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Category: AccessAbility Week

National AccessAbility Week: A Conversation with Erin Windross

May 31 to June 6 is the National AccessAbility Week, a week that celebrates the valuable contributions of Canadians with disabilities and recognize the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively working to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion.

Erin Windross is the Manager of Access Transit Planning and Service Delivery (pictured on the right). Together with his team, Erin focuses on developing innovative initiatives to make transit system as inclusive and accessible as possible. 

 

Erin Windross’ eyes light up when he talks about TransLink’s Universal Fare Gate Access Program. It’s already been more than two years since the launch of the Program, but his enthusiasm and passion are palpable. As the lead on the fare policy and eligibility policy development, he’s always delighted to hear how useful customers have found the Program and how it has allowed them to travel more independently.

“One of our goals at Access Transit – and ultimately one of the overall goals at TransLink – we want our customers to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible, to allow them to travel without needing to ask for assistance,” explains Erin. “We all share in wanting to make the system better for customers.”

After three years of working at TransLink, Erin feels like he’s hit a career sweet spot. Professionally, his interests in mobility and regional planning led him to a job at TransLink. But it was his dedication to equity and inclusion that made him a natural fit on the Access Transit team.

“I want to make sure people and communities are given the same access to services and we’re not overlooking anyone,” adds Erin. “I grew up with disability. I have two siblings who have fairly profound disabilities, so it’s always been a part of my life. It’s a great mix being able to combine my educational and personal background with my professional interests.”

In his current role as Manager of Access Transit Planning and Service Delivery, Erin’s work focuses on two key areas: delivering the recommendations set out in TransLink’s Custom Transit Service Delivery Review and developing forward-thinking initiatives that can make HandyDART better for our customers.

His team is committed to creating a transit system that is as inclusive and accessible as possible: “That to me is really at the core of what we do at Access Transit. We enable self-autonomy – for seniors who might feel isolated or for people with disabilities. We want to make sure that regardless of ability, people are able to go out, do the things they want with ease, access the places and communities they need, and live as fully realized human beings.”

One project that is keeping Erin busy is a new pilot program that is testing smaller HandyDART vehicles: “Our larger shuttle vehicles have some issues in terms of navigating through narrower, urban areas, so we’re currently collecting operator and customer feedback on smaller vehicles. We’re looking at whether any adjustments are required to right-size the vehicles for our service needs and make it better for both customers and operators while entering and exiting.”

The team is also exploring additional programs and platforms that will provide an easier, more convenient and more seamless travel experience for HandyDART customers across Metro Vancouver. Erin points out that with a smaller customer base, Access Transit can focus on fostering a more personalized, impactful service:

“HandyDART plays an integral role in many people’s lives. It’s a very personal experience we bring to the transit system. Operators are very involved in our customers’ lives. They meet them at their door, escort them to the vehicle, have conversations with them – it’s this level of personal outreach that really sets us apart from the rest of the organization.”

If you’d like to learn more about the accessibility programs and initiatives at TransLink that are making transit easy to use for as many people as possible, visit Accessible Transit.

Written by Rebecca Abel

National AccessAbility Week: A Conversation with Tamara Tedesco

May 31 to June 6 is the National AccessAbility Week, a week that celebrates the valuable contributions of Canadians with disabilities and recognize the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively working to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion.

Tamera Tedesco helps with the Access Transit Users’ Advisory Committee and a lot more to do with accessibility and transportation.

Although Tamara Tedesco jokes that the reason she’s stuck around TransLink for so long is for the five-year anniversary pin, it’s immediately clear that it’s the impact of her team’s work in Access Transit Planning that gets her out of bed and into work each morning.

“Because our transit system covers such a vast geographic area, we service a wide range of people. I think that’s something really wonderful about public transit – all different types of people rely on it,” says Tamara. “Our aim in Access Transit is to enhance the accessibility across the system and make transit inclusive to as many customers as possible.”

Tamara has been blind since birth, so public transit has played an important role throughout her life. Growing up in a small town on Vancouver Island, she always knew she’d end up in a bigger city one day. A few years after graduating, she packed up and relocated to Vancouver:

“I’ve always been unwaveringly independent. As a young teenager, I recognized that I couldn’t ask my parents to drive me everywhere. I think sometimes we can forget that there are all kinds of reasons that younger people are unable to drive. If you can’t see, that’s a big one. Having a way to get around independently has such a big impact on the quality of life, so it was important to me to find a place to live that was as accessible as it could be.”

Now, in her role as AccessTransit Coordinator, she is able to witness how the freedom of movement benefits other transit customers as well: “it means a lot to me that I’m able to help people and work towards making transit a really valuable and important aspect of their lives as well.”

Tamara’s job involves administrating the Access Transit Users’ Advisory Committee and the HandyDART Users’ Advisory Committee, coordinating their meetings, managing communications with committee members and recruitment. She also helps with the development of accessibility policies and advises departments across the TransLink enterprise on accessibility-related initiatives.

With this work comes unique challenges. As Tamara explains, “accessibility means very different things for different people depending on what their needs are. It’s always a juggling act trying to prioritize projects and determine where the biggest opportunities for improvement are. We really want to improve accessibility for as many customers as possible.”

One barrier that the team frequently confronts is trying to find a balanced solution when customers, especially customers with disabilities, have not only different needs, but often completely opposite and competing needs.

For those interested in promoting accessibility awareness, Tamara suggests a couple of ways that customers can provide feedback and get involved at TransLink:

“One way to submit feedback is through our regular channels – online or by phone. Any feedback or questions for Access Transit Planning gets sent to me. For those who are passionate about making sure accessibility issues are always considered and have a lot of transit experience, we usually have 3-5 openings for new members on the Access Transit Users’ Advisory Committee each year. Whether they are someone with a disability or represent someone with a disability, it’s a great way to be connected to the work we do. Recruitment opens in early August and ends in mid-September. Application information can be found on the Access Transit Users’ Advisory Committee page.”

For those of us at TransLink, we’re grateful for Tamara’s compassion, enthusiasm and commitment to earning that five-year anniversary pin. 😉

Written by Rebecca Abel

National AccessAbility Week – Pamela Findling on her personal experience and things we can do about accessibility during COVID-19

 

Pamela Findling performing at the comedy show

Pamela performing at the stand-up comedy show. She often shares her personal experience of being hearing impaired in her performances.

May 31 to June 6 is the National AccessAbility Week, a week that celebrates the valuable contributions of Canadians with disabilities and recognize the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively working to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion.

Pamela Findling, the Director of Training, Health, and Wellness at BCRTC shares her personal experience with us and talks about things we can do about accessibility in the era of  COVID-19.

What does accessibility mean to you personally?

Pamela – I’ve been hearing impaired since I was little. Then, as an adult, I went profoundly deaf and received a cochlear implant six months later. With my implant, I hear and get by really well and people often know me for awhile before they realize I’m hearing impaired. It’s a daily effort though, and it takes work for me to make sense of the sounds I’m hearing.

For me personally, accessibility is about being able to be independent and not having to rely on others.

Part of that is also feeling safe and supported when I do need to ask for help or changes to participate as fully as possible. I recognize that people and organizations often don’t realize the impacts of their design or implementation decisions on people with disabilities, which is why I really appreciate the ones that take the time to ask questions and make adjustments as they learn more.

To me, accessibility is also about having options available and recognizing that there’s no one-size-fits all. What I need as a deaf person with a cochlear implant could be much different than what another deaf person with a cochlear implant needs.

 

What are some small things you do in your day to make everything work for you in terms of accessibility?

Pamela – So much that I don’t even realize anymore!

I don’t hear anything out of my left ear, so in meetings and groups I sit with my right ear towards the most people. I also make sure that I can see people’s faces, since I read lips a lot.

It’s actually much easier for me to follow meeting on Skype and Zoom  – I’m happy to see they’re being used more than conference calls now! The Bluetooth on my phone gives me a direct link to my implant and blocks out background noise, so I use that instead of the computer audio whenever I can.

As to other everyday activities, I use the Next Stop signs on the buses, closed captioning on TV and at the movies. I Google lyrics for new songs, turn off music and loud fans when I’m talking to people, ask strangers to repeat intercom announcements for me, and sometimes, when the noise is too much, I turn off my cochlear implant processor to have some quiet. I also ask people to repeat themselves, or to switch seats—people are always happy to help, but it’s important that I speak up.

How do your personal experiences inform your professional interests and work?

Pamela – Losing my hearing shaped so much of who I am, and I’ve always been interested in what other people’s stories are and sharing those stories. I was in communications for a lot of years. I like writing and visual elements because it’s something I’ve personally always been able to count on to stay connected to people. Now I lead the Training and Occupational Health teams, which is meaningful for me personally.

When I went profoundly deaf and was waiting for my cochlear implant, I was working as a co-op student in a new city, with no family there. I was devastated and planned to quit my job and move home, but my manager said “No. I’m not going to let you do that. You still have a lot you can do.” He set me up with the Occupational Health Nurse and she was amazing to help us figure out how I could complete my work term and contribute meaningfully.

That support and being able to keep working was so important for my mental health and recovery, and I’m still so grateful for it. Because I know how much that meant to me, I really value the work of Training and Occupational Health teams. I know they can literally save lives.

 

The pandemic has posed new challenges for our communities, potentially aggravating some of the existing accessibility barriers. How can we work together to create more accessible and inclusive working environments during these uncertain times?

Pamela – A prime example of this that people might not think of: I haven’t figured out how I’m going to navigate a mask-filled world yet where I can’t read lips!

I think the biggest thing is to ask questions and be aware that people have struggles and barriers that we don’t know about. I’m always happy to answer questions from people about my hearing, because it helps them better understand me and how we can best work together.

Be kind and patient. Know that we’re not always going to get it right at first, but be open to learning how we can do better. Don’t make assumptions: something that worked well six months ago might not work now because things have changed and could have a bigger impact than we realize (like masks!). And we need to advocate for ourselves and be honest about what we need.