I had the privilege of attending an information session on 16 May 2018 by ReVision ADP hosted by the CNIB about the Ontario Assistive Devices Program which provides magnifiers, text-to-speech devices, braille output devices and other technology to help people with low or no vision.
I learned that the existing ADP formulary is outdated — a participant can acquire a device only once every five years, and because technology advances at a much faster pace, participants often only have access to obsolete equipment. Participants cannot acquire the devices of their choice, only those prescribed by the (out-of-date) formulary. Even worse, repairs for old broken or worn-out devices are not covered under ADP, and must be paid out of pocket. Finally, there is a restriction on vendors — participants can acquire devices only from “authorized” distributors, which causes higher prices than necessary, and since there is vendor lock-in, poor customer service because there is no competition.
Here are my notes from the Question And Answer session:
- Candidates were asked to pledge to meet with ADP participants within the first 100 days of government to discuss updates to the formulary. I am happy to make that pledge myself, and I’ve asked the Green Party of Ontario to provide an answer as well.
- An addition to the formulary for navigational aids, such as GPS units. Smart phones may have that technology built in, but their battery life is too short.
- A request to remove the restriction on “authorized” distributors. This will lower costs, make a wider range of devices available, and improve customer service.
- The ADP is very prescriptive, the users of assistive devices have little input. There should be more self-determination of needs by participants, and participants should be able to make meaningful feedback to ADP administrators.
- There is a lack of customization in the ADP formulary. I’ve seen this bureaucratic rigidity in other areas — there appears to be a lack of compassion from those who apply the rules. There are silos of responsibility, and little coordination between those silos that would result in better service.
- Apple is a leader in accessibility support, but other vendors and local tech businesses have a long way to go. Still, there are shortcomings in Apple’s offerings; for example there is a lot of ambient noise in their stores, making it difficult to read with text-to-speech devices, or make use of speech technology such as Siri.
- I worry about the dependency on commercial vendors for accessible devices. A for-profit vendor will provide features such as accessibility only as long as it is profitable for them. Perhaps there needs to be legislation that requires accessibility features to be a standard part of all modern devices. This will make a wider range of assistive devices available, will probably lower the cost of accessibility, and removes the threat of devices being removed from the marketplace because of their niche usage.
- There are no funds for upgrades to technology. As a computer consultant, I recognize that the usable lifespan of mobile devices is maybe two years. After two years new technology has eclipsed the old technology, making it cost-effective to upgrade. Also, consumables (batteries, software) become scarce after two years. The ADP formulary needs to keep pace with technological progress.
- Online sites need to become better accessibility providers: closed captioning, described video. I wondered about user-generated content (eg. YouTube), how does that comply with accessibility needs? Answer: Not very…
- Descriptive video needs to become a standard in the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilites Act).
- Devices purchased under ADP (and their supplies and repairs) should be exempt from sales tax.
- Recreational devices need to be covered in the ADP formulary (eg. fitness watches, pedometers). Sadly, many of these commercial devices are not accessible.
- “Assistive Devices Bridge” for learning and employment. People need to be able to work with the right devices. There needs to be training for working with assistive devices in the workplace. (Probably both for users of those devices and their co-workers!)
- Participants acquiring new devices need to be provided with hands-on training, in the home. A classroom or store setting isn’t going match real-use requirements.
- “Good intentions and legislation is not enough.”
- The ADP lifespan for products is not long enough. For example, glasses prescriptions may change rapidly over course of a year, so a five year term for ADP is inadequate. In fact, glasses are covered under ADP only for specific prescriptions; needs to be broadened.
- There is a $75 cost to re-apply for ADP — need to remove that! This appears to be one of those bureaucratic lack-of-compassion issues.
The Green Party of Ontario is committed to doing Health Care right. Providing a Guaranteed Liveable Income (or Basic Income Guarantee) will go a long way towards providing independence to people currently dependent on government programs. A preventative health care system will reduce the costs of providing “sick care”. A comprehensive pharmacare program for all ages should include assistive devices. And there needs to be no-cost coverage for “health care above the neck”: dental, hearing, and eye care, and full mental health care coverage under OHIP.