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AEBC Activities

Beginnings: The Building of the AEBC

Editor's Note: Dave Greenfield is an AEBC member in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He is a writer of both poetry and prose and an activist in a variety of issue areas.

When discussing the beginnings of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), we must acknowledge that there were several forces that came together from different directions to bring the AEBC into being.

In 1990, several blind activists from across Canada, who were attending an unrelated event, held an informal meeting in their hotel room at which they discussed the idea of forming a national blind consumer organization. There were two people from the Saskatoon-based group, The Visually Impaired Persons' Action Council (VIPAC), a few former members of the Blind Organization of Ontario with Self-help Tactics (BOOST), a couple people from the Quebec-based Les Regroupement des Aveugles et Amblyotes du Quebec (RAAQ), and a couple who had been involved with the National Federation of the Blind in the United States, who were now living in Canada.

A name that was floated at this informal meeting was the Association of Blind Canadians (ABC). The couple who had been involved in the National Federation of the Blind in the U.S., Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias, seemed to be indicating that they wanted an organization modelled very much on the U.S. organization, while the activism of the other people present was rooted much more in the Canadian blind consumer experience.

Nothing more came of this meeting. No formal decisions were made, and the activists returned home to their individual local involvements.

A few years later, we learned that Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias had founded the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) in 1992. The following year, they contacted members of VIPAC to ask if they would like to join. One of the members, Brenda Cooke, had been present at the 1990 meeting and had attended the 1991 national convention of the American NFB in New Orleans, where she had again encountered the Gabiases.

Between 1993 and 1996, blind activists from several different Canadian communities, including Victoria, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto, also encountered the Gabiases and their desire to build a national consumer group modelled on the U.S. NFB. During these years, the NFB:AE held its annual meetings at the yearly national convention of the American NFB, which meant that Canadians who had become members of the NFB:AE had to travel down to the U.S. convention in order to take part in their own organization's annual meeting.

By the summer of 1996, blind activists in Victoria, Vancouver, Kalona, Winnipeg and Toronto had formed NFB:AE Chapters and were, for the most part, experiencing mixed feelings about their Canadian organization's close ties to the American NFB.

In September of 1996, Saskatoon blind activist Beryl Williams took a step that would prove to be among the most significant in this country’s blind consumer history--starting an email list called Viewpoints, on which blind and partially sighted Canadians could discuss issues of common concern. This was at a time when email and email listservs were a relatively new experience for the average citizen. Viewpoints, to my knowledge, was the first independent email list for Canadian blind consumers, owned and operated by blind consumers themselves.

Between September and December of 1996, a revolution in communication occurred for Canadian blind consumers. Activists, who had been working in small, isolated groups in various parts of Canada and who had only been in touch with each other once every few years, were suddenly communicating with each other on a daily basis, sharing thoughts and discussing concerns, by way of the Viewpoints list. Beryl Williams, Judy Prociuck and I from Saskatoon; Ainley and Barry Bridgeman and Ross Edie from Winnipeg; John Rae, Neil Graham and Brian Moore from Toronto, and many others, were all suddenly in regular contact across the vast Canadian landscape.

While many topics came up in our discussions, one inevitably arose and cried out for attention: the question of forming a national blind consumer organization. There tended to be two dominant ideas--that people should work with the NFB:AE, since that group already existed, and that a new organization should be formed with a different name, and which would be more firmly grounded in the Canadian blind experience.

A few VIPAC members had kept alive the idea of a group with the initials ABC, with the letters standing for Alliance of Blind Canadians instead of Association of Blind Canadians.

This discussion went on, off and on, on the Viewpoints list, for a year or so, until gradually people active in certain NFB:AE Chapters came to feel confident enough in their numbers to envision a process of adjusting the organization, ever so slightly, into what we wanted.

People appreciated much of NFB:AE’s progressive blindness philosophy, which encouraged self-confidence, -empowerment and –assertiveness, but they tended to feel that Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias were trying to build an organization a little too rigidly modelled on the American National Federation of the Blind. People wanted an organization that could grow organically out of the Canadian blind consumer experience. We needed to confront the issues for ourselves as we encountered them, rather than being given a ready-made philosophy that was the result of half a century of thought and action by blind people in another country.

The first step towards a transition in the NFB:AE came at the 1998 Annual General Meeting in Vancouver when members elected Richard Marion as President. While everything did not change all at once, the election of Richard Marion certainly signified that a new spirit was stirring in the organization.

The second and more definitive step occurred the following year at the 1999 AGM in Victoria, when members adopted a resolution stating clearly that the organization would proceed and develop policies and practices arising from the Canadian blind consumer experience. Once this resolution was adopted, the Gabiases and a handful of their supporters walked out of the meeting singing, "Glory, glory, Federation.” It is important to realize that we never told them that they had to leave, and we never said that we couldn't work with them. As stated earlier in this article, we simply needed to allow the organization to grow naturally from our experience of blindness-related issues as Canadian consumers with vision impairments.

The people who walked out of the meeting went on to form their own organization, the Canadian Federation of the Blind, naming it after the older blindness consumer group of the 1920s and 30s. The majority who remained in the NFB:AE continued to work to build a self-governing national blind consumer organization across Canada.

By 2004, NFB:AE members felt they wanted to make the transition complete by giving the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality a new name. After a fair amount of discussion, our organization was renamed the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. After many years of talking about forming a national blind consumer organization, and then organizing to take over and transform what they saw as a somewhat flawed organization, Canadian blind consumers finally had their independent national organization, and had given it their own name.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians can rightfully be seen as the offspring of several entities, including the NFB:AE, the Viewpoints network, VIPAC and the memory of BOOST. The challenge now is to continue to build the AEBC as a powerful progressive voice for Canadian blind consumers, and as a force to be reckoned with.

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!

Celebrating Our Chapters

Editor's Note: The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians’ Chapters play an important part in effecting change in the lives of persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. Be it advocating for increased accessibility, educating the public, holding social events, or providing a forum for mentoring and leadership development, Chapters give members the opportunity to grow, personally and collectively, and to make a difference in their local communities. Below are glimpses into several Chapters’ histories, activities, challenges and achievements.

Toronto, Ontario
By: Carole Robertson, Former President

Toronto is one of the longest-standing Chapters of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (formerly the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, NFB:AE). It was established after Alan and Doreen Neville, NFB:AE founding members, along with Don and Bubbles Jacobs, returned to Toronto from attending the 1994 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in the United States. As the NFB:AE had been founded as the “Canadian affiliate” of the American NFB, members travelled to the U.S. NFB Conventions where NFB:AE also held its Annual General Meetings. The Canadians were so impressed with the work that was being done by the NFB in the U.S. that Bubbles insisted that a Toronto Chapter of the NFB:AE be formed.

At Toronto’s first meeting, in January 1995, NFB:AE National President Paul Gabias outlined the goals and mandate of the NFB:AE and clarified any questions. With the installation of Elizabeth Coates as President, Susan Pinder as Vice President, Craig Spurrell as Treasurer and Sharon Neville as Secretary, the NFB:AE’s Toronto Chapter was born.

The Toronto Chapter was founded, in part, to advocate on blindness-related issues in the central part of Canada. People joined because there was power in numbers when advocating, and because they wanted support and social interaction with other blind citizens.

Although some NFB:AE National Board members felt that "blindness was just an inconvenience", the Toronto Chapter strongly disagreed. Chapter members felt the blind needed consideration by government in policy, and public awareness of challenges faced by the blind. They were also very dissatisfied with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s (CNIB) response to blindness-related issues brought to them and the way they represented the blind. Although they wrote a well thought-out letter to the CNIB outlining their concerns, they received no reply.

Many new members of the Toronto Chapter took leadership roles. Phil Wiseman, for example, ran for Chapter President when he had only been a member for two months. He served as President twice and contributed much in other Executive positions. In December 2000, I became President even though I had just lost my sight that June, and went on to serve for nine years. My successor, Richard Quan, saw Toronto Chapter membership increase significantly under his watch. Many Chapter members have also gone on to serve on the NFB:AE/AEBC National Board and Committees, which has helped to strengthen the organization.

At a 2004 Special Meeting held in Toronto, NFB:AE members decided to change the organization’s name, in order to differentiate it better from the NFB in the U.S. and to reflect our uniqueness as Canadians. With five minutes left in the meeting, attendees had still not chosen a name, though they had some 100 from which to choose. I got up and suggested a compromise name, using the key words from all of the previous options. This new name, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), was then approved by the organization’s membership.

Over the years, the Toronto Chapter has been involved in many activities. In 2011, its 15-year battle for a government-issued identification card met with success when the Photo Card for Ontarians was introduced. We have also had an electric car demonstration and made suggestions about the types of sounds manufacturers could use to alert blind pedestrians to these vehicles’ presence on city streets.

Other issues we’ve worked on include accessible voting machines, audible pedestrian signals, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) calling out stops, tactile flooring in subways, large-print bank cheques, talking bank machines, alternate-format materials in public libraries, the Access 2 Entertainment Card (which gives persons with disabilities admission to cinemas etc. at a discounted rate), and many more.

We have increased the effectiveness of our fundraising efforts, from small garage sales to larger venue events at clubs like Jeff Healey’s and Hugh’s Room, with revenues ranging from several hundred dollars to $4000. As a result, we have funded scholarships for post-secondary students and sent members to National Conferences.

For public awareness, we have spoken at Lions Clubs and other groups, set up booths at malls, held information meetings and community fairs, given radio and TV interviews, attended public hearings, and worked with the ARCH Disability Law Centre.

At our monthly meetings, we have hosted guest speakers like blind lawyer David Lepofsky regarding the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, representatives from the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) re calling out stops, a policeman on safety, and someone on audible pedestrian signals. After each meeting, we go out socially for dinner. We have Christmas and summer socials and often meet in small groups. We have made many friendships over the years, which has contributed to a wonderful sense of belonging.

The Toronto Chapter is proud of our achievements over the years, and looks forward to continued success.

Author’s Note: I have written this article based on the reminiscences of Bubbles Jacobs, Susan Pinder, Ross Robertson and Phil Wiseman. Many thanks to them for their assistance.

Montreal, Quebec
By: Irene Lambert, Former President

The 2000 Toronto Conference of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) spawned the birth of the Greater Montreal Chapter. Six people from Montreal attended the Conference and I, one of them, was elected to NFB:AE’s National Board of Directors. This, coupled with the opportunity for English-speaking people in Quebec to join together to overcome the barriers that deny us our rights and full inclusion, increased interest, not to mention membership, in the Greater Montreal Chapter.

The NFB:AE National President at the time, Robert Fenton, inaugurated the Chapter once the by-laws were approved. Chris Gaulin and Rajesh Malik were elected as our first President and Vice President respectively, with Ezra Chitayat as Treasurer. The Downtown YMCA provided us with our monthly meeting room.

The challenges began sometime later, when some members decided they were not interested in the political aspects of advocacy, were frustrated at not seeing any results from their advocacy efforts, or did not like going downtown at night.

Soon, the monthly meetings were moved to the Montreal Association for the Blind in the Notre-Dame de Grace district, to which it was easier to travel. When I was elected as President, I was able to keep the Chapter alive with the help of a few very loyal members. Eventually, Anthony Tibbs came along, bringing other students with him. Heather Rupert is now at the helm, with the level of membership and attendance getting back to normal.

Some of our most memorable activities have been to represent the NFB:AE (now the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians) at Elections Canada with respect to accessible voting, including the style of the template that holds the ballot, large print availability, and proper assistance from staff at the voting poll; and at the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) regarding descriptive video (DV), where visual features of a show are verbally described on an audio track, so that blind and partially sighted audiences can enjoy and benefit from programs as much as possible. At the time, Global and CTV were renewing their licences, and the CRTC ruled that they had to start providing DV services during prime time, and increase the number of hours of DV each year for the duration of their licences. We also won our protest against vehicles “turning right on red” for the Island of Montreal in order to reduce the chances of blind and partially sighted pedestrians getting hit at intersections.

Other highlights have been the visit of a Honda car dealer to demonstrate the Acura hybrid for us, two Comedy Nest fundraisers, the hosting of NFB:AE/AEBC National Conferences in 2003 and 2010, and celebrating our Montreal Chapter’s 10th anniversary at that same 2010 Conference.

Long live the Montreal Chapter and the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians!

Collingwood, Ontario
By: Devon Wilkins, Former President

There’s no doubt that the South Georgian Bay Chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians had more downs than ups during its reasonably short history. Three of our members passed on, two spent a good deal of time either in Florida or at their cottage, and none of the remaining three felt capable of taking meeting minutes. Although the Chapter is now closed, something occurred in the fall of 2010 that made it worth all the frustration.

Ever since the South Georgian Bay Chapter was established approximately eight years ago, one of my pet peeves has been the fact that the town of Collingwood conducts its municipal elections using mail-in ballots, making it totally impossible for people who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted to vote privately and independently. In an attempt at a compromise, our Chapter suggested that people with disabilities be permitted to email their choices of candidates to the town clerk, but that was rejected out of hand. The town’s position was that the likelihood of vote tampering was far too high.

Our second attempt at a compromise was to suggest that people with disabilities could be allowed to vote by phone, but that, too, was rejected for the same reason.

I was aware of the fact that it isn’t permissible for organizations to register human rights complaints, so I made no bones about my intention to take the town on as an individual if I was unable to vote privately and independently just like any other tax payer in the 2010 municipal election.

In the winter of 2010, the gentleman who had held the post of town clerk retired. When his successor was hired, I spoke with her by phone, and told her in no uncertain terms how unhappy the members of our Chapter were that the town seemed determined not to give our request for private and accessible voting the attention that we felt it deserved. She told me that she would be dealing with election issues sometime in August, and that we should talk again then. Before I could call her again, though, I heard from a fairly reliable source that our concerns had indeed been addressed.

On Election Day, I was not disappointed. The voting process was quite lengthy, but it was accessible, and it was private.

I have to hand it to Collingwood’s new clerk for the professional way in which she addressed the needs not only of residents who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, but the needs of people with mobility challenges as well. I remain convinced, however, that if it hadn’t been for our perseverance, the mail-in ballot would still be the only alternative. For that reason, I boldly claim the proverbial feather for our cap.

Our Chapter has now closed its books for the last time, but private, independent and accessible voting is our legacy for the rest of Collingwood’s citizens with disabilities. Our members benefited because they have reaped the reward for their persistent advocacy efforts. As for me, the lessons that I’ve learned about what is required in order to establish a viable Chapter will stand me in good stead when I move to Peterborough.

Edmonton, Alberta
By: Marc Workman, Chapter President

The Edmonton Chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) was formed in 2007. It has not become what anyone would call a thriving Chapter. The reason for this is a lack of leadership. The Chapter needs someone who has the time and energy to build the Chapter up and turn it into a strong advocacy presence in Edmonton.

The fact that the Chapter is small, however, does not mean it has made no difference in the lives of blind Edmontonians. On the contrary, the Edmonton Chapter of the AEBC, I believe, is largely responsible for bringing automated bus stop annunciation systems to the Edmonton Transit System.

Late in 2009, Diane Bergeron, another member of the Edmonton Chapter, and I began working on the issue of automated bus stop annunciation systems, with the goal of eventually bringing such a system to Edmonton. Over the next eight months or so, we met with transit officials, bus operators and city councillors, explaining the importance of these systems, not only for blind passengers but for all transit users. We listened to operators’ concerns and tried to address them. I believe that explaining the issue in our own words, face to face, made the issue real in a way that it would not have been otherwise.

At a meeting in February 2011, Edmonton City Council approved approximately $4 million in spending for a pilot project to install smart bus technology, including a bus stop annunciation system, on several buses in Edmonton. But the work is certainly not over. We need to ensure that this technology is implemented in a way that truly benefits passengers, so Diane and I will be offering a great deal of feedback throughout the pilot project. We also need to ensure that the pilot project is expanded to cover the entire city of Edmonton. Although the work is not over, it was an important achievement to get this far.

This accomplishment shows that even one or two people can have a significant impact. It also shows how important connecting with other blind persons, like AEBC members, can be, as Diane and I met through the Edmonton Chapter. The sense of community that AEBC Chapters foster can be invaluable, both on a societal and a personal level. If anyone is interested in helping to build the Edmonton Chapter so that more stories like this can be shared in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me. Email Marc Workman at: mworkman@blindcanadians.ca

Kelowna, British Columbia
By: Lisa Neufeld, President

The Kelowna Chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians is active in the community and had a busy 2011, attending public events including a number of art shows. The Kelowna Art Gallery has made a huge effort to render art accessible to persons who are blind and partially sighted. It has provided good descriptions of paintings and also made small samples of works that were shown to us on our many visits. Chapter members have learned a little bit about what goes into an art project.

In the early spring of 2011, our Chapter attended a demonstration of an accessible voting machine. We all found the device easy to use; the speech output was clear and the font of the print was adjustable. In addition, the screen could be darkened to prevent others from seeing what selections were made. This machine was used in our city’s elections in November.

In June 2011, we visited a tech fair with many high-tech devices to peruse and try out, including scanners, braille displays, screen readers such as JAWS, screen magnification software like ZoomText, and even the GPS (global positioning system) product Trekker Breeze. Assistive technology companies like Humanware and Abletech were in attendance.

The Kelowna Chapter tries to make it to as many public events as possible. We are looking forward to hosting AEBC’s 2012 National Conference and Annual General Meeting, May 25 to 27, marking our organization’s 20th anniversary. Hope to see you all there!

President’s Contest/National Board of Directors

President’s Contest

Support AEBC’s Scholarship Program
And enter to win $500

Help achieve our goal! We're building a virtual wall for 20th Anniversary Supporters, to represent the foundation on which the AEBC is based, and the supportive nature of our scholarship program. The funds raised will serve as the foundation for the scholarship program this year and into the future. Each brick costs only $1.00. You will also be entered into a draw for a $500 cash prize! In fact, for every dollar that you (or someone you refer to the contest) donate before May 26, 2012, you will automatically receive one additional entry for the draw!

The $500 cash prize is to be drawn during the 20th anniversary conference and general meeting in Kelowna, BC (May 25-27, 2012).

Be sure to read complete details of this President’s Contest on the AEBC website at http://www.blindcanadians.ca/20years

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to email us at communications@blindcanadians.ca.

Don't want to buy and pay online? Call us at 1-800-561-4774!

Thank you!

2011-12 AEBC BOARD OF DIRECTORS

President: Donna Jodhan, Ontario

1st Vice President: John Rae, Ontario

2nd Vice President: Rajesh Malik, Quebec

Treasurer: Charles Bailey, British Columbia

Secretary: Cindy Ferguson, Ontario

Director Without Portfolio: Amal Haddad, Ontario

Director Without Portfolio: Marc Workman, Alberta

2012 AGM Promotion

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC)
Celebrates 20th anniversary

Date: May 25 to 27, 2012
Place: Kelowna, B.C.
Accommodations: Prestige Hotel (located across from the beautiful city park and Okanagan Lake)
Call 250-860-7900 to book your accommodations

Some of what you can expect:
Friday May 25
- Afternoon exhibits
- Dinner and an evening of celebrating
- Recognition of past presidents
- Volunteer awards
- Cutting of the cake
- Hospitality suite

Saturday May 26
- Presentations on library services, point of sale devices, and accessible websites
- Small group discussions on future priority issues for the AEBC
- Employment and self advocacy workshops
- Boat cruise on the Okanagan

Sunday May 27
- Annual general meeting business (resolutions and elections)

Draws and door prizes throughout the weekend!

Come and celebrate this organization milestone and take the opportunity to stay for a holiday in the fabulous city of Kelowna.
For further information, please contact Denise Sanders at dsand@shaw.ca.

Donations and Bequests

If you wish to support AEBC, its public awareness initiatives, advocacy campaigns, scholarship grants or mentorship program, you may choose to donate directly or through your Last Will and Testament. Simply name “Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians” as a beneficiary. You may choose to leave AEBC money or property, a percentage of your estate, or a portion of the remainder of your estate after family and friends have received their share. If you are considering any of these options, please discuss your preferences with loved ones, and your financial and legal advisors.

There are a number of methods for making your donation and tax-deductible receipts are available. For information, please contact Brian Moore, National Treasurer by phone at 1 800 561-4774 or by e-mail at moore@blindcanadians.ca. Visit our website at http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

New Resources

-The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Report on Disability and Technology summarizes recommendations from experts on how the organization could assist its Member States in facilitating social inclusion of persons with disabilities through information and communication technologies (ICT). Read the Report at: http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=30877&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_S...

-The International Labour Organization's (ILO) "Decent Work for People with Disabilities: Count us in!" video is now accessible for persons with vision impairments. For the audio described version, visit: http://www.youtube.com/ilotv#p/u/12/pFlG__NxHaY

-The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) announces the completion of the comprehensive guidebook, Success in STEM: Studying and Pursuing a Science or Technology Career as a Post-Secondary Student With a Disability, available in print and CD versions. Call toll-free 1-877-670-1256 or email info@neads.ca. A web version, in a variety of formats, is also available on the NEADS website: http://www.neads.ca/en/about/projects/stem/

-"Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold" discusses various challenges and obstacles that children with disabilities face throughout their lives, and offers constructive ways to deal with frustrating situations and also techniques for building positive self-image. The hard-cover book includes a resource section of helpful websites and other publications for parents and caregivers. Search for ISBN 1-59298-320-9 on Amazon.com. It is also available through Bookshare.org.

-The Press Release Handbook for ACB Affiliates and Chapters covers all of the basics in writing and distributing effective press releases. Available in large print, braille, on IBM-compatible CD, as well as via download from the American Council of the Blind's web page, this publication is free of charge. Contact the ACB national office at 1-800-424-8666, email slovering@acb.org, or visit: http://www.acb.org/resources/prhdbk08.html

-The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has released "A Giant Leap and A Big Deal: Delivering on the Promise of Equal Access to Broadband for People with Disabilities," the second in a series of working papers being released in conjunction with the National Broadband Plan. Read the paper at http://www.broadband.gov/plan/broadband-working-reports-technical-papers... and a related blog post can be found at: http://blog.broadband.gov/?entryId=391546

-The Friends Community List is a new social network designed for persons who are blind and partially sighted, and is somewhat like Facebook. Sighted people can also join. Visit: http://www.tfcl.mixxt.com

-National Braille Press has several new publications: Social Networking and You: Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin for Blind Users (ASCII Text, braille, DAISY or e-braille, $12.00); Windows 7 and Vista Explained: A Guide for Blind and Partially Sighted Users (audio CD, braille, DAISY CD, e-braille or large print, $45.00); Internet Your Way to a New Job (braille or e-braille, $11.95); and Sites Unseen: Traveling the World without Sight (braille, DAISY, e-braille or print PDF, $19.95). For more information (all prices are in U.S. dollars), contact NBP at 1-800-548-7323 or visit: http://www.nbp.org

-For information on getting a Perkins Brailler serviced or repaired, send an email to: perkins@nexx-step.com

-Horizons for the Blind has launched http://www.directionsforme.org, a new internet-based service that makes consumer packaging information available in an accessible online format for people who are blind, partially sighted or otherwise have difficulty reading small print. Over 300,000 food, health, beauty and general merchandise products are included, listing preparation directions, nutrition facts, ingredients, allergy/drug interaction warnings etc.

-"Beginning Yoga for the Blind and Visually Impaired" is a 5-CD package, for $39.95 plus $3.95 (U.S.) shipping. For further details, visit: http://www.blindyoga.net

Hoping to See Change: Eastend Resident Brenda Cooke Involved with AEBC

Completing the most basic of daily tasks--whether it's crossing the street in safety or placing a pot on a stove burner--can sometimes be a discouraging and disabling challenge for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. But that's exactly the situation faced by citizens across the country who are vision-impaired and struggle to accomplish what many people would consider everyday routine.

Brenda Cooke of Eastend, who has been legally blind since birth, is well acquainted with the struggles associated with limited eyesight through her own experience, as well as the work she does as a volunteer with the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC). For about 10 years now she has been a member of AEBC, a national organization that is working towards promoting rights and opportunities for those who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

Her involvement has included a stint on the group's volunteer board of directors. For the past couple of years, though, she has served as the editor of the organization's magazine, the Canadian Blind Monitor (CBM), which is published annually. Brenda says she accepted the editor duties after stepping down from the national board.

"I wanted to take part in the work that the organization was doing, but I preferred to do something behind the scenes," she said, before laughing at the fact she still found herself sitting on various committees. One of those committees, however, is connected with the operations of the magazine.

"The committee members take a big part in making decisions about the magazine and making sure it is representative of the goals of AEBC and the membership as a whole," said Brenda. "Actually, that's one of the big differences between AEBC and most service agencies and some other consumer advocacy groups. It has a working board and is controlled from the bottom up instead of the top down. All policies are developed by the grassroots membership."

AEBC was founded to increase awareness of rights and responsibilities, so blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted individuals can have equal access to the benefits and opportunities of society. But AEBC isn't interested in generating any sympathy or pity for its members. Instead, its primary objective is to help initiate progressive, meaningful and--above all else--obtainable change within society.

AEBC is comprised of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, whose work focuses on improving public attitudes and influencing policies, programs and legislation that affects members of its community. Even in these more modern day "enlightened" times, the group continues to fight an ongoing battle to have their voice heard. There is very little government support for blind rights issues and a lack of awareness among the general public about the everyday challenges faced by vision-impaired citizens.

AEBC is involved in a myriad of issues affecting persons with restricted vision, including access to regular household products, access to safe travel on community streets, access to printed information, access to employment and income, and access to voting. While technological advancement have helped make life easier for a generation of Canadians, Cooke says that some new innovations have also caused problems for those with limited vision.

An increasing range of regular household products, for instance, are now operated by touch panels without buttons that make them difficult if not impossible for blind persons to operate independently. Imagine trying to place a pot on a stove that no longer has raised burners. What about setting a timer on an oven that is fully digitalized? Or try navigating the instruction menu on a DVD movie, or the cable/satellite program guide on the television. Even new hybrid cars pose certain dangers. They aren't as loud as older models, making them more difficult for blind people to detect on community streets--not knowing when it is safe to cross. AEBC is calling on manufacturers to use today's technology to make their products independently usable by the widest possible number of customers.

"Accessibility goes beyond ramps and making bathroom doors wide enough for wheelchair users," said Cooke. "We just want manufacturers to make items that are universally designed for everyone to use," she added. "What we propose is that manufacturers make these products accessible in the first place so there is no added cost to the people attempting to use them."

At the moment, however, it is Canada's blind residents who must adapt to machines, instead of the other way around. Usually, the vision-impaired must cover the added cost of adapting these products to meet their needs. Unfortunately, statistics show that between 60-80 percent of all blind Canadians are living in poverty. "They are the people who have to come up with the extra money to pay for items needed to make products useful to them," said Cooke. "But there is very little assistance for blind people who have to buy those extra items."

Reading material is another concern. While technology makes it easier than ever to produce materials in multiple formats, only about 5% of print materials are produced in these formats--which affects knowledge, education and independence. AEBC calls for increased availability of materials in audio and braille formats, websites to be accessible to the screen readers that blind people use and the use of a text equivalent on all websites wherever a PDF file is included.

Right now, Cooke points out, a blind person cannot walk into a library--funded by the public--and enjoy the same access as that of their fellow sighted citizens. "That is a very serious inequality in our country," she stated. "And, right now it could take up to five years to produce a book in a format that a blind person could access, and most times that material is provided through charity dollars rather than the tax base."

Amazingly, Cooke says that even access to voting is an issue for blind Canadians. The most important act a citizen in any democracy performs is to vote independently and in secret. AEBC wants the same right for blind people by developing alternative methods of voting so that blind Canadians can independently verify how they voted.

There are about 600,000 people in this country who are blind. (Legally blind means a person has 20/200 vision in the better eye with correction.) But the group has a hard time getting the attention of politicians. "We can't even get equal accessibility to voting," she stated. "The 600,000 or 800,000 of us out there don't seem to count."

"And I don't mean that in an emotional way, I mean that in a political way."

Despite the ongoing struggle to be heard, Cooke says she is committed to her work with AEBC. Last year, Cooke organized a small 50/50 raffle, with the proceeds going to help produce the Canadian Blind Monitor in braille format, an expensive procedure. The magazine is currently produced in braille, print (and) on audio CD at no cost to readers and is available on the internet. The winner of the first draw was Doreen Stewart of Eastend, who took home about $360. Cooke is considering another 50/50 draw this year and a possible art auction to raise more funds for the magazine project.

Anyone interested in more information is welcome to call AEBC at 1 800 561 4774 or visit their website at: http://www.blindcanadians.ca

Reprinted from The Shaunavon Standard, Saskatchewan, February 2, 2010.

Headlines & Highlights

The National Board of AEBC consists of seven directors and many committees and working groups made up of members from the Chapters across Canada who work on national activities and issues. Each Chapter also has an Executive and committees that concentrate on local happenings. Below is a small sample of national and local activities that have taken place in the past six months or so.

At the National Level

  • With leadership from the Montreal Chapter, AEBC’s 2010 Conference and Annual General Meeting was held in Montreal. See the article "AEBC National Meeting in Montreal" elsewhere in these pages.

  • AEBC has been meeting with other national rights-holder organizations and CNIB to attempt to form a national coalition that will work collaboratively on common issues. The main purpose of these meetings was to build on some of the momentum established over the last several months as these and other disability organizations worked on the library issue.

  • The founding members of the Coalition of Blind Rights Holder Organizations of Canada (CBRC) are: Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), Canadian Blind Sports Association (CBSA), Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), Canadian National Society of the Deaf-Blind (CNSDB), and Guide Dog Users of Canada (GDUC).

  • CBRC’s activities have included:

  • Agreeing on the structure, roles and operations of the coalition and its various member organizations.
  • Establishing two priorities: equitable library services, and accessibility of pin-and-card and point-of-sale devices.
  • Awaiting direction from the two groups working on the pin-and-card and point-of-sale issues--AEBC’s committee and another group made up of federal employees, which has expanded to accept anyone interested in assisting. CBRC will review recommendations and take action.
  • Attempting to obtain up-to-date information from the federal government about what Library and Archives Canada recommended after spending over 3 million dollars to study the issue of library services for print disabled Canadians.
  • There were 15 months left before CNIB said it was going to close its library. Before that time ended, CNIB retracted its decision, and as of January 2011 has said it will find ways to continue providing library services.
  • Consumer organizations will continue to try to convince all levels of government that library services should be funded and operated through the Public Library System--as they are to people who read regular print.
  • The group will meet every two months via conference call.

  • AEBC has been trying to get the federal government to make its websites and information accessible and usable to print disabled Canadians. AEBC supported Donna Jodhan’s Charter challenge, where she defended the right of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians to access federal government websites. From September 21 to 23, Donna Jodhan was in federal court, along with her legal team and many supporters. The Federal Court of Canada ruled in Donna’s favour, handing down a landmark decision, which in part mandates the Canadian government to make all its websites accessible to all Canadians. It was given 15 months to do so. This case received tremendous media attention from coast to coast, in the United States, Britain, Europe, and even as far away as India and Japan. The federal government has filed an appeal. For background information, see “Challenging the System” in this publication.

  • AEBC created Personal Successes: Unlimited Potential, an online publication featuring real-life stories about employment/education, travel, leisure and personal achievements. There is also an “In Memoriam” section. It is hoped that this collection of stories will educate the public by painting a more realistic image of blindness and encourage those who have experienced vision loss to work towards their goals.

  • Each year, AEBC offers scholarships to recognize outstanding blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted post-secondary school students. Read more about these awards elsewhere in these pages.

  • AEBC attended the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on the introduction of the Blind Voters Rights Bill.

Briefs and papers submitted

  • To Ontario’s 10-Year Infrastructure Plan Consultation Process: This submission outlined ways and reasons for the Ontario government to achieve its mandated goal of "full accessibility" by the year 2025, and thus make real progress towards accessibility and social and economic inclusion for Ontarians with various disabilities. There are clear and compelling demographic, economic, business, legal and ethical reasons for expecting the Ontario government's new 10-Year Infrastructure Plan to be part of the solution and not part of the problem--to help remove existing barriers and to prevent the introduction of new ones.

Presentations

  • To the 7th Annual Simply People Celebration in Toronto (see “Celebrating Us!” In these pages).
  • At a CRTC (Canada Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) hearing to consider Shaw Communications’ $2 billion bid to buy Canwest Global Communications Corp. The takeover would make Shaw Communications one of the largest companies in the telecommunications and broadcasting industries in Canada, and thus the purchase, if approved, will have a significant impact on blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians. For further details, see “Coalition Condemns CRTC Decision” in this publication.
  • For the review of the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act).
  • To the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Round Table discussions on how to deal with persons with disabilities in prison--paper also submitted.
  • 30th Anniversary Celebratory Symposium of ARCH Disability Law Centre, The Process of Civic Engagement.
  • At the Canadian Disabilities Studies Association Conference, Concordia University--From Invisibility to Rights Holders.
  • At the 2nd Annual International Conference, TRANSLOG (Transportation and Logistics) 2010--Transportation for Canadians with Disabilities.
  • On poverty, to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development.

Correspondence sent

  • To the Canadian Banking Association, to express concern and inquire about its plans to remedy the accessibility issues caused by point-of-sale devices, as they do not provide any tactile or audio feedback, which makes it impossible for a blind Canadian to enter a personal identification number independently.
  • To the CRTC, regarding access to communication tools normally used by deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind individuals. It is necessary that funds be secured to ensure captioned telephone and video relay service (VRS) is available to Canada's deaf and hard-of-hearing community. AEBC is also requesting that the CRTC allow VRS-based companies such as Ultratec Inc., Sprint and Sorenson Communications access to Canada's telecommunications market.

  • AEBC has sent out a number of press releases. These can be found on the website.

At the Local Level

Kelowna

  • Application is being made to have a seat on the Accessibility Advisory Committee with the City of Kelowna.
  • Set up an informational display at community events, such as the annual Mardi Gras Street Festival and the Farmers’ Market.
  • Organized a boat cruise and lunch on Lake Okanagan.
  • Making plans to hold the 2012 AGM and celebrations for the 20th anniversary of AEBC.

Nanaimo

  • With assistance from community groups, the Chapter held its annual fun filled day with a fishing derby, boat tours and dinner.
  • At Canada Day celebrations, an exhibit booth was set up and well received.
  • Several members signed up for a computer class at the Community Resource Centre.

Vancouver/Lower Mainland

  • It holds a social event every other month. Examples are a summer boat tour and Halloween activities that included a ride on a vintage trolley bus, tour of a cemetery, visiting a building that was formerly a morgue, and dinner in a haunted restaurant.
  • Fundraising by selling chocolates and locally produced coffee.
  • The Chapter is in constant negotiations with Vancouver Transit regarding the calling out of bus stops.
  • Its Facebook page announces Chapter activities and it’s establishing a Chapter website.

Winnipeg

  • During each day of a weeklong Biomedical Youth Camp, three Chapter members facilitated activities related to vision loss and talked to students about living with blindness. Students were from grades six to twelve. Winnipeg Chapter President Eric MacKinder also spoke at the closing ceremony, where students’ families and community members were in attendance.
  • An annual Bingo Bowl and a concert featuring a band and two solo artists were held to raise funds for scholarships awarded to blind Winnipeg post-secondary students.
  • Public education initiatives focus attention on accessibility of provincial campgrounds, the National Museum on Human Rights and health-care information.
  • Winnipeg was pleased to welcome seven new members in 2010.

Toronto

  • Displays have been set up at various community events, the most recent being a citywide event of the Catholic School Board.
  • Members attended various community activities in groups, such as Summerlicious (food tasting) and a visit to the Textile Museum of Canada.
  • Lions Clubs held a car rally to raise funds for guide dogs. AEBC members participated as navigators.
  • Dialogue continues regarding accessibility of Toronto Transit, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.
  • Various members have taken part in community discussions regarding violence against women with disabilities.
  • The City of Toronto presented AEBC member Linda Spinney with an Unsung Hero Award for her volunteer work.

For further information about these and other items, visit our website at: www.blindcanadians.ca or call our toll free number 1-800-561-4774.

National Meeting in Montreal - 2010 AGM/Conference Report

Editor's Note: Marc Workman has served on AEBC's National Board and is currently the President of the Edmonton Chapter.

The Hotel Espresso in the heart of downtown Montreal was the setting for the 2010 AEBC Conference/Annual General Meeting. The weekend kicked off on Friday evening with a thoughtful and impassioned keynote address by Anna MacQuarrie, Director of Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives with the Canadian Association for Community Living. The topic of her address was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (adopted by Canada on March 11, 2010).

Throughout the weekend, people visited exhibits and participated in engaging workshops on human rights, using the media, technology, and access to library services. The usual AGM business was conducted. President Robin East welcomed everyone and gave his report, elections were held, door prizes were distributed, and all were able to enjoy the great food and hospitality offered by the Montreal Chapter.

At this year’s Conference, four positions on the National Board were up for election--President, 1st Vice President, Treasurer and Director without Portfolio. Robin East and John Rae were re-elected as President and 1st Vice President respectively. Anthony Tibbs moved from the position of Treasurer to Director without Portfolio, and Nancy Riley joined the National Board as Treasurer.

Denise Sanders, a long-time Director, stepped down from the Board. She has done a tremendous amount of work for the AEBC over the years, and her presence on the National Board will be missed. Fortunately, Denise will continue to advocate locally in the Kelowna Chapter, provincially in the British Columbia Affiliate, and nationally on various committees.

Several important resolutions were debated and passed this year. Among them is a resolution endorsing AEBC’s participation in a coalition of national organizations representing blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted rights holders, and another that established three priority issues for the National Board (in order: website accessibility, access to library services, and access to point-of-sale devices and household products). Participants on these committees are welcome at any time.

Every year, each member organization of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) can nominate one individual to receive the Annual CCD Award. The AEBC names the winner of the CCD Award at each year’s AGM, and this year the award was given to long-time advocate Irene Lambert. Irene has worked tirelessly at the local level as the President of the Montreal Chapter and nationally as a Director on the AEBC Board. The recognition of her contribution to improving the lives of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians was well deserved.

AEBC also recognizes the member who has made the most significant volunteer contribution during the previous calendar year. This year’s winner of the Volunteer of the Year Award was Richard Quan, former Director on the National Board and current President of the Toronto Chapter. Richard has been a tremendous leader in the Toronto Chapter and has turned it into one of the AEBC’s most active Chapters. It is only through the hard work and determination of our members that the AEBC succeeds in promoting the rights and responsibilities of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians.

Many parts of this year’s Conference were recorded including the keynote address, the President’s Report, elections, resolutions, and several workshops. If you would like to receive a CD containing the recordings from the 2010 AGM, simply make a request via AEBC’s toll-free number or email address at the front of this publication.

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