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A First-Timer's First Impressions of The 2007 AEBC Conference

Editor's Note: Jennifer Jesso is a teacher who lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

This past spring, between Thursday, May 17th and Sunday, the 20th, I attended the conference held by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) and hosted in Victoria, British Columbia, by the Victoria Chapter. Held at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites near the city's harbour, the hotel was in a central location for various attractions offered throughout the conference, and the service provided to guests was excellent. As a new member of AEBC, I had never been to any conference surrounding disability issues before, and I found the weekend both enlightening and inspiring.

On Thursday afternoon, during registration, attendees could visit displays of blindness-related products and services. In the evening, there was a catered reception, where we were treated to a speech by the Minister of Employment and Income Assistance, Minister Claude Richmond, on the new BC Disability Strategy for employment that the government is launching.

Friday morning, after a continental breakfast, we heard the president's report from John Rae (see President's Report elsewhere in this issue).

Next, the keynote speaker, Patrick Fleck, Access Consultant, spoke about universal design, what it is, and seven principles to follow to incorporate it into everyday environmental design. Small breakout sessions ensued, where each group discussed one or two principles of universal design, and the results of each of these discussions were then shared.

Pat Danforth, Employment Coordinator, Victoria Disability Resource Centre, then spoke about the possibilities and limitations of having a National Disability Act for Canada, which she expressed ambivalence about given Canada's unique constitutional needs as a federation.

After lunch, the focus of presentations turned to the BC government and services it provides for British Columbians with disabilities.

First, Deborah Ainsworth, the Executive Director of Disability Services Delivery of the BC Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance, expanded on the BC Disability Strategy that had been introduced to delegates on Thursday evening by Minister Claude Richmond.

Next, Christine Gordon, co-chair of the Provincial Equipment and Assistive Devices Committee, spoke about a new model of service delivery for a BC Assistive Devices Program.

Finally, Linda Bartram, AEBC member and program coordinator, gave a presentation outlining the pilot project AEBC is running for the Low Tech Assistive Devices Program in BC. This initiative is funded by the BC government and provides assistive devices such as magnifiers, portable reading systems, mobility aids and talking household products to British Columbians who are blind or partially sighted.

Later in the afternoon, concurrent sessions focused on The Future of Library Services and Accessible Pedestrian Signals.

Saturday began with another continental breakfast, followed by the first presentation of the day--an inspiring workshop by Mike Yale, AEBC member and long-time disability and human rights activist, on the topic of advocacy. The presentation incorporated Mike's personal experience with advocacy, which he described as "a way of life" for him as he shared anecdotes from movements and projects he has been involved in through the years.

Throughout his presentation, Mike also drew on a recently published guide to advocacy, which he highly recommends reading. The guide, entitled "Stand Up! Speak Out! An Advocacy Guide for Blind, Deaf-Blind and Partially Sighted Canadians," written by Monika Penner, is available for download from AEBC's website at: www.blindcanadians.ca/publications/

The workshop concluded with a question and answer session and discussion period.

Following this, we broke out into simultaneous sessions whose topics included Meeting the Needs of Those with Partial Sight, Addressing Poverty, The Role of AEBC In Service Provision, and The Role of Independent Living Centres in Meeting the Service Needs of Canadians Who Are Blind, Deaf-Blind or Partially Sighted.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were spent on board nominations/elections and on resolutions.

One important resolution that was passed was proposed by Mike Yale regarding poverty. Resolution 2007-09 calls upon AEBC to advocate to both provincial and federal governments to introduce a poverty reduction strategy that better addresses the needs of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians who are unemployed or underemployed. This strategy would cover the following principles: income support programs addressing the cost of living; providing adequate cost for the disability itself; providing families with the basic income necessary for reasonable health and nutrition, housing (taking into consideration market rents), as well as clothing and other costs to ensure a reasonable standard of living; promoting and encouraging individuals' participation in community life, as well as providing resources to re-enter the workforce, if possible; and finally, reducing disincentives to employment with the eventual goal of their elimination altogether.

Other resolutions addressed issues such as preserving human rights, accessible elections, service animal definitions, accessible entertainment, and service provision. A complete list and the text of each of the 2007 resolutions that were adopted can be found on AEBC's website at: www.blindcanadians.ca/governance/resolution_list.php?year=2007

The conference was rounded out by several optional social events. The Hospitality Suite was open each evening for members to socialize with friends and meet members from other provinces. A narrated horse-drawn wagon ride around Victoria gave us the opportunity to see many historical sights and was enjoyable despite a bit of rain! A group of us enjoyed a tour of the Titanic exhibit at the Royal British Columbia Museum, with an impromptu tour led by a museum staff member that impressed us all (the tour was supposed to be unguided!). Dinner out at a variety of restaurants and ethnic establishments were enjoyable and another good chance to socialize.

All in all, the AEBC national conference in Victoria was a very informative and fun weekend. As a first-time attendee, I look forward to future AEBC conferences.