Sunday, February 28, 2016

CNIB ID Card Needs Better Information For Users

Being legally blind, I have a CNIB Photo ID card which allows me to, among other things, ride regular local (Winnipeg) transit for free. The card is good for 5 years. In the past, CNIB clients would get a bit of notice before it expired so that we could get a new photo taken to submit with the renewal form.

In early January. I realized that my card expired at the end of that month and I hadn't gotten my renewal notice. I called the 800 number for the CNIB Helpline to get info on renewal. The man I spoke with was less than forthcoming as to how to renew. Instead he insisted that the only info I would get was through the regional office.

So, I called the Winnipeg office to get details on what was needed. As my number is unlisted and I don't like leaving it on voice mail of people I don't know, it took 3 or 4 tries to talk to a human. I was eventually told that if you weren't on the general mailing list, then notices were NOT being sent anymore AND the onus was now on clients - who of course are VISUALLY IMPAIRED OR BLIND - to SEE the small print of the expiry date on the card. Then we have to get a specific size photo taken, get ourselves down to the CNIB and pay a $10 processing fee!

I learned that the renewal system was divided into quarters. Notices were sent out every 3 months for those whose cards expired within that time. If your card expired near the end of that quarter, you had LOTS of time to get the card done. If it expired near the start, then you were lucky if you got a couple weeks notice! They either couldn't figure out a way to do advanced notices on a monthly basis - or more likely, decided that they couldn't afford or be bothered to update the system for monthly notices.     

I was also told that if you had taken your name OFF of mailing or call lists, you'd get NO renewal notice at all! You either got the newsletters, surveys, catalogues, donation requests and volunteer requests along with the more critical ID renewal notice or nothing at all! I had taken my name off a few years ago as the only service I do use is the ID card.

You've got to love the irony of this bass-ackwards system! 

Yup! The inefficiency and extreme lack of common sense is amazing! You'd think it was run by a government! And yet, some people still wonder why myself and others don't use CNIB services more than we absolutely have to!

Well, I did get myself down to the CNIB late in the first week of January. I had my photo taken, provided my info and paid my $10 fee. I was told I should have the card in about 10 working days.

The new card arrived the day before my old one expired! Phew!

It should be noted that despite being verbally told that no renewal notice would be sent, the letter that accompanied the new card also stated: "You will be given advance written notice when it is time to renew your card."

Hmm... Really? Yeah, well I'll believe it when I see it!

As luck would have it, I WAS asked for the card about a week after the new one arrived! It's not that I get asked for the card that often - but I always have it handy just in case I'm asked for ID. That happens maybe once or twice a year - usually by a transit driver who doesn't know me or when the drivers know/suspect there is a supervisor/inspector on board. Funny thing is, after 25 years with an ID card,, most drivers say don't bother showing it - we know you. However there are the odd (and I do mean odd!) ones who insist on seeing it every time - even if they see you twice on the same day!

Apparently, there are still some other benefits to the CNIB ID Card

Finding any kind of National list of CNIB ID Card benefits seems to be impossible. The CNIB is National, but most of the benefit listings are regional and hard to source without contacting the regional offices directly. Additional documentation is hit and miss at best for most jurisdictions to access any benefits/discounts

The CNIB website has a page called Planes, Trains and Buses with external links to various national sites that offer discounts or assistance with travel provided certain criteria is met. A travelling companion is required for most, if not all of these benefits.

EasterSeals Canada has an Access 2 Card. The card is renewable every 3 or 5 years depending on which you choose. This card offers discounts for various movie theatres and some entertainment facilities throughout Canada and limited access to USA entertainment venues. Some venues/services require both the Access 2 Card and a CNIB card be presented to obtain any discounts/privileges. As with the CNIB Planes, Trains and Buses, the Access 2 Card also requires a support companion for most, if not all of these benefits.

I should clarify here. that I haven't fully researched or applied for the Access 2 Card. I did look through the Attractions in Manitoba in the Venues section but several links seem to be invalid or broken. There are some interesting options, but I don't go out enough to make the card fees worthwhile. My entertainment money is extremely limited so I choose my options very carefully. To be honest, I can't even recall the last movie I watched in a movie theatre but it was likely about 15 or so years ago. I watch my movies at home either via DVD, VOD or on the internet. It's a whole lot cheaper and I can pause or rewind whenever I want!

That seems to be it for any ID card benefits I've found. They may be helpful for some but as I said, my finances are too limited to take advantage of most of them.

I was going to end my post there, but last week I decided to call the 800 Helpline at the CNIB one more time. I'm glad I did as I had a lengthy and very productive discussion with a woman who took detailed notes on my concerns and suggestions for the card and the site. I explained the frustrations with the renewal process and lack of details/benefits for card uses. She confirmed that there didn't seem to be a detailed listing for card benefits and the renewal notice system was counterintuitive. We also spoke about general web content accessibility - not just on the CNIB site but sites in general.

So, what are MY recommendations for the CNIB ID Card?
- create a dedicated web page(s) for the card on the CNIB site that includes:
    - overall purpose, eligibility and general uses
    - how to apply for the card
    - accessible application form that can be filled out online and/or printed in large print
    - a detailed list of services/venues and the benefits/discounts for the card throughout Canada which is also subdivided by region.
    - wherever possible, provide DIRECT hyperlinks to external services/venues rather than to an external home page which leaves the user searching for relevant info.
    - F.A.Q. (quick answers to cost, photo requirements, replacement, updating info, etc)
    - Include a "Report Broken/Invalid Link"
- ALL content and external links checked on an annual basis for validity/relevance
- renewal notices should be sent 2 months before expiry to allow for a reasonable time to coordinate renewal and receive new card.

As for mailing lists from the CNIB, there needs to be a way to opt in or out of specific types of mailings. If someone only wants to receive the renewal notice for the ID card then that should be all that they receive. The onus for renewal should not be left entirely to the client.

Until such realistic, practical and logical changes are (hopefully) made, I'll just stick to using my CNIB ID Card to ride Winnipeg Transit. Hopefully, I'll remember to check for the renewal date every once in awhile as I may or may not receive a notice from the CNIB!



Tad Klupsas said...

Hi good post and points. I was looking at what transit benefits do I get if I move from Toronto to Comox bc. info is scattered all over the place. thanks for the info Tad.

Unknown said...

I find that smaller citys such as kingston (ontario) still are charging for people with the CNIB card but they are charginging 1.50 inplace of 3.00 regular fee.