Accessibility

Bridging the Gap Between Recycling Sustainability and Accessibility

Bridging the Gap Between Recycling Sustainability and Accessibility

the WasteFinder sits in front of CleanRiver recycling containers

For over 30 years, CleanRiver has held a firm belief that everyone should recycle… but after meeting Hillary Scanlon in 2017, we were faced with the question; CAN everyone recycle?

Hillary Scanlon is an exceptional 25-year-old who has dedicated the last 4 years to making recycling more accessible. She is challenging the notion that recycling, although it is everyone’s social responsibility, is also a privilege.

Hillary is legally blind and her visual impairment has brought to light the fact that being able to recycle one’s waste is something most of us take for granted.  In fall 2017, as a student at Wilfrid Laurier University, Hillary reached out to CleanRiver to pitch her project “Sustainability Through An Inclusive Lens”.  CleanRiver began working with Hillary and STIL labs to develop recycling solutions for everyone: “How can we design recycling programs that can be effectively used by people of all abilities?” 

If you haven’t been following along in Hillary’s journey check out the full article here from 2018 highlighting the project scope and concept for some more background info.

Fast forward to 2021 and Hillary has brought her vision to life and officially launched a solution to accessible recycling bins: The WasteFinder.  CleanRiver is proud to partner with Hillary and STIL Solutions to help promote inclusivity and accessible waste disposal.  We sat down with Hillary once again to discuss:

  1. Her recent WasteFinder product launch
  2. Her goals/challenges 
  3. Next steps

“A lot has happened since 2017 when you kicked off this accessible recycling solutions project. What has transpired between now and then?”

recyclin

Probably one of the biggest changes is that I have completely lost all vision (over a year ago now). But I have become a lot more comfortable and confident since.

I got my first guide dog, Margarita, in 2019 and she has been absolutely life-changing. I can’t even imagine life without her now and how she fits into every aspect of my life. Just talking about her I get very emotional.

When we started the Initial design labs in 2017 we were focused on the problem and didn’t end up focusing on a solution until later.  The recycling solution we developed was the early version of the WasteFinder prototype.

“What is the WasteFinder and How Does it Work?”

The WasteFinder is a two-part system that provides both tactile and visual information to assist individuals with disabilities to independently and effectively dispose of their waste in public spaces.

The Vicinity Indicator

The Vicinity Indicator surrounds the surface area of the waste disposal unit. It lets individuals know when they’re within a certain distance of the commercial recycling bins. It can be felt distinctly underfoot even when using mobility devices.

The Stream Indicators

waste finder

Once in the vicinity of the accessible recycling bins, the Stream Indicators help the user determine where to place their waste using raised symbols on the floor, so the user never needs to touch a commercial recycling bin in search of braille or other tactile indicators, or get close enough to the waste disposal unit to read its signs. The Stream Indicators also use simple shapes that are easily detected underfoot or through a mobility device.

We installed the first prototype at the CNIB headquarters for testing and feedback and modified it to make it more accessible and inclusive.

The shapes were originally at a 90-degree angle but are now more contoured.   The outline is representative of the shape now.  AT CNIB, the Custodial staff found that it was diverting more waste from landfills and it was effective.

hillary-1-1

We worked hard to find a manufacturer.  I was very adamant to avoid having it made overseas and wanted to maintain sustainability in all aspects of the business. Finally, we found Uni-Spray Systems (a local company in Cambridge, ON) in early 2019.

After that, we put our focus into looking for different opportunities to implement the product.  But then the pandemic hit.

Since then, we pivoted the business and expanded the products to become inclusive social distance indicators which gained some traction.  But I’m excited to be pivoting back to sustainability and recycling solutions.

Inclusive

CleanRiver hosted the 3rd Stil Design Lab.

“What materials is the WasteFinder made from?”

It’s made of vinyl, so it’s extremely long-lasting and can be used indoors and outdoors.   I’m currently working to develop a protocol for customers to recycle old Waste Finders.

“In your own words what is the STIL mission?”

Inclusive

CleanRiver, Laurier Students and CNIB Clients working together.

A social enterprise to enable and empower people with disabilities to find and dispose of their waste properly and effectively.

I’m really looking to extend our impact and reach.  We are currently working with the Ontario and federal governments on their accessibility strategy.  I would love the Waste Finder to be similar to the mandatory accessibility protocols at every cross-walk.  So, similarly, the goal is that all commercial recycling bins would eventually be retrofitted with the Waste Finder system.

“What are the next steps for STIL and the WasteFinder?”

We already have over a dozen in Ontario and would be looking to expand our impact and client base. To do this, we will be looking to grow our team and acquire additional funding.

“What are your short-term goals and long terms goals?”

Short Term Recycling Solutions: 

  • grow our team
  • build our brand and reputation
  • share our story

Long Term Recycling Solutions: 

Ultimately, I would like the WasteFinder to be part of accessibility legislation such as the Accessible Canada Act, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc. 

“What is involved in a full roll-out of an inclusive recycling program for say a campus? Communication piece, community support? Etc.”

A full roll-out of an inclusive recycling program on a campus would first involve an evaluation of the needs of that particular campus. We want to ensure that the product enables people with disabilities to dispose of their waste, so all individuals can be stewards of the environment. 

After the needs have been identified, we would look at developing an implementation plan together. This would involve determining the number of WasteFinders needed for their space, and co-creating an education and awareness campaign. 

We also offer an optional community ambassador program where the client hires an individual from the area who experiences barriers to traditional forms of employment (e.g. a person with a disability). This individual would act as a touchpoint between the campus and STIL Solutions to answer any questions about the product.

They would also receive training on how to conduct a waste audit, and would conduct this waste audit prior to installation of the WasteFinder and 6 months after its installation. The client would hire the individual for $600; $500 of which will be provided to the Community Ambassador as a stipend for their work. The remaining $100 goes to STIL Solutions to cover some of the costs associated with training this individual. 

“Ideally how would someone with a visual disability know where to locate the recycling and waste containers?” (Is there a solution for this yet?)

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I will actually be publishing a blog through Guide Dogs for the Blind in the Spring that describes this.

“What has been the biggest obstacle in launching this product/ project?”

COVID-19 has certainly been a major barrier but another obstacle has been educating people about the product and the benefits it can have on their community. This is because WasteFinder is a new product and concept. Most people haven’t thought about the fact that most recycling solutions are inaccessible, so we have to educate our clients on the need for this type of product.

“What are some challenges that may arise for anyone interested in making their recycling program more inclusive?”

A major barrier to accessible recycling programs is that most people do not realize that the current system is inaccessible. Therefore, a lot of our work revolves around education and awareness to ensure that our client not only understands the need for an inclusive recycling program which helps to: 

  • divert waste from landfills
  • make your space more accessible
  • implement recycling programs

But it’s also difficult to ensure clients are comfortable with all aspects of the implementation.

To mitigate these anxieties, STIL Solutions provides education and awareness materials and training on how to use them if required/desired.

CleanRiver is a proud partner of STIL Solutions and the WasteFinder Solution.  If you are interested in learning more about how to make your recycling program more inclusive and accessible please contact one of our sustainability experts today for more information.

Valuing Accessibility in the New Work Age

Valuing Accessibility in the New Work Age

Calling for change not convenience | A conversation with Hillary Scanlon

Hands of woman working on laptop at home of her room

In an era of work characterized by efforts to establish ‘normalcy,’ change in the workplace has been swift but highly motivated by considerations of convenience and productivity leaving little room for those of accessibility. 

 

A growing number of recruiters turn to virtual hiring solutions; big companies like Facebook, Twitter & Shopify offer work from home indefinitely; processes of the justice system that critics have long painted as outdated witness dramatic digitization.

 

It seems that business justifications for investing in talent and technology or not; hiring or not; and making tasks and working hours flexible or not have suddenly crumbled. Now, change no longer results in the promotion of accessibility in the name of equity and inclusion but rather from wanting to uphold productivity. 

 

We sat down with entrepreneur and disability advocate Hillary Scanlon (she/her) to explore the new work age with an accessibility lens developed through lived experience. Having lost her vision in 2016, Scanlon strives to foster environments inclusive of those with disabilities and more specifically, vision loss. She agrees that 2020 has been critical for change, but not in the way many of us may see it.  

Who does change serve?

“We’re seeing change all around us but those changes are coming from a place of what is convenient for able-bodied individuals. Not necessarily because we are all of a sudden realizing that our systems have been inherently inaccessible”. 

 

According to 2017 data, North America is home to more than 67 million people with disabilities aged 15 and over (which account for 24% of the population). Only 48.3% of that population is employed compared to 78.6% for people without disabilities. 

 

“My concern is that when the pandemic is over and people try to return to what they thought of as normal; what will happen to these values around access and inclusion that are so closely aligned with those of the disability community when they are no longer convenient to an able-bodied lifestyle?”

Putting access into perspective

Asserting that employers need to consider that workplace accessibility is different from workplace safety and general productivity – Scanlon puts change in 2020 into perspective for those of us without a disability. 

 

“Everywhere I go, there’s a hand sanitizer station but I have no idea where it is. I’m told there is signage with building rules and policies, but I can’t read them. There are stickers on the floor, but I can’t interact with them. Some folks with vision loss who may not be visibly blind have been harassed for not following rules posted on signs. Individuals with autism that don’t have to wear a mask are bullied in public spaces for ‘not looking like they have autism or cystic fibrosis.’ While so much content and interaction is digital, folks assume that because something is simply online, it is inherently accessible when that’s not the reality.” 

 

True accessibility in the workplace goes far beyond providing accessible versions of documents at request,  or adding alt-text to images. It’s part of a greater commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion that embeds accessibility as a value across the organization. 

Accessibility starts at the top

Scanlon calls on workplaces to commit to DEI and represent the disability community. Regardless of the size of your company, working with leadership to establish a vision for an accessible and inclusive work environment is key. 

 

Although there is legislation in both Canada and America around accessibility, in both work and personal life, folks with disabilities find themselves navigating discrimination. As part of a recent journal series titledDispatches from the Pandemic, authors of the article pertaining to disability, work and accessibility explore the current landscape of work through testimonials from disabled employees. Hillary echoes the sentiments of individuals like Bernardo and Anahi who prior to the pandemic were not privy to accommodations such as remote work and real-time captioning to meet their needs as someone who lives with Larsen’s Syndrome and someone who is deaf, respectively. 

 

In fact, 50% of all discrimination complaints received across North America through the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2019 were related to disability. 

 

“If you don’t take into account that accessibility of work is accessibility based on the lives of individuals with disability – if you don’t make that connection – we will revert back to exclusive workplace practices”. 

Accessibility in practice

Employers may be tempted to begin their inclusion of those with disabilities through a diversity, equity and inclusion statement on their careers page or job applications. While this is definitely a step, it should not be the first step. Scanlon reminds us that promises to make accommodations where procedures and training have not been established can cause harm to the applicant. 

 

Once an explicit conversation around workplace accessibility has been initiated at the top, workplaces can begin trickling those values down into practice through various tools and considerations. 

 

Some practices to embed accessibility at work follow. 

1. Accommodation Policy

Creating procedures for how you plan to provide needed accommodation to both current and prospective employees is fundamental in creating an accessible workplace. In addition to articulating relevant definitions, the policy should outline the role of involved stakeholders and communicate the responsibilities that will be upheld by HR; by supervisors; and by employees and job applicants. 

 

Employers can reap long-lasting benefits by accommodations for employees with disabilities as those accommodations can support other employees too. Tools like voice recognition software are seeing increased application across workforces because they can be more efficient. 

 

Scanlon states that “accommodations made for those with disabilities now can benefit those who may experience disability later on”. Embedding accessibility as a workplace value offers current and prospective employees a sense of care and security and prevents unnecessary expenses from employee turnover. 

 

See A Template for developing a workplace Accommodation Policy

2. Hiring & Recruiting

Employers everywhere have had to reassess job functions and create relevant adaptations to ensure productivity amidst pandemic. This time of change is  great to prioritize accessibility and design for inclusivity. 

 

Language is critical in both adding or removing barriers to application. Consideration of inclusion in job descriptions and diversity statements sets the tone for both present and future employees and their understanding of inclusivity in your workplace. When writing a job posting, focus on the functions of the job. Ask yourself what skills are absolutely needed to fulfill the job and articulate requirements through inclusive language. An inclusive job posting invites a breadth of expertise and experience that respond specifically to job requirements. For example, swap “valid driver’s license required” with, “the ability to travel and provide own transportation between Location A and Location B”.

 

See Tool #4: Recruiting the Best Available Talent to learn how to recruit top talent through inclusive job descriptions, postings and employee support. 

3. Technology

Digital content creation has grown in 2020 but as organizations strive to stay connected with people through increased online presence, crucial pieces that enable accessibility are being forgotten. 

 

“Folks may assume that because it’s online, it’s inherently accessible” exclaims Scanlon. “In some ways technology has leveled much of the playing field for folks like me. It’s not so obvious in virtual meetings and interviews that I am blind. This removes some biases because they just don’t know. The flip side of them not knowing is, nothing is accessible until I bring it up at each step of the way”. 

 

Designing for accessibility is a package of considerations that enables access and participation across the disability community. 

 

Some considerations for making your online presence more accessible:

 

  • Closed-captions for video or audio instructions. 
  • Keystroke navigation vs mouse navigation in applications 
  • Alternative text for images that communicate information for screen readers
  • The use of color, graphics or graphics with embedded text to communicate directions/key information 
  • Screen contrast 
  • Complex navigation and timeout restrictions
  • CAPTCHA tests that don’t include an audio option
  • Ease of access to information around available accommodations 

 

See 6 Ways to Make your Careers Site more Accessible for a longer and more detailed list of critical web components that enable wide participation. 

The jist

Valuing accessibility as a workplace starts with addressing it the way in which those it seeks to serve, address it. That means naming and recording changes that enable workplace participation followed by exploration of who those changes serve and by virtue, who they exclude. 

 

Education and capacity-building for inclusive work environments should be posited as a priority that drives accessibility. Whether you look to partner with organizations like March of all Dimes Canada that provides services to people with disabilities and those striving to support them or you make accessibility a pillar in your existing DEI initiative with Lunaria. Accessibility in the new work age is not synonymous with virtual or remote – it is still exactly what it’s supposed to be: a set of plans and tools that enable entry and participation from all people.