The biggest value of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (or any legislation for any jurisdiction that advocates for people with disabilities) is not in having society becoming more accessible.
Hopefully, the biggest value is in having corporations treat people like individuals, for individuals to have more compassion, and for humanity to evolve. That’s why it is beneficial for all of us, which has little to do with disabilities, specifically.
I Love My Friends!
Getting caught-up with a new friend, I stated, “I started work at a telemarketing company last week.” She proudly said, “Wow! You bought a telemarketing company!” Thinking it was a grammar issue, I re-articulated, “No, I started TO work FOR a telemarketing company.”
“Ah, you’re doing motivational speaking for a telemarketing company…” she responded. I smiled and fathomed that I had to employ specificity. “No, I started to work as a telemarketer for a telemarketing company.” (When life falls apart, we can start over.)
My Experiential Research
In our first day of orientation, there was a big section on accessibility. We even had a test on it, and the corporation boasted to have integrity (“I say what I do, I do what I say”) as one of it’s core values.
Sounds good, but what happened? It’s been over a week and I still don’t have an accessible workstation. Of course, every person is committed to doing their best, and have escalated the situation as fast as they could.
But it’s frustrating when, after spelling out every specific accessibility option in detail, various individuals from different departments come to me asking me the same questions over and over again, and trying to get me to use tools they think would be helpful to me.
What’s Corporate Culture?
Generalizing, this behavior is not confined to accessibility. Numerous copies of multiple documents (some unsigned, which have no value) were given to us by various people asking us to the sign contracts with the wrong information on it (about 300 pages of wasted resources). Even after all that, there was still an error in my (and someone else’s) pay, and everybody’s logged time for breaks and lunch was inconsistent with what we were promised.
We’re not allowed to have paper on the floor, yet we are given important pieces of paper to use and told not to tell anyone that we have paper on the floor (or that we got it from them). We’re not allowed to have cell phones on the floor, and people in the department are using them to solve my computer issues. We’re not allowed to drink coffee on the floor, yet others have told me that they have seen managers do exactly that.
Is that “saying as you do” or “doing as you say”?
What’s the Solution?
New policies or legalese, fancy words or new procedures, don’t create lasting nor meaningful change. What transforms peoples perspective or flips their paradigm is usually story, analogy, metaphor, or parable. That is what re-contextualizes reality.
This is how the ancient teachers taught. We must continue this tradition instead of complicating bureaucracies and endless red tape.
“It’s not that I’m so smart,
it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
— Albert Einstein
If we don’t identify the true root of the problem, our solutions may be cosmetic, superficial, or temporary — causing us to repeat the problems and not understanding why they are repeating.
Accessibility Features Should Be Available to Everyone (without request)
You probably know about children being bullied, and how people in authority bully subordinates. But have you heard of Department Bullying or Policy Bullying? Information Technology (I.T.) teams typically hide behind a security policy that demands a “thin client” without any accessibility standards… as if having a bigger mouse pointer or typing cursor can lead to a huge security breach!
So let’s create an analogy. I understand IT, so I know that, yes, it is technically possible for a security breach to occur with any new software. But Microsoft Word and/or Notepad is software that can lead to many more severe security hacks. Do we remove those programs? No, because they are essential to normal operations of the business.
Similarly, understand that accessibility needs to be considered as essential to normal business operations. In 2001, Indigo Books Music & Cafe (Chapters Online) was able to provide full accessibility features to me (within an hour). In 2004, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was able to provide full accessibility features to me (within a day). I would think that a national bank would require much more security than a telemarketing company. This is an example of society moving backwards, and new legislation isn’t necessarily going to correct that trajectory.
“You haven’t worked in a telemarketing company before” (which is why I don’t understand), some would argue. But if I had been working in a telemarketing company before, then I would have the same perspective that they now have, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. People love to use tautologies as debating points, not understanding the flawed relevance (it’s like me saying “You guys haven’t been an albino before”).
The whole point of this is to give people a viewpoint on something that they can’t currently see. My friend, Marilyn Garshowitz, does a lot of work addressing systemic bullying and misuse of power through a holistic approach.
Having Half the Accessibility Features Available Means Having No Accessibility
Accessibility is about “equal” access, not limited access. Asking me to pair up with somebody and just “listen” while everybody else can “see” the screen, is not treating people equally.
It’s like expecting Kenye West to perform at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Olympics closing ceremony without a microphone. He was hired to sing, yet there was no backup microphone or sound engineer to cover such an enormous event potentiality? Was he expected to stay super positive, and just use his eyes to “see” the audience while the audience just “sees” him? Maybe he should have started playing charades and make the most of the situation?
I did get some accessibility features. And somehow people think that’s enough. Is building half a ramp for a wheelchair enough? Does a person in a wheelchair need to request a ramp to be built and wait for it, because the ramp may cause a security violation?
Sure, not every business can afford to build a wheelchair accessible ramp. No problem—just don’t say that you are “accessible” when you’re not. That’s called integrity.
Thank God for Microsoft (not Apple, nor Google)
With “computer-based” employment, the cost-to-accessibility is FREE and every company can be accessible almost immediately. A “wheelchair” ramp is already built into every operating system since Window 95, and is installed by default. That’s what accessibility means.
This is the fastest and easiest way for many companies to become accessible. Thank you, Microsoft, and please learn, Apple and Google (their accessibility features are not horrible, but are less than adequate).
In all my requests, I’ve asked for nothing more than what should have already been installed on each and every workstation in the entire corporation (Windows-based). It doesn’t cost any extra money, and even the computing resources necessarily (minimal) are used only when the specific features are invoked by the user.
Lazy, incompetent, or apathetic individuals specifically and consciously remove those features to save themselves time should a security fix be required on additional software components. That’s just wrong, and that needs to change across the board in all information technology (I.T.) departments.
Policies Are Just For Show, Because They Get Broken Anyway
If security was the real concern, why would my trainer log me into her account so I can have my accessibility features while I wait for the escalation process to modify my individual account? It was a nice thing to do and I appreciate it. But the point is, I was an unknown person (my references have yet to be checked), and if I really wanted to do harm, I would have touched tons of security vulnerabilities and would have had access to sensitive information already.
Why not have a temporary accessible guest account for new hires? My account was changed so many times, and people kept wanting for me to login in for them so they can have access to it. So what’s the point of having passwords with eight degrees of redundant security (special characters, capitals, numbers) which nobody can memorize and needs to be changed every month, and can’t be the same as previous passwords? I’m just giving everyone who asks access to my account.
The Lies We’re Told
Another famous I.T. excuse (which I hate the most) is that “it’s just not possible.” Really? Then how was I able to have accessibility options in the trainer’s account? Yes, trainers have special administrative privileges that I shouldn’t get, but doesn’t the I.T. department have the capacity to discern administrative privileges from accessibility features?
Do they not know how to create a new user profile? It’s not rocket science. They could just Google it. Or maybe the corporate firewall has blocked that web site, too?
Part of the reason I was excited about this position is because, after four months, we would be eligible to apply for internal job postings (IJP – one of their acronyms). With such a large company, that sounds very exciting! But the internal intranet restrictions prevent us from even viewing the company’s job pages, let alone browse through various job openings! (And, half the links on their corporate web site just link to the main home page, instead of the designated sections written in the hyperlink texts!)
The “On Vacation” Card Buys One Week of Time
Have you ever been told that the person in charge is on vacation? That’s what I was told. I accepted it, but upon reflection, I realize how strange that sounds. A corporation that did over $2 billion last year, does not have a backup I.T. administrator in case the main person gets sick, is in accident, dies or is on vacation? Even to have someone full-time on staff to avoid this situation, would be pennies to a company that big.
What would the company do if a major server were to crash? What if they really had a vicious cyber attack? Would the entire company just wait two weeks before this person’s vacation is over because they don’t have access to the administrative passwords?
Some argue that that stuff is mission-critical. The point I’m trying to make here is that accessibility needs to be considered mission-critical. Otherwise, it’s like saying having a computer keyboard for each employee is not mission critical for a multi-national business.
Lack of Compassion is Demoralizing
The worst part is not a lack of accessibility features, but in missing valuable information, training, and equal opportunity. For example, the trainer’s login would timeout during training, and I would miss many parts of training.
In addition, we were only shown possible schedule choices by looking at a small laptop, and I did not see the options until two minutes before I was forced to pick an option. (Of course I requested a digital or paper copy, which I did not receive.)
More than all of that, it’s demoralizing to have to request accessibility features over and over again, in front of all my peers, and create distance, tension and/or animosity between myself, my supervisors, the department head, and the information technology people. From employees witnessing on the entire floor, It further isolates me from indirect co-workers (it feels just like high-school). Like most people, I want a job where I enjoy being friends with my colleagues, not creating separation/enemies starting from day one.
Everyone Is In the Spectrum of Disability (That Includes You)
Like many things in life, disabilities are not binary. Some people have severe disabilities, while others have a subtle, unnoticeable disability. We want to cater to that entire spectrum, because we want to respect all individuals with each of their unique traits, talents, and competencies.
One of my team members said, “Danish, you’re lucky you get to use a different color.” That’s good for me, but why doesn’t everybody get to pick their own preferred color? Some navigate easier with mouse trails. Some people prefer a slightly larger font. So why can’t they have a larger font? It would make their life easier (less eye strain), and have them be more productive (more revenue and profit for the corporation). There’s millions of dollars in research and hundreds of books on good user-interface design, and they don’t follow one rule.
Corporations need to stop treating people like numbers, expecting them to use the exact same screen, keyboard, and user interface preferences that are decided by some random, default, irrelevant, or obsolete policy. Each individual should have the right to modify their user experience as they see fit (this has nothing to do with security, as it does not affect stored data nor internet connectivity).
The whole purpose of an Operating System is to create a uniform yet customizable personalized experience for the user that is consistent across applications. By removing everything except for their “thin client” from each workstation, and hard-coding fonts, button positions, double-click intervals, etc., the corporation has essentially removed ALL the benefits of an operating system. They may as well have used a Commodore 64 for each of their workstations. How smart is that?
Again, inefficiencies aren’t limited to accessibility nor technology. Schedules were changed back-and-forth without notice. The phone lines were down for an entire day while everybody waited and did nothing (reason: they just didn’t realize it). French-speaking people would get English callers, while all the English-speaking people waited and waited for calls. Most daunting to me, are spelling, grammar, user-interface, and organizational-flow errors, inside of our call scripts.
I know as a telemarketer, it may not be my place to evaluate nor comment on such issues not within my jurisdiction of work. But why not? Another one of their core values is innovation (I create and improve)… Wouldn’t having and testing a solid script before training and deployment dramatically improve product conversion and customer retention? It would certainly boost the confidence and spirit of the team.
Who’s Department Is It?
Responsibility is not a core value of this telemarketing company, which may be why everybody is refuting my legitimate concerns with “Well, did you talk to so an so…?” How many people am I supposed to talk to, and give the same information to numerous times, before anything ever gets done?
“My hands are tied,” they would exclaim. I understand their frustration with corporate policy, but I wonder why they don’t advocate to break policies for the greater good (and potentially be seen as a corporate hero)? As stated early, they already break all sorts of policies. Why is advocating for human rights a lower priority than enjoying a hot coffee?
(I know the answer, and I acknowledge that my trainer did break policy for me. The advocacy just got stuck somewhere higher on the totem poll.)
Why not give me a trainer’s account login for a week while they address their political bottlenecks? I’ve proven that I can be trusted with it, yet they want me to sit and do nothing for an entire week while all my peers are gaining valuable experience and being productive.
The Art of Making a Fuss
Another life duality is accepting things and being patient, while we work hard, advocate, and make a difference. While we want to be nice to customer service agents, we’ve probably all had the experience of getting what we wanted only after becoming angry and border-line rude.
That’s been the toughest part for me in this job. I’m a nice person and want to treat everybody with courtesy, dignity, and respect. Unfortunately, I’d be waiting forever for accessibility standards if I wasn’t to make a fuss about it. I’m also human who gets triggered when I’m bullied. Where do we draw the line?
Why Complain When We’re Getting Paid?
Some people see my situation as being great. They wonder why I’m not happy if I’m getting paid, and I don’t have to do any work. Isn’t that just an easy ride?
People with disabilities may look like they are not doing any work, only because nobody will give them work to do. That’s not how we want to live.
The system is such that people with disabilities will earn just about the same money if they stay home, compared to having a minimum wage job. So why go through all of that hassle in transportation, politics, discrimination, bullying, ridicule, and ultimately, meaningless non-work?
You Have My Word(s)
The purpose of this article is not to complain, but to educate (have you been taking time to read the Visual Quotes?). For instance, some people don’t fully understand security, technology, nor their human rights, and submit to a false authority. Some people simply don’t know what accessible tools are available for them (for free, ubiquitously) to request in the first place. People should know that many of the tools they want/need/deserve are hidden away from them until they specifically ask for it.
Part of the education is that sometimes we need to complain. Extreme rules (like zero-tolerance policies) only promote extremism and dictatorship, instead of embracing open communication, transparency, and the art of life balance.
What’s Your Real Role in Life? What’s Your True Work?
One of my good friends, Tina, helped me re-contextualize my encounters. She said that my job is NOT to be a telemarketer. My job is twofold:
My job is to create a fun and motivating atmosphere for people who are treated like numbers. I love to motivate people! When we were role-playing and I was asked for my occupation, I always said, “I’m a rock star.” Everybody always laughed, and I realized that I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do – inspiring people through my life story and antics.
My job is also to help a very big corporation become more accessible. Whether I keep this job or not, I know that my impact will cause the corporation to be more compassionate and cater just a little bit more to people with disabilities (that’s everybody) in the future.
My job really hasn’t changed. My job is to write articles like this for people like you.
My Closing Speech
After over a week of patience, I wanted to leave because I couldn’t do what I was hired to do. The director sat me down and told me that if I left, I would not be paid for the remainder of my shift.
With shivers down my spine, I knew it was not about me anymore. What channeled through me was, “Guys, this is not about me. I’m the Leader of the Party for People with Special Needs. This is me advocating for others. Many people with disabilities do not have the confidence like I do. Many people with disabilities do not have the communication skills like I do. And many people with disabilities do not have the luxury of leaving an $11 an hour job like I do.”
Most people take what they can get,
because it is better than what they have been given,
not because it is what they deserve.
A Thin Straw Breaks the Camel’s Back
The remainder of my shift at $11/hr would add up to about $120. That money is not going to change my life. And that money is probably infinitesimally insignificant for a $2 billion corporation. But how does it make a person feel to not have accessibility for an entire week, and then be told that they won’t be getting paid for their shift which the corporation scheduled? How does it look on paper?
Maybe I would have been patient for an entire week more, if I only saw that people had compassion, didn’t hide behind corporate policies, and just wanted to do the right thing—even if it meant disciplinary action by a vice president… for a $120 loss (virtual loss, too, since they would have paid me to do nothing otherwise). In contrast, fines from the government for accessibility non-compliance are up to $50,000 per day.
Update: Accessibility is Not Forcible Confinement
Two weeks from my start date, I do have an accessible computer. Or do I? My accessible settings are hard-coded into my computer now (based on administrators logging in and changing settings through their accounts). It’s manageable, but not ideal, nor how it should be.
If a person uses a cane for mobility assistance, and requests special use of an elevator, will people get upset if he starts using the stairs one day? Must this person always use the elevator? Maybe the person’s mobility is improving after years of physiotherapy, rehabilitation and/or other healing modalities. Some days are better than others, so they may want (and should have the freedom to choose) different mediums on alternate days.
Technically, I want a 800×600 video resolution. Some applications have dialogue boxes hard-coded to be bigger than those dimensions. In such cases, it is necessary to revert back to a higher resolution (e.g., 1024×768). Even if it will be more difficult to see, at least it will be possible. That’s just one technical example out of hundreds of different technical scenarios.
When Do We Give Up?
Yes, I can still keep pushing for what should be. But after giving very specific technical specifications to at least six different people, I’ve realized that people just don’t read their e-mails. They told me the situation had been “escalated” about five different times (all the way up to the V.P. of something), yet every individual along the way did not get notes or any specific communication on the details I had explicitly provided.
Perhaps it’s similar to your experience with customer service. They seem to make all sorts of notes on our “file”, but when we call back, we get some other person who either doesn’t see those notes, or chooses to completely ignore them. What is the purpose of taking notes, then?
Personal development icon, Dale Carnegie, articulates, “A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.” Motivational speaker, Casey Comben, screams, “It’s easier to go and find people who are alive than to try to resurrect the dead.” Before I adopt learned helplessness, I have already started to look for work in an environment more consistent with my identity.
Sharing With Co-Workers
I would love to give this article to my entire telemarketing team, trainer, supervisor, manager, director, IT, etc. But the rules are we can’t have paper on the floor nor can we use our cell phones (no internal e-mail, either). So am I just supposed to verbally speak a long URL and hope that people remember it accurately? They already have a hard time with the company’s crazy passwords!
My strategy is to share this with my social networks, and ask that you help by sharing it with your social networks. Corporate cultural transformation begins with a deeper level of social and collective awareness. If you like this, please share it. Have a conversation about it. Together, we can change the world.
P.S. Maybe I’ll copy the CEO on this and see what happens.