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Monday, 23 January 2012

A Bit of a Rant on Information Accessibility

Another Post About Information Accessibility


Earlier in the month I talked about information accessibility and about how sometimes systems of getting information to people aren't set up in a way that's convenient or even comprehensible (http://www.girlwiththecane.com/information-accessibility/). I found the mother of all examples of this last Friday, and thought I would share it with you.

Ready to Start Driving Again


I've had a seizure disorder since my second stroke, caused by scar tissue left after the brain surgery. Because of the seizures, my driver's license was taken away from me almost immediately after the stroke. In some ways, not being a licensed driver in a spread-out rural community without any public transportation has been just as difficult as learning to live using one hand, but that's a story for another day.

I take anti-seizure medication, and am finally to the point where I've been seizure-free for over a year. This means that I can start the process of getting my license back again - under Ontario's graduated licensing system, it takes two years to become a fully licensed driver. I decided to write the knowledge test that will let me drive on most roads, with some restrictions, as long as there's a person who's had their license for at least four years in the car with me.

Information Accessibility and Me


The nearest place to write the knowledge test is 45 minutes away, so I had to arrange to have my father drive me. I looked on the Ministry of Transportation website to see what ID I'd need to bring, but found information confusing. At one point it appeared that I just needed one piece, and at another point they seemed to want two. I called the phone number of the Ministry of Transportation office in the town where I'd be writing the knowledge test.

The rest of it went a little like this:

1. Voice mail gave another number for people calling concerning licensing *or* two extensions.
2. The phone number was for a bakery.
3. The first extension took me to Service Ontario, a government service centre that doesn't know anything about licensing. The woman on the phone referred me to the website.
4. When I explained that I'd already been to the website and was confused by what it was saying, she said that I couldn't ask the driving test people because there isn't a line for the public to that office.
5. She went to the website to see if she could find the answer to my question.
6. Sensing at that point that I was really annoyed, she said it was a slow day, and she'd make some phone calls to see if she could get the answer and call me back.
7. Which she did. But she still only had speculation - no concrete answers.

Big Questions about Information Accessibility


I do appreciate the Service Ontario woman's attempts to help me. I know that Service Ontario centres are generally very busy. And I understand that there's likely no public line to the offices that do driver testing just because the employees don't want to spend the day dealing with nuisance calls like mine.

But we're back to the issue of information accessibility. You don't have to have a high level of literacy to write the knowledge test - you can arrange to do the test orally. I've never supported someone with a developmental disability to get a driver's license, but I know it's been done. What if I couldn't read the website? What if I didn't have Internet access?

What if there's a question that I just need a human being to answer?

At least the Ontario Disability Support Program takes a stab at information accessibility. Their reading material can be difficult to understand, yes. But there's a direct phone line to them, with places for people to leave a message for their income support specialist, and the income support specialists have designated days where it's more likely that you'll reach them if you call. It may take them a bit to get back to you, but it's always been my experience that they do (at least in my part of the province).

The government really needs to do some thinking about information accessibility. If government services are going to keep referring people to the Internet for information, there needs to be an overhaul in how the government views the Internet as information tool - websites need more plain speech and diagrams, simpler graphic user interfaces, and more intuitive processes. More public access to Internet is also necessary.

Or, they can put more human beings on the phones.

Which would ultimately be cheaper, I wonder?

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