is a preference for going in-person to receive service. In fact, within the smaller communities, service agents get to know the person and it makes it easier to adapt to their specific needs and preferences. However, in other instances, attitudinal barriers can be present. For example, when a person’s legal capacity is questioned, it may lead to a frustrating service experience and exclusion. Policies and practices need to be examined to ensure full and equitable participation in society and access to services. For example, service agents should be given the authorities to fill out forms on behalf of the client.

Some symptoms may be amplified as a result of the physical environment. Bright lights, loud noises or crowded areas may trigger challenges. During face-to-face interactions, clients may be accompanied by another person, may require text to be explained, and may need additional reminders of small details. They may not be able to self-serve, but may be reluctant to tell they can’t. Specific training for staff may help reassure and support clients with learning disabilities. For example, service agents should be able to offer assistance when the client is filling out a form, and assess if they are eligible for other benefits.

Phone service may limit the ability to communicate needs and may be overwhelming, or be difficult to understand. Clients may become easily distracted and have difficulty focusing on multiple tasks. They may also experience difficulties hearing verbal instructions or questions if there are other noises in the room. Interactive voice response (IVR) calls can be very difficult to go through when the series of options is lengthy. Memory or comprehension challenges can sometimes force a person to hang up. Having the option of "press 0" to speak directly with an agent can be very helpful.

This client group can have a hard time accessing online services. Web designers should consider how the information is displayed and be able to show clear information pathways such as breaking down steps in the application process. Online application forms should not be time-bound to allow clients to save and continue at a later time. Pictures, scrolling images and color contrast can be particularly difficult to navigate. Keep navigation consistent from page to page and ensure the user knows what to expect. You can also include information in other formats such as videos or images to assist those who may have trouble understanding words and sentences or require more time to read. In this case, specialized fonts or text to speech reader capabilities can be very helpful.

Possible in-person experience

  • May become anxious in crowded areas;
  • May require more time to be assisted;
  • May require text to be read aloud;
  • Difficulty finding the right words to communicate clearly and effectively;
  • May experience confusion and not be aware of surroundings or whereabouts;
  • Difficulty understanding or retaining details;
  • May present inappropriate body language and/or talking too loudly or too softly;
  • Difficulty reading facial expressions, body gestures and/or tone of voice.

Possible phone experience

  • Difficulty taking notes;
  • Unable to retain information and remember full sentences;
  • May take long pauses while searching for the right words;
  • May require very simple questions and explanations;
  • May require more time to be assisted and may provide incorrect details;
  • Easily distracted by background noises;
  • Difficulty paying attention to verbal instructions or questions, sometimes not remembering or understanding verbal information.

Possible online experience

  • May require more time to find information and is easily distracted;
  • Unable to use a computer without help;
  • May require frequent breaks away from a screen and clear sequenced steps;
  • Difficulty filling out an application form;
  • May require additional time to complete a task.

25% of Canadians living with a cognitive disability are twice as likely to have difficulties using the phone.

2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)

“I often struggle to understand what I read and it takes me longer to process information.”


Someone living with a condition affecting speech and language or communication

On a daily basis, this client group faces significant attitudinal barriers. There is often judgement towards someone who has difficulty communicating their needs. For example, the client may have difficulty speaking or have a slurred speech.

In society, these people are under-represented at forums and public consultations. Communication devices such as voice amplification devices, tablets and smart phones can often be helpful.

They often have their own diverse way of communicating, which might include Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) methods such as gestures, pictures, letter boards and communication devices. Awareness of these methods in service delivery would go a long way in reducing the attitudinal barriers.

Issues with service on the phone are most prominent for this client group. Misunderstanding the client’s situation can lead to attitudinal barriers. For instance, misunderstanding slurred speech as a result of a stroke can be perceived by someone on the phone as someone being drunk. Others may stutter and have longer pauses or making sounds when speaking. This is often mistaken for a prank call.

As Stephen Hawking, a person with a communication disability, once said « we have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of persons with disabilities ».

Possible in-person experience

  • Difficulty asking questions, reading and writing;
  • May require more time to be assisted;
  • May require agent to adapt client service in respect of their specific needs.

Possible phone experience

  • Difficulty asking questions;
  • Difficulty articulating words or sentences;
  • May take long pauses while searching for the right words.

Possible online experience

  • Difficulty navigating when there is a lot of text and not enough simple photos or videos;
  • May require alternate means of communications (e.g., email).

440,000 Canadians have speech and language disabilities that are not caused by Deafness or significant hearing loss.

“When I talk, I often have to pause and search for the right words. You simply need to be patient with me”


Someone living with a condition affecting hearing

Every day, people who are deaf may face negative perception, beliefs and behaviours regarding their capability. Many people assume that culturally, this client group understands written English or French. However, grammatical rules in sign language are different than the ones used in French or English.

Office design must consider the struggles that hard of hearing clients experience in large spaces. Glass partitions, background noise and room design contribute to challenge. Counter loops for clients using hearing aids can reduce background noise and facilitate client interactions.

There is generally a need for training to address the needs of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Video remote interpreting services can be beneficial for clients who use sign language to communicate and would allow for equal access. For example, often these clients are required to book an in-person interpreter, leaving some of them without access to the services they need right away. Ideally, it would provide real-time interpreter.

Many systemic barriers exist for this client group. On the phone, call trees are challenging for Deaf or hard of hearing individuals. Having the option of "press 0" to speak directly with an agent is always preferred. TTY (Text Telephone or TDD, Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) calls are perceived to be rarely answered with the same frequency as regular calls.

For a person that is hard of hearing, media players can help display captions and provide options to adjust the text size and colour of captions.

Improvements need to benefit all and not create barriers for others. For example, quick bright flashes are a good way to signal to those with hearing limitations but it has to have the right frequency that does not cause seizures for someone else.

Possible in-person experience

  • Difficulty reading lips if the view is not clear or if the conversation is too fast;
  • May require visual cues to complement the usual audio cues from alarm systems (bells, audio messages, etc.);
  • May require a sign language interpreter;
  • May use a pen and paper to communicate;
  • Difficulty focusing with background noise; white noise may help or worsen the situation, depending on the specific condition.

Possible phone experience

  • May require a TTY phone number or VRS option to obtain assistance from an agent.

Possible online experience

  • May require displaying subtitles, captions, or written transcripts to understand the content of online videos.

35% of Canadians living with a hearing disability also have a seeing disability

2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)

“Don’t shout at me; speak clearly and naturally, and at a moderate pace”


Someone living with a condition affecting vision

Not all who live with vision impairments are completely blind. Some may be partially sighted or have specific restrictions such as tunnel vision. Others might not be able differentiate between darkness and light. Many issues are encountered by persons living with a visual impairment occur when they navigates an unknown space.

In-person facilities need to have points of visual definition so that persons with visual limitations can navigate the space. For example, large glass doors should have a high contrast vertical strip. Tactile markings are helpful when the path is properly indicated. Tactile markings in floors should start from the street and lead to the point of entry.

Persons with visual impairments or other sight-related disabilities benefit from high colour contrast signage at universal height. This means that the sign should be relatively near everyone’s eye level. The placement is key when considering clients with tunnel vision, who may need to be relatively close to a sign to be able to read it. Signs also need to be in other physical form such as Braille, embossed/tactile high contrast numbers or letters.

Any queuing display systems need to be in high contrast colours and avoid using red dots. Wayfinding systems that use beacon technologies can further help clients find their way to an office. This works with Bluetooth and in collaboration with a client’s mobile device. It provides real-time navigation information and sends a signal (when the app is downloaded). The instructions are read out loud and allow the client to navigate the space independently.

Since there are many beacon systems that exists, make sure clients are aware of the one you have in place. By doing so, clients can easily switch between the various phone applications and have the right assistance to get to the service counter. Security systems and all types of communication should be heard and seen. This is important for those who get information primarily by hearing. This includes alerts for emergencies, safety, security, and general announcements.

Most people with vision or print restrictions benefit from alternate formats that provides access to visual media and announcements. Multiple formats should include: accessible PDF, Braille, large print, audio cassette, computer diskette or CD-Rom, magnifiers and e-text. For example, emails versus mail will allow clients to use text-to-speech technologies.

Possible in-person experience

  • Difficulty understanding if people speak too quickly;
  • May feel “shouted at” if people speak too loudly;
  • May require building signs to be offered in alternate formats.

Possible phone experience

  • May feel offended when people forget about the visual impairment and use insensitive language (e.g., “have a look” or “see what I mean”).

Possible online experience

  • May require assistive technology and “alt tags” to describe an image or content and uses a pen reader;
  • Difficulty understanding information if too many bullets are used in a list or table format is too complex;
  • Difficulty navigating using a mouse or touchpad.

85 % of Canadians with a seeing disability use one or more aids or assistive devices.

2017 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)

“Just because I don’t see well, doesn’t mean I can’t do things. One of the biggest issues is that the forms and documents are not accessible to me.”