Barriers to Information and Communication Technology

Filed Under (Ableism, Activism, Autism and Learning, Communication, Discrimination, Inclusion) by Estee on 21-08-2012

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ICT = Information and Communication Technology

School is fast approaching and some autistic children get access to inclusive schools and others do not. One of the barriers to inclusion is access to technology and other supports that can enable and autistic person to participate and become successful. Many camps and schools have boycotted the use of iPads for fear it detracts from a student’s attention. Some schools prefer “traditional” methods, and argue that technology takes away from that experience.

In the case for inclusion and access, these are some of the antiquated attitudinal barriers we must work to deconstruct. Many non verbal autistic individuals, and other autistic individuals who learn better with computers for visual reasons as well as reasons to do with less distractive stimuli that can impede learning, need technology (and other accommodations) not just for school, but for vital communication and everyday functioning.

In an effort to break down barriers to access, “The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), a national organization working for an accessible and inclusive Canada, recently consulted people with disabilities about ICT use and recommendations on barrier removal and prevention.” Although there is a duty to accommodate, most schools and camps will not do so, especially for the autistic person. Here’s some more examples:

Stumbling Blocks

Although accessible ICT is available in the marketplace, it can take an incredible amount of self-advocacy and persistence for an individual to obtain it. Doreen Demas, who has vision impairment, discovered this when seeking an accessible cellphone from the Manitoba Telephone System (MTS). For customers without a disability, acquiring a cellphone that meets their needs is a relatively straightforward consumer activity. MTS’s original offer to Doreen was an inaccessible BlackBerry. Over a period of several years, it took numerous frustrating sessions with MTS representatives and a complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for her to obtain a contract, with reasonable terms and conditions, for an accessible iPhone. The CRTC has a policy requiring that Canadian cellphone service providers include an accessible product in their catalogue of devices on offer to the public.

Some post-secondary students with disabilities encounter barriers related to ICT. While a student intern, who requires large print, may be most comfortable using a particular program to enlarge text, the intern’s field placement agency may think it is reasonable to expect that person to use whatever programs are available on the in-house system. Although educational institutions and employers have a duty to accommodate disability-related needs, individuals continue to struggle to have such accommodations provided.

The other barrier is poverty. Most of our disabled population, due to so many barriers to employment and educational institutions, end up living beneath the poverty line. This also make access to essential communication and technologies expensive:

Like everything in the marketplace, ICT comes with a price tag. People with disabilities experience a disproportionate level of poverty. People with disabilities of working age are about twice as likely to live on a low income as their counterparts without disabilities. “There is the assumption that everybody can afford a computer. That’s an assumption. It is not a fact,” says Marie White, Chairperson of CCD’s Social Policy Committee. “Our most challenging issue is poverty.” Some people with disabilities face additional costs because they have to buy ICT, and they also must purchase adaptive technology to make inaccessible technology usable. In some provinces, provincial programs provide people with disabilities access to technology.

While some autism organizations endeavour to provide some grants to autistic people for access to iPads and the government subsidizes other communication devices, there are wait lists and rental fees can still be expensive (you can seek some assistance through the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care).

For Adam’s sake and like many other parent advocates, I’ve had to learn a lot about AAC (Assistive Augmentative Communication) and how to use it by myself through courses and “old-fashioned” book-learnng. In turn, I train many of Adam’s teachers and support workers in his use of the iPad and with typing. Finding SLP’s trained well in the field is difficult but necessary, and there are a precious few who do it exceptionally well. While SLP’s are typically trained in “speech” functioning, there is tremendous value in their teaching to the ways and means of autistic communication, literacy and the use of devices for advancing skills. The device is often referred to as the individual’s own “voice” or “talk box,” and should be treated with the same care and respect.

It’s tough to still get people on board at the school level, to see devices as a necessity for many autistic people, and to include them with the same value and respect as we would the voice of any other child.

I hope you have some success in using this information when you approach the school boards and other support workers.

References:

Integrated Access: The Right to Universally Designed Information and Communication Technology Evolution of Access—Building in Access to Information and Communication Technology, Abilities Magazine.

Source: “Personally Speaking: Poverty and Disability in Canada,” Council of Canadians With Disabilities.

Video on The National Action Plan from the CDC:

Wind of Change

Filed Under (Advocacy, Inclusion, Parenting, school) by Estee on 01-06-2011

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Today, June 1st, the winds are blowing strong. I’m not a fan of wind, of things being stirred up furiously into the air. Wind has always made me nervous and I want to be inside. I’m sitting out at the foot of my back door, drinking a Corona, about to abandon the otherwise gorgeous sun. Drinking a mid-afternoon beer is not something I typically do on a Wednesday as I wait for Adam to return home from school. I watch the gold, silent bubbles float up effortlessly. Hundreds of maple “helicopters” pirouette and land gently on my deck, leaving a soft brown carpet for my feet. If only life were as effortless and gentle. A gust comes and the carpet is swept away a new shape is made — they jam in between the deck boards and jut out like a bed of nails. A couple of hours ago, I got a call from Adam’s school. His class, just before summer begins, is being “dismantled,” I was informed. I am dizzy about September. Or is it the beer?

It will take me a while to settle my thoughts as I head down this new path, and to say what it is I want and need to say. This blog keeps me going a lot of the time. It is but one outlet for this autism mom. These days I’ve been using Facebook more because the feedback is plentiful, supportive and the discussion boards can get really interesting.

I’ve also turned to a core group of people. There is the team for your child and the team for ourselves as parents. As a single mother who, with the exception of my supportive parents and friends, must climb mountains for her choices, I continue to learn the value of turning to these people. I’m grateful to those of you, and you know who you are, for being there just to talk as I work out the next climb.

Now, I need another beer as I work out the plan, before I write any more. For the rest of the day, I’m taking off my climbing gear, waiting for Adam’s laugh, and watching bubbles.

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.