The Accessible Path To A New Passport Is Partially Blocked By Braille Bumps

So the time is coming for me to renew my passport. I got it at the beginning of 2006, so it won’t be long before it expires. I decided I would start looking into it now, even though that probably seems absurd. But since this is a passport and forms can be yucky and complicated, I figured I should get on it in case I’d need any help making sure it’s all good.

Thankfully, renewing a passport is not nearly as complicated as getting the first passport. You don’t need to send your pictures to folks to verify that it’s you, and those people don’t have to be of a set few occupations. You also don’t have to fill out heaps and piles of documentation. It’s a two-page form, plus a couple of photos, one of which is signed and dated by the office taking the picture, along with $87 payable by cheque, money order or credit card, and voila, off you go. You do have to have a couple of references, but they can be anybody who’s known you for 2 years except family. Not too shabby.

I went to the simplified renewal application page, and started to read. It looks like I can get one of these babies! I got my passport within the last 6 years, I was over 16 when I got it, I’m almost at the expiration date, so it will have been valid for 5 years by the time I do this, it was issued in Canada, it was a regular passport, and it’s never been lost or stolen and I’m pretty sure it’s not damaged. It’s a little bent from being kept in a fanny pack from my last plane trip, but other than that, it’s clean as a whistle. Hell, I think it has maybe 4 stamps on it. Poor lonely little passport. Woohoo! This is going to work!

I downloaded the PDF form. I was fully prepared to see that you have to print the form and fill it out with someone, but oh my god, it’s an accessible PDF, complete with headings for easy navigation and form fields! I can fill this son of a bitch out myself! It was midnight when I looked at this, so I couldn’t shriek with delight like I wanted to.

I read the instructions first, and found one perplexing sentence.

Application forms are also available in Braille or in large print for persons with visual impairment.

Hmmm. So how is this going to work? If I get a braille form, can I send back braille? Seriously? This is possible? The voice of reason told me no, the braille application is likely absurd, in that you would get a print application with it and someone would have to fill it out for you, thus rendering you less independent than you would have been if you tried to fill out the PDF, or just as dependent as you were if no braille option was available. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the braille application, but if I can’t respond in braille, then it’s only a braille representation of the application. It’s not a braille application. Granted, it would be good for braille users who can’t read the pdf to have the instructions to read over themselves, but that’s only marginally useful. Think about it. It’s not really going to be saving them any time, since Joe Sighty who is required to fill out the form, if he’s any good, will need to read the instructions over anyway.

So, this morning, I hippity hopped over to the passport site and called the phone number with my pile of questions for them. They say they’re available for questions from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m? Let’s hit them at 8 in the morning!

My first question, although it may sound stupid, was what is their definition of a damaged passport. I mean, these people get hissy if a bit of your shoulder is bare in the picture, or one ear is showing more than another. Maybe a little bend in the passport constitutes damaged. The woman told me she would not be able to tell me without looking at it, I would have to take it to a passport office. I asked her if there was a passport office in Guelph. She said no, the nearest one was Kitchener. I asked if the post office in Guelph would know if it would be considered damaged. She said no, it would have to be an official passport person, and if I had the local post office look at my passport application, they would charge me $20, and even then, they would not be able to tell me if I had made any errors. So what exactly am I paying $20 for?

I then told the woman that I was happy that the form looked like it was accessible. Happy was an understatement. I was thrilled. But I said I’m an organized person and like to know my options, so I wondered what the process was for filling it out in braille. How do I order the braille? How long does it take to come? How do I respond to the questions? The woman acted as if I had thrown a handful of marbles at her head. I received a choppy string of “um um um um…uh…” followed by “We can’t send you the braille application. You would have to pick it up at a passport office. And then someone would have to write your responses in.”

This caused me to start laughing. I asked her if she was sure about this. She said yes. I said to her, “So you’re telling me that you would ask blind people, people who cannot drive themselves, to travel to one of 13 cities in Ontario to pick up the braille application, it could not be ordered over the phone, and even if you could orderit over the phone, you would have to get a sighty to fill it out, so you may as well have not killed those trees to receive the braille form?” She just said, “yes.” She didn’t think for one second that this was ridiculous, or if she did, she didn’t let it show. I told her that in fact the braille form, which is supposed to allow someone more independence, decreases it because you can’t actually fill out the form yourself.

She did tell me that I would have to submit a note with the passport explaining why my eyes are dancing a jig in the picture, so I know that much, but when I tell you what I’m about to, maybe I should phone back and verify that detail.

After that ridiculous exchange, I decided once and for all that this needed a bloggin’. But as I told Steve about the ridiculousness of the whole thing, he wondered if it was true that you had to write your answers on a printed application, or could you have your sighty scribble your answers on the actual braille copy. This required another call into the passport folks.

Since I had been told that the call centre people couldn’t order up a braille application, I thought the best course of action would be to phone the Kitchener passport office. I soon discovered that nowhere on the Passport Canada site can you find their phone number! I guess I’ll have to phone the 1-800 number again.

When I asked the lady for the Kitchener number, she said she doesn’t give it out, and even they only call it if it’s urgent, what’s the problem? So, I asked her questions about the braille application, at which point she responded with “What? Pick it up? No! We can order it for you! I’m looking at instructions right now on how I can do just such a thing!” Well, at least there’s a shred of sense in this whole process. I asked her if she could enlighten the woman with which I spoke earlier, and in fact she said she could! Double awesome!

This woman continued to show her coolness by laughing at my joke about how she wouldn’t want me driving to Kitchener if I wanted a braille application, even though you’d think some of the drivers on the road needed braille too. She couldn’t believe the other woman didn’t know the process by which call centre folks could order up a braill copy of the paperwork, and said it would be pretty ridiculous to make the very ones who couldn’t drive take a journey to pick up the documents they required. But she also said someone would have to write on the application, and realized that was pretty dumb too.

This woman just kept getting better and better, because she said she didn’t mind sitting there while I pulled up the application and went through it to find the places where it looked like it required information but there was no place to edit it. She asked me about screenreaders and how they worked, and didn’t tell me to click on any big blue buttons! She even understood that telling me where something was on the screen, like left, middle, or right was not going to work. Can I give her a medal? She needs to be held up as an example of sheer awesomeness. I don’t even have her name so I can state her name on the blog along with the words “you rock” so if you google her, you just might find that little piece.

She sat with me while I madly scrolled through the application. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the first spot that looked like a phantom edit field actually *wasn’t* an edit field. It was intended to be scribbled upon after you print the application. It was one of those signature boxes with the date and the city in which it was signed. I have no problem getting a little sighted help to sign and date a form, hell I already need somebody to snap my photo so it’s no trouble. But at least I can fill out the form myself!

I got through most of my questions, and she said if I had more questions, I could phone back. But she had the patience to look at places on the form that confused me and explain it. I thanked her profusely for being so awesome, and told her she was a breath of fresh air for me.

So, I hope this little description of how to renew a passport will help someone. Hopefully, I’ll fill this baby out, submit it, and will be able to report that I got a new passport without any trouble. That would make me a pretty ecstatic woman.

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