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From the President’s Residence, The Difference We Make

Housekeeping

Welcome to the end of my second year as your President. It was a much calmer year, but it was still one full of accomplishments. In fact, we made some real progress towards inclusion in society.

Before I begin my delineation of our accomplishments, I want to give thanks to my fellow Board members. They kept me, and the organization, grounded. They were always ready to have honest discussions—we didn’t always find consensus, but we always found a way to move forward. The upcoming elections are bittersweet—I am losing Minette Samaroo and Peter Field. I will miss both of you—and if you really want to get rid of me you’d better change your phone numbers! On the other hand, I know the new Board members will be welcomed into the fold with open arms!

In January, I decided that AEBC members should have the honour of creating something special to celebrate AEBC’s Thirtieth Anniversary, instead of leaving it to the Board to manage. Five people answered the call, and I would now like to thank them for all their hard work. Chantal Oakes, Diana Brent, Louise Johnson, Maryse Glaude-Beaulieu, and Devon Wilkins are the brains behind all of the festivities and I look forward to all of the fun and nostalgia they still have in store for us.

I would also like to touch on one of the past year’s losses. On April 8, after enjoying a lunch with long-time friends, John Rae passed away. He left a legacy of advocacy efforts made within our organization and far beyond it. He was several times our President, one of our best letter-writers, and a voice which will be long-remembered. I believe we did him proud by hosting an unstructured, virtual celebration of life which allowed people from many of his favourite advocacy organizations, artistic pursuits and friends a safe place to express their memories. We will award a scholarship in his memory next year. Rest in peace, Penguin!

Local Accomplishments

Although we only have four Chapters—well, okay, three and an Affiliate—they are proving just how strong the local scene can be.

Halifax Chapter

Yes, I’m still on their executive—this time as Treasurer! The Halifax Chapter has been taking full advantage of Zoom by launching a fitness club, a yoga club, and a book club. According to Dar Wournell, Chapter President: “My vision, so-to-speak, was to have a number of programs that would be interesting and inviting to a variety of individuals: current members – keep everyone engaged and motivated; non-active members - re-engage them once again; and potential new members – give them something to look forward to, be engaged, interesting and inviting.” From all accounts, everyone who is participating is pleased.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority reached out to Dar to rekindle the partnership with the Chapter. Once again, we will be helping to update the brochure concerning how to treat blind, deafblind and partially sighted patients throughout the healthcare system, as it must be revised every three years. Dar is hoping for a face-to-face meeting with them to consider barriers within the healthcare system which have been discussed by the Chapter members over the past few years. This is great news for us as we had the impression that they had turned to another organization for assistance.

With the relaxing of Covid-19-related restrictions, the Chapter is in the process of working with one of our other partner organizations, the Alderney Gate Public Library, to renew our license to show movies with described video services; we are also approaching the Halifax Central and the Woodlawn Libraries with the same idea. We hope to expand programming there with a Book Club, accessible games night and a social. All of this programming will definitely ease the sense of isolation caused by the pandemic.

In another exciting news, the Chapter has been invited, by the Curator of Visitor Experience at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, to assist them in piloting a new program, created by one of the Museum’s heritage interpreters, as part of her work towards a national certification. She has always wanted the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to be able to offer more programs for blind, deafblind and partially sighted visitors, and has created a descriptive experience for one of their more historic galleries. Our Chapter came to mind because Dar had provided some resources about descriptive tours, and a speech on accessible museums given by John Rae, to the staff at the Museum of Natural History last year. In fact, our Chapter was instrumental in helping get the province of Nova Scotia involved with making provincial museums AIRA Access Points.

Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter

The Chapter members have been very busy advocating in the realms of healthcare and transportation. They met with Serge Falardeau, the Coordinator of Accessibility for the Ottawa hospital and participated in a consultation regarding the design of the new campus. There was definite interest in continuing the conversation with the Chapter and perhaps The Chapter will be able to bring in other organizations to help make healthcare more accessible.

Chapter members continue to express their opposition to e-scooters. Members have spoken to the media, attended and made deputations at council meetings, and participated in technical demonstrations. Their steadfast advocacy has resulted in a complete turn-around of the members of the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, so that they finally expressed public opposition to the continuation of the e-scooter pilot. Although this major opposition did not result in a ban of these devices, the technical requirements for inclusion in the pilot incorporated accessibility concerns for the first time—the e-scooters must be prevented from being ridden on the sidewalks, being parked outside of designated parking zones, and they must emit a sound so that people could hear them approaching. None of this is happening 100% of the time, and the Chapter is monitoring the situation carefully. In fact, Wayne Antle, the Chapter President, will be watching from the inside, as he has been appointed to serve on the Accessibility Advisory Committee!

Finally, Chapter members participated in a Byward Market accessibility audit organized by the City.

Toronto Chapter

In the summer of 2020, work began on a plan to encourage the Ontario Government to review and rejuvenate the Assistive Devices Program. It began with our Toronto Chapter, but then they created a working group, which brought together the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) Toronto Visionaries Chapter, the CNIB Foundation, BALANCE for Blind Adults, Fighting Blindness Canada (FBC), the FBC Young Leaders Program, the CCB’s Get Together with Technology (GTT) Program, and the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University. After over a year, a fairly lengthy survey was launched in October of 2021, with a detailed report released in February. Since then, an advisory group, including our Toronto Chapter President, Minette Samaroo, has begun meeting with the ADP staff. I have high hopes that this collaboration will lead to the modernization of the Program and, once completed, to its being presented as a template for a national Assistive Devices Program. And it all started with an expression of frustration by our own George Stevens. Yes, one person can definitely make a difference!

Continuing with the Toronto Chapter, they continued their excellent training sessions by providing one on employment for persons with disabilities in the Ontario Public Service. They led a group of organizations which planned and executed another well-attended International Day of Persons with Disabilities event, including some very thought-provoking speakers.

BC Affiliate

This is the first year which saw the BC Affiliate being the only option for AEBC members living in British Columbia, as the last two Chapters, Kelowna and the Lower Mainland, closed last summer. The amalgamation brings greater efficiency as well as a more welcoming space for those members who had been outside of a chapter for quite a while. The Affiliate arranged a trivia night in February which brought in net proceeds of $1,077. A few months later they transferred $1000 to the National Scholarship Program, where it will assist Minette Samaroo, who was awarded that scholarship, with her first year at York University.

National Triumphs

The National Board was responsible for some of the following successes, though they had lots of help from our national committees—Fundraising, Government Relations, Communications, Information Technology, … In fact, the only thing these achievements have in common is that they were not initiated at the local level.

The Canada Revenue Agency approved our request to change our fiscal year-end from December 31 to March 31. This has some major advantages: it aligns AEBC with the federal government and many other non-profit organizations, and it allows us to hold our Annual General Meeting as late as the end of September. This means that the summer does not put an end to the ramp-up of effort which follows an AGM. In order to accomplish this, we had to create two separate year-ends—one for the year ending December 31, 2021, and the other for the three-month period from January 1, 2022 to March 31, 2022. Therefore, you will notice two separate financial statements. One of the bylaw amendments which will be debated at the AGM will seek to align our membership year to our new fiscal year.

Members had been asking for advocacy training for a long time and, in October and November, we were able to fulfill the request in the form of a four-part self-advocacy workshop led by Brandon Schiafone. I hope we can one day reap the rewards of this workshop when one of the attendees is able to put the training to good use in an advocacy effort.

As part of our continuing letter-writing campaign, we wrote to the new Minister of Health in November. Unlike our letter to the former Minister, sent in May of 2021, which received no response, this time both letters were forwarded to David Boudreau, the Director General of the Medical Devices Directorate at Health Canada. Mr. Boudreau welcomed the opportunity to meet with us, and he brought along Kathy Soltys, the Executive Director of the Bureau of Evaluation in the Medical Devices Directorate at Health Canada, and Grant Kealey, Manager of the review Division responsible for this area. Dean Steacy, John Rae, Hilton Schwartz and I met with them in December and we gave them a new perspective on the link between accessibility and safety—up till that time, they did not make the connection between an inaccessible device and the resulting lack of safety experienced by the user.

We received confirmation that another of our advocacy attempts had moved forward. We had begun discussions regarding the need for a government-issued photo Identification card in Quebec with the Official Opposition Critic for Persons Living with Disabilities or with the Autism Spectrum, Jennifer Maccarone, earlier in the year. On December 3, as part of the IDPD ceremonies, Dominique Anglade, the Official Leader of the Opposition, and Ms. Maccarone presented a proposal for the creation of the photo ID card. This is the closest we have come to seeing it created.

In January, Hilton Schwartz and I participated on a subcommittee of the Disability confidence In Finance (DCIF) project, led by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW). We were given a part of the overall toolkit and, along with Francis Fung from the March of Dimes and Dr. William Cowie from Every Canadian Counts, tasked with giving feedback. We nearly rewrote the whole thing and it helped cause a fairly substantial overhaul of the toolkit. I believe the final result will be much better because of our work.

At the end of January, we had a chance to meet with Stephanie Austin, PhD, Director of Policy and Engagement, Office of Public Service Accessibility, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Our primary focus was our belief that there should be a comprehensive list of federally regulated entities available to aid us in participating in the required consultations on accessibility plans, feedback processes and progress reports as directed by the Accessible Canada Act. Our request was not honoured. However, in February, another letter gained us a meeting with Sandra Charles, Associate Director, Strategic Policy Sector (SPS), Public Services and Procurement Canada. We discussed the procurement of accessible medical devices, and we also reiterated our request for the above-mentioned list.

We also wrote to our contacts at Health Canada and Procurement about the inaccessible home Covid-19 tests, and we are hoping that manufacturers will contact us. We also have the means to contact them.

In March, the National Board passed a motion which will see us donate to an international relief organization each year, and we chose to give to the Ukrainian Unity Fund through the World Blind Union as our first effort. We received a wonderful response from members and non-members alike, and were able to donate $2700 to the cause.

In April, our work on the DCIF project led to our being granted $20,000 for a project idea suggested by Linda Bartram. Our project will result in five videos and ten podcast episodes on the subject of finance and the gains made by this sector as well as the gaps that still exist. This will be a wonderful addition to the main DCIF toolkit.

In March, we started our writing campaign toward the big Canadian banks. In April, we were pleased to be granted a meeting with Monica Ackermann, the Head of Accessibility at Scotiabank. In fact, the meeting was actually arranged by one of our Ottawa-Gatineau members, Shelley Ann Morris, before our letter could even reach the bank! Shelley Ann joined Dean Steacy and me at that meeting. In July, we were notified that Scotiabank had decided to tackle two of the issues included in our letter—the issue of provision of alternate formats and that of the need for some tactile means of identifying bank cards. It is humbling to note that a letter from a small organization such as ours was the catalyst for two national projects.

In May, we said goodbye to Marilyn Melanson, who had been our bookkeeper for the past year. I wish her well in her future endeavours. We also welcomed Susan Van Egdom as our new bookkeeper, and Susan hit the ground running and is already well-ensconced in our financial business!

Following up on the advocacy work, Hilton Schwartz, Louise Johnson and Dean Steacy facilitated an Advocacy Town Hall on June 20. They plan to hold these every few months to help members discuss and learn more about the topic.

Bullet Points

  • New Memorandums of Understanding were signed with T-Base Communications (Now part of Allyant) and Accessible Media Inc.

  • AEBC now has a corporate credit card which will make paying for some of our administration costs less complicated. Thank you to everyone who, at one time or another, allowed us to use your personal card to pay for something!

  • The Board was comfortable enough with our financial stability to sanction a $25,000 Guaranteed Income Certificate for 180 days at 1.3%. It will be redeemed upon maturity on September 27. The Board is confident that we will be able to invest again soon, and the rates have increased quite a bit!

  • The Consumer Access Group (CAG) endorsed two more position papers: Accessible Prescription Medical Information and Point of Sale Terminals. The Board made comments which were reflected in the final versions.

  • AEBC has two representatives on CAG’s Self-Service Kiosk Task Force.

  • As a result of a letter we sent to her, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, met with Joe Foster and me regarding our concerns as well as our hope that the CHRC would bring together the group of blind people who had met previously. Chief Commissioner Landry came well-prepared for the meeting and it was a very positive one.

  • The podcast segment of the Pandora Project, Triple Vision, began in earnest, telling the story of blind Canadians from our perspective for the first time. Many AEBC members have participated already, and I am sure more will participate before they are done.

  • As a result of the letters we sent to the provinces and territories regarding healthcare, we were granted several meetings. The first one was with Marie-Claude Verreault, political advisor to the Minister of Health in Quebec. Then there was a meeting with BC’s Ministerial Assistant, Jeff Hannah, and Linda Bartram and Chantal Oakes joined Dean and Me for a very positive discussion. We met with Manitoba Health and Kim Bannatyne joined Dean and me to give a local perspective. Finally, Terry Gardiner, one of our new members, and I met with Western Health of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is very likely that Terry will join one of their advisory committees and be able to give his perspective on an ongoing basis.

  • As a result of the letters we sent to the housing ministers of the provinces and territories, we were granted a meeting with the Minister of Housing for BC, the Honourable David Eby, and one of his advisors, PS Dan Coulter; Chantal Oakes and Joe Foster joined me that day.

In Progress

  • The Fundraising Committee wrote a proposal and, with assistance from a grant writer, applied for National Operational Funding in May. We have not received a final decision yet.

  • AEBC has contracted Kimberley Vircoe of Fruition Studio to design and build a new website for us. The work is just beginning!

  • AEBC submitted a Letter of Intent to the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund and was granted the opportunity to send in a full application. The results will be available at the end of September, once the Board has approved the recommendations of the Grant Committee.

  • Meetings were held with the Rick Hansen Foundation, and a study of their handbook did not uncover any serious flaws. Dean Steacy and I have submitted applications for positions on their Technical Advisory Committee and are waiting for further news.

  • It is likely that the Federal Court of Appeals will hear our case in the fall. This is an appeal of the negative verdict we received at the Judicial Review last year with respect to our human rights complaint against ESDC.

In Closing

Sometimes it seems that nothing good comes from all the hard work we do. In fact, when I started planning this report, I couldn’t think of much to write. Then I ended up with about eight pages of notes and realized that we had indeed accomplished many things in the past year—sometimes it just takes patience to uncover the true meaning of a year. We have made a difference—in many aspects of life, in fact. I am proud, and you should be too, of all the little things which, when added together, create some major changes. May we continue to feel empowered to strive for excellence and strength in advocacy!

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.