CNIB’s Yvonne Felix: How She Navigates Accessibility Stigmas in the Workplace

Yvonne Felix is a visual artist residing in Canada, and an Accessibility and Inclusion Leader at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. She focuses on improving workplace inclusion, and how we can use technology to level the playing field for more equitable work practices.

She strives to eliminate stigmas around and instead promote the idea that those with sight loss can function in the world just like anybody else.

Yvonne Felix, wearing eSight Eyewear, and painting a nature scene on a canvas. Yvonne spoke to us about accessibility in the workplace.
Yvonne Felix, wearing eSight, and painting a nature scene on a canvas.

In this podcast, Yvonne discusses her perspectives on a variety of hot-topic issues, such as Bill C-81, how COVID-19 may have implications for accessibility stigmas, and how to stand up for yourself in the workplace. You can listen to her podcast here, or continue reading below. 

A 10 minute read

Bill C-81

Passing of the Bill

Before working with the CNIB, Yvonne focused mainly in the United States, and discovered many differences between U.S. and Canadian law. For example, Canada passed Bill C-81: An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada very recently; however, it will not be enforced until at least 2025 because Canada is striving to give time for businesses and other sectors to get themselves ready to become fully inclusive and accessible before bringing in enforcement. 

The U.S. vs Canada

Yvonne sees this methodology as being vastly different from the U.S. This may be because, in her opinion, Americans take disability laws very seriously in terms of being a human right, and accordingly those who break the law can be sued. She sees Canada as having more of a social approach, where the expectation is that even though there may not be specific laws in place, you must still treat human beings decently as they are meant to be treated.

Accessibility Stigmas

Accessibility Anecdote for Students

Yvonne describes an instance where there was a student with sight loss, and a student with asthma in a class, who were both having issues because the building was not up-to-date and the inaccessible environment was causing problems for both of them. The problems only compounded with teaching materials not being available in a digital format which meant that they were having increased difficulty with participating. In an attempt to make this more accessible, the first student was allowed to have a guide dog, but this made it more inaccessible for the student with asthma. As a result, only one of the students could be in class at one time. In general, making the whole class digital would have been a much better method for facilitating inclusion. 

COVID-19’s Implications for Accessibility Stigmas

In fact, she remarks, this is very similar to what is happening right now. Everybody is experiencing what it is like to not have access to most things, to be cooped in their homes, and to have no choice but to use technology to complete the majority of their school and work tasks. She believes that even though society has progressed, there are still a lot of stigmas towards those who require additional support. During this time, she is hopeful that people become more understanding of those who rely on technology in their daily lives. 

Laptop, tablet, phone, and smartwatch on a small workspace. Technology plays a big role in making workplaces more inclusive.

Accessibility in the Workplace

Your Personal Attitude

Yvonne describes that on many occasions while working with large organizations on expansive projects, the topic of vision would constantly come up. To some capacity, she has learned to be a self-described “control freak” about what she can do for herself and how she chooses to present herself. She explains that while you cannot do anything about others’ stigmas and fears if they are not open to learning, you can control how you learn to adapt and evolve to these situations, and that it is your choice if you let something negatively impact you emotionally.

Employers’ Fears

She compares the potential fears of future employers regarding those with vision impairments, to possible fears that employers could have about any of their employees. For example, with an employee who may have an emotionally distressing situation going on at home, their productivity at work could be affected. The difference between that employee and someone like Yvonne is that the employee’s potential hindrance is something that you cannot see, whereas you can see Yvonne’s.

Yvonne recommends this explanation as a defense for why a potential employer cannot discriminate between someone with vision impairments and someone without those visible impairments. Furthermore, she suggests that you ask the employer if you can send them more information about your condition, and what can be used in the workplace to help with your situation. She explains that if needed, you could further escalate the situation by contacting the company’s HR department, or by trying to make friends there who will be your “champion in the castle” and advocate with you.

“You can kick me in the teeth, and tomorrow I will come in the front door with a bigger and better smile than yesterday,” – Yvonne regarding what to do when you face discrimination in the workplace.

Comments About Your Choice of Medical Device

Moreover, Yvonne clarifies that no employer can tell you what medical device to use or how to use it. For example, they cannot discourage you from using eSight if that is your preferred choice, especially if you are still partially sighted. 

Yvonne Felix, wearing eSight Eyewear, gesturing to a presentation at the front of a boardroom meeting.
Yvonne Felix, wearing eSight, gesturing to a presentation at the front of a boardroom meeting.

Accommodating Yourself

Finally, Yvonne closes her thoughts by describing that people can say whatever they want about you, but the best way to respond is to “kill them with kindness”. If they are not accommodating you, then you must try to accommodate yourself. This can include educating yourself on what you can do personally, and making sure you have as much information as you can. She encourages those with vision impairments to stand up for yourselves and your worth. In line with her philosophy on “killing them with kindness”, she exemplifies resiliency by remarking that, “you can kick me in the teeth, and tomorrow I will come in the front door with a bigger and better smile than yesterday.”

Did you find this post helpful? Read more news for people of low vision here.

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