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ACTION LINE: How consumers with a disability can encounter prejudice, discrimination

Spectator columnist Al MacRury says he must present his passport when buying a cellphone in Ontario because he does not possess a driver’s licence. Hamilton Spectator
By Al MacRury
Jun 13, 2016

Being a consumer can be a hard enough job.

There are many rules and regulations. Laws are always changing. Store policies you may know nothing about. Manufacturer’s warranties. Conditions for returns and exchanges.

And the scams. You must be on guard when answering your phone, surfing websites and placing overseas orders for goods and services.

Now imagine how much harder these challenges are for someone with a disability, someone who’s legally blind, like me. I use speech software when writing this column and a document reader when reading your emails. I have a CCTV (closed circuit television) that enlarges printed documents. I have no such assistive devices when I’m out doing my shopping and engaging in daily activities.

And I encounter prejudice and even discrimination, some of it intentional, most of it done by sighted folks with little understanding of my physical limitations. Years ago, I wrote a column called Equal Access for this newspaper, and heard from many readers with similar challenges.

I once co-signed my son’s apartment lease with a major landlord here in Hamilton. When I walked into the superintendent’s office carrying my white cane, she said: “Well, you obviously don’t work.”

The sales representative for a major furniture retailer demanded my driver’s licence, presumably to qualify me for financing since the store didn’t take Visa. When I produced my CNIB card instead, he asked if I worked. He thought I might be eligible for a $1,500 loan at 29 per cent interest. Lucky me.

I get the same cold shoulder from cellphone service providers. No sales agent has ever offered to explain the features of the phone they are trying to sell or advise if a blind person can use it.

We have laws in Ontario and in this nation to protect those of us with disabilities. We cannot be denied services because of those disabilities, or so we are told. Society cannot impose barriers that hinder or block us from receiving those services. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) defines a barrier as “anything that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability, including a physical barrier, an architectural barrier, an information or communications barrier, an attitudinal barrier, a technological barrier, a policy or a practice.”

When they ask me to produce my driver’s licence, retailers seem bemused when I present my CNIB photo card. (They won’t accept my OHIP card either.) I am left wondering if I am encountering an attitudinal barrier, or “a policy or practice which creates a barrier.”

When told I must show my Canadian passport, I ask the salesperson if they walk around Hamilton carrying theirs. I am used to doing this while on vacation in other countries. I now must do this when buying a $59 cellphone in Ontario because I do not possess a driver’s licence.

You know me, right? I’ve been working here for 37 years. I have good credit. Paid a fortune to all kinds of lenders during my lifetime. Had only two home addresses for the past 26 years.

Cellphone service providers tell me they are afraid of fraud and ask consumers for government-issued photo ID to protect themselves.

But, I can’t help but think such demands place an additional burden on consumers with few financial resources.

The CNIB card is not a government form of ID and therefore it is not accepted, the local manager of the volunteer agency once known as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind told Action Line.

“For identification purposes individuals use their passport or the Ontario Photo Card,” Cathie Mason told us.

This government-issued photo ID for Ontario residents 16 and older who do not have a driver’s licence costs $35 and must be renewed every five years.

If you have a consumer problem, call 905-526-4665 or e-mail . Not all calls and letters can be answered.

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