Recently I was going through a series of training modules based on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act…a requirement for a major project I’m working on. The principles and ideas aren’t new to me, but in the process I was struck by the assumptions seemingly built into the examples.
For instance – a university registrar’s office is contacted via the Bell Relay Operator, (a service that enables calls between people who are hearing and those who are hearing and/or speech impaired). The operator conveys a request for the personal information contained in a student file. The correct response, according to the module, is to provide the information requested. Why? Because Bell Relay operators are intermediaries who are governed by a strict confidentiality agreement, and thus the phone call should be understood as a request from the student directly. To question the use of an intermediary violates the dignity of the student.
I’ve gotta say, while I understand concerns about asking people to provide (excessive) information, I also have concerns about just assuming that personal information can or should be provided to a third party without explicit consent to do so. Is it really damaging in such a case to request confirmation that it is actually the student making the request (albeit via the relay operator) before handing it over? Sort of feels to me as though doing the same confirmation of identity and entitlement to personal information associated with any direct call requesting that information is dignity-affirming rather than reducing.
It seems as though there are competing ideas of dignity here. I mean, I understand and respect that people shouldn’t be asked “what’s wrong with you” or have to otherwise “justify” their entitlement to accommodation. At the same time though, I wonder if the emphasis on not asking but instead relying on protections built in (i.e., the confidentiality requirements for relay operators) doesn’t, at least in some ways, imply that there is something somehow shameful about using assistive devices and hence we shouldn’t draw attention to them. Isn’t it possible to ascertain that personal information is appropriately protected? Isn’t doing so another part of protecting/respecting dignity and autonomy? Surely there is a way to honour the expectations of both accessibility and privacy?