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NFB:AE Senior's Seminar

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Peter Neville is a member of the Central Okanagan Chapter of the NFB:AE. He is the son of Alan Neville, a member of the NFB:AE board of directors.

On Saturday, October 30th, 1999, a Senior's Seminar was presented by the Central Okanagan Chapter of the NFB:AE. The purpose of this meeting was to help older people from the region to understand and cope with vision loss, and introduce them to the NFB:AE.

The meeting was held in the conference room of the Elizabeth Fry Society on Leon Avenue in Kelowna, BC. In some respects, the meeting was almost too successful. The small meeting room was filled to its capacity of 20 persons.

The President of the Central Okanagan Chapter, Denise Sanders, opened the meeting and introduced the other speakers, Alan Neville and Richard Marion, both members of the Board of Directors of the NFB:AE. Alan Neville followed by noting the need to reach out to seniors who have serious vision impairment and to assure them that the seniors' viewpoint is taken into account in the NFB:AE. While 75% of legally blind persons are seniors, the membership of the NFB:AE does not reflect this fact. Alan Neville offered a possible reason that the NFB:AE has an activist, advocacy focus which may be uncomfortable to many seniors, who tend to be conservative in these matters. Nevertheless, he felt that the NFB:AE had to recruit more senior members so as to be representative of the blind and vision-impaired population as a whole.

Richard Marion also addressed this concern in his presentation. He noted that many of the activities are directed towards, or primarily benefit, working age blind persons rather than senior citizens. However, the NFB:AE philosophy that blind persons are capable of performing most activities and can lead full and fulfilling lives is relevant to all blind persons, including seniors who often tend to become isolated on becoming blind. Mr. Marion explained that one of the purposes of the NFB:AE is to assist blind persons in locating and using resources such as talking books and rehabilitation programs to enrich their lives.

Richard Marion also discussed some of the issues the NFB:AE has been involved in recently, such as advocating that the blind and vision-impaired should be exempt from the levy on audio cassettes and attempting to improve accessibility for blind and vision- impaired people in a number of areas such as ATMs and Web sites. Following Richard Marion's remarks, a video, "Not Without Sight", was shown. This video examined the most common causes of vision loss, such as Macular Degeneration, cataracts, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Glaucoma and Diabetic Retinopathy, and how each condition affects individuals and their families. During the question and answer period that followed the video, a number of issues were discussed, including whether surgery to remove the cataracts that often accompany Retinitis Pigmentosa is beneficial; an experimental treatment for "wet" Macular Degeneration; and how to use non-visual techniques to determine the location of food when dining.

After a refreshment break, a second video dealing with the feelings that often surround vision loss was presented. This video used interviews with people affected by vision loss to explore the emotions of anger and resentment, fear of becoming dependent, fear of job loss or being unable to obtain work, and fear that others may avoid or break off personal relationships.

During the discussion that followed the second video presentation, many of the participants discussed the emotions and coping with problems they encountered with the onset of vision loss. In addition, the distinction between the NFB:AE and the CNIB was explained. The participants were advised that the focus of the NFB:AE is to be an organisation of the blind and vision impaired which focuses on advocacy and public education about blindness and vision loss while the CNIB is a service organisation. Partly because of pressure from the NFB:AE, the CNIB has become more sensitive and assertive in its advocacy efforts on issues that affect the blind. The Central Okanagan chapter of the NFB:AE has advocated for better access for the blind at the airport and Skyreach Place, and audible traffic signals on Highway 97 to help blind people to cross at traffic lights. It has also promoted sharper curbs to make it easier to distinguish the sidewalk from the roadway.

At this point Denise wound up the meeting and thanked all the participants for attending. This meeting was a great success. During the period following the meeting, four of the participants have joined the Central Okanagan chapter of the NFB:AE.