Accessibility remains a back-burner issue for Victoria city council and CRD board

According to the municipality’s website, the city of Victoria, is “committed to embedding equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility into our programs, policies, spaces and services.” Those spaces include city council meetings which are accessible in person and online. To facilitate transparency and accountability of the council and the board, meetings (unless they are in camera) are open to the public.

Likewise, the CRD website says “we are committed to equal access and participation for people with disabilities. We recognize the essential knowledge and perspectives of people with lived experiences and commit to making sure those voices are part of accessibility planning.”

But just how accessible are council and CRD board meeting proceedings to people living with one or more disabilities?

Any individual or delegation wanting to address council can do so, once they have submitted a written application that outlines the subject they wish to discuss and the action they are requesting of council. For members of the Deaf community, it’s not the application submission process, it’s attendance and discussion that pose a challenge.

American Sign Language interpreters are not available to Deaf persons attending council or CRD meetings in person, nor is there a dedicated budget at either entity to provide one. There is “hearing loop” technology installed in the council antechamber that persons with hearing impairments can connect to during the meeting. Hearing loop technology eliminates background noise and sound is customized by each user’s unique hearing instrument (hearing aid). The CRD has no such provision.

Because of camera angles and distance from council and board member seating, name plates are frequently not visible on webcast cameras and are too small to read online, forcing those who may be unfamiliar with individual councillors, to try to hear references to and remember the names of who is speaking at all times.

The CRD has indicated to Capital Daily that they are considering using scrolling chevrons with participant names for future webcasting. Acquiring larger print name plates has not been a consideration for either.

Enacted in June 2021, the Accessible British Columbia Act requires federally regulated employers and crown corporations to eliminate barriers that prevent people with disabilities (and other designated groups) from participating equally in the workforce. It also calls for these employers to provide accommodations, such as ensuring the technology used to perform a job is accessible. Some of those accommodations include making municipal websites, documents, and databases accessible for screen readers and that website graphs and charts include text to explain them.

Members of the public are able to access meeting agendas, staff reports and other documents listed on agendas as a PDF or an HTML files either just prior to or after meetings. HTML files often contain links to reports relevant to the meeting. These days, text-to-speech transcription assistive technology options are plenty and allow people to “listen” to documents but this is only possible when they are made downloadable and not just electronically linked, which is often the case with both council and board.

Once council and board meetings have occurred, archived videos of council webcasts are accessible through the meeting agenda management software eScribe. However, neither the CRD or the city’s agenda management software provides a downloadable transcript of meeting proceedings for those needing to transcribe for a braille reader or speech to text. Currently, the CRD board does not have a closed captioning option for its webcasts.

For people living with one or more disabilities accessing public city council and all streams of information at meetings can be challenging. The City of Victoria has an Accessibility advisory committee that comprises nine voting members, at least two of whom may have served on the City’s accessibility working group, while others appointed reflect the diversity of people living with accessibility issues. However, the work of that group has been mainly outward and does not appear to have brought an inclusivity or accessibility lens to the city council proceedings themselves.

Spokesperson Colleen Mycroft told Capital Daily that city council PowerPoint presentations are templated to maximize accessibility, however, stakeholders presenting at council meetings may or not use slides that are accessible for those with visual impairments. Providing accurate captions and transcripts for multimedia content like PowerPoint and other slide-based presentations, helps persons with hearing impairments follow the content and efficiently enhance its searchability and indexability.

The CRD’s Water Supply Master Plan presentation document is a prime example of a document prepared without consideration for text to speech readers. It does not have an index or descriptive captions below images to allow those types of readers to provide context for blind, legally blind or low-sighted constituents. It was the subject of a recent CRD board special information meeting that the public was invited to attend.

At that same meeting, two motions were projected on screen for consideration of board members but were not visible to people attending online. Nor were they read aloud by the chair. Presentation materials and wording of motions are visible during webcast meetings of Victoria city council in chambers.

At city council meetings, AI-based agenda management software eScribe, provides closed captioning for council proceedings. However, like most current AI transcription software, names and technical jargon are not always transcribed correctly, making it difficult for the hearing impaired or deaf to receive accurate information at home.

Under the BC Accessibility Act, organizations and employers are encouraged to provide universal and inclusive design education to employees and to share best practices and resources. Organizations that do not adhere to these can be fined up to $250K.

It’s time Victoria city council and the CRD board lived up to their stated best practices.


Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Capital Daily