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Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians Annual Report 2015-2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Prepared by: AEBC National Board of Directors for 2015-2016

May, 2016

The National Board presents the AEBC Annual Report that provides a summary of our work during the 2015-2016 year. It covers the period starting in May of 2015 and is meant to highlight key areas of committee and Board challenges and achievement.

Unfortunately our President became quite ill at the beginning of the AEBC conference and AGM and was unable to deliver her report to the membership. To date our President is still seriously ill but is beginning to recover. Dar however emerged briefly over the last week and sent her presentation notes which she planned to deliver at the Conference and AGM. We have adapted her presentation to a report format which can now be shared with all of our members.

The Board wishes Dar a speedy recovery, as we miss her leadership and optimism.

Our audited Financial Statements arrived the day before the AGM and had not yet received Board review or approval prior to the meeting. There are still a couple of matters of business which need to take place prior to completing the business of our old Board and restarting business with a change in a number of Directors.

It’s been a very busy year for AEBC.

Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction
2.0 Committee Activity
2.1 AGM Committee
2.2 Information Accessibility and Copyright Committee
2.3 The Student and Education Council Committee
2.4 The Telecommunications (CRTC) Committee
2.5 Communications
2.6 Employment and Entrepreneurship Committee
2.7 Finance and Fundraising
2.8 Governance
2.9 Information and Technology
2.10 Leadership, Development and Training
2.11 Membership, Recruitment and Retention
2.12 Technology, Website and App Accessibility
2.13 Strategic Planning Committee
3.0 Other Programs and Initiatives in 2015-2016
3.1 Consumer Access Group
3.2 Certified for Access
3.3 Canadian Human Rights Commission
3.4 Barrier Free Canada
3.5 Elections Canada
4.0 Conclusion

1.0 Introduction

The Board held regular monthly meetings starting in May and held our last meeting in April, culminated in the AEBC AGM and Conference 2016 in Montreal.

Early in the formation of the new Board in 2015, we established the Committees identified in the Strategic Plan in 2014-2015.

At the same time we were organizing Committees. We were also responding to day-to-day requests for information where our voices were needed in consultations as well as our ongoing program portfolios and partnership commitments.

2.0 Committee Activity

2.1 AGM Committee

The AGM Committee and the Greater Montreal Chapter collaborated on arrangements for the AGM. Exhibitors and sponsors were secured and we take this opportunity to thank all who helped bring the event together. It was a very good weekend with our host, the AEBC Montreal Chapter, and a place to celebrate new partners, sponsors, presenters and members!

2.2 Information Accessibility and Copyright Committee

The committee first met in August and continued to meet monthly to take on several tasks.

More specifically the following projects were undertaken and completed. Natalie Martiniello prepared a package of information about BookShare—that is, what it is and how it can be used. The information was posted for our members as a blog post.

Mike Ciarciello prepared information on CourseSmart, a service of particular interest to college and university students. This info was also made available in a posting.

In response to a call from the Canadian Library Association to participate in a review of library standards with reference to the needs of persons with disabilities in Canada, the committee submitted a detailed response.

In November of 2015 the committee began work on a survey to be sent out to members. This work is being done in collaboration with the Leadership committee and continues.

On November 29, 2015, Natalie Martiniello joined the Leadership, Development, and Training Committee for a workshop on Accessing Books and Reading.

The committee also spent some time researching background information on the Marrakesh Treaty as we await further developments on the part of Parliament. We added to this initiative a request to get background information on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and its impact on copyright laws in Canada. Related to this, the committee updated what it knew about what the copyright law says about the provision of college and university textbooks.

2.3 The Student and Education Council Committee

The committee began its work in July by reviewing student applications made for the 2015-2016 scholarship program. In August we announced that:

Tyler Harris and Georgia Pike were selected to receive the Jennifer Laura E. Wilson Memorial Scholarship. Each student received a cheque in the amount of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00).

T-Base Communications selected Rebecca Jackson to receive their scholarship in the amount of two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).

The committee then got down to work of preparing for the 2016-2017 Scholarship Program. At the December 9th Board Meeting, we were given approval to move the deadline date for submissions to our Scholarship Program to March 31, 2016. (In previous years the deadline was set for the end of June and it was felt that an earlier date might get us more interest and submitted applications before students went on school summer breaks). The revised Scholarship application packages were sent out on February 1st, 2016 and we have received 15 applications from students. Decisions will be made over the summer and members will be updated once candidates are selected.

The committee worked on a document revising its Committee’s Terms of Reference. This document received approval at the February 24, 2016 Board Meeting. As you learned at the AGM, the Student and Transition to University Program Education Council Committee is exploring the feasibility of spearheading this project, with an anticipated launch date in the summer of 2017. We are pleased to note that the Halifax Chapter has made this project one of its top priorities for 2016 and is actively engaged in fundraising discussions to develop partnerships with national and local organizations such as the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority (APSEA), the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network (EDN), etc. Our main goal in the next few months is to compile an approximate budget so we know how much money will be needed to host this exciting adventure. The Committee will keep the membership and Board updated…. As noted at our April 2016 AGM we adopted a Resolution—2016-01 to obtain permission from AEBC to fundraise.

2.4 The Telecommunications (CRTC) Committee

The past year has been a very active one for the members of this committee. Five submissions were made to the CRTC and members of the committee appeared at two hearings in Gatineau Quebec to further elaborate on their submissions.

In August the committee met to approve its terms of reference and they proceeded to work on projects with both AMI and Bell over the next few months.

AMI invited us to participate on a committee investigating all aspects of descriptive audio. The committee also provided AMI with comments on how well descriptive video was being provided in TV Ontario programming. We also worked with AMI on a PSA that will help us with membership recruitment. We are so pleased to note that AMI is once again an AGM sponsors. Their presentation at the AGM on their new website and its accessibility is something to note and celebrate.

The committee began positive exchanges with Bell. In November 2015, we provided information to members on an App for use on Bell phones. In March 2016, we informed members about an accessible phone being released by Bell. A member of the Telecommunications (CRTC) Committee tested the phone and we are expecting more feedback in the coming weeks. Through this collaboration with Bell, the Board is proud to underline that Bell was a new sponsor of the AEBC AGM and we look forward to a long-term partnership with them in many areas of collaboration.

AEBC has been involved in several other areas:

2.5 Communications

The Communications Committee members are located from Nova Scotia through to British Columbia, consisting of sub-committees of writers, editors and bloggers.

The year lead AEBC into the hashtag campaign called "I Am Your Customer" (#iamyourcustomer) which was launched at last year's AGM in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A campaign where we sought membership participation focused on requesting alternate formats from government departments and regulated organizations.

Some observations noted regarding the campaign and our social media networks are as follows:

       34 Facebook posts with the #IAmYourCustomer hashtag, from 12 distinct        authors (9 of whom are Communications committee members or affiliated   identities or "core AEBC members").

18 Tweets with the #IAmYourCustomer hash tag, from 8 distinct authors (5 of     whom are Communications committee members or affiliated identities or "core     AEBC members") and 4 blogs. 

The Communications Committee partnered with the Leadership, Development and Training committee to host two workshops leading up to Canada Day - one on Facebook, hosted by Natalie Martiniello, and one on Twitter, hosted by Brian Moore.

Although the campaign was not as successful as we had anticipated, it did provide us with important information. We learned that some of our members need introductory training regarding social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and that not all our members are connected to the internet. Moreover, the members that we were targeting to help with this campaign simply were not connected to the internet, nor able to help us push the campaign.

A new pamphlet was designed over the past year to better reflect where AEBC is going strategically as the former pamphlet was well out-dated. This pamphlet has been posted and is available on our national website in both English and French.

Our Facebook followers have increased over the past year, with a total of 244,Facebook 'Likes' to the page. Our Twitter has increased from approximately 900 followers to over three thousand followers and has significantly exceed our expectations, surpassing our goal of doubling our followers throughout 2015-2016.

Our writers and editors were very busy this year, editing and proof-reading correspondence for the AGM committee, blogs, letters, etc., and information that needed to reach our membership. The new AEBC brand was applied to all communication materials.

2.6 Employment and Entrepreneurship Committee

The Committee met 4 times during the last year with great commitment and enthusiasm, contributing experience and knowledge around the matter of employment. Although entrepreneurship was a topic we planned to pursue, the main focus of members was the matter of employment.

We discussed what we want and need to achieve as a committee in support of our membership looking for work or in pursuit of entrepreneurship as an alternative path to making a living. At our very first meeting it was agreed by all that this is a very comprehensive file as it supports two objectives. Employment; where a person works at a job in a business and is fairly compensated, and entrepreneurship; where a person starts their own business and works for themselves.

We focused on both of the topics while we sought to identify common issues and opportunities to influence both, while developing strategies to move forward. From these initial discussions, we commenced drafting the Purpose and Terms of Reference.

We broadly mapped out the issues affecting success at finding employment and did the same for entrepreneurship.

Our committee decided to first drill down on the matter of employment to identify the barriers, lack of accessibility in technology, support systems info-structure, attitudinal barriers, resources and supports. We also explored placement companies in the mainstream and non-traditional employment agencies that help people with disabilities find work. Members shared experiences on agencies as ways of finding employment and told their stories of successes and failures.

For example, some people withheld information of a disability in telephone calls with organisations while clarifying the requirements, while others felt obliged to disclose. It was agreed that the matter of disclosure is a personal decision.

It was generally agreed that over the last ten years the absence of accessibility has resulted in the introduction of new systems that do not work appropriately as accessibility was not considered in the purchase of new systems. People in the Federal Public Service are now at risk of being stopped in career development goals because of a wide failure to incorporate accessibility into the design and development of systems that meet the diverse needs of employees, let alone the needs of the public.

In the past, assistive devices were seen as very expensive, however there are a number of systems that build accessibility into the operating systems as a matter of course, ensuring that the cost of access is included in every system at market prices. Other computer technologies incorporate add on applications to ensure access, sometimes adding significant costs to the purchase of workstations.

We highlighted the need for research to identify best practices, available resources and support, technology issues, training needs, attitudinal barriers and organizational systems which limit involvement.

It was decided that we would develop a short list of questions and then approach the HR Departments of large organisations to help identify issues where problems exist that prevent blind applicants from finding employment in these environments. The questions need to be broad and designed to identify barriers while engaging Human Resources personnel to work with AEBC to find resolutions to accessibility barriers. Blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted employees and customers of financial institutions, for example, encounter barriers to participation because systems upgrades and implementations may have failed to reflect accessibility in the procurement of new systems during the last ten years when osterity was the focus in procurement decisions, that today, do not accommodate accessibility and introduced new systemic barriers to participation of employees and customers.

Although we did work on the list of questions, it is believed that we have more work to do to ensure engagement of large regulated organisations as partners for change.

Over the last number of months, the committee has spent much time discussing issues of technology, attitudinal and policy developments which need to be addressed to make corporate institutions more accessible for blind Canadians looking for work.

We continue to research best practices and building our knowledge so we are best positioned to respond to consultations on matters of employment based on our personal knowledge and experience in both finding work or starting a business.

We are currently leveraging the Accessible Procurement Policy Position to ensure that information, communications and technology procurements, (ICT), are mandated as accessible requirements. The paper is now being circulated with the Government of Canada to garner support for the approach.

In this next fiscal year, we will work with financial institutions to highlight the importance of accessible procurement as a policy approach which highlights the benefits of a diverse workforce and the opportunity to access broader including more diverse market opportunities in the delivery of essential services to internal and public audiences.

2.7 Finance and Fundraising

Over the past year, the Finance and Fundraising committee met several times to discuss different fundraising events to help bring money into AEBC. They wrote a letter to circulate to hockey teams across Canada, to see if they would consider AEBC for their fifty fifty ticket draws at the amateur and pro levels.

The committee also drafted a letter to send to the Lions Foundation in hopes of forming a partnership for future projects.

AEBC responded to a consultation on the matter of Balancing Oversight and Innovation in the Ways we Pay to highlight the ICT needs of our membership, from the tools and resources to finance in order to highlight how we are uniquely qualified to work collaboratively with financial institutions and Governments on matters affecting our participation on financial matters.

With much thanks to our out-going Treasurer, Mr. Robert Hebert, AEBC applied and was able to, as of Monday, March 7, 2016, be an official member of the participating charities program on Aeroplan’s charitable pooling website. We will in coming months be encouraging members to promote this program to friends so that we will raise funds to help us with projects.

AEBC would like to thank Aeroplan for providing an accessible link for screen reader users to donate miles to AEBC without any issues.

2.8 Governance

The committee is comprised of four members who have been working over the past months to provide chapters with by-laws that are updated and in line with national's by-laws, as over time, the chapter by-laws are outdated, and information is lacking.

The committee has also worked together to draft a by-law resolution for this year's AGM on the disciplinary procedural code, which, too, is outdated. Brian Moore presented resolution and proposals at the AGM. The committee is currently recruiting new members to help with this on-going work.

2.9 Information and Technology

This is an internal focused committee which studies and informs decisions of our Board on matters effecting our technology infrastructure to ensure that it evolves and meets organizational and membership needs.

The committee’s tasks have involved a transition to Microsoft Office 365 to manage the numerous email lists we use. The Committee was also informed that Drupel, the system we use to host our website, is now insufficient for our needs. A complete rebuild is complex and expensive. It will be necessary to secure funding for such a project.

The Committee also notes the need for guidelines regarding the various lists we operate. The document is currently under revision and appropriate changes will be made if necessary. Lists for chapter executives will also be created, if requested, and the committee has considered developing a survey instrument to determine how members want to use our webpages. They can either be updated regularly, or presented as a static set of pages. We note that the material is rarely consulted, but this is not surprising, considering that only some of our members use social media with any amount of regularity.

2.10 Leadership, Development and Training

Since our last AGM, the Leadership, Development and Training committee hosted 5 workshops. They are as follows:

  • An introduction to Facebook, hosted by Natalie Martiniello, leading up to the 'I am your customer' campaign
  • An introduction to Twitter, hosted by Brian Moore, leading up to the 'I am your customer' campaign
  • Advocacy and letter writing hosted by John Rae and Chantal Oakes
  • Accessing Books and Reading by Natalie Martiniello, Betty Nobel and Jen Jesso
  • Information to get AEBC members to participate in the AGM weekend by Jen Jesso, Leo Bissonnette and David Best

In the next few weeks, we hope to host a Town Hall and invite Barrier-Free Canada and David Lepofsky, to provide members with information regarding a National disabilities act. Further details to come.

At the committee's last meeting earlier this month, Jen Jesso stepped down as committee chairperson, and Louise Johnson has stepped in. AEBC would like to thank Jen Jesso for all her hard work and dedication over the past two years, and we welcome Louise Johnson.

2.11 Membership, Recruitment and Retention:

This committee is comprised of five members who have met three times throughout the year. Although work has started by committee members to develop a welcome package for new members, the committee is in the process of designing a survey to reach out to new members, current members and former members to provide AEBC and the national board with crucial information necessary to meet the needs of our membership. This will include keeping a database of members' skills, needs, etc.

2.12 Technology, Website and App Accessibility

This year, there were a total of five members involved in the work of the committee. With difficulties scheduling meetings earlier in the year that worked for everyone, the Committee was eventually strengthened in early January when we added much needed and technical skills to support a project to assess the accessibility of Governments and other regulated organisations with the obligation to comply with legislative imperatives for websites and associated Apps used in accessing information about programs and services.

A project to conduct high level audits on apps deployed by regulated organisations for accessibility has been defined and scoped to support our objective of opening doors with corporations and Governments about the importance of accessible digital information and the channels used to deliver the same to ensure that all constituents and customers are informed in decision making about the services we pay for through our taxes and service fees.

The project is aimed at broadening our profile and capability with a view to engagement with potential partners and demonstrating our capability and how we can work together to ensure that all customers can be served by the organisation. As well, the project can help introduce good public policy by discussing the role of Accessible Procurement to organisations delivering essential services in preventing future systemic barriers and demonstrating respectful Corporate Social Responsibility through action and partnerships with customers who are blind is a good first step in the engagement process. Finance, telecommunications, education, healthcare, technology and transportation sectors are particularly important in the delivery of essential and accessible products, programs and services to all customers.

AEBC has the opportunity to engage and manage new and important relationships with Governments and corporations with a view to the development of future partnerships /sponsorships, where as a community of blind Canadians, we are perceived to be of help to organisations committed to becoming accessible as it makes economic sense to serve all customers fairly and equitably.

The projects' scope is to conduct high level audits on apps deployed by regulated organisations for accessibility as our way of opening doors through respectful dialogue with a view to the development of future partnerships and/sponsorships. This important committee needs greater technology expertise to support the goals of the committee. We remain hopeful that we will find these skills within our membership.

We are looking for members who have a technology background to help us identify the technology trends impacting our access to the online digital world, identify emerging technology that we see as disrupting the accessibility landscape in both positive and negative ways, and report on the same through blog posts.

We are looking for people who understand the best free tools available to conduct high level audits on websites and Apps to support our efforts to open doors and lead to discussion on why it is so important with Governments and regulated organisations.

Early after the AGM and with a refreshed Board, we will hold another meeting to facilitate the transition to a new Chair person and welcome new members who wish to participate on the committee.

2.13 Strategic Planning Committee

The Strategic Planning Committee held two meetings this year. The First meeting took place six months following the AGM where we reviewed progress against goals to ensure that we were on track.

Our second meeting took place at the end of the year and was held with the Committee members and our National Board of Directors to assess progress and identify lessons learned. The Strategic Planning Report is a separate document that deals specifically with Planning our future.

3.0 Other Programs and Initiatives in 2015-2016

3.1 Consumer Access Group

As a member of the Consumer Access Group, AEBC was very focused on the introduction of the Accessible Procurement Policy Position adopted by many of the Consumer Groups participating on this CNIB financially funded consortium. With the exception of CNIB, the consortium is made up of National and Provincial consumer groups working together to garner consensus and endorsements from organisations in the development of position papers.

It was the AEBC intention to push for the development of the Accessible Procurement Position, developed and endorsed by the requisite number of groups in the consortium.

Essentially the Accessible Procurement position calls for mandating accessibility as a requirement of all information, communication and technology purchases to ensure that the expenditure of public funds reflect the needs of all Canadians.

The intent of this policy is to encourage public institutions to demonstrate leadership by calling for accessibility in contracting as it cost our Governments nothing, creates opportunities for business innovation to expand their product, program and service offerings by building accessibility into design that can be leveraged in the market. For blind deaf-blind and partially sighted members of AEBC and many other Canadians, the choice and options we want and need at competitive prices. AEBC is calling for more choice in the market so that we too have the opportunities currently not available to us today as customers, entrepreneurs and employees because public policy does not support our digital rights and needs in mainstream public spending.

What this policy provides the incentive for business to invest in innovation and leverage that investment in the market. Importantly, this policy, when implemented, takes accessibility from special interest into the mainstream; which will result in greater choice and options to products and services while providing business with the opportunity to leverage innovation in the market for the universal design of products, programs and services. This is a truly win/win for all involved in domestic and international markets as it reflects all of our ICT requirements in the digital mainstream.

We have witnessed the success of both Apple and Google with IOS and Android operating systems as both corporations have experienced the successful approach in the design and delivery of mainstream products incorporating accessibility in their mobile devices. Both of these products are the result of effective advocacy, and both of these operating systems are reeping the rewards of corporate strategic decisions to include accessibility into product design as a result of consumer need, demand and advocacy.

The decision of AEBC to pursue the development of a discussion paper which resulted in the Accessible Procurement policy Position which which we anticipate will receive endorsements from not only consortium participants but also other groups now considering the approach will continue to grow.

We would like to thank Marc Workman for drafting the policy position as it was professional and concise and has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted customers, employees, as well as assist businesses focused on export markets where accessibility is already mandated in law and official policy.

A number of National Provincial/Territorial consumer groups representing blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people from across Canada working together to build on initiatives is just one more example of effective advocacy and collaboration yields positive results for all Canadians.

3.2 Certified for Access

This initiative of the Government of Ontario seeks to educate business on the benefits of accessibility and to engage the business sector certified partners in the Provincial objectives to make Ontario accessible by 2025.

The Government of Ontario contracted engaged Deloitt to lead the Certified for Access initiative to build a model for the certification of Businesses as accessible entities through a rating system. As a member on the Incentives for Business panel, AEBC had the opportunity to work with others to build a business case on why companies would want to be accessible. It was a great opportunity and it has been suggested that as a result, we as blind deaf-blind customers might want to strengthen its relationship with corporations to build awareness of how they benefit from making their organisations accessible. The consumer community of blind deaf-blind and partially sighted customers play an important role in the success of the program while creating opportunity for development. This important work began in late 2015 and we are looking forward to further participation in this discussion and outcomes of the initiative.

3.3 Canadian Human Rights Commission

We were invited to a one day strategic planning/brainstorming meeting at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in Ottawa, Ontario, on January 26, 2016. The meeting provided an opportunity to hear our views about existing barriers faced by blind Canadians of full enjoyment of human rights as well as to discuss possible steps the Commission could take to help remove these barriers. We were actively involved in stimulating and productive discussions during a well organized and structured day. These discussions continued over the winter via e-mail with an exchange of documents.

On April 25, 2016, a very productive teleconference with members of the CHRC and members of our community brought forth fruitful discussions, continuing a constructive dialogue.

We are pleased to note here that Ian Fine and Marie-Claude Landry of the CHRC joined us at our AGM to share their views on the future direction of work to be done in the coming months.

3.4 Barrier Free Canada

Last year the AEBC Board endorsed the advocacy efforts of Barrier Free Canada and continue to support their ongoing efforts to bring in a National Disabilities Act for Canadians.

3.5 Elections Canada

We participated in Election Canada townhalls and follow up election surveys designed to further promote the voting access of Canadians.

4.0 Conclusion

AEBC is making significant progress, but with achievement there is often an increased requirement for participation. AEBC is at a state of growth. We are hopeful that with this continued growth will come the financial resources to maintain a person with the skills to manage our research objectives as we are called on by Governments and business to participate in consultations, attend meetings, contribute to committee work externally and more.

Blind Canadians are uniquely positioned to speak about the barriers we face and measures that hold the greatest promise to our full and active participation in all aspects of the social and economic mainstream of Canada.

With a new brand that reflects our commitment to advocacy, partnerships and collaboration, we are changing our story about who we are in Canada. We are talented and skilled, educated, resilient and excited participants in the mainstream digital future of a modern and progressive Canada.

The National Board of Directors for 2015-2016:
Dar Wournell, President
Sharlyn Ayotte, First Vice President
Alan Conway, Second Vice President
Robert Hebert, Treasurer
Maryse Glaude-Beaulieu, National Secretary
Stephen Ricci, Director
Leo Bissonnette, Director

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
PO Box 20262
RPO Town Centre
Kelowna, BC
V1Y 9H2
Charity #895648335RR0001