Accessible Canada Submission - Transportation

 

October 17, 2016

Response to Accessible Canada Discussion Paper for  consultation for accessible Canada Act on the subject of Transportation

By Chris Stark and Marie Stark

 

Overview:

These few comments are made by two senior citizens who are blind and travel with guide dogs.  They are based on our travel experiences over the years, but particularly during the past six years, following our retirement from work, and as our needs change with age and increased disabilities.  During that time, we have primarily traveled by air for medical, visits to friends, and vacation reasons.

 

While the experiences leading to our comments are anecdotal, they are consistent each time we travel. Because of the poor customer service we receive when traveling by air, rail, inter-provincial bus or passenger ferry; we do not travel as much as we would like

 

As early as 1978, the Federal Government was formally seized with the ongoing issue of accessible transportation for citizens with disabilities.   The Obstacles parliamentary report of 1981 made transportation related recommendations which still are relevant and yet to be implemented successfully.

The Federal Government has  been unduly influenced by the transportation industry from the Minister of Transportation on down through the transportation  government apparatus including the CTA, CATSA and Transport Canada. This fact is easily substantiated by a Google search for the history of accessible transportation in Canada for persons with disabilities. An excellent summary of this situation is contained in the following Canadian report:

 

Moving Backwards: Canada's State of Transportation Accessibility in an International Context

http://www.ccdonline.ca/en/transportation/minister/movingback

 

The only way to even the  address this issue is to deal with transportation directly outside of the undue influence of the industry on government processes.

 

***Recommendation:

As a general Recommendation, the new legislation should address the deficiencies of the many pieces of legislation relating to transportation governing safety, security, economic and accessibility of transportation  service providers.

 

Safety, security and accessibility can be harmonized. The existing discriminatory approach that seeks to treat travelers with disabilities as dangers or risks  to the traveling public must be ended.

 

As recently as September 2016, we stood in public at an airport check point while CATSA officials debated vigorously why we were not accompanied by an airline representative, and that we should be denied screening and sent back to the check in desk even though we had valid boarding cards. CATSA regularly treats us like unaccompanied minors because we cannot see and can travel independently. Making eye contact, metal in guide dog harnesses, and braille one line slates (not the stylus) regularly are used by CATSa representatives to humiliate travelers who are blind because we are viewed as abnormal. Sufficient space for service animals is rarely provided on board aircraft, even though double the floor space and more is already mandated for over the wing exit rows for safety.

To repeat, accessibility, safety and security are equally important and easily harmonized for the well-being of all travelers. The fact that safety and security are consistently enforced, and accessibility is consistently not enforced, is systemic discrimination by the Government of Canada.

 

The results of this situation can be read in this CBC story in September 2016

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/catsa-airport-travellers-complaints-security-1.3779312

 

The Toronto Airport submission to the 2016 CTA consultation on accessible transportation indicates that they are ”meeting all regulations regarding accessibility standards, and the CTA has advised us that the GTAA is fully compliant.”.  In the same submission, they opposed accessibility being a mandatory requirement for any new projects or renovations.

 

There are NO way finding measures to assist people who cannot see navigate transportation terminals, use commercial services at transportation terminals, or use transportation information systems such as arrival and departure screens. No eating establishment at a terminal has menues usable by people who are not able to see.

 

The CTA narrow definition of transportation services means that most terminal venders are not required to provide usable services for people who cannot see, and therefore, do not provide dignified  service to independent travelers who cannot see.

 

Recommendations:

*** Enforcement no longer be a consumer complaint driven process.

 

*** The new Act require that All CTA accessibility certifications be posted on the CTA website, as part of open government, to foster transparency.

 

*** No Federal Government transportation project funding be approved without an accessibility lenze being applied, and consultations with users who have disabilities, as a mandatory acceptance element.

 

*** The new act require that all facilities under federal jurisdiction, in particular terminals, hospitols, service centres and the like, be required to prove usability for all before being approved at the planning stage.  

*** The new act should require that all federal government financially supported   transportation industries, (both manufacturing and service ,) not receive funding if they do not incorporate design elements to assist travelers with disabilities.

 

 

 

 

Submission

 

Under the Canada Transportation Act, there have been  regulations, codes of practice and guidance documents for years.  Each time a trip is planned and executed, it is a time of uncertainty, constantly shifting accessibility demands, and erratic customer service.

 

Despite the human rights protections in the Act, there is a   belief that undue obstacle is an economic right by the regulator, thus the transportation industry.  This  interpretation of the transportation legislation has and will continue to  leave us and others extremely vulnerable when taking a trip, particularly by air.  Regulations should  provide the expectation that we will be helped and respected with usable customer service when traveling.  The reality of air travel is a risky activity for no other reason than we are persons with disabilities. There needs to be a real time problem resolution mechanism during the trip.

 

The new act should Ensure  transportation that industry's obligations are clear, predictable, and relevant to a range of existing and emerging needs of travelers with disabilities. .

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that there be a  new act requirement for service providers to  have an accessibility resolution person on call that the traveler with a disability must be put in contact with, by staff, at any stage of the trip. This request must be documented in writing, and the traveler be given a reference number at the time and place of the problem.

 

Our legitimate customer service needs have never been met, on a consistent basis, in the twenty plus years the existing air regulations have been in force.  They are minimal service compromises.

 

Enforcement: 

For example, the enforcement of the Terms and Conditions of Travel Regulations by the Canadian Transportation Agency  (CTA) has not, on its own motion, produced the expected results.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new  act should mandate an ongoing inspection program using persons with disabilities to ensure proper  treatment of passengers who have disabilities by transportation service providers. .

 

This recommended approach has been long used by Transport Canada for safety and CATSA for security quality control.

 

Dispute resolution:

We have prepared a short position paper on dispute resolution by tribunals for separate  submission to this federal government consultation on new legislation for persons with disabilities.

 

Our conclusion is that our service needs and expectations are not being met by  complaint resolution processes. In our opinion, this fact is one of the major contributing factors for the call for the federal government to take legislative action through this process now underway.

 

The CTA portraying itself now as a neutral third party increases the inherent power imbalance in the complaint resolution process, regardless of its nature, resulting in an informal resolution, a mediated resolution, or a formal decision.  The person with a disability is the only non-salaried person participating in these complaint resolution processes.  Complainants with disabilities are very vulnerable these days when participating in Agency adjudicative processes.

 

The missing link is action within thirty days to resolve a problem a traveler with a disability experiences, such as regular denial of sufficient space for service animals on aircraft. 

 

Requests for help from the CTA which take months and years to take any action   that may result in any positive travel assistance is exploitation of a person’s disability, of the worst kind. Travelers with disabilities mead protection from industry victimization, as part of the CTA’s administration of its General Rules governing travel complaints.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new  Act should contain a provision that  requires the CTA to resolve a service problem covered by its standards that does not involve the person with a disability, after notifying the Agency.  There should be a requirement that these barriers be removed within thirty days, and that the CTA become the lead in these situations.

 

*** Recommendation:

The new Act should require that tribunals like  CTA provide legal assistance to persons with disabilities at Agency expense, when the General Rules are used to address disability related service needs, and that this legal assistance include mediations.

There is a legal recognition by Court case law that the CTA is the transportation subject matter experts responsible for protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities within Canada’s transportation system under federal jurisdiction.

Thus, the Agency interpretation of undue obstacle as an economic right has been rejected by the Federal Court of Canada on a consistent basis including the CCD cases relating to VIA Rail. An undue obstacle is in point of case law a human right.  The regulations, codes of practices, guidelines and other guidance material are written in economic commercial language. It is submitted that the proposed Super-Sized Regulation currently being developed by the CTA  will violate the Canadian Human Rights Act  because it fails to articulate our rights within the transportation system, as currently being proposed.  Undue obstacle never means the same thing consistently, thus our rights need to be stated in clear and explicit language to avoid this constant shifting interpretation by service providers.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new  Act require that transportation Regulations for carriage of passengers with disabilities  be written in human rights language and spell out clearly the human rights of travelers with disabilities  within Canada’s transportation system under federal jurisdiction.

 

Service animals:

Traveling with a guide dog is the number one challenge for us when arranging and executing an air trip.

 

It is our consistent air travel experience that no carrier provides the recommended sufficient space for large and extra-large guide dogs on single aisle aircraft, as specified In the CTA Implementation guide regarding space for service dogs on board large aircraft. Extra seats do not provide the safe properly configured space for guide dogs. Carrier staff focus on the seat, which guide dogs do not sit in, rather than the floor space which is the need.  

 

This sufficient space standard is consistently used as a screening tool for the acceptance of our reservations, rather than a service requirement.

 

Air Canada Special Needs/Medical Desk always insists emphatically that while they have to provide sufficient space for guide dogs on domestic flights within Canada, they do not have to offer this accommodation on flights to and from the United States, or on long international flights. This requirement is like carriage of mobility aids and not similar to the one person one fare issue!

 

They do not have a clear floor measurement for guide dog use and for human use. The information provided at reservation is always different than when the user is shown to their assigned seat.

 

The request for sufficient space is ALWAYS treated by the Air Canada Medical Desk  as an attempt to con the airline into a free upgrade to business class rather than a legitimate service request, and a legal human rights  obligation to provide a disability related accommodation. It is worth noting that the seats in the business section on single aisle aircraft do not provide appropriate floor space because of the seat foot rest mechanism etc.

 

Dealing with the Air Canada Medical Desk is always a degrading and discouraging experience. Agents are rarely    knowledgeable and constantly put you on hold and check the policy as each request is made, thus lengthening the time considerably.

There is now also an issue of baggage charges even when  you have to carry the food for your guide dog. Charging for carriage of guide dog food is discrimination and  is a duty to accommodate issue, as well as a transportation related issue essential for taking a trip. Guide dog food is similar to a wheelchair battery which is carried free of charge.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that transportation service providers  be prohibited from charging for the carriage of guide dog food and equipment in checked baggage.

 

Guide dog users are regularly asked for a letter from their doctor before their service animal will be accepted for carriage and their reservation confirmed by WestJet. Several of our friends have also faced this requirement even though we all have certification from a recognized guide dog training school, as well as identification cards from legal entities like the Ontario Attorney General’s Office, and offered to provided it in advance and not just at the check-in desk.

 

It is our experience that air carriers view these existing  accessibility regulations, codes of practice and guidance materials as requirements and regulation of people with disabilities rather than as their service obligations. Service providers should strive to compete to make even better provision of service for travelers with disabilities.  

 

WestJet tries to require that passengers who are blind sit in window seats, when there is absolutely no requirement from Transport Canada or the CTA restricting us to window seats only.

 

WestJet also demands the guide dog measurements from guide dog users for their animal before considering the reservation.  When this information is given, then there are further inquiries like who did the measurements, how were they done and the like. No answer is provided about how this information will be used to provide appropriate service, as the space offered is always configured in the same way, regardless of the dog’s dimensions.  There is no system to keep a record of dog measurements to facilitate future reservations.  As elderly passengers who travel with guide dogs, the space issue is one of health and well-being for us. Having a dog lie on our feet for hours during a flight reduces blood circulation to our feet.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new Act   require transportation service providers annually provide to the CTA, and on their websites, usable seat plans that clearly identify seats in each class of service that contain the recommended space for Large and extra large guide dogs and other service animals, and that the CTA regularly spot check these seats, with the results of this monitoring posted to the Agency website.

 

Relieving Area Inside Security:

There is now finally a relieving area at a large Canadian airport inside of security. A  Dog relieving Room at Vancouver International Airport on air side, as reported by jcolebourn@postmedia.com is good news.  Given that flight times for service animals are from relieving spot to relieving spot helps when coping with delayed flights and lengthy check-in and security screening time requirements.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new  Act require all LARGE transportation  terminals to have service animal relieving areas inside the secure zone (sterile area) that is easy to reach.

 

Curb Side Assistance:

When departing, assistance at curb side airport entrances is a real problem, as hired vehicle operators cannot even guide us to the entrance door, let alone to the airline area within sight of the doors at the Ottawa Airport. Security staff swoop down on the vehicle operator insisting that the vehicle drive away, even before we have time to harness our guide dogs and locate our baggage.  When the vehicle departs, these security staff most of the time walk away and do not even speak to us when we try to ask them a question like where is the entrance door?

 

It is ironic that when we arrive at a U.S. airport like Tampa, there is always assistance at curb side for passengers with disabilities traveling home on a Canadian carrier. Security myths are being used to discriminate against people who have disabilities. Security and accessibility needs can be harmonized to improve this situation.   

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new  Act mandate ground assistance from curb side to curb side at the same terminal the passenger is arriving or departing  from.

 

CATSA Screening:

CATSA screening poses significant barriers related to disability. Carrier ground staff are forbidden from helping or guiding us when we go through the security screening process.

 

*** Recommendations:

CATSA should be required by  this new Act to provide talking signage, tactile wayfinding, prohibition of ribbon barriers and lanes without a floor ribbon for cane detection, descriptive narration of each activity in real time, return of possessions to passengers who are blind, and dialogue on screening options for guide dogs and their users.

 

Accessible In-flight Entertainment:

Now that there are talking book readers and smart phones usable by persons who are blind, wifi could be an option to provide access to these services to them. Like at airports, the login for these aircraft and terminal wifi’s are not easily accessible and usable by persons who are blind. Aircraft services should be free for those who cannot use the entertainment systems.

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that ALL terminal and in-flight entertainment and information systems be accessible and usable by persons with a sensory disability, particularly persons who cannot see.

 

Air Canada, as a result of a human rights settlement through the CHRC, has started to address this issue. A complaint had to be made by people who are blind because the CTA viewed the issue as one that was not essential for taking a trip rather than equal value and service for fare paid. CTA could have dealt with this issue 20 years ago under the human rights protections of part 5 of the Canada Transportation Act, but consciously chose not to do so.

 

Terminals:

Transportation terminals in Canada have been and continue to be designed in a way that maximizes the dependence on help for travelers who are blind. How helpful is a tactile washroom sign if the person who is blind does not know where the washroom is so that they can check the sign?

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that the new Act require all large transportation terminals, in particular all air terminals, because they are under federal jurisdiction, to install and maintain in working order consistent way-finding measures for independent travel by persons who are blind, which provide orientation, commercial, flight and travel route information, in real time, when navigating a transportation terminal independently.

 

International Air Services:

The CTA has long used the complaint mechanism  to apply its jurisdiction to foreign carriers landing in Canada, and Canadian carriers ground services for passengers with disabilities at foreign stations. Two examples of Agency help come to mined for us: resolution of boarding barriers at the Tel Aviv airport, and the attack of  unleashed drug dogs on the apron of the Punta Cana airport when we and our service animals were boarding a flight home.

 

Thus, the concept of Canadian  legislation applying to  Canadian carriers all the time is nothing new. This practice has been adopted by many countries, as well as Canadian airlines at foreign stations. Readers are referred to United States accessible transportation regulations for relevant examples.  

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that Canadian carriers be required to provide consistent Canadian levels of service throughout the journey, regardless of the country they operate to or from.

 

Technical Standards:

Requiring transportation terminals to adhere to CSA, W3C and similar recognized technical standards are excellent measures.  Without a regulatory requirement transportation service providers will continue to view these requirements as discretionary.

 

Transportation websites, on line reservation, advance check in, schedules, kiosks, information screens, smartphone applications, signage (CATSA, Customs and Immigration, for example), terminal directions, etc continue to be unusable by most passengers who are blind, even though the technical solutions have been identified and agreed to by industry. 

 

*** Recommendation:

It is recommended that this new act  require the adoption of  such technical standards as CSA barrier-free standards and the W3C 2.0 Website Accessibility Guidelines be implemented throughout the transportation industry, including such services as websites, kiosks, in-flight entertainment, smartphone apps etc. Web sites should be annually  tested by CTA employees with disabilities using adaptive technology to ensure compliance and usability.

 

Because we have to use the telephone, and not the  web sites, we encounter additional undue obstacles, Particularly with Air Canada. We consistently  spend hours on hold to be connected, the reservation agents are reluctant to provide schedule information, terms and conditions, as well as sale fares. They try to charge us for making a phone reservation because we did not use the web reservation system, even though it is unusable as we are blind and use adaptive technology.  Particularly with Air Canada, it takes two phone calls, one to the reservation agent and a second one to the medical desk to complete a reservation. This is double the wait time and can drag out over 48 hours.

 

***Recommendations:

Airlines and all transportation services should be obligated to answer phone calls within 15 minutes. Transportation service providers should be prohibited from charging persons with disabilities a fee for making a phone reservation. Service providers should be required to offer a one call reservation service for persons with disabilities.  

 

 

 

Conclusion:

Since most, if not all, requirements have long supposed to have been adopted and implemented by the transportation industry, as they have been either regulatory obligations or voluntary commitments made by transportation entities  when Codes of Practice were adopted, it is predictable that delay and weakening of existing measures will unfortunately be the transportation industry’s continued  response to the needs of travelers with disabilities, unless this new act strengthens our protections and rights for usable transportation services under federal jurisdiction, whether or not it be inter provincial bus service, interprovincial ferry service, transportation terminals or air services.