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Dare to Dream

Editor's Note: As the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians celebrates its 20th anniversary, we not only reflect on our history, achievements and challenges, but also consider our current situation and look forward to the future. Below, three AEBC members share their dreams for our organization and for persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted in Canada.

Deanna Ng, Manitoba

Participating in the Winnipeg Chapter of the AEBC is really exciting and enjoyable. I see a lot of progress, as we are getting new Chapter members and increasing public awareness of our presence in the local community. We are raising awareness through the distribution of our Chapter public service announcements that are played on local radio stations.

Currently, there are several hopes we are working to realize. One is accessible health care, such as through the Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaint against Manitoba Health for lack of accessible information in braille, large print, etext and audio formats; equipment like pill bottles and blood glucose monitors that lack braille, large print or audio labels/feedback; and lack of support from medical and office staff when those with vision impairments are required to do such things as sign waivers and questionnaires.

We are working with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg to ensure the facility and its information/displays are accessible, such as providing appropriate lighting, alternate-format labels, and accessible technologies used to activate displays; we are concerned that such technologies will be touch-screen or otherwise unusable, and offer no access to blind and partially sighted visitors.

We are also working with the Province of Manitoba to revise the Disability Policy regarding accessible campsites on Provincial Campgrounds. Everyone deserves a break and to join their families in activities.

Another project the Chapter is working on is accessibility with local cable companies for programs with descriptive video where, during periods of no dialogue in a show, visual features such as facial expressions, gestures, clothing, scenery and action sequences, are verbally described on an audio track, so that blind audiences can enjoy, and benefit from, programming as much as possible. We will also continue to participate in the MTS (Manitoba Telecom Services) Allstream Accessibility Committee and the Manitoba Library Accessibility Task Force, advocating for library materials in braille, large print, DAISY, etext and audio formats, as well as for an accessible library website. Communication and literacy are important to our Chapter. We strive to ensure that all members enjoy their rights to full citizenship.

Our fear is of an inaccessible community where people with disabilities cannot access places, services or resources that people without disabilities can. There will always be a need for advocacy. AEBC’s effort is a joint voice to fight social devaluation, exclusion, barriers and prejudice. We need to continue to grow so that we can be successful and work as one voice for social justice and positive change. Losing membership is a tough issue, as I think there is much we could accomplish with more AEBC members. I would like to assure people that their opinions do matter.

We face many barriers in terms of education, housing, income, employment, transportation, health care, culture and the community. I would like to encourage all AEBC members to work towards creating a more inclusive community. We may lose focus if we do not keep our goals in mind. Referring to our common goals at meetings and having open communication between meetings helps our cause.

For the AEBC, I dream of an accessible community for all people. This will be possible through fostering inclusion, respect and dignity. I am personally interested in having younger members join our great organization. Having members of various backgrounds helps us have more perspective in different areas.

Working towards developing an accessible community incorporates universal design, communication, collaboration, and a barrier-free society. The ideal is that all citizens can participate in all aspects of community and social life. This is something I am glad the AEBC is successful in working towards.

Marc Workman, Alberta

When I reflect on the sorts of goals I would like the AEBC to realize in the future, three notions come to mind: growth, recognition, and empowerment. These three are certainly not exhaustive of the possible AEBC achievements that would be worthwhile, but they are three of the ones that interest me most.

I've been involved on the National Board of the AEBC for around four years, and in that time, the number of members of the organization has remained pretty much constant. We typically have between 270 and 300 members at any given time. This will not do. I would not be satisfied if this were doubled or tripled either. The AEBC should have ten times the membership it currently has. We need hundreds of Chapters and strong provincial and territorial affiliates across the country. There are obstacles beyond our control that will make this difficult. French-English divisions, a vast country with a comparatively small population, and our relatively decentralized system of government all stand in the way of building a large national organization, but I believe it can be done, and I'm confident it will be done in the future. I intend to do what I can to make this happen.

Part of what I believe will fuel our growth is receiving the recognition we deserve. The AEBC must be recognized as the legitimate voice of blind Canadians. We are a democratic organization. This means a variety of things. One thing it means is that, if I misrepresent the organization, the members may decide that I no longer deserve a place on the National Board. I am accountable to the members for everything I do on behalf of the AEBC, and this accountability is what fundamentally distinguishes organizations "of" blind people from organizations "for" blind people. In the minds of politicians, journalists and the wider public, the AEBC, along with other democratically run organizations, must be recognized as the authority on issues affecting blind Canadians. Growth and recognition of the AEBC go hand in hand. As we grow, we will receive more recognition, and as we receive more recognition, we will continue to grow.

Above, I discussed one aspect of what it means to be a democratic organization. However, periodic elections among elites does not a democracy make. So I want to turn now to a second aspect of our democratic nature that I believe needs to be emphasized over the coming years. The AEBC must always work to empower its members to be their own advocates. There is value in using the law to protect ourselves from human rights violations, and there is value in appearing before the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) to speak about the importance of access to broadcasting and telecommunications, but we must always stay focused on the value of bottom-up approaches. It is through ensuring as many blind people as possible feel confident, capable and empowered that we will truly change what it means to be a blind Canadian.

As I said at the outset, these are but three of many worthwhile goals that the AEBC can and will achieve over the next 20 years. However, I do believe that growth, recognition and empowerment are central goals, and I am excited to have the opportunity to take part in their realization. I hope others agree and will join me in bringing about the future we deserve.

Donna Jodhan, Ontario

We are living in a society where, as blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted persons, we need to keep pushing the envelope if we hope to maintain our identity, as well as to have our rights recognized, legitimized, and protected. When I was elected as National President of the AEBC in May 2011, I promised myself that if I wanted to help make a difference to the AEBC and to others, I would have to keep on dreaming and somehow these dreams would sooner than later turn into reality. So I dare to keep on dreaming. In the words of Robert F. Kennedy, "Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘why not!’"

The future of the AEBC can only be as bright as we want it to be, and it is up to each of us to work together to make it whatever we want it to be. For me personally, I believe that we can become a powerful voice in our own right, but in order to do so we need to become more proactive, less reactive, and more importantly, we need to use the lessons of history to help us put the past in perspective, deal with the present, and plan for the future.

The beauty about the AEBC is that we are an organization of individuals with a plethora of experiences, skills, and no shortage of creativity and imagination. If we can harness all of these ingredients, then there is no doubt in my mind that we will be able to offer a potent recipe for success. I see the AEBC as becoming a strong and powerful voice for blind consumer rights, an organization that will help to guide the kids of the future along the path to self-advocacy, and an entity that will be able to advise governments of all levels, as well as companies, on issues pertaining to such things as education, employment, customer service, health care, and more.

I don't think that my dreams for the AEBC are unrealistic. We could all start by daring to dream, and from there the rest will fall into place. As we get set to begin our third decade, we are poised on the threshold to become major players in our arena. We must not allow anyone to take our dreams away from us! Keep on, therefore, daring to dream!