Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dueling Agendas? Accessibility Vs. The Environment and Why My Newspapers are Evil

A few weeks ago I attended my favorite consumer trade show, EPIC. The first exhibit I saw when I walked through the door was a Vancouver Sun booth where they were offering three free weeks of newspaper delivery. Of course, it also granted me access to the "paper free" copy of the newspaper on the Internet. My first thought was how absurd this was; how on earth is it environmentally sound to be printing a bunch of newspapers? After all, isn't that what the Internet is for? My second thought was how I wanted to do some paper mache on our mini domes, so I signed right up! I had forgotten about it until today when my first issue arrived, and Morgan was immediately horrified that we were now in possession of a newspaper. Oh, our shameful carbon footprint.

I sat around this afternoon and I thought about my newspapers. Were they really so evil?  Do I have tree blood (sap?) on my hands now for being in possession of one?  Jumping back and forth in my mind between crucifying myself for getting three weeks of newspapers and playing devil's advocate, a funny memory from my University years resurfaced.  The star of this particular memory is one of my good friends to this day. She would be horrified that I even remember this moment so I won't mention her name. We were both members of our University LGTB Centre and during this time the centre had been talking a lot about how we could reduce our impact on the environment. My friend, who I had really only just met at this point because she had just began her undergrad, suggested that we deactivate the automatic entry door so that we could reduce electricity use. She meant no harm in this suggestion, of course. I am 100% positive the issue of accessibility had just not occurred to her, and honestly, why would it have? Oftentimes unless you know someone with an accessibility issue or have an accessibility issue yourself, it doesn't even occur to you that the world may not be as accessible to everyone as it is to you. In short, it's just outside most people's frame of reference. Of course, a few people chimed in and explained that we needed to have the automatic entry door in full working order for people who were in wheelchairs, etc. My friend was embarrassed and she immediately apologized and took back the suggestion.

Aias plays with the newspaper.  I'm sure he's wondering where the screen is.
Reflecting back on this memory makes me smile because I know my friend meant no ill will, but at the same time, it makes me think of several instances in the real world where accessibility measures have been cut back due to the growing trend of "greening" the world and protecting the environment. So of course, given my newspaper experience the first thing that comes to mind is the growing trend of newspapers, catalogs, and magazines going "paper free." I understand the primary benefit of going paper free- you save a lot of trees this way. In addition to saving trees, you reduce the amount of paper waste and the amount of materials that need to be recycled (recycling uses lots of energy). The driving force behind going "paper free" is saving the trees, and the catalyst for going "paper free" is the Internet. Another added benefit is that it costs less money to post material online than it does to print and mail it. The idea is that technology is so widespread that people should be able to read their newspapers, catalogs, and magazines at their computers. This is fantastic for people like myself, because I have a computer, access to the Internet in my home, and I have no issues with staring at the screen. However, this is terrible news for someone who doesn't have a computer, or Internet access, or someone who has a physical inability to stare at a computer screen. There are also people who are computer illiterate or just have no interest in making a computer a part of their lives. Should these people be unable to access news and culture just because they aren't consumers of the Internet? I feel as though we've collectively decided as a planet that there are just so few exceptions to the rule in this situation, that people who aren't able to go along with the "paper free" philosophy are expendable because saving the environment for future generations is a more important endeavor. At the same time, how would you feel if you or someone in your family was one of those "expendable people?" Most of us aren't one of those expendable people and don't know anyone who is, but believe me, they are out there.

I don't want to get into a whole list of instances where accessibility is asked to take a backseat to the environment, because I feel like this entry could potentially get longer than anyone would be willing to read. However, I'd like to share a theory as to why I think this may happen in the first place. Accessibility is important and it's an issue that's not going away, but it's not really a profitable industry. Sure there are wheelchair companies and companies that make modifications to existing structures to make them more accessible, but compared to the amount of companies out there with the goal of selling "green" products to people, they are few and far between. Every time I open my computer (or my newspaper) there is someone trying to sell the idea of being "green" to me. Being "green" is an easy sell; providing accessibility is a lot less glamorous and self serving. Needless to say, very few are trying to sell accessibility. It may not mean much to your daily life, but to those who need it, it means the world. 

I have to admit, Morgan's solution to addressing the issue of accessibility in the paper situation is a pretty good one.  He believes that instead of continuing to kill trees and print documents, we should work as a society on making technology more accessible to those who can't currently access it.  Surely it would cost society less money and less trees to simply get everyone up to the same level by allowing for progress and access to accessibility measures.  I agree with this; at the same time, sometimes it's nice to sit on the toilet and hold a newspaper (the laptop balancing can be a bit much) and I also find doctor's offices insufferable without magazines, however, I digress.  Now I realize I don't apply here, as I said above, I'm all over the Internet.  I guess Morgan's initial horror with me is still valid.  After my three weeks are up, I'll stop getting the newspaper.  I'll make paper mache domes out of the papers we have and I'll recycle what we don't use.  I'll keep fighting the good fight to be green,  but at the same time, I'll try not leave anyone behind in the process.

By the way, Morgan thinks this whole post is a huge stretch, but I think it's interesting to think outside the box every once in a while so poo poo to him ;)

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  1. I don't mind reading the news on my phone, but I HATE reading magazines online. There are pop ups, you can't read what you want because you have to find it instead of flipping through the pages.
    Plus not everyone throws out newspaper. Besides using it to pack you can use it to clean your windows. I even use it to make patterns for sewing.
    My newspapers I turn in to gift bows or even bring them to my doctor's office or other waiting rooms for other people to read.

    Just because you get newspapers and magazines doesn't mean you can't be green with them. Don't you use wood and plastic every time you build a dome? Is he not horrified at the products he "wastes" to build a dome? (yeah, it sounds silly)

  2. Some really nice insights, Mon. <3 I need to come see you again sometime.


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