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Editorial Access to Information: Our Most Basic Right and Most Complex Challenge

There has been so much written about the age of information and the information superhighway that most of us"tune out" the trite subject. However, the acquisition of information which is provided to most people visually is profoundly important to blind people. In fact, more than any other single factor, our ability to get needed information determines whether blindness will be an annoyance or a tragedy for us. The physical disability of blindness -- the inability to see or see adequately -- becomes a devastating handicap when information is not available in non-visual forms.

Fortunately, much information is provided, in whole or in part, in ways which we can access. In practice, and with a little instruction, most of us can figure out the general layout of a room, a home, a neighbourhood, or a city. Simple alternative techniques work well and require no modifications. For example, if one wishes to know the name of the store one is passing, it's generally quite easy to walk in the door and ask the proprietor. Most of us have learned, to the detriment of our pocketbooks, how quickly a simple question can lead to an unplanned purchase because we have been intrigued by what the proprietor had to say about his or her merchandise.

This issue of "The Canadian Blind Monitor" is devoted largely to discussion of those situations in which informal means of gathering information are not adequate.

Literacy through Braille is a cherished part of our heritage. Without the ability to read and write, blind people could not have emerged from dependence and isolation to march together toward equality of opportunity. Sadly, at a time when new technology is making the production of Braille faster, easier, and less expensive than ever before, Braille literacy among blind Canadians appears to be falling. In this issue, we will explore some of the complex reasons for this trend and look at what we can do as a people to safeguard our heritage.

What about consumer electronics? How has the advent of touch screens and other digitized programmable devices affected our ability to function on a daily basis? Have you programmed your V.C.R. recently?

How does the government of Canada fit into the picture? Strides have been made in the provision of documents in accessible format. At the same time, copyright laws are structured in a way which tends to decrease our access to the printed word.

Whether we are in school, on the job, or just trying to get a little cash from the bank machine, the way in which our information needs are met can make the difference between success and failure. Because the quality of our lives is at stake, it will be up to us to teach, encourage (and where necessary) push to have our needs and aspirations considered as an integral part of information delivery. We are no longer willing to be a charitable afterthought.

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