Four squares in blues and purples with the words be aware, be considerate, express understanding, talk about it.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Sisterhood Strengthened

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I received the Tri Delta email about the Brave & Bold Dialogues training in diversity, equity, and inclusion, made available for free to all sisters. It’s mandatory for all volunteers. I finally found time to start it.

Although it’s aimed at college students, it’s meant for all Tri Deltas, collegiate and alumnae, young and old. For not only collegiates question identity, but us older Tri Deltas also go through phases of thinking about our identity, asking, “Who am I?” — the course’s starting point. For me personally, brain injury dramatically and suddenly altered my identity. For others, it might be a pandemic or Black Lives Matter protest. The latter the reason for this course and Tri Delta starting a change in our collective identity.

Who would you be willing to talk to?

Brave & Bold Dialogues begin with a mandatory survey. The last question, about who I’d be willing to talk to about my journey, stumped me. I write about brain injury in order to help people understand and validate their experiences. And now I’m soft launching a brain injury website to empower people to demand the diagnostics and treatments they need in order to effect good recovery. Yet I avoid talking about the racism I’ve experienced throughout my life.

“The best way to face these challenging topics is to welcome them, acknowledge what you don’t know, and understand that cultural competency is a journey — not a destination.”

Brave & Bold Dialogues. Harbor Institute.

Who would I be willing to talk to? Perhaps the right question for me is: would I be willing to write about it? Not really. I only write about disability because I feel it’s hidden, left untreated, erased from the discourse as governments seek to erase people with disability through Bill C7.

“College could be the first time you’ve been around people who are NOT like you!”

Brave & Bold Dialogues. Harbor Institute.

Unfortunately, not true for me. Since coming to Canada, I’ve been around people not like me and extremely rarely people like me. Genocide decimated Zoroastrians a millennium ago, and the population in Toronto is infinitesimal. Plus because of an agreement made centuries ago not to mix with the wider population, Zoroastrian leaders didn’t include mixed people like me until this century. The community is now growing in Brampton, but I’m not part of the community. So unlike the Black community, I don’t have one. Well, the brain injury tossed me into the disability community.

Course design: Is it inclusive?

I was not expecting this one-hour course to think about those with disabilities. But I noticed that they included it in the elements that make up their initial graphic on identity, and each script has text to its left for those who cannot hear or those who need to supplement understanding of speech with reading what’s being said. The course itself can be made full screen, is clean, and is easy to perceive and see. The visuals and audio reflect diversity. Each part is short to make each point easier to perceive, process, and understand. Even if you don’t have the cognitive issues that necessitate this kind of design, you’ll find it helps with tackling this emotionally difficult subject. You can replay each script, read the transcription, pause it. They’ve put thought into its design — except for intuitive moving from module to module. You seem to have to return to the webinar page and click on the course title in order to see the list of modules with completed or not attempted status, and to be able to click the launch button. Each module is 10 minutes long. And there’s a facilitator’s kit at the end to foster conversation.

I don’t know how it works on mobile, but if you need access to the glossary and/or want to check out the resources for each script or module, you’ll find it easier on a bigger screen. I was a bit annoyed I couldn’t access the resources separately from the modules, not that I could see.

Disability inclusion and US-only perspective

Disability is not mentioned as one of the sources of prejudice until well into the course when the Americans with Disabilities Act is mentioned but separately. EO wouldn’t know about Bill C7, but they are international. It would’ve been helpful if they had checked out and exposed our weak or unenforced accessibility laws, Charter, and human rights commissions in Canada to see that Canadians with disabilities have little protection, unlike Americans. Also, we learn about American laws but not Canadian laws that create exclusion and discrimination. This perpetuates our idea that racism exists in the US but not here; it misses an opportunity for our American sisters to learn about us and see that, though we face different laws and biases, we struggle the same.

Course goals

The course is designed

  • To educate
  • To inspire
  • To prepare
  • To empower

Tri Deltas in the areas of

  • Diversity
  • Equity
  • Inclusion.

The course’s goal is to (in their words, mine in parentheses):

  1. Increase your confidence in cross-cultural communication. (Canadians aren’t as good at this as they think they are.)
  2. Increase your awareness and knowledge. (I think Americans are making a bigger effort than Canadians because of the difference between each country’s myths around their own racism.)
  3. Reflect and challenge your beliefs and attitudes toward people who are different than you. (I think Americans are more willing to be bold while most Canadians pepper me with meaningless platitudes that change nothing.)
  4. Apply the Steps for Brave & Bold Dialogues to your interactions with others. (I’m curious to see what these are. Will they make it easier when talking about Bill C7? Or influencing organizations I’m a member of to become inclusive of disability and race?)

Annnd since this is aimed at college students, there’ll be a quiz at the end. Also, a survey, a certificate of completion, and the opportunity to sign a pledge for unity. I hope the pledge won’t be like those signs that cropped up on Toronto front lawns: look fabulous, change nothing. (Even after I signed the pledge, I wasn’t sure how Tri Delta will use it to effect change.)

On this Easter weekend, I think about how unity is what Jesus prayed for in the Last Supper because unity is the hardest thing to achieve between humans, even sisters. Yet striving for unity expands our consciousness and identity. As they said: it’s a journey!

A square containing four blue and purple tiles with the words from left, counterclockwise Be Aware, Be Considerate, Express Understanding, Talk About It.
Four Action Steps Towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Toronto alum have begun action steps

Brave & Bold Dialogues advocate four action steps to start diverse and inclusive conversations. I think we here at Toronto Tri Delta Alum have begun with our conversation around virtual videoconferencing platforms, learning about accessibility standards on the web, and choosing Google Meet. We struck a group to investigate options from both theoretical and practical perspectives. We worked together to achieve inclusion. When we individually and collectively use the Google Meet platform (including in our non-Tri Delta lives when possible), we tell our sisters locally and internationally that we are willing to expand our awareness; consider our sisters who struggle with Zoom and are targetted by its prejudices; express understanding and talk about the situation; and change our perspectives and identity in order to strengthen our sisterhood.

Four action steps

Four steps:

  1. Be Aware
  2. Be Considerate
  3. Express Understanding
  4. Talk About It.

The nitty gritty of the course begins in the second module. Even though it’s only 10 minutes, it includes questions. Thinking about the answers to those questions could take awhile or be lightning quick, depending on self-awareness and social awareness, background knowledge of the issues, and so on. Pausing to think through the answers — maybe even writing them down — would probably, more likely lead to lasting change. I had to park my impatience to do so! Interactive activities guide you into reflection.

Unfortunately, when discussing social identity, they list many characteristics except disability — or health status. Yes, disability can be invisible, but its social sequelae aren’t. The conversation I instigated around how Zoom discriminates and the need to find an inclusive virtual platform challenged all of us and brought into the light tech’s hidden social sequelae. Ultimately, it opened our eyes to differences and respecting how the same thing can affect us quite differently. It reinforced sisterhood. And it allowed us to see that graduation doesn’t end learning, it’s just the start of growth in unexpected directions.

Traffic lights

Concrete examples or stories help with the third step, expressing understanding, So I want to talk about traffic lights.

Traffic lights in Toronto are set on a timer that assumes pedestrians cross at 1.2m/second. They’re being updated to respond to traffic flow in real time and, seemingly, to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists. But Toronto instituted years ago Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) for people who are visually impaired or deaf-blind. A task force came up with the design, and the CNIB was involved. On paper, it sounds awesome. Find the APS-activation button through hearing a locator beacon. Press the button, an audible signal sounds and the button vibrates, which guide the person to step off and allow them to cross safely.

In practice, it’s awful.

My APS experience is why I felt it important to test out the virtual platforms in real life. Standards and theory don’t often meet real needs. Testing in real life led to learning how Zoom causes headaches and frustration, Microsoft Teams causes confusion and nausea, and Google Meet is easy to perceive, see, and use.

Problem one: The button isn’t like that found on a crosswalk: push it and activate. Instead, the button requires you to hold it down for a count of five or so. New buttons require the strength of Hercules; some long-installed buttons do as well. And in the cold, they’re impossible to push. The assumption: if you’re blind, you have normal strength or super-strength. There is no intersection of disabilities — a false assumption. At busy intersections and in winter you can’t reach the button for crowds and uncleared snow. Now we’re seeing an additional issue with the button: no one wants to touch it in a pandemic. I’ve brought this issue up with the CNIB, and they’ve acknowledged the system has flaws. They’re discussing replacing it with a key fob or app. Ugh. They’re assuming people who are usually at the lower end of the income scale have money to burn on batteries and lost key fobs; could manage to find the key fob or be able to hold it without dropping it, especially in the cold; would want to touch it in a pandemic; or their phones can hold enough juice for the day with Bluetooth running. Toronto turned its nose up at a more inclusive, equitable system: Vancouver’s hyperlight system avoids both the difficulty of holding down a button and the challenges of a key fob/phone app. It’s a card that sits in your pocket that doesn’t need to be touched, doesn’t consume batteries, doesn’t require you to be right next to the light pole, yet activates the APS as if you were a regular person waiting for the traffic light to change. That’s equity.

Problem two: when Toronto switched the flashing red to a countdown, they discussed with the police changing the laws around the flashing red so that no one would be fined for crossing on the countdown. The police said they didn’t need to go through that difficulty because they never fine. As we can see, the police changed their stance because the countdown is not being used as intended: to tell pedestrians how much time is left to cross. As a result — or maybe separately — the audible chirrup stops the moment the pedestrian light switches from walk to countdown. Imagine being in the middle of an intersection and suddenly you have no guidance of which way to go! Don’t assume that a blind person can walk in a straight line. Apparently, a study showed that without landmarks, sighted people will walk in a circle. Worse, some intersections switch from walk to countdown within a second. It’s bad enough as a sighted person that you can’t cross that intersection legally (because the police changed their stance), but to do so without any audible guidance requires you to either take your life in your hands or stand forever on the corner. Cutting off the chirrup midway requires the person to hear the locator beacon well enough over the traffic to cross safely. It requires the person to depend on others to help them finish crossing if they lose direction. That’s not equity.

Problem three: the city doesn’t shovel snow away from the poles where the buttons are. This ranks right up there with not paying for sidewalk shovelling everywhere. These policies directly discriminate against people with disabilities, keeps them housebound in winter, and for those who can get out, renders the APS moot.

Problem four: you need to know how to use it. You need to be taught to hold down the button, how to hold down the button, what to do when the button doesn’t give a loud click when activated. A hyperlight card is as simple to learn as, “here’s the card, put it in your pocket or wallet so it’s always with you.”

Problem five: “The APS sounds and locator tones automatically adjust to ambient sound levels,” reads the city’s website. Not true. I don’t know how many times I’ve called to say I can’t hear the locator beacon and I can’t hear the audible tones, especially around busy intersections.

Problem six: the APS breaks down. They’ll come out and fix it within four hours — assuming you know who to call. Not a given. Then 311 requires the patience of Job. On a dying phone battery, not always an option.

Problem seven: as with all accessibility infrastructure, the city doesn’t see it as necessary but a nice offer of largesse to a community who should be grateful for any crumbs tossed their way. Otherwise, why would they budget to install only 40 APSes in the city annually? Toronto has thousands of intersections. As of the pandemic, University and Spadina Avenues did not have any at every single intersection. And the ones on King Street had only just been installed because I somehow got connected to the person in charge and kept requesting. That’s pretty much how you have to get an APS installed: call 311 or your Councillor; keep at it until you’re connected to the staff person; give them your list; hope new staff doesn’t take over; wait one year minimum, more likely two or more. The time is because of severe underfunding and because infrastructure is in the way such as hydro, Bell, water, etc. But as the pandemic has shown, when the city is motivated, they can modify streets quickly.

The one caveat to all this is that a person who is deaf-blind needs to be able to touch the button to know when to cross. So the hyperlight system won’t solve the problem for them completely. Instead, public service announcements, regular news items, posters, and school education could.

Getting to equity

Brave & Bold Dialogues explains why equity is important to Tri Deltas and to society. Sooo, Toronto’s APS system does not provide equity. Lawn signs won’t lead to equity. Talking to each other and encouraging each other to action, such as talking to our leaders and City Councillors, will.

As we as Torontonians talk to our Councillors about Vision Zero to reduce pedestrian carnage, let’s keep in mind that accessibility is part of that equation and that what may seem awesome on paper, in practice is not.

Hope and optimism in conversation

The last module is one of optimism and hope, of seeing the value of uncomfortable and awkward conversations. Only being comfortable with discomfort, of exposing yourself to counter-stereotypes through books and movies or seeking interactions, can one grow, become culturally competent, and create an inclusive environment. They end with a review of policies and access to resources. Open those resources up in separate tabs because outside the module, I couldn’t find them. After you sign the pledge for unity, they ask if you want to launch the exam. You’ll need 80% to pass.

Missing from their course: Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) play a big part in our health. They also determine how we experience the world, how the world discriminates against us, and how changing SDOH can create equity and inclusion. A big step toward that is guaranteed liveable basic income.

Pledge for unity

How I use the pledge for unity they ask to be signed:

“I’m creating a brain injury website to empower people with the knowledge to get the diagnostics and treatments that will lead to their best chance for recovery, something that isn’t possible with standard medical care that’s remained mired in the 20th century. And I’ve worked with my Toronto alum sisters to ditch Zoom, which is cognitively and visually difficult to use and whose CEO stereotyped the marginalized as criminally minded. We worked together to find the best virtual platform that meets web accessibility standards on paper and in real life. For us, that was Google Meet.”

Facilitator’s kit

As a last step, you can download the facilitator’s kit. I’m not sure who would use the kit to act on the fourth step: talk about it. But it seems Tri Delta would like us to use the kit to meet in groups to talk about these issues in order to become more equitable and inclusive. Does the Executive meet first? Do we then have smaller groups with the membership, each led by a member of the Executive? This will have to be discussed once all the Executive has taken the course, I imagine. It’ll be challenging and exciting! I applaud Tri Delta for leading us into a brighter future!

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