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Communication Access Now: Project Ends, But Work Continues

Message from Barbara Collier, Executive Director, CDAC

As the Communication Access Now (CAN) project comes to an end on March 31, 2016, I want to thank everyone for your support to increase awareness of what accessibility means for people who have speech and language disabilities. Although there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that people with speech and language disabilities have equal access to goods and services, we have come a long way since we started the project in 2013. Over the past 3 years, we have provided information about communication access for people with speech and language disabilities (SLDs) to:

  • Government ministers, policy makers, legislators and accessibility advisors in 9 provinces
  • 1,200 businesses and organizations
  • 8K speech language pathologists to share information with clients who have SLDs
  • 550 people took the CAN e-learning modules
  • 45K visitors used the CDAC and CAN websites to learn about communication access
  • 1.6K followers on social media
  • 10K via mainstream publications and radio interviews

Although the CAN project ends this month, our organization, CDAC will continue its work to promote social justice and accessibility for people who have speech and language disabilities. However, we need your help to keep the CAN message alive. While we managed to raise awareness of the need to include access for people with speech and language disabilities, we must all now participate at provincial and local accessibility committees; raise awareness at public consultations and have a say into the development of a Canadians with Disability Act.

At this time, I want to acknowledge and thank the Government of Canada’s Disability Component of Social Development Partnerships Program for funding the project. We could not have done the work without the tremendous efforts of our regional coordinators: Lois Turner in BC; Judy Meintzer and Christine Beliveau in Alberta; Randa Tomczak in Saskatchewan; Tracy Shepherd in Manitoba; Nora Rothschild in Ontario and Debbie Maund in Atlantic Canada.  Thanks also to Glenda Watson Hyatt our social media coordinator; Steve Roberston, our web master and to Chevanne Simpson and William Bobek for their administrative support.

The CAN project may be ending, but our work to ensure that services are accessible for people with SLDs is only beginning! Stay tuned for more.

Hold the Dates! Upcoming Webinar Series on Legal Issues and People with Communication Disabilities

Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) will be offering legal information webinars about significant issues for people with communication disabilities on May 11, 18, 25 and June 8 and 15, 2016 at 7 pm ET.

These webinars are for people with communication disabilities, family members, speech-language pathologists, AAC clinicians, legal professionals, healthcare providers and attendant service providers.

Although the webinars will address legislation in Ontario, many of the issues will be relevant in other areas.

Watch for information about webinar topics and registration coming in April.

Working Towards Improving Communication Accessibility of Toronto Transit

Communication Access Now (CAN) Ontario representatives met with Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Wheel-Trans managers in August. It was a very positive and constructive meeting. We discussed that, although most Wheel-Trans travellers have noted great improvements over the past few years, there continue to be some barriers for people who have speech and language disabilities. One of our CAN Ambassadors identified some of these barriers, including the following:

  • Some drivers pretend they understand my speech – even when they don’t. They don’t want to say “I don’t understand” so they just agree. I always know, so it’s better to be honest.
  • Some drivers and Call Centre staff don’t seem to know how to ask me to clarify my speech if they don’t understand – like asking me to repeat, or saying back what they think they heard and get feedback from me. Even confirming how I say “yes” and “no” would help in some cases.
  • If I have to talk to the Call Centre staff, they sometimes want you to talk fast…and then it gets even harder. I need to be given time.
  • Attitudes and assumptions are a big barrier – here as with other places in life. Many people think if you have speech problems, you have cognitive problems. This is not the case.

The TTC Managers were very open and felt that this was a good time to look at these barriers and some solutions as the TTC is currently undergoing a full program review, including review of eligibility, training, technology used, etc.

We asked that TTC include us in their consultations and plans for drafting policies and procedures, for staff training, and for the review of all types of communication – for the Call Centre staff and for drivers. It was enlightening to hear that the website and alternate ways of accessing the Call Centre, as well as computer systems will likely be included in this plan to achieve improved accessibility for all. Hopefully TTC will ask the program review consultants to call upon us at Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) while they are in the review process, prior to making any decisions in these areas. They have contacted us following the meeting and we are discussing incorporating some of the CAN e-learning modules into regular staff trainings.

How you can help?

The TTC is holding a public forum to discuss accessibility of conventional TTC and door-to-door (Wheel-Trans) public transit services in Toronto.
Date: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Location: Allstream Centre, Exhibition Place – 105 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto
One-on-One Discussions: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Open Public Forum: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

For more information, please visit 2015 TTC Public Forum on Accessible Transit.
CDAC encourages individuals with speech and language disabilities and their supporters to attend the forum and to voice the accessibility concerns facing this population. Feel free to share the information available in our resources Make Your Telephone Services Accessible and Make Your Transportation Services Accessible when discussing accessibility with TTC.

Working together, we can improve accessibility of transit for all individuals, including those with speech and language disabilities.

Communication Disabilities Access Canada Supports a Federal Disabilities Act

Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) supports Barrier-Free Canada’s initiative to call upon the Canadian Parliament to enact a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) to achieve a barrier-free Canada for all persons with disabilities.

There are half a million Canadians who have speech and language disabilities not caused by hearing loss that significantly impact on their ability to access goods, services and opportunities. There is ample research that attests to the significant communication barriers experienced by this population.

People who have speech and language disabilities face major barriers accessing services because most people:

  • assume they are hard of hearing,
  • underestimate their abilities,
  • do not know how to communicate with them, and
  • do not know or do simple things to provide access to services.

Many of these barriers can be addressed through stronger, more inclusive legislation, clearer guidelines and educational resources that support businesses and organizations to communicate effectively with people who have speech and language disabilities.

In her letter of support to Barrier-Free Canada, CDAC Executive Director Barbara Collier writes, “The accessibility requirements of people with speech and language disabilities, not caused by hearing loss, are currently omitted or inadequately represented in existing provincial accessibility legislation. We support the need for a national Canadian with Disabilities Act that mandates the inclusion of all people with disabilities, including people with speech and language disabilities to equal access to goods, services and opportunities. Such an Act must address not only the removal of barriers, but the provision of appropriate supports that people with speech and language disabilities need in order to effectively communicate in critical situations such as healthcare, emergencies, education, legal and justice services.”

CDAC supports Barrier-Free Canada in making Canada accessible for all people with disabilities, including those with speech and language disabilities.

How the Edmonton Fringe Festival Can Champion Communication Access in its Community

Earlier this month the National Post reported that the Edmonton Fringe Festival rejected the volunteer application of Daniel Hughes, who volunteered as a FriendRaiser several times in the past. According to the newspaper article, Daniel is “non-verbal” and is well-known for his smile. (Disabled man not welcome to volunteer at Edmonton Fringe Festival after years of involvement, July 2, 2015)

The rejection letter sent to Daniel’s primary support person, rather than to him directly, stated, in part: “…due to the nature of the current demands on our Festival, we are now obligated to engage only those volunteers whose skill sets match those of the job. For instance, all volunteers on the FriendRaisers Team must now be able to actively communicate and engage with Festival Patrons, both asking for donations and explaining how the Festival benefits from this support.”

As an organization that promotes human rights, accessibility and inclusion for people who have speech and language disabilities that are not primarily caused by hearing loss, Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) applauds Daniel for sharing his experience with the public. All too often discriminatory actions against Canadians with speech and language disabilities remain silenced.

Following a public apology to Daniel and other volunteer applicants with various disabilities who had received a similar letter, the Fringe Festival shared on its Facebook page that festival organizers had a positive discussion with Daniel and his family, and subsequently asked them to advise organizers along the way..

CDAC views this as a step in the right direction and offers further suggestions to the Edmonton Fringe Festival:

  • Review the communication tips; many of which are applicable to festival staff when interacting with volunteers, and volunteers interacting with festival attendees.
  • Check out the resource for employers to gain an understanding of the barriers facing individuals with speech and language disabilities when they are seeking employment, whether it be paid or volunteer positions.
  • Complete the free e-learning modules designed to help businesses and organizations make their services communication accessible.
  • Connect with a local organization that works with people with disabilities to find out more about employment opportunities for people with speech and language disabilities.

We ask that Edmonton Fringe Festival bear in mind the inability to speak is not a reflection of individuals’ ability to work or the contribution they can bring to your festival and community.

Communication Access Across Canada

In May and June we shared the Communication Access Now message on CBC Radio’s Early Edition and gave a keynote at Inclusion BC. In addition we connected with or gave presentations at the Elder Law course, Osgoode Law School, Toronto; Vancouver’s Abilities Expo; Disability Resource Network of BC for Post-Secondary Education Conference; Saskatoon City Hospital for Rehabilitation Grand Rounds; Alberta Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists; City of Winnipeg’s Access Advisory Committee; Manitoba’s Access Awareness Week; Accessibility Conference at the University of Guelph; Speech and Hearing Association of Nova Scotia and Community Access & Inclusion Expo in PEI.

CDAC Requests Your Input on Improving Telephone Access for Canadians with Speech and Language Disabilities

Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) needs your help to reduce the barriers to telephone communication for people with speech and language disabilities (SLDs). It will only take you a few minutes and may have a major impact on increasing awareness of the needs of this population.

The Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is conducting a public consultation on the use of Message Relay Services (MRS) for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or who have a speech disability. This is an operator-assisted service for people who can type their messages. It is primarily used by people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Telephone access is important for everyone. However, for many people who have severe physical and communication disabilities, it is essential; being the primary way they contact their personal support service providers. These services allow people, who would otherwise live in hospitals and institutions, to live with dignity in communities and to access their support services for safety, as well as personal services such as dressing, hygiene and meal preparation. Yet, many people with physical, speech and language disabilities cannot use the existing telephones, such as RC200 and Fortissimo due to unclear speech, quiet or no speech and / or physical access issues, as well as issues relating to cost and reliability. Because of lack of access they remain in hospitals and institutions, and are denied opportunities to live in their communities. For some people who rely on ventilators to breathe at night, this lack of access can be life threatening.

Other people who can access phones, experience significant barriers that could potentially be addressed through improved message, video or speech-to-speech relay services.

At this time, we are asking the CRTC to bring a national focus to the needs of people with SLDs in terms of the provision of reliable, affordable, accessible telephones and appropriate services such as message relay services, video relay services and speech-to-speech services.  Please see CDAC Executive Director Barbara Collier’s letter (as a PDF) for details about why this is important as well as our past dealings with TELUS and the CRTC.

How you can help?

To draw attention to these issues, we need as many people as possible to post their comments on the CRTC site before the deadline: June 29, 2015.

To post your message on the CRTC site, you will be prompted to set up a log in and password.  Under “Active Conversations” choose Message Relay Services.  You can choose to add your comment in a reply to one question or to all 4 question areas. The more exposure the better!

If you like you can hit reply to the comments submitted by CDAC or add your own. You can also copy and paste from suggested texts below.

Suggested text #1

People who have speech and language disabilities have the right to access telecommunication services.  At this time they experience major barriers that impact on their ability to maintain social contacts; call for help in an emergency and, in many cases, it impacts on their ability to live independently in the community. We want the CRTC to address this by establishing a national focus on the needs of this population in terms of the provision of reliable, affordable, accessible telephones and the extension and development of telecommunication services such as message relay services; video relay services and speech-to-speech services. I am asking the CRTC to fund the initiative put forward by Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) to TELUS, January 2015 to address the telecommunications needs of this population.

Suggested text #2

People who have communication disabilities, not caused by hearing loss can experience significant communication barriers when using telecommunications. Some of these barriers include:

  • People not understanding their natural speech or the speech they generate from their communication device.
  • People hanging-up on them because they think their unclear speech is due to being drunk or that their device is an automated sales call.
  • Not being able to physically access a telephone from a wheelchair or bed, which may impact on one’s ability to safely live in the community or use personal support services.
  • People not accepting assistance from a communication interpreter that they authorize to assist them communicating on the telephone and/or people assuming their assistant has power of attorney to make decision for them in critical communication situations.
  • Not being able to use automated prompts (numbers to navigate the phone system) due to physical disabilities.
  • Not being able to participate and effectively communicate in teleconferences.
  • Not knowing about message relay services that are typically marketed to people who are Deaf or have a hearing loss.
  • Not being able to effectively use message relay services because operators are not trained in facilitating people who have unclear speech or who use AAC.
  • Increased cost of telephone services due to slow rate of communication.
  • Businesses and organizations not accepting ways other than the telephone to access services (e.g. text, email, or assistance).

I am asking the CRTC to fund the initiative put forward by Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) to TELUS, January 2015 to address the telecommunications needs of this population.

Thank you for your participation on this important initiative.

Communication Access Now Celebrates Speech and Hearing Month

Gearing up for Speech and Hearing Month in May, we would like to share a brief overview of what has been happening around the country with Communication Access Now over the last few months. We ask that you take this opportunity to promote communication access awareness in your area and we suggest some activities at the end of this post. We invite you to share what you are doing for Speech and Hearing Month on our Facebook page.

British Columbia

Communication Access Now (CAN) has connected with both the new Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation (MSDSI) and the Parliamentary Secretary for Accessibility to highlight the need to include the accessibility needs of people with speech and language disabilities (SLDs) in BC’s emerging plans for Accessibility 2024. We have provided many information sessions to provincial and municipal government policy makers and accessibility committees. MSDSI is now using the CAN e-learning modules as part of their staff training for Employment and Assistance Workers. The cities of Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond and New Westminster and many disability organizations have taken our e-learning modules and displaying the communication access symbol. People with communication disabilities are showing their individualized CAN communication cards to tell businesses and organizations what they can do to make their services accessible to them.

Contact Lois Turner, CAN Regional Coordinator at


CAN has connected with the Honorable Jim Prentice, Premier of Alberta and Honorable Naresh Bhardway, Associate Minister of Persons with Disabilities. We provided information on communication access to the Premier’s Council on Disability, Human Rights Commission, Alberta services for people with disabilities, Alberta Health Services, Calgary’s Independent Living Centre,  Calgary Police services, Alberta Children Hospital, City of Edmonton Advisory Board for Persons’ with Disabilities, City of Calgary Accessibility Advisory and Edmonton’s voting office. Several organizations across Alberta have taken the e-learning modules and are displaying the symbol.

Contact Randa Tomczak, CAN Regional Coordinator at


CAN has been in contact with the Honorable Donna Harpauer, Minister of Social Services, and Bob Whilidal, Assistant Deputy Minister of Disability Programs. We also connected with the Office for Disability Issues. To date, CAN has provided information on communication access to a number of organizations in Saskatchewan, including Pasqua Hospital, Regina General Hospital and Wascana Rehabilitation Centre and the Saskatchewan Abilities Council.

Contact Randa Tomczak, CAN Regional Coordinator at


CAN continues to work with the Disabilities Issues Office and members of the Accessibility Advisory committee to ensure that they include the needs of people with communication disabilities in their emerging legislation. We provided information sessions to the Departmental Access Coordinators who assist provincial government programs with accessibility and we met with Children’s disABILITY Services Program. We also provided input to Manitoba’s Policy on Access to Government Publications, Events and Services. More CAN events are planned for June 2015.

Contact Tracy Shepherd, CAN Regional Coordinator at


We continue to share information with the provincial government’s Accessibility Directorate on ways to embed communication access requirements that are meaningful and inclusive of all people with SLDs. We provided input to Dean Mayo Moran’s independent review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and are pleased that she highlighted the need for specific protocols for communication access to essential services. So far, municipal governments that have adopted the CAN message include Toronto, Windsor, Kingston and London. We are in touch with organizers of the Pan Am Games and hope to see the communication access symbol there. See our Facebook page for organizations that have received CAN information.

Contact Nora Rothschild, CAN Regional Coordinator at

Atlantic Canada

In Newfoundland, we met with members of Coalition of Persons with Disabilities and provided information on ways to include people with SLDs in the Provincial Strategy for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. We received a support letter from the Honourable Clyde Jackman, Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development.

In Nova Scotia, CAN represented the accessibility needs of persons with SLDs at a public consultation hosted by the Minister’s Advisory Panel on Accessibility Legislation.

In New Brunswick, CAN met with the Premier’s Council on the Status of Disabled Persons and we look forward to working in collaboration with them on the development of the provincial disability policies. In Prince Edward Island we have been pleased with the interest shown in the CAN project by the Honourable Valerie Docherty, Minster of Community Services and Seniors. We look forward to the opportunity to meet with members of her department as well as representatives of the Disability Action Council.

Contact Debbie Maund, CAN Regional Coordinator at

How you can become involved

We welcome your ideas and we value your participation on ways to increase accessibility for people with speech and language disabilities. For Speech and Hearing Month, we invite you to:

  • Write a letter to your MP, MLA or MPP, and local accessibility advisory committee.
  • Link your organization to the CAN website and blog.
  • Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.
  • Show the CAN video in the place your work.
  • Display the CAN symbol in your work place and attach it to your email signature line.
  • Support your clients in learning about their communication access rights using the CAN toolkit.
  • Host a presentation on communication access using CAN powerpoint slides.
  • Tell people about the e-learning modules about ways to make their services accessible
  • Connect with your Regional Coordinator to get brochures and booklets that you can distribute in your community:

Welcoming New Members to the Communication Access Now Team

With Spring finally in the air across the entire country, we are pleased to announce new team members and new resources to further spread the message about the need for improved communication access for Canadians with speech and language disabilities.


The use of the information and resources on human rights and accessibility for individuals with communication disabilities available on our website is steadily increasing. In March, 2,050 visitors viewed 7,588 pages.

Our Latest Resources:

Three new videos have been added to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Hospital In-Patient Services and Telephone Services under Make Your Services Accessible. These videos feature Steven Wells sharing some of the barriers faced by individuals with speech and language disabilities and a few solutions. Feel free to tell people about these videos.

In Atlantic Canada:

Regional Coordinator for Atlantic Canada, Deborah Maund, had a productive meeting with the New Brunswick Premier’s Council on the Status of Disabled Persons Board. They are committed to leading by example in this province, having committed to taking the e-learning training and encouraging others to do so as well. Plans are in place for future collaborations as well.

Staff at WeCare Home Healthcare Services in Moncton are committed to increasing their awareness for the needs of persons with speech and language disabilities. Many of the team of the team have completed the e-learning modules and have received their certificates.

In Ontario:

Our heartfelt thanks goes to Tracy Shepherd who is stepping down as CAN Ontario Coordinator to take on the new role as a co-chair of the ISAAC Conference 2016. We wish her the very best of luck. As Ontario coordinator, Tracy brought the CAN message to many organizations in the province during the past year. Thank you, Tracy. You have sprinkled Ontario with communication access symbols!

Starting April 2015, we welcome Nora Rothschild as the CAN Ontario coordinator.  Nora has extensive experience as an AAC clinician and has recently retired from her clinical practices at Children’s Treatment Network of Simcoe York and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Welcome, Nora!

Across the Provinces:

We are pleased to welcome Randa Tomczak, Speech-Language Pathologist who is taking on the role of CAN coordinator in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Randa will be following up on work started by Christine Beliveau in 2014. Randa has over 13 years of clinical experience in adult and child communication disorders. We are looking forward to having her on our CAN team. Tracy Shepherd will continue as regional coordinator for Manitoba.

On the West Coast:

In the Fall, BC Regional Coordinator Lois Turner met with staff in the Training Initiatives department at the Ministry of Social Development & Social Innovation, who agreed to review the e-learning modules. In January, they added the link to their Core Training intranet (internal) site, where the modules were highlighted in a “soft launch” for existing Employment & Assistance Workers and announced as mandatory for new hires. In March, a resource package was distributed to delegates at the Annual Supervisors’ Meeting. These two activities increase the probability that people know about CAN in many Ministry offices in the province.

To have someone speak to your city, business or organization about communication access, please contact your regional coordinator.

Let’s connect!

We love to hear from you, so make sure you connect with us: like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or send us an email.

We look forward to sharing and connecting with you.

On the Road with Communication Access

Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC) is thrilled to announce we have added 56 new communication intermediaries to our roster. Over 200 intermediaries are now available across Canada to assist people communicating in legal and justice situations. Check out the roster.

More highlights from the past few weeks…

Our Latest Resource:

Communication Access Now (CAN) has added a new resource, outlining communication access barriers and recommendations for educational services for students with speech and language disabilities from kindergarten through post-secondary education and lifelong learning.


While on vacation in Dublin, Executive Director Barbara Collier presented the Communication Access Now message to 55 Speech Language Therapists. Citizens can expect to see communication access symbols around Dublin and increased initiatives to improve accessibility to goods and services for people with communication disabilities.

Barbara Collier and CAN Ambassador Colin Phillips had a productive meeting with Councillor Wong-Tam. She is committed to including communication access as part of all public services run by the City of Toronto. Keep an eye out for the communication access symbol and for communication assistance at city run public meetings.

On the West Coast:

Regional Coordinator Lois Turner and Social Media Coordinator Glenda Watson Hyatt shared the need for communication access and how people can get involved with Communication Access Now with a packed workshop of 50 people hosted by ConnecTra, an agency linking people with disabilities to activities and programs to become more active and involved in community life.

In Ontario:

Regional Coordinator Tracy Shepherd shared the need for communication access with the Kingston Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee and members of the Customer Service department.

Attendees were excited to learn great tips to use when communicating with the citizens who have speech and language disabilities, including individuals with a smile, talking directly to them rather than a person with them, and asking what you should do when communicating with them.

The Accessibility Compliance Project Manager stated that they will display the symbol in customer service areas and that they are already starting to incorporate the symbol in documentation.  In addition, members noted that they will use the resources and e-learning modules to train staff.

In Atlantic Canada:

Colleagues of Regional Coordinator Debbie Maud are reporting they are using the CAN materials in their communities.

To have someone speak to your city, business or organization about communication access, please contact your regional coordinator.

Let’s connect!

We love to hear from you, so make sure you connect with us: like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or send us an email.

We look forward to sharing and connecting with you.