Parks Canada Consultation Round Table Feedback by David Best (AEBC), January 2017

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Parks Canada Round Table Feedback

Round Table Discussion Comment

As a follow up to my participation in the Parks Canada consultation round table discussion, that took place in Markham Ontario on January 11, I would like to offer my feedback for consideration in next steps. Parks Canada is the guardian of our natural and cultural heritage and is committed to protecting these treasures and ensuring they remain healthy and whole for future generations. Parks Canada welcomes over 20 million visitors each year, and is mandated to protect and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure all Canadians have the opportunity to share in memorable experiences. Visitor services and programs include: interpretation, re-enactments, facilities, campgrounds, trails, wildlife monitoring and reservation systems. To remain relevant and inclusive, Parks Canada mandate must ensure that these programs and services fully support the needs of Canadians living with a disability.

Although I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important event, I was disappointed with the level of workshop facilitation to accommodate people with sensory disabilities. Despite this, the expressed enthusiasm to become more inclusive, and desire to engage the disability community to help shape Parks Canada strategy, is very encouraging. I thank the Parks Canada staff for their support, and their willingness to engage in partnerships that will include people with disabilities. To date, there is evidence of including the needs of physical disabilities at various park and heritage sites, but I can find no evidence of digital communication accommodations to support visitors with sensory disabilities. The round table forum was a one way dialog generating participant discussion and input to Parks Canada, but there was no opportunity for an open questions and answers session. Going forward the Parks Canada strategy must include information technology expertise, and a budget to integrate digital communication systems that comply with accessibility standards. The connectivity of the Internet Of Things (IOT), driven by miniaturization, cloud-sourcing, and wireless consumer technologies, is creating smart integrated infrastructures that are empowering people to be more productive and independent; Allowing for greater levels of public engagement.

Round Table Discussion Themes

Theme 1: Responding to environmental changes in Parks Canada places

Discussion Question

What could Parks Canada do on its own, or in cooperation with others, to best respond to climate change or other environmental changes while ensuring that national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas are visited, enjoyed, and protected?

Discussion Response

Enjoying our parks does not necessarily mean overwhelming them with visitors. A Parks Canada strategy should focus more on environmental concerns and less on marketing and tourism. Infrastructure development priority must preserve and protect nature conservation, but where Ski resorts, camp grounds, commercial accommodations, and bike paths are made available, then the needs of disabled persons must be considered.

  • Review international environmental targets agreed to, and establish a strategy that will exceed expectations.
  • Establish partnerships with organizations and communities to share responsibility expectations for protection and tourism.
  • Conduct a parks climate Change Impact study, and according to the open government policy, share with Canadians.
  • Create standards to guide infrastructure development, and measure the impact of environmental, accessibility, and education levels for Canada’s parks.

Theme 2: Commemorating and sharing Canadian history

Discussion Question

What could Parks Canada do on its own, or in cooperation with others to better share Canada’s history and the places and artifacts that tell the stories of Canada with an increasingly diverse and urban population?

Discussion Response

The internet is a powerful tool in communicating information and stories about Canada’s heritage and parks. However, digital communications must comply with website accessibility standards and digital communication guidelines, to be inclusive of blind Canadians. Parks Canada Design Guidelines for Accessible Design (PDF) provides some information about accessibility features, browser and Plug-in Requirements, and contact resources, but falls far short in defining an accessibility strategy for the future. Websites that are not usable by braille/speech screen reader users, despite accessibility efforts, isolate and disengage people who cannot access the information. Many Parks Canada websites are not screen reader user friendly. Despite the claim that Jasper National Park Accessible facilities services and facilities are available to visitors with mobility, hearing and visual disabilities, the focus is on physical barriers and offers no digital information services for blind persons.

  • Develop online accessible interactive websites and mobile device apps to assist with education and public service announcements.
  • Allocate budget funding for annual maintenance and capital projects, with a component for accessibility needs.
  • Be more creative in making experiences hands on and interactive at parks and heritage sites.
  • Expand disability accommodation strategies beyond the physical limitations to include digital communications.
  • Celebrate Canada150 by creating information videos that demonstrate the diversity of Canada, and how innovation is being used to integrate blind persons.

Theme 3: Establishing national parks and national marine conservation areas

Discussion Question

What do you believe are the most important factors to consider when Parks Canada is making decisions about the establishment of the network of national parks and national marine conservation areas?

Discussion Response

To be truly diverse and inclusive, Parks Canada strategy going forward must engage blind Canadians as partners, and budget for the digital communication transformation taking place. The Parks Canada 2016-2017 Report on Plans and Priorities states that the Agency is investing nearly $3 billion over five years to improve the condition of its assets, but no where in the report does it talk about the importance of accessibility inclusion. The Parks Canada Guiding Principles and Operational Policies, in section 4.2.2 states that information will be made available to all Canadians, and in section 4.2.7 states that Where the location of services or facilities prevent access to persons with disabilities, special programs or services will be offered. However, it states no principles or guidelines in developing and managing digital standards for accessibility inclusion of blind Canadians. in section 4.3.7 it states that Parks Canada will continue to develop and adopt architectural and environmental design guidelines and standards for each park so that the scale, site, accessibility, form, aesthetics and function of structures are in harmony with the setting. This will require a deliberate and creative strategy with appropriate funding to integrate fully inclusive nonintrusive techniques. Art is a universal medium of expression, bridging gaps across language, time and culture. But galleries and museums aren’t always accessible to everyone, often excluding blind people and those with low vision from truly experiencing the art world. With about 285 million blind or visually impaired people in the world, that is a sizable part of the global population being left out. But innovations, both simple and high-tech, are making the art world even more inclusive; 5 innovative ways art is becoming more accessible to the blind community, BY KATIE DUPERE, DEC 29, 2016. Also, see the U.S. National Park Service Review; Audio Description for State Parks, by Blake Lindsay.

  • In the Parks Canada management and operations ensure that public funds are not used in creating new barriers to disabled persons.
  • Deploy digital technologies and creative solutions to modernize Parks Canada participation inclusion strategies.
  • Provide public education on the costs of maintaining Canada’s heritage resources, the responsibility of all Canadians in protecting our resources, and the strategy of inclusion for all people to enjoy these resources.
  • Establish protected areas and Indigenous Community Conservation Areas, with readily available information.
  • Work with provincial and national groups to Connect people easily and affordably to park systems and Trail systems.
  • Increase the number of urban Parks with accessible digital communication centres to connect people to real experiences.

Theme 4: Helping Canadians connect with nature and history and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous Peoples and all Canadians

Discussion Question

What can Parks Canada do on its own, or in cooperation with others, to provide opportunities for an increasingly diversified and urban Canadian population to connect to nature, and history?

Discussion Response

Immediate access to information is key to making smart decisions in our modern society. The connectivity of the internet of things, from wireless mobile to wearable technologies, is changing our lives and giving freedom and independence to blind Canadians. GPS navigation and bluetooth beacon signage must be a major consideration in the information infrastructure strategy. Parks Canada helps Canadians have a strong sense of connection, through meaningful experiences, to their national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. To be true to this commitment in reaching a diverse and multicultural population, Parks Canada must develop expertise in the usability and accessibility needs of all people.

Under the Parks Canada Agency Act Section 9 Choice of goods and services providers, the Agency is given the power to procure goods and services from outside the federal public administration. This means that the Parks Canada procurement policies must ensure that all products and services comply with accessibility standards.

Under Section 13 (1) (b) Human Resources, the Chief Executive Officer has authority to establish standards, procedures and processes governing staffing. This means that policies for recruiting, hiring, and advancing employees must include accommodations for persons with disabilities. The Parks Canada project management office mandate is to strengthen national project management practices, processes and controls to support the delivery of investment projects. This means that the functionality of the asset information system, and asset management practices across the Agency must support the needs of persons with disabilities.

To fulfill the Government of Canada’s priority to have more Canadians experience and learn about the environment and their heritage places, Parks Canada must partner with Canadians that can share expertise in technology trends, population demographics, and human interests. The Parks Canada report acknowledges that one in five Canadians are foreign born, and that Urban, new Canadians and youth are currently under-represented in Parks Canada’s visitor base. However, it ignores the fact that one in seven Canadians live with a disability, and when you consider mental health issues and aging, this number increases significantly. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) is a national grassroots, peer support organization that is comprised of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind, partially sighted, and supporters from the public at large. AEBC would like to engage Parks Canada as a strategic planning partner, by offering digital communications expertise that will ensure projects, programs, products, processes, services, and facilities are inclusive for persons living with vision loss. To learn more about indoor and outdoor navigation systems see:
Painting a picture of the world through sound,
Technology behind iBeacon could revolutionize ability to navigate indoor spaces.

  • Create an association of partnerships that include grassroot community based organizations and not just professional and service organizations.
  • Include disability solutions at the project design phase, and fully integrate accessibility best practice processes within the Project Management Office.
  • Create an Accessibility Information Technology Specialist job position within the Project Management Office.
  • Establish a disability focus group within the Project Management Office to engage the public.
  • Create clearly defined procurement and hiring inclusive best practices.
  • Increase participation of persons with disabilities by increasing accessibility awareness, transportation from urban centres, camp program and recreational opportunities.
  • Provide educational programs in schools about our parks and heritage.
  • Create virtual narrated tours of parks.