VAD Society's Podcast

The Voice - Accessibility with Sam Mason

August 26, 2021 VAD Society Season 1 Episode 2
VAD Society's Podcast
The Voice - Accessibility with Sam Mason
Show Notes Transcript
Join VAD as we talk accessibility with Sam Mason.  Sam gives us her insight and shares knowledge about why businesses should be involved in accessibility and inclusion.

00:00:00 Teresa J.

Welcome to the voice of Albertans with Disabilities, AKA Vad Society's Second podcast I'm Teresa Jackson, your host and VAD’s program and service manager.

Thanks for joining us today 

Today on the podcast My guest we'll be talking about accessibility in the community.

This wonderful lady started with VAD a couple years ago and has been the powerhouse that is the accessibility Coordinator for VAD and we're going to hear her thoughts on accessibility as it pertains to inclusion, accessibility and full participation.

Together we hold the Power,

Please welcome my friend Sam Mason.

Hello Sam, can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?


00:00:36 Sam M.

Yes hello, I'm Sam Mason. I am the accessibility coordinator with voice Albertans with disabilities. I've been here since August of 2018, so we're coming on three years I believe I work  with the private and public sectors primarily to ensure what accessibility is Proactively being dealt with versus retroactively being handled, so that is my goal with the organization, and I also support individuals who are having accessibility issues.


00:01:09 Teresa J.

Wonderful as we're on a podcast. I have a few fun questions to get to know you a little better and then I have some more serious questions about the disability community.

You can jump into, Later, so let's get started.

So, Sam, what do you like to do in your spare time? 


00:01:26 Sam M.

I like to go biking. I like eating food.

 I like to play dungeons and Dragons, which is a little dorky, but I it's one of my favourite pastimes since the pandemic happened.

And yeah, just hanging out with my pets, my partner.

That's it, really.


00:01:41 Teresa J.

What is 1 lesson you think everyone should learn at some point in their life?


00:01:45 Sam M.

I think everyone needs to learn that we're all in this together, and that sounds maybe a little like COVID-y, but it's not meant to be.

It's that we're all dealing with our own individual struggles.

On a day to day basis, then no matter the interactions that you're having.

Every day should be dealt with and with kindness and care.


00:02:07 Teresa J.

Awesome, What is the most interesting thing you've read or seen this week?


00:02:10 Sam M.

Yeah, I’m like very focused on national elections.

I don't know. I guess I will go down the federal election route, and say that I am pretty impressed with all of the parties commitment to people with disabilities which Probably sounds like just a work thing and like I don't have a personality outside of work, but it is really interesting to see all the parties commit to some kind of accessibility or disability platform which is very very exciting for me.  Right!


00:02:41 Teresa J.

 if you had one superpower, what would it be?


00:02:46 Sam M.

Teleportation for sure. Not having ticket airplane being anywhere, I want to be at any time.


00:02:53 Teresa J.

Awesome, thanks for those great answers.

Then let's talk serious and get your perceptions of what's going on in Edmonton and in Alberta.

What do you mean when we're talking accessibility and inclusion?


00:03:05 Sam M.

Yeah, when we talk accessibility and inclusion. I think especially for people who don't do everyday or aren't in this world,  accessibility means built environment.

It means ramps. It means elevators and means specifically for people in wheelchairs or who use mobility AIDS and to us here at VAD and to me, accessibility really should be brought to pretty much every decision. It's a lens that can be looked through.

When discussing literally anything, when we are looking at accessibility versus inclusion, we have this kind of adage in the community that accessibility is being able to get into the dance or get onto the dance floor. And inclusion is being asked to dance and I get to dance.

So that's where we kind of see the difference between accessibility and inclusion and to bring that into kind of a business context. Say I can access your restaurant and I can get into it, I can get to my table and I can get to the bathroom, but when I'm ordering if you look at my care aid.  That's not inclusion.

I don't feel included in that sense, or if my foods getting cut up and you think that's odd or weird to make a comment, then I don't feel included.

So that's where that kind of difference would be.


:04:25 Teresa J.

Why is it important for Businesses to commit to accessibility?


00:04:29 Sam M.

There are so many reasons.

First of all, because it's the right thing to do.

Absolutely a business that commits to accessibility.

Is not only meeting A social good they're Opening themselves to a new talent pool for employment, they are avoiding lawsuits or human rights complaints which that should never be a reason. But it is a good one.

Businesses must commit to accessibility because as we've seen the world move towards progression and we can talk about that in any marginalized group and any sort of minority group.

We're moving progressively towards including everyone in our society, so even if they don't make that commitment today, at some point it's going to be required, and so there's no reason to not get ahead and then coming from like a bottom line perspective and a business perspective.

People with disabilities make up 22% of the Canadian population, and we're looking at that growing to about 25 to 27% in the next few years.

As we age and stay alive longer and we are seeing again long haul effects of covid that are impacting people, so it's not only just a huge chunk of population.

That you can target and reach that would help grow your bottom line.

They also families and friends and when someone with a disability has a stellar experience somewhere they are loyal and they will share.

They are the best word of Mouth marketers for you -Just it's a no brainer to to make.

Again, not only just an accessible place and space for people, but understanding how to interact and giving that element of customer service for everyone, including people with disabilities.

I actually have a story and share a story about it, so we have a partner down in Calgary that we work with and they were explaining.

That they worked with a restaurant who wanted to become accessible and inclusive.

So one of the things we suggest is having a snozzling or a sensory room, which is something that folks with autism or Just in general, over like a sensitivity to light or noise might use to calm themselves down.

It's really common for children who are autistic or adults who might have a functioning level that's lower than adult their adult age.

So they suggested creating this room and In the restaurant, they didn't have the space to dedicate a specific room for this, so our work around was there's a staff room where people get changed into the washroom.

It's usually for eating lunch and those types of things, but they decided to dual purpose it as also a sensory room.

So they created a little bag with fidget toys.

They put the lights on Dimmers have some like pillows and things just to make it comfortable.

And then where the piece of again conclusion comes in is then they train their staff to recognize what possibly and I'm not a huge fan of this word, but a meltdown would look like.

Uhm, for someone experiencing distress in the space and training them, how to say we have the space - Do you want to try and access it and see if it helps?

So they did that whole training and added all of these really small changes that were not expensive.

Were really an easy thing to do and a family came in and their child started having what we would call him meltdown.

And so the family who's used to not getting accommodated in this type of scenario said, oh, I'm so sorry.

We pack up our food.

We'll get him out of here.

We just we have to get out of here and the staff being trained said.

We actually have a space if you want to try it to see if that helps.

Kind of just come here son down and so they did and they went and they re made their food for them.

They were able to continue their dinner and that family didn't have to be removed from their night out.

Everyone got to enjoy their food.

And it was like a stellar customer experience and.

With that like that restaurant, you know that family has been in autism groups around the city that they're going to tell their friends and all of the parents of friends.

And it's just Again, that's like a cheap option.

It's all about training and being comfortable with the tools at your disposal and understanding what that might look like and not freaking out if There's someone crying and, and it was just it's a quick way for that restaurant to become the main restaurant for anyone who has Yeah, anyone with autism and again, not saying that only one restaurant to do it, If all restaurants made that kind of commitment, we would have a more inclusive society.


00:09:34 Teresa J.

That was a great story. And it listed some benefits but what are some of the benefits for businesses to be accessible and inclusive?


00:09:43 Sam M.

Yeah, absolutely.

Again, it protects you from human rights complaints which everyone has the right to file one if they think that they're not being included.

It improves our market absolutely. Like I said 22 to 25% of people not mentioning their friends and family should improve  Your customer service will improve your.

It'll improve your employees skill sets.

It improves the experience for the customers and their friends and family.

Yeah, it improves again your access to a demographic that's not getting that's being underserved currently, and it just.In general makes you a socially responsible and a good business.

Honestly, it's a good business.

We like to sometimes replace persons with disabilities with you know people who are part of the queer community or people who are in a racial minority, you wouldn't say.

Uhm, women are welcome here! like that wouldn't be something that you would advertise necessarily, and we're maybe at that point where it's like we're accessible and we want to.

We want to champion that, but it is an odd dichotomy. When you look at other marginalization's like you would You would necessarily say like, hey, you're welcome to come here, but we're that's where we're at right now.

It is great to celebrate accessibility, and we love that, but it's just again we're moving in that direction where it's going to be our new normal that everyone is included in society eventually.

So why not start now?  Why not do that Education now and VAD's been working on it for 48 years as of yesterday so It's been a long time coming and we're only moving in a more progressive and more inclusive direction, so you might as well start now.

Oh, and also your talent pool like hiring people, disabilities is being statistically proven to improve work ethic. There's lower turnover, retention's incredible like there's no reason not to Hire a person with disabilities if you have a space successful and inclusive for them.


00:11:43 Teresa J.

What about the Accessible Canada act?

How does that affect people?


00:11:47 Sam M.

Yeah, the Accessible Canada Act Reached Royal Assent in June of 2019 or July.

So 30 years behind the states.

But that's OK.

We're making those steps and it is a legislation that the Liberals have rolled out in their term.

Uhm, to require that anything at a federal level Is made accessible so.

It means broadcasting, communications, telecommunications.

Prevent or national and international air travel.

To the extent that they can handle the border like to the border, at least banking, finances and then it reaches again behind the built or beyond the built environment it reaches to procurement of goods and services.

So ensuring that when the government is spending money on something, the federal government that they're ensuring that whoever they're hiring to do something is inclusive and accessible.

There's definitely a lot of employment programs that are going into it.

We're starting to see sort of Canada Post has like a really strong we want to hire people with disabilities.

Campaign going for some of their jobs right now so it really ensures that anything at a federal level or in a federal jurisdiction is to be made accessible.

It is a process we have seen it happen across the world and even within the country but it's not going to happen overnight.

But we are finally starting those steps and it is.

It is now some legislation or some requirements are coming out from the ACA that are requiring that certain things be more accessible.

So for an example, we work very closely, very closely with the Edmonton International Airport and as of.

January last year they've had a curb to curb program in place, so when you get to the curb at EIA, someone can come and help you with your bags bring you in.

You can bring an aid past security with you if you need it.

There's like a lot of ways that they've made transportation more accessible.

And we're starting to see some communications guidelines come out as well for radio and television.

Yeah, it's a great  first step.

It has very limited scope compared to provincial jurisdictions, for example, but it's.

It's a good.

It's a step in the right direction.


00:14:21 Teresa J.

How does the business go about improving accessibility and inclusion?


00:14:25 Sam M.

You call me?

Yeah, in Alberta anyway you can call me and I can help you.

There's lots of ways to do it without me though.

I would say an easy step is to create a committee of some sort.

You see EDI committees or equity, diversity and inclusion committees, and we see people with Disabilities are often tacked on in those committees.

It's not usually a forethought.

I suggest that people create a full.

Like you would have an OHNS team in a larger company.

You have an accessibility kind of team that is meant to look out for these things.

Another super easy way is to create, Ways for feedback for those types of things.

If you are doing a survey which a lot of companies do like, how did we do today Surveys - include accessibility questions in there and say were you able to access everything as there are accommodations we could make, can we improve our service or elements of our building?

To make it so that you have a better experience and not just saying how was everything, because a lot of times folks with disabilities are so used to getting creative and moving around barriers, but they don't think you're talking to them.

So when you're specifically saying we're trying to create this accessible for people with disabilities, can you let us know like that?

Inviting that conversation makes folks feel like you actually care and you are willing to work with them and for them.

So those are some really easy ways.

Again, in this digital age.

Accessibility online in your social media and on your websites are huge and there's lots of tools to do that.

That I'd be happy to share.

So again, reach out to me, but that's things like making sure you are using your alt text options and.

And putting image descriptions and if you have videos on YouTube or Facebook, making sure there’s captions.

Making sure your website is accessible by a screen reader. This is one that I'm seeing a lot of that there's a lot of photos I get use that have a lot of information and it just says image 25467 and so no one gets any of that information.

Those are some really basic ways.

Obviously, yes, your building should be accessible.

But also doing like we offer here and not to plug us again.

But we offer disability awareness presentations with Michelle our  Education coordinator and it's done by her and her team of volunteers who all of it, all of disabilities, and they will let you know kind of how to interact with people.

Disabilities and not to make exemptions and all of those things.

And I know when I started.

We're not having a lot of experience with people with disabilities.

I felt kind of like I don't know what I'm going to say or do the wrong thing.

And coming from a service background in hospitality and in food and beverage, I recall when people with the disability would come in and I would kind of, I obviously want to serve them.

That's my job as a customer service representative.

But being like I don't know, I don't want to do something wrong or say the wrong thing so that presentation really, really helped me.

Coming from that background to understand, like, oh again, they're just people which you would think would be common sense, but for a lot of society it's not, and.

I definitely suggest getting some kind of awareness training into your.

Business would be a really, really great way just to improve that customer service element, because even if you say you don't have, you have a second floor and it's an old building and you don't have it in the budget to change things, but you can reach someone, Somewhere else at a cafe or something to provide that service.

If you know and are aware of those things, you can easily accommodate and work around them.

If you are cognizant of what your challenges are in your business.


00:18:19 Teresa J.

Great, thank you.

That was a great conversation.

I appreciate your ability to support and advocate in the Community, but one final question Sam.

If you could remembered for one thing after you're gone, what would it be?


00:18:32 Sam M.

Honestly, I want to be remembered as a badass!

Can I say that?

I'd like to be remembered as a yeah that someone who fought for what they believed was right and.

Try to make changes,  honestly If I could be remembered for making Canada or Alberta accessible, that would be great, but it's a long road and just yeah in general, being funny, being funny and Passionate.


00:18:56 Teresa J.

Thank you for your time and energy today.

Sam can be contacted through the VAD office 
 Voice of Albertans with disabilities is across disability nonprofit organization of and for people with disabilities .VAD is guided by the principles of accessibility, equity and inclusion learning.

On our website at or call us at 7804889088 For more information. Thank you for joining today's podcast. Signing off today. Together we hold the power.