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President's Report: Your Voice Leads to Equality

Editor's Note: The following are notes for an Address by Robin East, President, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, to the AEBC's Annual General Meeting, Toronto, Saturday, May 18, 2008.

I want to thank the Toronto Chapter for hosting this year's Annual General Meeting (AGM). A great deal of planning and work occurs behind the scenes before, during and after this event. I am certain the members present at this 2008 AGM will show their gratitude to the Toronto Executive and Chapter members.

The past year has been very busy and I invite you to review our bi-monthly activity reports. You will find that the AEBC has been on Television, in newspapers, on the Radio, making presentations to all levels of government, and at various conferences. We set up an information picket to share information on the dangers of hybrid and electric automobiles; wrapped up a very successful alternative for delivery of technical aids; and discussed with ARCH Disability Law Centre filing a charter challenge regarding our Right to gain access to an accessible and verifiable vote in federal elections. We have sent briefs to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regarding our right to access communications; a brief to Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments on accessible elections; a brief on poverty; and many more.

I will highlight some briefs we have prepared and activities we participated in below:

Briefs:

  • A Comprehensive Economic Strategy for Ontarians with Disabilities
  • Hybrid Car Brief to be presented at international Vision Conference
  • Making Canada's Voting System Truly Accessible
  • The Role of Taxation on Enhancing the Self-Sufficiency of Persons with Disabilities in Canada
  • A Walk on the Wild Side Brief
  • Boomers Aging with Vision Loss: Public Attitudes Are Key

Some conferences we presented at were:

  • Ontario Vision Teachers Conference
  • York University's Critical Disabilities Studies Conference
  • A debate at the 5th annual Breaking Down Barriers Conference of Canada-Wide Accessibility for Post-Secondary Students (CanWAPSS)
  • The 25 in 5 network anti-poverty conference
  • End Exclusion (co-sponsored by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities {CCD}, the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres {CAILC} & the Canadian Association for Community Living {CACL})
  • The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition
  • Walk International Conference * 11th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED)
  • Festival of International Conferences on Care Giving, Disabled, Aging & Technology (FICCDAT) 2007 Conferences

Some important meetings we have attended were:

  • Consultation on the provision of library services in Canada as part of Library and Archive Canada's Initiative for Equitable Library Access
  • Arch Disability Law Centre re: court action for blind electors
  • Consultations re: Saskatchewan Elections Act
  • Connectus Consulting re: CRTC issues
  • Ongoing meetings with the Ontario government's information & communications standard development committee
  • Hon. George Smitherman, Ontario Minister of Health, re: elections, hybrid car, non-drivers' license
  • CCD Social Policy Committee
  • Guide Dog Users of Canada AGM
  • PAWS Biennial Conference
  • Ongoing consultations with Royal Ontario Museum
  • Ongoing meetings re: anti-poverty with Ontario Coalition for Social Justice

As mentioned prior to this list of activities and briefs, more details can be located on our web site: {http://www.blindcanadians.ca}

I would like to thank the 2007-08 Board of directors for their commitment of time and work to the AEBC. Each National Board member brings their unique talents and experiences to the table and volunteers many hours to promote the issues of the AEBC. To Marcia Cummings and Devon Wilkins, who are leaving the Board, I look forward to your continuing participation as active AEBC members. Devon will continue to be active as President of the Collingwood Chapter and Marcia has decided to take a more active roll in the Toronto Chapter.

I am pleased to report that this year four scholarships were awarded. We wish these students all the best in their studies and future plans:

  1. The Campbell River Lions Club of British Columbia Scholarship: Ms. Christine Nieder, New Westminster, BC, Douglas College, Classroom Community Support w/ Autism Specialty. "I would like to work within the post-secondary system as either a transition counsellor, teacher in adult special education programs, or work in a disability centre."

  2. The Business, Education and Technology Scholarship: Mr. Chima Andrew Akomas, Vancouver, BC, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia (UBC), Degree in Business, Consultant/Manager/Administrator.

  3. The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship: Ms. Natalie Martiniello, Montreal, Quebec, McGill University. "I am currently in my first year, pursuing my BA Honours undergraduate degree in Sociology, with a minor in Educational Psychology. Afterwards, I would like to obtain a Masters degree in Rehabilitation Teaching from the University of Montreal."

  4. The AEBC National Achievement Scholarship: Ms. Deborah Adams, Sackville, Nova Scotia, Mount St. Vincent University, BA in Political Studies. Overcoming the loss of sight in the midst of a successful military career, Ms. Adams is now focusing on her education and would like to work in public policy.

I would like to welcome all the new members that have joined AEBC during the past year. In particular, I would like to highlight three new Chapters and their members. Welcome Fraser Valley, Nanaimo and Halifax! It is expected that two more Chapters will join us soon after our AGM. I will take the liberty now to welcome both the Brandt and Prince George Chapters to our fold. To existing Chapters, I would like to thank all Executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC.

As you can see, we are growing, and with this growth comes a challenge--a challenge in how we operate as an organization. Our membership is our strength and gives our organization direction and voice.

Our active, hands-on National Board of Directors has led the way in moving issues regarding vision loss to the Federal and Provincial levels. We are now at the point where the Board of Directors is too small of a group to continue in the manner they have. In addition, today, more and more decision makers want to hear from individuals and groups at the local level and less from leaders at the national level. While the Board will continue to keep its fingers on the pulse of the issues and continue to be vocal in sustaining our rights and moving the disability agenda forward, the Board can only do so much.

It has become clear that it is now time for our Chapters to take on more of our advocacy and fundraising projects, and the Board will be there to support Chapters in taking on a larger share of our work. As rights holders, we must continue to speak with one voice and continue to be heard through our many activities, which involve our members, Chapters and National Board.

As Canadians focus more and more attention on our economy, it seems that disability rights and other human rights are being relegated to the back burner by our elected members of parliament and the elected members of our legislatures. Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted are still the most vulnerable in our society. Most of us live in poverty even though our education levels increase. To this day, we continue to seek meaningful jobs, the right to travel, the right to vote independently and in secret, and access to information, from print materials to the internet. The barriers are still there. Although we move forward in some areas, we seem to fall behind in others.

As we, AEBC members, speak to each other, speak out at conferences, deliver our voice through briefs and the media, and by having our voice heard in the legislative assemblies and parliament, we have come to the understanding that we have reached full citizenship, but we have not reached full participation in Canadian society. As Canada grows stronger economically, our elected members of parliament and members of the legislatures will listen only if we are there; however, we must expect tangible progress. As citizens, we need to ensure our voices are heard and that progress is made.

Progress is taking place in some areas. Many cities across Canada are putting in more and more audible pedestrian signals. This is occurring only because of your voices. Many cities are having bus stops called out by the drivers or automatic voice announcements using GPS technology because of your voices. More and more pressure is being put on manufacturers of hybrid and electric cars, so expect that these vehicles will be fitted with sound emitters in the near future. Provinces and States will legislate this and the manufacturers are being forced to do the right thing. This is the result of your voices. It is happening not because of a few, but because of concerted action. Members of Chapters across this country are sending letters, making presentations, visiting their elected officials and expecting full participation. Advocacy is alive and well in Canada, and as rights holders we should be very proud of our accomplishments.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, through its members, through its Chapters, through its National Committees, and through its Board, is continuing to speak out, not for frivolous things but for concrete and tangible advances that give us full participation and citizenship in our country. Our future is with our voice, and as rights holders we expect to be heard. It is your voice that leads to equality. Governments and Educators will listen if we continue to speak out loudly and with substance. We will continue moving our agenda forward and continue to expect that our rights to full participation are fully entrenched, and not considered as just a future possibility.

"An active member is like a catalyst that mixes with their local Chapter and inspires empowerment." This is a statement of mine that speaks for itself. Our voice will only get stronger if each of us commits to speak out as a Rights holder. We must expect to participate in our communities and expect all the rights and privileges of being Canadian citizens. We do not need to demand these rights as if someone may grant them--we already have them, and it is time to simply expect that our rights and privileges be respected and given tangible effect, as we are, indeed, full citizens of Canada.

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