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Celebrating Us!

Editor's Note: The following are notes for an address at the 7th Annual Simply People celebration at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto, July 20, 2010.

Tonight is for us, and about us! Tonight is a time for us to celebrate our accomplishments and to redouble our efforts to bring about true equality for all persons with disabilities in Canada and around the world.

This year, Canadians with disabilities are celebrating Canada's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). While it may not provide us with a lot of new rights, it sets out in far greater detail than any human rights code or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ever did what a truly accessible and inclusive Canada can look like, in important areas of life that are critical to our participation in the economic, political, cultural and social life of our communities--transportation, employment, education, communications, access to information, etc. The Convention also requires Canada to collect and disseminate data and to submit a comprehensive report to the Secretary-General of the UN within two years after ratification, and every four years thereafter, on measures taken. Civil society is to be directly involved in the development of these reports. This means involving us!

The development of this Convention travelled a unique path. It took the least amount of time of any UN Convention to be concluded, and it involved far more participation from civil society than ever before. That means involvement by us. Many groups representing persons with disabilities participated actively in the negotiations at the UN that resulted in this Convention. There are important lessons to be learned from having this kind of direct participation in developing any new initiative that directly affects our lives.

In 2009, the President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Robin East, developed a new way of addressing our needs and aspirations. He coined the new phrase "rights holders." We are Rights Holders! What does he mean?

Too often, governments like to lump all of us--consumers, parents, service providers etc.--under the same umbrella of "stakeholders," and while all of these groups may very well have a "stake" in the outcome of a new piece of legislation, policy or program, we are the ones most affected. We are different, and must see ourselves as "rights holders," and not just another group of mere stakeholders. What this means is that we must occupy the primary and preeminent place at any table that is discussing anything that directly impacts our quality of life.

You are all familiar with the favourite phrase of the disability rights movement, "Nothing about us without us!" Now that Canada has ratified the UN Convention, it is critical that we rights holders participate as directly in its implementation as we did in its design, to ensure that it makes a tangible difference in the lives of all Canadians with disabilities, to make it become Canada's national disabilities act.

By contrast, the much heralded Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) continues to move at a snail's pace. After over five years, only one of the initial five accessibility standards has been issued as a regulation, though more are expected later in 2010. It is hard to imagine that Ontario is even close to being on track to achieve full accessibility by the far-off date of 2025, and it is hoped that Canada's ratification of the UN Convention will spur some renewed commitment (and action) to the AODA.

It is too often argued by representatives from governments and the obligated sectors that they "would like to do the things we want and need, but these changes will simply cost too much." We have countered that the real barriers are not cost, but a lack of political will and a question of priorities.

The Ontario Human Rights Code has covered persons with various disabilities since 1982. Governments, the public and private sectors have had over 25 years to make their premises, websites, products and programs fully accessible. How much more time do they need? If they have ignored their responsibilities and dragged their feet over all these years, stop blaming us--stop blaming the victims. It's simply not our fault.

After the preposterous expenditure of an estimated 1.3 billion (that's billion) on security for the G-8 and G-20 Summits, and countless millions of dollars on our involvement in the war in Afghanistan, persons with disabilities never want to hear the cost excuse ever again--never again! Resources are not unlimited, but whenever a government really wants to do something, it seems to magically find a way to finance its priorities.

So what am I asking you to do?

- Write letters to the Editor of your local newspaper, raising disability issues;

- Ask all candidates seeking election about their platforms, and what they commit to do to advance our agenda;

- Get more involved in the disability rights movement. Join a group like the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario (CWDO) and sign up to receive updates from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, or find the consumer organization in your area that best represents your issues and ideas.

In closing, I want to mention just one more point. Many of us who have been on the front lines, in the leadership of our movement for many, many years, are getting old and growing tired. We need you to get more involved. We need your energy, skills and new ideas. We cannot expect the system to hand us our rightful place--our history teaches us that it rarely does! Moving our agenda and achieving our goals is up to us. We must make it happen.

Some of you will be familiar with the phrase "Full Participation and Equality." It's an excellent phrase. It's not a new phrase. It was the theme of the International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP) way back in 1981.

Since then, we have come a part of the way up this road, but we still have far, too far to travel. Today, we seek legislation and new programs that will lead to that elusive goal, but today we must spend far too much of our time preventing the introduction of new barriers.

It's time governments, the private and public sectors recognized our value, and commit to work with us to realize the IYDP motto.

We want our rights. When do we want them? Now!

Our Rights, Our Future: A Rights-Holder Perspective

Editor's Note: The following are notes for the President's Report delivered by Robin at the opening of AEBC's 2010 Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Montreal, Quebec.

I would like to welcome all of you to our Conference and AGM in Montreal. I am sure you will enjoy your visit here. I hope you meet some old friends and get acquainted with some new folks from across the country. Please join me in thanking the organizing committee--Anthony Tibbs, Marc Workman, Natalie Martiniello, Heather Rupert, Rosie Arcuri, Ezra Chitayat, Paulo Monteagudo--and the rest of the Montreal Chapter for working hundreds of hours to make this weekend a success.

I would also like to thank the 2009-10 Board of Directors for their commitment of valuable time and hard work to the AEBC. Each National Board member devotes many hours each week to promote the goals and objectives of our organization. Denise Sanders is leaving the Board after serving four terms, two each as Treasurer and Director Without Portfolio. She plans to stay involved on the Communications Working Group and will continue to participate with the Kelowna Chapter.

Welcome to all the new members who have joined AEBC during the past year.

To all the Chapters, I thank Executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC. Also, I would like to thank the Affiliate for all its hard work in British Columbia. Further thanks go out to our National Committees, including scholarship, finance/fundraising, human resources, membership and policy development, and their many working groups.

I am pleased to report that, for the 2009-10 academic year, AEBC awarded three scholarships and two bursaries: The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts to Mr. Allan Angus; The AEBC National Achievement Scholarship to Mr. Anthony Tibbs; The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship to Ms. Helen McFadyen; The Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for the Performing Arts to Mr. Koceïla Louali; and The Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for Vocational Training and Trades to Ms. Stephanie Berry. Congratulations to the winners. We wish them all the best in their studies and future plans.

AEBC has been very active during the past year. Discussions have taken place over the past several months between representatives of consumer organizations of blind Canadians, CNIB, the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. These discussions have been aimed at drafting recommendations on how a new network hub responsible for coordinating access to library services for print disabled Canadians should be designed and operated. Final recommendations were submitted to Library and Archives Canada (LAC), which is drafting a proposal to be sent to Cabinet. There will be future opportunities for AEBC and individual members to have further input into this process.

AEBC’s National Board of Directors has approved these recommendations with one exception: we have a membership resolution in place stating that any entity like the one being proposed be government run and operated. This resolution prevents the AEBC from endorsing that particular recommendation; however, the Board supports the remaining recommendations.

AEBC has also 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 groups worked on the library issue.

Everyone seemed to agree that the working relationship was positive and productive, but if it is to continue operating as anything more than an ad hoc coalition, we needed to determine and clearly articulate the structure, roles and operations of the coalition and its various member organizations. In May, the groups met for two days in Toronto, and developed terms of reference for the Coalition. Each participating organization is to discuss the outcome of these meetings, and indicate its participation in the coalition. It is expected the groups will not meet again until the fall of 2010, and in the meantime work is to begin on access to PIN-and-card and point-of-sale devices.

A resolution will be introduced to you, the members, at this Conference to endorse AEBC's participation in this coalition.

Over the past year, the AEBC National Board has been engaged in a comprehensive review of our activities. Our goal has been to determine those areas where we are most effective, and those in which our performance or effectiveness could be improved. Discussion of this review will take place at this Conference.

We also need to work on our communications strategy. The present redesign of the national website will go a long way toward addressing this concern, by collecting information on each “issue” (elections, quiet cars, education, etc.) into a central location; however, our internal communications (among Chapters, members and the National Board) also needs an overhaul. This Conference will give you the opportunity, as members, to participate in determining how AEBC will go about communicating our future activities to you. The final plan will need "buy-in" from all levels of the organization--Chapters, committees and the National Board--to be successful.

Several years ago, Donna Jodhan, our 2nd Vice President, launched a Charter case in which she is challenging the Canadian government over inaccessible websites and unequal access to information. Donna, with her lawyers and supporters, including AEBC, has been fighting to force the federal government to make its websites and information accessible and usable. Unfortunately, to date, the Canadian government has ignored all requests to settle this ongoing action. Donna's case, on behalf of all Blind Canadians, will be heard in federal court on September 21-23, 2010. The AEBC fully supports this landmark access case, and we urge members of our community to come out and show their support. (Editor’s Note: Please see “Challenging the System” elsewhere in these pages for further details and an update on the case.)

AEBC continues to submit briefs and make presentations on issues of concern. More and more, we are being recognized by all levels of government as the real voice of Canadians with significant vision impairment.

Our activities over the past year (2009-10) have included: meeting with representatives from the Office of Disability Issues re a national ID card; hosting Michel Grenier, Director of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) at our November Board meeting; making a presentation to the review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); a presentation on poverty to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development (HRSD); presenting Webzine on the AODA and the Accessibility Standards development process for Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario (CWDO); a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for Bill 152, an act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario; meeting with HRSD Canada Special Advisor to Minister to discuss funding, hybrid cars, electronic voting, library issues etc.; participating in Canada Transportation Agency Advisory Committee meetings; Speaking on advocacy and facilitating a workshop at the annual Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition Conference, entitled Leading the Way: Developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy for People with Disabilities; speaking on a panel at Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Taking Action on Poverty, Poor Health and Bad Jobs, sponsored by the Toronto Social Planning Council; and attending the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on the introduction of the Blind Voters Rights Bill.

Briefs and position papers we have submitted include: Electoral Accessibility: A Key to Equality, to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; Status of the AODA; Copyright Consultation; National Economic Strategy, to the Standing Committee on Finance; Review of the Municipal Elections Act, to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Bill 152, an act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario, to the Standing Committee on Social Policy; and Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS), to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

More details on our activities can be found by visiting our website: http://www.blindcanadians.ca (Editor’s Note: Also see “Headlines & Highlights” in these pages for updated information).

Finally, some AEBC members believe our organization would be more successful if we concentrated our efforts on fewer issues. This is an understandable view but potentially problematic, due to the vast number of other barriers blind Canadians continue to face daily. We, as a national organization and the voice of the blind, cannot ignore these issues. However, I believe that becoming more focused on a few issues can be achieved, as long as we still recognize there are many issues related to blindness that need to be addressed, albeit at a lower priority.

Over the past few months, the AEBC Board has been discussing the idea of trying to find three to five "issues" that we, as an organization, can prioritize so that our actions are focused and more effective. A large list of issues that matter to blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted members was drawn up primarily from the brainstorming session at the face-to-face Board meeting that took place in Toronto. We started out with a list of more than 20 items, which we then proceeded to merge and eliminate, combine and rewrite. We also recently conducted a poll among the membership to ascertain which issues you consider the most important. The results will help guide the discussions at this year's Conference.

The outcome of these discussions, in many ways, will be a difficult task for each of you to consider. The issues are all very important, and it will be hard to choose a few that deserve to have a higher priority than others. However, we need to face the question of whether we can achieve more by becoming focused.

An AEBC member is a rights-holder who inspires empowerment and addresses our rights for the future.

Each member of this organization needs to advocate and be part of the common voice of the blind. We, as a community, need to work together, speak out, and take action. We must work in our local Chapters, through our National Committee's, and as a national voice to ensure our rights are entrenched. Our advocacy must become focused, and yet we must continue to address the wide range of barriers we face.

Our rights and our future are in your hands.

Nfb: Ae's Brief to The Crtc(A): All-Channel Alert

Editor's Note: July 5, 2000 Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N2

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:

Re Public Notice 2000-71 application by Pelmorex to Amend its Licence to Include the All Channel Alert (ACA) System 1. I am writing to you on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB: AE), to oppose Pelmorex's amendment to its license until such time as the information it seeks to broadcast can be delivered to all cable subscribers in an audio format at the same time as visual messages are displayed.

  1. The NFB: AE is a consumer controlled Canadian organization, whose major goals and objectives include the elimination of present and future barriers, preventing the full and equal participation and inclusion of blind, deaf/blind and vision impaired Canadians in all aspects of mainstream society. Access to print information has long been recognized as the most pervasive barrier faced by blind, deaf/blind and vision impaired Canadians, in every conceivable aspect of daily life.

  2. The NFB: AE was discouraged to learn that the Applicant was seeking approval of an amendment to its present licence, to include the distribution of an All Channel Alert which would display a message in print on a television screen service (ACA), whenever an Environment Canada alert is warranted, due to unexpected and imminently dangerous environmental conditions posing a threat to persons and property. The Applicant has made no attempts to present the same information in an audio format so that blind and vision-impaired Canadians can receive the same information at the same time as others. This proposed ACA system technology, already endorsed by Environment Canada's Mete- orological Service, fails to ensure full and equal access to all Canadian cable and satellite subscribers, by only providing a visual message.

  3. In public awareness information about this new service, Environment Canada and others have stated their inability to design an audio message overlay with the ACA system, during the seven years in the design and development phase for this new service. At the same time, Pelmorex Claims to be extremely sensitive to the print handicapped viewing public. This is at best questionable in light of its suggestion that those Canadians, unable to read information presented visually, can continue to receive Environment Canada alerts via conventional radio broadcasts. In NFB: AE's submission, other members of society other than those who are deaf or deaf-blind, would be able to access the same information through conventional radio broadcasts as well. This kind of approach taken by the Applicant weakens rather than strengthens its overall submission to the Commission.

  4. Blind, deaf-blind and vision-impaired Canadians are systemically excluded from having pertinent information available to them in a usable format. The effect of the exclusion is even more invidious when the information being presented visually is deemed to be crucial to the safety, well-being and independence of all members of the public. Adding insult to injury, as cable subscribers, print handicapped Canadians would be required to pay a monthly charge of 13 cents per household, for the ACA service even though it is inaccessible to them. This additional charge would not be at all inappropriate if the service was completely accessible for blind and vision-impaired Canadians for the reasons cited by the Applicant in its application materials.

  5. The NFB: AE accepts the importance of an environmental alert system to facilitate the preparedness of Canadian citizens in the event of any potential environmental danger or disaster relating to weather, chemical or nuclear em-ergency. However, NFB: AE would urge the Commission's denial of the approval of Pelmorex's application, proposing an amendment to its present licence, until Pelmorex can assure the CRTC that the service will be provided in a manner that is accessible to blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians. Canadian Blind Monitor 49

  6. There is no reason why, in NFB: AE's view, that the Applicant could not deliver a full service containing audio and visual information. The NFB: AE believes that the technologies are available to bring access to information for blind, deaf/blind and vision-impaired Canadians up to par with the rest of society. All that is required is the commitment to make this fact a reality.

  7. A true copy of this intervention has been forwarded to the Applicant, Pelmorex.

  8. On behalf of the NFB: AE, I wish to thank the Commission, in advance, in giving serious consideration to the legitimate concerns of print handicapped Canadians on this most important issue.

Robert J. Fenton President

National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality

Removing Access Barriers to The Canadian Library System: a Brief Submitted to The Task Force on Access to Information For Print Disabled Canadians

Editor's Note: September 18, 2000

INTRODUCTION

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality ("NFB: AE") is pleased to submit this brief on removing access barriers to the Canadian library system to this Task Force.

Currently, the NFB: AE has members in seven Canadian Provinces and one Territory. Its membership is comprised of blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind adults, parents of blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind children and other interested members of the public. One of the primary goals of the NFB: AE is to improve the opportunities that are available for all blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians to participate effectively within Canadian society. NFB: AE strives to accomplish this goal through advocacy and public education initiatives.

In July of 2000, the Task Force released a list of twenty- one questions which it asked all interested members of the public to address to assist the Task Force in arriving at its recommendations. Most of the questions focused on the needs of individual Canadians and do not provide a forum for a group such as NFB: AE to respond effectively to them. As a result, NFB: AE will only deal with Question 21 namely: "Are there any other questions that you would like the Task Force to address?"

In NFB: AE's submission, there are three additional questions that the Task Force should address in its report. These are:

  1. Does every Canadian have the right to access information that is available through the public library system within her/his own community;

  2. Do Canadians who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind have the same access to the Canadian library system from within their own communities; and

  3. If the answer to question 2 is no, what measures should be put in place to improve access to library-based resources for blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians?

A number of groups have already made presentations to this Task Force which deal with the technical issues that are required to make materials available to people who are print disabled in multiple formats. Instead of focusing on this issue, NFB: AE proposes to deal with the issues being considered by the Task Force on a philosophical and legal level. Insofar as the technical issues for producing and distributing materials to individuals who are print disabled, NFB: AE adopts the recommendations made by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities as submitted in CCD's brief to the Task Force. It is also important to note that specialized libraries such as the CNIB National Library are still an integral component in preparing materials in multiple formats and distributing them to blind, vision- impaired and deaf blind Canadians. In addition to examining new technological advances, provision must be made to ensure that the traditional hard copy formats of materials, e.g., cassette tapes, Braille and large print, are still made available to the print disabled community both through the public library system and through specialized libraries where appropriate. While it is hoped that the need for specialized libraries will be lessened over time, the infrastructure is not currently in place to diminish their role in any meaningful way.

Does every Canadian have the right to access information that is available through the public library system within her/his own community?

In NFB: AE's submission, this question should be answered in the affirmative for the following reasons:

  1. Roch Carrier, the Chief Librarian of the National Library of Canada, has publicly stated in the press release announcing the creation of this Task Force that "every Canadian has the right to access the information they need to participate fully in Canadian society". The public library system has at its disposal much of the basic information which Canadians rely on regularly to pursue their leisure activities, political interests, monitoring of current events, educational materials and the like. In addition, there are many seminars and other programs that are held at public libraries which are of interest to many members of the local community. Libraries have always been viewed as vast receptacles of information which are accessed by Canadians from the time that the first book is read to them until the time of their death.

  2. Access to information is essential to all Canadians at every stage of their life. If information is inaccessible, the gap between those who have access to the information and the rest of society will widen on a daily basis. As the gap widens, those who do not have access to the information will lose the ability to compete in all aspects of life against those individuals who do have access to the vast information resources provided by libraries.

  3. Every Canadian who is involved in the workforce is required to pay taxes. These taxes fund access to Canada's library system at all governmental levels to one extent or another. It only seems reasonable that those who are paying to support a system including the system in place in the community where they live, would have full access to it. The library system that is available in Canada is publicly funded. In such circumstances, there is a responsibility imposed upon all levels of government under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under Human Rights Legislation to ensure that the services provided through the library system are provided equally to all Canadians without discrimination based on the grounds enumerated in such legislation.

Do Canadians who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind have the same access to the Canadian library system from within their own communities?

The answer to this question is clearly NO at this point in our history. Most novels, research publications, newspapers and other reference materials are not available in multiple formats at all let alone through the public library system. While some information may be obtained off websites, often the full article cannot be obtained from the web site. In other cases, a substantial fee per article is charged which is far in excess of the charges that another member of society would incur if he/she had access to the same newspaper on microfiche.

The Canadian tax system also imposes barriers to access to the library system. In some jurisdictions, provincial sales tax is charged on audio books when such a tax is not charged on their print equivalents. This increases the cost for the library which is purchasing materials in multiple formats solely because of the tax treatment of these items. The same barrier is imposed on blind or vision-impaired consumers who may purchase audio books for their own use. This increase to the cost of purchasing these books which already exceeds the costs of obtaining the printed equivalent, creates a significant additional expense for both libraries and consumers alike to access materials in a useable format.

Once a specific text has been produced in print, it often takes a year to eighteen months to have that same book produced in Braille or on cassette tape. The time for producing the book in large print is somewhat shorter. This delay in providing access to information to blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians puts them at a disadvantage when compared to other Canadians who are enrolled in the school system or who are participating in the workforce.

Some publishers have attempted to address this issue by providing some of their texts in an abridged version for release on cassette tape. This does not provide true access to the publication since important information and details are often excluded from the abridged versions.

Without question, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind is the largest producer of materials in multiple formats in Canada. As a registered charity, it only has so many resources to devote to this endeavor. When the resource budget for a given year runs out, the production of materials is significantly reduced. The CNIB library has run large deficits for the past number of years simply to maintain current production levels.

Blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians are already at a disadvantage since the number of books produced in multiple formats is significantly below the number of printed books which are published each year. Depending on the statistics that one reads, the percentage of books produced in multiple formats each year as compared to the overall number of books published in a given year ranges from 3% to 10%.

The library system has been impeded in its attempts to provide materials in multiple formats because of the actions of publishers themselves. Often, publishers will not make the electronic versions of their texts available so that these materials can be produced in formats other than regular print. In other cases, the lack of a standardized electronic book publishing format also provides a barrier to access electronic texts.

While the provisions of the Copyright Act allow a producer to produce a text in an alternative format without seeking the permission of the copyright holder, this entire step could be avoided in producing books in Braille, electronic text and in large print if a publisher made the electronic version of the book available to producers of materials.

In addition to the hard copy materials that are available throughout the library system, many libraries have now provided Internet access and access to video movies to their subscribers. In the former case, many libraries do not have computer systems which are accessible to blind, vision- impaired or deaf blind Canadians. Even where the systems are available, the staff at local libraries often do not have sufficient training on how to use the equipment so that appropriate training can be provided to anyone wanting to use the specialized equipment. Similarly, there is no training budget available to blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind Canadians to learn how to use the equipment that may already be available to them within the library system. With respect to the latter case, most of the video tapes that are available do not have a described audio track on them to explain to the blind or vision-impaired person what is happening in a given scene when dialogue is not present.

As various public libraries have experienced budget cuts over the past number of years, staffing complements have been reduced. This has had a disproportionate affect on blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians since there is often no one available to assist them in finding books within the library itself. Even if a library does have accessible computer systems, optical scanners and the like, this equipment will be of limited use to individuals who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind if it is impractical or impossible for them to locate the materials they wish to read with accessible equipment.

Many Canadians who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf-blind may want to access information obtained from libraries in their home environment. In many provinces, it is difficult to obtain funding for the purchase of computers, synthetic speech programs, large print programs and other equipment. This kind of equipment is used by people who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind to access printed material.

Finally, some libraries have adopted the strategy of one size fits all people who are print disabled when purchasing materials in multiple formats. There is a tendency in some cases for libraries to assume that they have met their obligations by purchasing audio books. However, these books are not accessible to individuals who are deaf blind. Similarly, large print texts are not accessible to people with no vision.

As a result of the barriers to access identified above, many blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians have steered themselves away from accessing the public library system altogether. Instead, they have relied on specialized libraries to obtain their reading materials to simply avoid the problems of inaccessibility to the library system within their own community. There are many within this community who are simply not aware of the services that may be available to them through the public library system since there is a presumption that the system itself is inaccessible. It is equally important to remove this perceptual barrier as it is to remove the technological and other barriers to access which have been identified above.

If the answer to question 2 is no, what measures should be put in place to improve access to library based resources for blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians?

Several presenters to the Task Force have recommended that a council be set up to manage the production of materials in multiple formats. This council would ensure that duplication in production does not occur and that the quality of the materials produced remains consistent.

NFB: AE supports the creation of such a council. It would operate at arm's length from government. Its members would consist of members from government, producers of material in multiple formats, representatives from the publishing industry and most importantly, representatives from among the ultimate consumers who directly benefit from receiving materials in multiple formats.

In addition to the creation of the council identified above, the Federal Government, either on its own or through the National Library, must contribute significant financial resources to fund the operation of the council itself and to fund the costs of producing the materials in multiple formats. It is simply not acceptable to rely solely on the charitable sector and private businesses to be the only entities responsible for raising funds for multiple format production. The government has a significant role to play in this area. Currently, Canada is the only one of the G seven industrialized countries which does not provide funding for library services for the blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind.

Once government funds are allocated for the purposes identified above, these funds should be separated out of all other library services budgets to ensure that the level of funding for multiple format production and distribution remains consistent. The government should enter into partnerships with publishers, registered charities and other private businesses to ensure that as much material as possible is produced in multiple formats.

The Federal Government should use both its fiscal resources and moral persuasion to convince publishers to provide electronic versions of their texts to producers of materials in multiple formats and to the average blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind consumer. Funding subsidies to the publishing industry should be denied to those publishers that do not take meaningful steps to make their electronic texts available.

The National Library should both provide funding and training support to local public libraries to ensure that the necessary computer equipment and adaptive devices are available for use throughout the library system. Similarly, these resources should be used to train library staff on the basic use of this equipment. This will allow the staff to provide assistance to individuals with print disabilities who are using the equipment within the library system. Staff should also be trained on the appropriate procedures to follow in assisting someone who is blind, vision-impaired or deaf blind in finding books, periodicals and other types of material of interest to the individual consumer. Finally, all provincial governments should be encouraged to establish funding programs similar to the assistive devices program in Ontario to provide funding for computer equipment and access devices for print disabled persons.

CONCLUSIONS

Access to information in multiple formats for people with print disabilities is the most essential right that must be protected to achieve full equality for this group of Canadians. The inability to access information affects such fundamental skills as literacy, independence and advancement within society.

The NFB: AE has provided a number of recommendations which it believes will assist in the removal of barriers to access to information for blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians. As new technologies develop, new barriers will inevitably result. It is hoped that consumer groups, governments, service providers and private businesses can all work together to ensure that barriers relating to access to information are substantially reduced or eliminated entirely. It is hoped that one day, the library system in Canada will be accessible enough such that Mr. Carrier's wish that all Canadians should have access to the information they need to participate effectively within society has been fully achieved.

ALL OF WHICH IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED.

Robert J. Fenton President,

National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality

Nfb: Ae's Brief to The Crtc on Cnib's Proposed National Information Centre

PART I - INTRODUCTION

  1. The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, ("NFB: AE"), is pleased to comment on the applications of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind ("CNIB") to establish telephone access to its information centre for the blind, ("ICB"), for the distribution of newspapers and periodicals and other services to people who are blind, vision-impaired or have a perceptual disability as defined in the Copyright Act, Canada.

  2. The NFB: AE was founded in 1992 as a consumer group primarily made up of blind, vision-impaired and deaf blind Canadians. Currently, the NFB: AE is a registered Canadian charity which has the following goals:

(a) to change society's attitudes about blindness and vision impairment through public education, advocacy and other methods of communication;

(b) to protect the existing rights and freedoms currently held by blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians;

(c) to enhance the rights, freedoms and access to services for blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians; and

(d) to otherwise enhance the quality of life and experiences for blind, deaf-blind and vision-impaired Canadians.

  1. The proposed ICB and telephone access to it is of immeasurable importance to blind and vision-impaired Canadians. Blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians do not currently have the same access to current information contained in newspapers and other periodicals at a reasonable cost as others in society.

  2. Information equity is a basic right for all Canadians. As most blind, vision-impaired or deaf-blind Canadians cannot afford a computer with adaptive technology which would allow them to access the Internet, web based information delivery models are only of limited assistance to this community. Others, because of age and other conditions, have not had the opportunity to learn how to use a computer system to access current information. Throughout the following sections of this submission, the NFB: AE will set forth why it is important for blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians to have the benefit of telephone access to the ICB so that they can participate more effectively within Canadian society. In addition, NFB: AE will propose a number of conditions which should be attached to the granting of the current license sought by CNIB that are not addressed in its application.

  3. It is not overly important to NFB: AE that the 211 telephone number be set aside for this service. The advent of speed dial and voice dialing technology would assist anyone who is not able to operate a telephone effectively to access the service.Those blind or vision-impaired individuals who do not have other motor or cognitive disabilities would be able to access a traditional 800 number without difficulty. Speed dials and voice activated phone dialers would assist individuals with motor or cognitive disabilities to access an 800 number to use the service.

  4. If it is cost effective and technically feasible, local access numbers could be used in large urban centres to access the service. The calls could be re-routed through dedicated phone lines to the ICB server.

PART II: WHY TELEPHONE ACCESS TO THE INFORMATION CENTRE FOR THE BLIND IS SO

IMPORTANT

  1. The ICB Service is of tremendous importance to blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians. Without this service, these individuals would not have the same access to information published in newspapers or periodicals at a reasonable cost as other Canadians. While many publications are currently available on the Internet, most print-handicapped and blind and vision-impaired Canadians do not have access to a computer because of the unequal access to funding support for such equipment from provincial governments across Canada.This fact prevents many people with perceptual disabilities, including those who are blind or vision-impaired, from accessing the newspapers and other periodicals compiled by CNIB on its web-based, visunews service and other services created by other computer-based information providers.

  2. If telephone access is provided to the ICB, subscribers to the service will be able to read from a variety of publications in both official languages including the Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Le Devoir, and other local newspapers and publications of interest to the reader. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians and those with other perceptual disabilities will be able to listen to the articles in their areas of interest by dialing in to the service at any time. The only piece of equipment that a person with a print handicap would require to access the service would be a telephone.

  3. Many blind and vision-impaired Canadians and Canadians with other perceptual disabilities are required to review newspapers on a daily basis as part of their job requirements. The ICB would provide an immeasurably valuable service in this regard since these individuals would have access to many news articles and other business-related publications such as stock market summaries, technology updates, etc. on the day that they are released. This kind of access to printed news media over the telephone is not possible at present for most Canadians.Instead, print handicapped individuals would have to optically scan articles themselves from various publications or depend on volunteers to read articles to them at a time which is convenient to the volunteer.

  4. Without this service, the representation of blind and vision-impaired and other print-handicapped Canadians in the Canadian workforce is less likely to improve. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians will not have the same timely access as others in society to important news stories, business stories, job postings and other classified ads which are shared with the public through the newspaper. In addition, blind and vision-impaired employees may be denied promotions and other benefits because they are unable to review information contained in newspapers in a timely fashion which they require to perform their job duties. For example, it would be more difficult for an individual who is involved in the technology industry to review stories of new technological advances produced by his/her company's competitors if s/he did not have access to report on business and other related publications on the day they are released.

  5. The ICB is also of immeasurable benefit to those senior citizens who are blind and vision-impaired or perceptually disabled. Many of these individuals have lost their vision after they have become senior citizens. It may not always be practical for them to acquire the new skills associated with learning how to use a computer, synthetic speech or large print devices to read information contained in newspapers and other publications. The only adjustment that they would have to make is to become accustomed to a synthetic computer voice which will read the news articles out loud to them over the telephone.

  6. Senior citizens who have acquired their disabilities as part of the aging process have always had access to newspapers and other periodicals throughout their lives. Many of these individuals have come to take access to information of this type for granted to some extent. It would be most unfortunate if they were deprived of the opportunity to have access to this kind of information on account of their vision loss or other disability.

PART III: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TWO CENT PER MONTH PER CUSTOMER SURCHARGE

  1. NFB: AE submits that it is reasonable to ask all Canadian telephone subscribers to contribute two cents per month to support a portion of the long distance and other telecommunications related operating costs for operating the telephone access portion of the ICB. This is not an onerous burden to ask Canadians to bear to ensure that blind, vision-impaired and perceptually disabled Canadians have access to an Information Service through the telephone.

  2. Canadians already pay for disability-based access in other areas that are regulated by the CRTC. For example, each Canadian pays several cents per month on her/his phone bill to finance the costs of operating the Message Relay Service in Canada. This service allows deaf and hard-of-hearing Canadians to communicate with others using telephones and telephone devices for the deaf. A per month charge has allowed deaf Canadians to participate more effectively within Canadian society by allowing them to communicate with everyone else.

  3. Similarly, a two cents per month per customer charge would allow print-handicapped, blind and vision-impaired Canadians to access information so that they can communicate with others more knowledgeably, participate more effectively within the workforce and otherwise make more substantial contributions to Canadian society.

  4. Before many blind and vision-impaired individuals may access printed information, it must be converted into an audio format before it can be understood and absorbed. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians should have a choice of more than one provider for accessing information in an audio format.

PART IV: WHAT HAPPENS IF THE APPLICATION BY THE CNIB IS REFUSED?

  1. If the application for a two cent per month charge per subscriber to support the costs of the ICB is refused by the Commission, it is almost certain that as a result, a significant group in society will continue to be denied access to printed information in an audio format. If telephone access to the ICB is not supported in this fashion, groups such as the NFB: AE and associations of Canadians with perceptual disabilities will have to look to other sources to obtain this kind of service for their members. No for profit producers have to date come to the forefront to provide access to newspapers and other periodicals over the telephone on a national basis to Canadians who are blind, vision-impaired or deaf-blind.

  2. If this kind of access is not provided, groups such as the NFB: AE may have to resort to advocacy efforts through the courts and through Human Rights Commissions to require newspapers and other periodicals to partner with telecommunications companies to provide a similar type of service. A further spin-off may be that blind and vision- impaired and print-handicapped Canadians may commence proceedings against individual newspapers or publishers of periodicals before provincial human rights commissions to obtain the text of these publications at the same time and at the same cost as other subscribers through a suitable delivery method that is accessible to the blind and vision- impaired.

  3. It is clear that a proliferation of litigation of the types described above would not be in the public interest. Most Canadians would likely agree that a charge of two cents per month per subscriber is a small price to pay to substantially reduce this kind of activity since it is one of the most cost effective methods of providing access to newspapers and periodicals for blind and vision-impaired Canadians. It is also a very reasonable method to ensure that blind and vision-impaired Canadians are provided with access to the important information contained in newspapers and periodicals whether they are reading the articles at home, at work, over a cellular telephone or anywhere else.

  4. The precedent has already been set by the Commission to require Canadians to pay additional fees on their telephone bills to subsidize the Message Relay Service for the Deaf. The CRTC has recognized the importance of supporting other minority groups by subsidizing cable television services to alleviate the disadvantages which have traditionally been caused in society by gender, race, national or ethnic origin or disability. A decision not to grant the two cents per month per subscriber charge to CNIB or any other applicant would serve to increase the degree of disadvantage that blind and vision-impaired and print-handicapped Canadians already experience in their interactions with the rest of society.

PART V: WHAT CONDITIONS SHOULD BE IMPOSED ON ANY LICENSE GRANTED TO CNIB

  1. NFB: AE submits that the users of the service must have an active role in the operation of the ICB and in determining the content carried on it. To that end, NFB: AE entered into negotiations with the CNIB to ensure that certain core values are incorporated into the terms of the license if it is granted to CNIB. These negotiations resulted in an agreement as follows:

(a) CNIB will create a separate business entity to receive any funds obtained from a charge ordered by the CRTC and to operate the telephone access portion of ICB;

(b) This newly created business entity will operate at arms length from CNIB;

(c) This newly created business entity will have separate financial reporting obligations from those imposed upon CNIB;

(d) The newly created business entity will be operated by an advisory board consisting of an equal number of representatives from agencies who provide services to individuals with perceptual disabilities as defined in the Copyright Act, Canada and consumers with perceptual disabilities who use the service that are neither employed by or owe fiduciary obligations to any agency that contributes to the costs of or is involved in the operation of the telephone access portion of the ICB; and

(e) The telephone access portion of the ICB will be accessible to all individuals with perceptual disabilities as that term is defined in the Copyright Act, Canada.

  1. NFB: AE strongly requests that all of the above-mentioned terms be imposed upon the Applicant as preconditions for the granting of a license before funding support for the ICB is approved by the CRTC. In addition, the license must specify that all funds remitted under the charge should be remitted to the newly created business entity instead of to the CNIB.

  2. NFB: AE submits that this license should not be given for an indefinite period. Technology is constantly changing and evolving. Governments or other for profit or not-for-profit producers may be able to offer a similar service to print handicapped Canadians at a lesser cost in the future. Accordingly, NFB: AE submits that this license should be granted for a period of not more than two years so that other companies, governments or agencies have the opportunity to apply for a license to operate this kind of service with their new and improved technologies as they are developed.

  3. Since the CNIB only provided limited opportunities for consultation with consumers regarding the ICB service itself before this application was filed, it is submitted that extra care should be taken by the CRTC to ensure that public input from affected individuals with perceptual disabilities and the groups representing them is sought, considered and implemented by CNIB before this license is granted. There are some within the consumer base which will be affected by the disposition of this application that are of the view that the kinds of services referred to above should be provided by governments and private producers. These views should be heard and dealt with by the Applicant and the Commission before the license is granted.

PART VI: CONCLUSIONS

  1. The members of NFB: AE view access to printed information in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, information produced on audio cassette or in an audio format, intervention services for deaf-blind persons and electronic information stored on computer diskettes as being a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all blind, vision- impaired and deaf blind Canadians. NFB: AE will be monitoring these proceedings very carefully to ensure that the interests of its members who would benefit from telephone access to the ICB are carefully and effectively represented so that their right to access information in an audio format are recognized and preserved by the Commission. If public hearings are held, NFB: AE requests that it be given standing to present its views to the Commission during the public hearing process.

ALL OF WHICH IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED

Robert J. Fenton

President

National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality

An Ontarians With Disabilities Act: a Recipe For a Barrier-Free Ontario

Part I: Introduction

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) is pleased to participate in the consultation process sponsored by the Ontario Liberal Party regarding an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The NFB:AE was founded in 1992 in Kelowna, British Columbia. Its membership base now extends into eight Canadian provinces and one territory.

Its Toronto chapter is one of the most active chapters in the country. activities since its inception have dealt with various advocacy issues including special education reform, guide dog access legislation, copyright reform and other matters.

The NFB:AE has been a member of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee for approximately one year. The group consists of blind and vision-impaired consumers and other interested members of the public who aim to enhance and promote opportunities for blind and vision-impaired people.

The NFB:AE agrees that an Ontarians with Disabilities Act must remove barriers for all Ontarians with disabilities which may arise in all aspects of their day-to-day life. However, this brief will necessarily focus on the needs and interests of blind and vision-impaired people since NFB:AE does not have the mandate to propose suggestions that may relate to other disability groups.

On October 29, 1998, the Ontario legislature passed a series of principles that should be included within a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The following sections of this brief will deal with many of those principles.

Part II: Purpose of the Act

NFB:AE agrees that the purpose for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act should be to remove existing barriers for blind and vision-impaired people to participate fully and equally within all aspects of day-to-day life in Ontario. In addition, the legislation should provide a mechanism whereby the creation of new barriers to such access is prevented. While the NFB:AE does not believe it is appropriate to request that all barriers to access be removed overnight, this process should be undertaken within a reasonable time after the legislation is proclaimed insofar as existing barriers are concerned.

The prevention of new barriers being erected should be addressed as soon as the legislation is proclaimed.

Part III: Effectiveness of the Legislation

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as a new piece of legislation which would be groundbreaking in Canada, should contain provisions that would cause this Act to supersede any other legislation that affects the rights, benefits and obligations imposed upon people with disabilities. This would ensure that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act provisions which provide additional accommodations to people with disabilities are not weakened because other pieces of legislation conflict with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act or contain weaker provisions.

Part IV: Barrier Removal

People who are blind or vision-impaired face a number of barriers within Ontario. One of the most significant barriers is that blind and vision-impaired people do not have the same access to information that is provided to the rest of Ontario in a printed form. It is not uncommon for blind and vision-impaired people not to be able to access government publications because they are posted on inaccessible web sites. It is equally not uncommon for blind and vision-impaired people not to be able to access documentation that is made available to the public on cassette tape, in Braille or in large print. Without these accommodations, blind and vision impaired people are denied the opportunity to access information at the same time as other Ontarians. This is just one example of the many barriers which should be addressed in the context of this legislation.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should apply equally to governments, public and private businesses, and other entities carrying on business in Ontario. All public premises and access to services that are provided by various governmental and business entities should be provided in such a manner that all Ontarians, including those who are blind or vision- impaired, have equal access to the same kinds of goods, services and facilities as anyone else and at the same time as anyone else. In addition, the legislation should prescribe a mechanism to ensure that all goods, services and facilities currently being provided by any business entities in Ontario are usable by people who are blind or vision impaired to the extent that that is practical. For example, it would not be reasonable to require a business who builds telescopes to ensure that their devices are accessible to people who are totally blind.

Part V: Removal of Barriers in Employment and Education

Some of the biggest barriers that blind and vision-impaired people face in Ontario relate to access to employment and education. In many instances blind and vision-impaired employees are denied access to equipment and course materials that are required for them to participate equally in employment and educational settings with other Ontarians. Specific steps should be taken to achieve barrier-free workplaces both in the private and public sectors to ensure that blind and vision-impaired people have the same access to employment as others. Similarly, the Education Act and all of those statutes applicable to post secondary education should be amended to provide that elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities are required to ensure that all of the equipment, textbooks and other services that blind and vision-impaired students may need during their educational years are provided to them in the format of their choice.

Part VI: Enforcement Process

It is critical that an Ontarians with Disabilities Act has an effective enforcement mechanism. While one suggestion is to have the Act enforced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, this solution is not currently practical given the budget cuts that this tribunal has experienced over the past number of years. If the Ontario Human Rights Commission will be given this additional mandate, it must also be given the appropriate increase in resources to manage these new responsibilities.

Another alternative would be to develop a separate enforcement agency to enforce this legislation. While this option may appear to be unattractive at first glance, such a new enforcement body would develop additional expertise over time in relation to persons with disabilities. This would not likely happen if the Ontario Human Rights Commission was used, since the Commission itself has other mandates in relation to other disadvantaged groups within society. If there was one body that was designed solely to protect and enhance the rights of persons with disabilities, the appropriate expertise could be developed regarding necessary accommodations, undue hardship and the like, such that the new agency could make more educated decisions about what cases it should or should not pursue than could the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which historically has been less than sympathetic to many disability-based claims of discrimination. NFB:AE would support the creation of a separate agency to enforce this legislation.

Part VII: Regulations

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should specifically provide for the power for cabinet to make regulations setting out the steps that various groups must satisfy to comply with the legislation. Before any of these regulations are implemented, people with disabilities who may be affected by them should be consulted. Their input should also be incorporated into the regulations before they are proclaimed in force. The regulation-making powers should be such that different regulations may apply to different industries or other sectors of the Ontario economy.

Part VIII: Public Education

As with any piece of new legislation, there will be a need to educate the public, industry and other entities within Ontario regarding its provisions and the steps that must be taken to comply with the Act. Accordingly, there must be sufficient resources made available to allow for public education so that Ontarians are made aware of the steps they must take to comply with the Act.

Part IX: Program Delivery

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should impose on the provincial government and all municipal governments a requirement that all programs which they fund are accessible to people with disabilities. In the past, many programs and services which have been funded have been totally inaccessible. In addition, the Ontario government in this legislation should take meaningful steps to promote and enhance the availability of adaptive equipment to allow blind and vision-impaired people to participate fully and effectively in all aspects of their daily living.

Brief in Support of An Application to Amend Voiceprints Broadcasting License

Part I - Introduction

  1. The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE), is pleased to support the application of the National Broadcast Reading Service Incorporated (NBRS) to amend the broadcasting license held by its Voiceprint Division to allow for the distribution of the Voiceprint Service as a secondary audio program (SAP) service on all Class 1 and Class 2 broadcasting distribution undertakings.

  2. The NFB:AE was founded in 1992 as a consumer group primarily made up of blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians. Currently, the NFB:AE is a registered Canadian charity which has the following goals: (a) to change society's attitudes about blindness and vision-impairment through public education, advocacy and other forms of education; (b) to protect the existing rights and freedoms currently held by blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians; (c) to enhance the rights, freedoms and access to services for blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians; and (d) to otherwise enhance the quality of life and experiences for blind, deaf-blind and vision-impaired Canadians.

  3. The Voiceprint Service is of immeasurable importance to blind and vision-impaired Canadians. Without this service, blind and vision-impaired Canadians would not have the same access to current information contained in newspapers and other periodicals as others in society at a reasonable cost. In addition, Voiceprint has provided a method of widely distributing information that may be of unique importance to Canadians who are blind or vision-impaired.

Throughout the following sections of this submission, the NFB:AE will set forth why it is important for blind and vision-impaired Canadians to have the benefit of the Voiceprint Service so that they can participate more effectively within Canadian society.

Part II: Relevant Legislative Provisions

  1. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is bound by the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, S.C. 1991, Chap. 11, as amended. Section 3(1)(d)(iii) provides: 3(1) It is hereby declared as the broadcasting policy for Canada that: ... (d) the Canadian broadcasting system should ... (iii) through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society, ...

  2. In addition, section 3(1)(p) provides that broadcasting undertakings are required to provide programming that is accessible to disabled persons as resources become available for the purpose.

  3. These provisions, when read together, support the notion that services such as Voiceprint should be available to all Canadians who are unable to read print because of a disability irrespective of where they live in Canada.

  4. In the past, Voiceprint was carried by different cable companies using different SAP channels. To ensure that Voiceprint is easily located on all cable systems by Voiceprints viewers, Voiceprint has entered into an agreement with the CBC Newsworld channel to carry its service on Newsworlds SAP channel. However, it lacks the ability to carry out the terms of this agreement without sufficient funding by way of increased cable rates paid by Canadian subscribers. If the one cent per month charge addition to the cable bill of Canadian cable subscribers is not endorsed by the Commission, there is good reason to doubt that Voiceprint will continue to exist. This would be a tremendous blow since there are no other providers in the Canadian broadcasting system which offer a similar service to that which Voiceprint provides. In the absence of a functioning service such as Voiceprint, it is submitted that the Commission would not be honouring its obligations by enforcing the goals and objectives of the Canadian Broadcasting Act to support the important and specialised services provided by Voiceprint.

Part III: Why Voiceprint Is So Important

  1. The Voiceprint Service is of tremendous importance to blind and vision-impaired Canadians. Without this service, these individuals would not be able to access information published in newspapers or periodicals at a reasonable cost. While these publications are currently available on the Internet, most blind and vision-impaired Canadians do not have access to a computer because of the unequal access to funding support for such equipment from provincial governments across Canada. For those who do have access to computers, most newspapers and periodicals do not provide complete access to their articles on their websites. In some cases where full access is provided, the user is required to pay a fee per article in order to access the full text of the information they wish to review.

  2. The Voiceprint Service provides no such barriers. Instead of charging a fee for service based on the type of information that is reviewed, volunteer readers read from a variety of publications, including the Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Scientific American, Macleans and others, at various times during the day. Blind and vision-impaired Canadians can listen to the articles in their areas of interest by tuning into Voiceprint at certain times of the day. Since Voiceprint is carried as an SAP service now, the only equipment that a blind or vision-impaired Canadian would require to access this service would be a stereo television and access to a cable or home satellite system. In addition, some cable companies have allocated a frequency to Voiceprint on FM Cable.

  3. Many blind and vision-impaired Canadians are required to review newspapers on a daily basis as part of their job requirements. Voiceprint provides an immeasurably valuable service in this regard, since an individual who is blind or vision-impaired would have access to many news articles and other business-related publications such as stock market summaries on the day that they are released. This kind of access to printed news media was unheard of prior to Voiceprints existence. It is the only service of its kind where blind and vision-impaired Canadians can access information published in newspapers and periodicals in a timely fashion without having access to a computer. Without this service, the representation of blind and vision-impaired Canadians in the Canadian workforce will not likely improve. This is especially so in those occupations where it is imperative that the individuals have access to current information in newspapers and periodicals to perform their job duties. For example, it would be impossible for a blind banker to monitor basic trends within the banking industry without having access to publications such as the Report on Business.

  4. Voiceprint is also of immeasurable benefit to senior citizens who are blind and vision-impaired. Many of these individuals have lost their vision after they have become senior citizens. Accordingly, it may not always be practical for them to acquire the new skills associated with learning how to use a computer, synthetic speech or large print devices to read information contained in newspapers and other publications. These individuals have always had access to this information throughout their lives and have come to take it for granted to some extent. It would be most unfortunate if they were deprived of the opportunity to have access to this kind of information on account of their vision loss.

Part IV: The Importance of the One Cent per Month per Customer Surcharge

  1. NFB:AE submits that the one cent per month per customer surcharge is reasonable. It is not an onerous burden to ask Canadians to bear to ensure that blind and vision-impaired Canadians have access to the Voiceprint Service. Canadians already pay for disability-based access in other areas that are regulated by the CRTC. For example, each Canadian pays thirteen cents per month on her/his phone bill to finance the costs of the Bell Relay Service, a service which allows deaf and hard of hearing Canadians to communicate with others using telephones and telephone devices for the deaf. This thirteen cent per month surcharge has allowed deaf Canadians to participate more effectively within Canadian society by allowing them to communicate with everyone else.

  2. Similarly, a one cent per month per customer surcharge would allow blind and vision-impaired Canadians to access information so that they can communicate with others knowledgeably, participate more effectively within the workforce and otherwise make contributions to Canadian society.

  3. The Broadcasting Act provides in section 3(1)(d)(iii) that through its programming efforts, the broadcasting system is required to serve the needs and interests and reflect the circumstances and aspirations of all Canadians. This section also refers to the importance of reflecting the needs and interests of individuals in a manner of equality. One way that this provision can be used to guarantee such access for blind and vision-impaired Canadians is to provide a vehicle within the broadcasting system to have information that is only available in a printed form reproduced into an audio format which can be readily understood and absorbed by blind and vision-impaired Canadians. Without this, blind and vision-impaired Canadians will not have access to current information which others take for granted.

Part V: What Happens If the License Amendment Sought by the NBRS is Refused?

  1. If the amendment to the Voiceprint License is refused by the Commission, it is almost certain that Voiceprint will not be able to continue its operations. As a result, a significant group in society will be denied access to printed information in an audio format.

  2. If Voiceprint was unavailable, groups such as the NFB:AE will have to look to other sources to obtain this kind of service for their members. No for-profit producers have to date come to the forefront to provide information to blind and vision-impaired Canadians in an audio format in the same fashion as Voiceprint has for a number of years. If Voiceprint suspends its operations, groups such as the NFB:AE may have to resort to advocacy efforts through the courts and through the Canadian Human Rights Commission to require cable companies and other home satellite service providers to provide a Voiceprint type service. A further spin-off may be that blind and vision-impaired Canadians would have to commence proceedings against individual newspapers or publishers of periodicals before provincial human rights commissions to obtain the text of these publications at the same time and at the same cost as other subscribers.

Furthermore, if Voiceprint is forced to suspend its operations, the Commissions decision not to grant the one cent surcharge may be subject to attack by blind and vision-impaired Canadians under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, since their ability to participate within society may be significantly compromised.

  1. It is clear that a proliferation of litigation of the types described above would not be in the public interest. Most Canadians would likely agree that a one cent per month per customer surcharge is a small price to pay to substantially reduce this kind of activity, since it is the most cost effective method of providing access to newspapers and periodicals for blind and vision-impaired Canadians that is currently in existence. It is also a very reasonable method to ensure that blind and vision-impaired Canadians are provided with access to the important information contained in newspapers and periodicals.

  2. Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act, supra, requires all individuals wishing to operate a television station to obtain a license from the CRTC. When license applications are submitted, the applicant must satisfy the Commission that the type of programming that the applicant intends to provide meets the obligations imposed by Section 3(1) of the Broadcasting Act.

  3. The precedent has already been set by the Commission to require Canadians to pay additional fees on their cable bills to subsidise cable channels which a given individual may never choose to watch or support. The CRTC has recognised the importance of licensing specialty channels to give groups who have been traditionally disadvantaged because of gender, race, national or ethnic origin or disability, the opportunity to contribute to the diversity of Canadian culture by allowing these groups to show television programs that primarily benefit the disadvantaged group. A decision not to grant the one cent surcharge would serve to increase the degree of disadvantage that blind and vision-impaired Canadians already experience in their interactions with the rest of society.

  4. The members of NFB:AE view access to printed information in alternate formats, such as Braille, large print, information produced on audio cassette or in an audio format, intervention services for deaf-blind persons and electronic information stored on computer diskettes as being a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all blind, vision-impaired and deaf-blind Canadians. NFB:AE will be monitoring these proceedings very carefully to ensure that the interests of its members who use Voiceprint to access basic information in an audio format are carefully and effectively preserved by the Commission. If public hearings are held, NFB:AE requests that it be given standing to present its views to the Commission during the public hearing process.

Brief on Undue Hardship & Voluntary Assumption of Risk

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: In October, 1999, NFB:AE was asked to participate in a series of consultations sponsored by the Ontario Human Rights Commission concerning possible revisions to the Undue Hardship Standards and Voluntary Assumption of Risk. Both of these concepts are central in assessing whether employers, service providers or others have met their duty to accommodate people with disabilities.

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, is pleased to participate in the consultations conducted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on possible changes to the undue hardship guidelines. Founded in 1992, the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, ("NFB:AE"), is a national consumer group of blind people whose mandate it is to protect and enhance the rights of blind and vision-impaired people in Canadian society through advocacy, public education and other initiatives. Approximately one third of NFB:AE's members reside in Ontario.

Reasons for the Commission's Review

NFB:AE does not believe that this review of the undue hardship guidelines is necessary. No Canadian courts have criticised the existing guidelines. The Barber v. Seers

Canada decision cited by the Commission in its consultation paper cannot be used to justify this review since the commentary in that decision is based on a wrong assumption that the current guidelines for establishing undue hardship go beyond what is required under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Apart from referring to the concept of undue hardship in several sections of the Code, the term "undue hardship" is not defined in the legislation. This problem could be rectified in the legislation by giving the Commission the power to enact regulations with the approval of the governor in council to define terms such as undue hardship and to set evidentiary criteria for proving the same. The concern of the Board of Inquiry in Barber, supra, could be addressed by the Commission proposing that the existing guidelines be enacted in regulation form by cabinet. It appears that a substantial reason for conducting this review is based on Recommendation 38 of the Red Tape Task Force Report. This recommendation reads: "38. In Consultation with a representative group of stakeholders, including a sufficient sample of small to medium-sized employers, develop and implement clear and reasonable criteria for determining "undue hardship". In NFB:AE's submission, the existing undue hardship guidelines identified by the Commission are both clear and reasonable. They already specify the financial and other conditions which must be met before undue hardship is established, the type of evidence which must be provided by an employer or a provider of goods, services and facilities to establish undue hardship to defend a claim of discrimination and appropriate safeguards to allow blind and vision-impaired people to assume the risks of working under certain conditions in performing their job duties if they so choose. There is no reason to depart from these guidelines based on the wording of Recommendation 38 from the Red Tape Task Force since the concerns identified by the Commission are not supportable based on current human rights jurisprudence before the courts or Ontario Boards of Inquiry. In addition, the Red Tape Task Force makes no specific reference in Recommendation 38 to place any weight on the views of people with disabilities in the consultation process which it had envisioned.

The Undue Hardship Standard

NFB:AE submits that the undue hardship standard as expressed in the guidelines still remains appropriate in spite of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Eldridge v. BC Medical Services Commission which is referred to in the consultation paper. The guidelines specify that in order for a respondent to succeed in advancing an undue hardship defence, the "accommodation would have to alter the substantial nature of the enterprise or substantially affect its viability". There is nothing in Eldridge, supra to suggest that this standard is no longer appropriate. The Eldridge decision only stands for the proposition that courts may consider whether an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on government when the accommodation is being evaluated under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada gives no guidance at all in Eldridge on what would or what would not constitute an undue hardship. Accordingly, the reasoning in Eldridge, supra, does not provide a good reason for re-visiting these guidelines especially when they have not been rejected by any Canadian courts.

Voluntary Assumption of Risk

NFB:AE sees no reason to vary the guidelines identified in Question 2 of the consultation paper. Again, no courts have made any comments criticising these guidelines. The guidelines themselves assist people with disabilities in achieving the dignity and respect they deserve within Canadian society. Placing further restrictions on a disabled person's job choice by reducing their ability to agree to assume certain risks in order to perform the job is not in keeping with Section 15 of the Charter and other basic legal trends in Canada. The current trend of requiring the employer, housing provider or service provider to explain the material risks to the individual with a disability is appropriate and should continue. If the individual decides to assume the material risk in question in order to perform a certain job, live in a certain place or obtain access to certain goods, services or facilities, a respondent should not be permitted to rely on undue hardship to deny such basic access.

Brief on Assistance Animal Legislation in British Columbia

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: NFB:AE has participated in consultations with the British Columbia government on the drafting of a new Assistance Animal Act. Since this brief was submitted, the Ministry of the Attorney-General has submitted a proposal to cabinet regarding the items to be included in this legislation. We will provide updates to the readers of this publication when the text of the Assistance Animal Act is released to the public.

PART I: Introduction

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, ("NFB:AE"), is grateful for the opportunity to provide further input into the preparation and drafting of the Assistance Animal Act. NFB:AE repeats and relies upon all of the comments it made in its initial brief on this subject submitted on March 31, 1999. The content of any legislation in this area is of profound importance to all guide dog handlers who reside in or who may visit British Columbia. On reading the second consultation paper prepared by the Ministry of the Attorney-General on such an important piece of legislation, it appears that very little attention was paid to the views of guide dog handlers, guide dog schools and others who raised very serious concerns with the substance of the initial consultation document circulated in March of this year. Furthermore, guide dog handlers have been given very little time indeed to comment on this consultation paper.

NFB:AE has not been given any opportunity whatsoever to comment on the views provided to the Ministry of the Attorney-General by business groups, service providers and other groups who were consulted throughout this process. No attempt was made to circulate the consultation paper that was provided to business groups to other stakeholders. NFB:AE, like all other stakeholders, was only able to review a very brief summary containing a list of general concerns that were raised. The consultation document which NFB:AE received did not provide the context in which the concerns mentioned by business owners and others were raised with the Ministry. This kind of closed consultation process will only serve to undermine the legitimacy of the consultation process and could also jeopardise the acceptance of this legislation by the blind and vision-impaired community. This point is further amplified since the Ministry has already submitted its report to legislative council and had done so very shortly after NFB:AE presented some of its concerns orally in Vancouver on October 28, 1999.

In spite of these difficulties with the consultation process, NFB:AE will work constructively with the Ministry to ensure that Assistance Animal legislation is strong enough to protect and enhance the independence of guide dog handlers who reside in or visit British Columbia.

PART II: Scope of the Legislation NFB:AE

NFB:AE commends the Ministry of the Attorney-General for its comments in the consultation paper that people with invisible disabilities who use assistance animals should be covered by the legislation. The decision to take this step is in keeping with human rights jurisprudence and represents a positive step forward that has not been taken in other provinces. It will provide immeasurable benefit to those vision-impaired individuals who have some guiding vision who happen to be accompanied by a guide dog.

NFB:AE also supports a general power to allow cabinet to pass regulations to set out procedures for laying complaints and to address other procedural matters not dealt with in the legislation. The regulations could also define what does and what does not constitute a service or facility which members of the public can normally access. However, provisions dealing with the responsibilities of assistance animal owners and the like should be clearly specified in the legislation itself. NFB:AE requests the opportunity to review any regulations before they are finalised by cabinet.

PART III: Definitions

  1. Assistance Animal

Generally it is accepted by the NFB:AE that an "Assistance Animal" is an animal that can assist a person with a disability. However, when it comes to specifics around recognised animals such as a Guide Dog, NFB:AE does not support the broadening of the definition to call them Guide Animals. Dogs are most commonly used by blind and vision-impaired people as guides in this context. The definition must be changed to take this fact into account.

  1. Definitions of Types of Assistance Animals

NFB:AE supports the following changes to the definitions as proposed by the government.

A. Guide Dog: a dog which is specially trained to assist a person who is blind or vision impaired;

B. Hearing Dog: A dog which is specially trained to assist a person who is deaf or hard of hearing;

C. Seizure Alert/Response Dog: A dog which has acquired the ability to alert its master that a seizure is about to occur and/or one which is specially trained to get help or stay with its master, as required, during a seizure;

D. Diabetic Alert Dog: A dog which has acquired the ability to alert its master that a diabetic event is about to occur;

E. Wheelchair Assist or Service Dog: a dog which is specially trained to assist a physically disabled person.

F. Emotional Disability Assistance Animal: a working animal trained to compensate an individual for mental or emotional disability where there is a compelling need to lessen the effects of the disability.

PART IV: Assistance Animal In Training

The second consultation paper establishes that a framework should be in place for training assistance animals. However, the Ministry of the Attorney-General has provided very little information on the types and kinds of accommodations it is prepared to consider for assistance animals in training. NFB:AE submits that any dog being trained by a recognised training school in this province to assist a person who is blind or vision impaired is a guide dog in training. Additional language should also be included to permit blind and vision-impaired people to train their own guide dogs for their own use.

PART V: Certification

A. General Comments

The NFB:AE generally accepts the fact that the Attorney

General should have the ability to issue identification cards. However, this should not be the only acceptable form of identification since it would discriminate against non-residents of BC who may be visiting the province with their guide dogs for any number of reasons. The British Columbia government could follow the same certification procedure that is in place in the province of Ontario when dealing with assistance animals that are trained by recognised schools as identified in any regulations passed under the proposed act. In this regard, each of the schools can be provided with the appropriate application forms. As each student graduates, photographs can be taken of the individual with their dog. The signed application and the photographs could be sent to the Attorney-General directly by the training school. Once the application is processed, the certification card can be sent along to the assistance animal user. Also, the government as part of an education process after the new act has been passed can inform recognised schools that people travelling to this province may be requested to show their school's ID card to verify the training of the dog or animal. The notion that the Attorney-General should have the power to test a guide dog handler or the guide dog itself on matters of training, competence or temperament is offensive. No budget has been allotted as part of this process to train and hire employees in the Ministry to perform these functions. The Canadian and American Kennel Clubs have no experience in such matters. If the dog is trained at a recognised guide dog training school, it should be presumed that the assistance animal and the owner are appropriately trained. Anyone disputing this proposition should have to persuade a court or administrative tribunal that the guide dog is not appropriately trained. As a fundamental principle, NFB:AE submits that all guide dogs should be presumed to be safe, competent and appropriately trained. If this is not the case, it is up to the individual and not the government to resolve the issue.

The notion that guide dogs should have to wear counterfeit proof identification emblems supplied by the BC government is equally offensive. All guide dogs who are trained at recognised guide dog schools already wear harnesses and collars containing the registered trademarks of the schools where they were trained. The individual's identification card already contains a photograph of the animal. There is therefore no need for any further identification requirements in this area. Other procedures should be developed to deal with assistance animals that are trained directly by their owners. The NFB:AE recommends that a testing mechanism be developed to ensure that those assistance animals that are not trained by recognised schools meet minimum competency and behavioural standards.

The NFB:AE is concerned with the suggestion that individuals must present their identification cards to anyone who requests them to obtain the benefits under the Act. This provision would disentitle any tourists from outside of British Columbia who are accompanied by assistance animals from receiving any of the rights and benefits that are provided for in assistance animal legislation. In addition, this kind of a provision may violate the requirements of the BC Human Rights Code since the owner is being forced to self-identify that they have a physical or mental disability.

Another difficulty that arises is the evidentiary significance of the identification card in proceedings before the courts and administrative tribunals. In Ontario, the Blind Persons Rights Act provides that the identification card constitutes prima facie evidence that the animal in question is in fact an assistance dog who has been certified to work with the assistance dog owner who is in possession of the card. If the individual is unable to present a certification card, they are subject to the same rules of proof regarding the identity and certification of their assistance animal that would apply to the introduction of any other forms of evidence before a court or administrative tribunal.

When cancelling a certification card, the NFB:AE strongly recommends that the ministry consult with recognised schools to determine the best process for this to occur. It should be clearly identified who is involved in this process and how the assistance animal user in question is notified. The assistance animal owner should also have an opportunity to make submissions to support their assertion that they should not lose their assistance animal identification card.

B. Certification of Assistance Dogs in Training

Employees or representatives working for recognised training schools should carry identification showing proof that the animal in their care is an assistance animal in training. The NFB:AE recommends that these particular identification cards expire two years after the card is issued. Temporary certification cards should be issued and provided to individuals training their own dogs after the applicant demonstrates that they have a disability and that the animal in question is being trained as an assistance animal for their own use. Regulations should be prepared to ensure uniform standards and testing procedures in this area. These regulations should be circulated broadly for consultation before they are proclaimed in force.

PART VI: Access Rights

The NFB:AE submits that an exemption should not be given to operators of public accommodations where there may be availability of 5 rooms or less. This exemption should not be in place for those assistance dog users who do not require renovations to access accommodations in historic buildings or other structures. If a person is operating a facility that offers accommodations to the public, then assistance animal users should be generally entitled to enter these premises especially if renovations are not required. Also, if an accommodation is owner-occupied, no exemption should be granted. If such an exemption was granted an argument could be made that a motel where the owner's residence is at one end of the building would make this an owner-occupied accommodation.

BC has a number of wild life parks and zoos. Therefore, any new assistance animal act should include language dealing with the responsibility of zoo managers on how they should provide access to people who use assistance animals.

The NFB:AE submits that the zoo or wild life park is a public place. Therefore, a person accompanied with an assistance animal should be given full access to all areas where the public is customarily invited. However, if such access cannot occur, then the operator of the zoo should ensure that the animal is housed in a secure place and that the person is provided with a guide at no extra charge.

PART VII: Removal of Assistance Animals from Public Facilities

While the NFB:AE does not have an objection to having animals removed from public facilities if they exhibit severe aggression or other dangerous behaviour, the legislation must be very specific in terms of what behaviours can and cannot be taken into account when a proprietor is given the right to exclude an animal from their premises. Vague references to the animal's behaviour causing a threat to public health or safety or disruption to the operation of a particular business are much too broad and are open to abuse by individuals who wish to exclude all guide dogs from their premises. For example, a Muslim store owner could use this language to exclude a guide dog from his store since it violated his religion to have the dog on the premises. He could further argue that by having the dog in the store, he would have to close the premises for cleaning, thereby losing business revenue. Similar arguments have been made by taxi drivers and store owners in various court proceedings in at least two Canadian provinces. While religious freedom needs to be respected, it should not be used to deny access to public facilities solely because the individual is accompanied by a guide dog.

The notion that there should be standards of care for cleanliness of assistance animals, feeding of assistance animals and regular veterinary check-ups for assistance animals is extremely paternalistic. Those who attend recognised schools for the training of guide dogs already receive instruction in these areas. If an individual mistreats his/her assistance animal, the public and the government can report that individual to the Humane Society or other animal protection agencies, just like they would report anyone else for animal abuse or neglect.

PART VIII: Employment

As a general rule, employees who use assistance animals should be able to be accompanied by their assistance animal to their place of employment. Their assistance animal should accompany them anywhere within the premises as well. If other employees are allergic to animal hair, the employer has a duty to accommodate both the assistance animal owner and the employee with an allergy. The text of the Assistance Animal Act should not be weakened to take into account the allergies of other employees. The reasonableness of the employers' obligations to accommodate one or both employees should be left to the Human Rights Commission to decide after hearing all of the evidence presented with regard to the specific facts of a specific case. The legislature can only resolve this problem in the abstract and it would be inappropriate for the BC government to modify the duty to accommodate provisions in the BC Human Rights Act by enacting an Assistance Animal Act with any restrictions being imposed on an employer's duty to accommodate their disabled employees. The legislation could become the subject of a challenge under Section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms if it attempts to weaken any of the duty to accommodate provisions that are contained within human rights legislation.

PART IX: Transportation

The BC government has no jurisdiction whatsoever to regulate any forms of interprovincial or international transportation works or undertakings. It therefore has no business including provisions in the Assistance Animal Act that may affect the operation of these works or undertakings.

Insofar as municipal and intra-provincial transportation works or undertakings are concerned, the accommodation of a person with a guide dog must be guaranteed. If people with other disabilities such as animal allergies are using the transportation service at the same time as a guide dog handler, the transportation carrier has a legal duty to accommodate both passengers. What does and what does not constitute a reasonable accommodation should be left to the BC Human Rights Commission to decide. NFB:AE submits that it would be inappropriate for the legislature to restrict individual rights by legislating in this area.

PART X: Override Provisions

Any override provision should be broad enough to ensure that this statute trumps any existing regulations, strata council and municipal bylaws.

PART XI: Offences

The NFB:AE notes the range of the maximum and minimum fines that the government has proposed in the discussion paper. While these minimum and maximum fines may be appropriate for individuals, the NFB:AE recommends that they should be somewhat higher for corporate violators of the Assistance Animal Act. The provincial offences legislation in most provinces contains separate fining provisions for individuals and corporations. The minimum and maximum fines for each of these entities are different. Whereas a $15,000 fine could pose a significant hardship to an individual, the same fine would be a drop in the bucket for a large company.

In addition, there is nothing in the framework to deal with the situation where the individual cannot or does not pay their fine. Perhaps some link to the Provincial Offences Act which contains such provisions could be provided.

PART XII: Conclusion

The NFB:AE is pleased that the second consultation paper takes some much needed necessary steps to address the inadequacy of the current "Guide Animal Act". Along with a new act, the government has to ensure that the public is educated about the rights and responsibilities of those who use guide dogs or other assistance animals.

The NFB:AE strongly encourages the British Columbia government to circulate the content of any proposed legislation to stakeholders before it is read for the first time in the legislature. In addition, the NFB:AE would welcome the opportunity to participate in public hearings concerning the bill to ensure that the concerns of guide dog owners are adequately addressed by this legislation. To date, these sorts of consultations have not been approved by the government.

On a different topic, the NFB:AE would encourage the ministry to find an appropriate place for the existing white cane provisions. These provisions are crucial to ensure that blind people are the only people entitled to use the long white cane. It would be very disappointing for blind and vision-impaired people in British Columbia if this new enactment resulted in the white cane provisions being struck from the statute books as a result of a repeal of existing legislation.

Supplementary Brief on Special Education Reform in Bc

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Since the last issue of the Canadian Blind Monitor was published, the Ministry of Education released a series of questions to stakeholders as a result of the special education reform briefs that were submitted in June, 1999. NFB:AE submitted the following brief in response to those questions.

I. Introduction

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, ("NFB:AE"), submits this supplementary brief in response to the ten questions posed by the Special Education Review Team on October 26, 1999. The brief will also contain additional information concerning the initial five points on which the Special Education Review Team sought feedback prior to June 30, 1999.

NFB:AE has a number of general concerns with the type and nature of the questions posed by the Special Education Review Team. Many of the questions presuppose that all students with disabilities need and will benefit from the same kinds of educational opportunities and services irrespective of their disabilities. In addition, no allowance in the questions is made for differentiation between the amount of resources which may be necessary for a blind or vision-impaired student as compared to the resources required by a student with a mobility disability, for example. Finally, the questions assume that all specialised teaching services, whether they be provided by teachers or teacher assistants, can be provided by anyone with those qualifications. No allowance is made to ensure that teachers and teacher assistants who are asked to educate blind or vision-impaired children actually have the skills to teach or assist in the instruction of Braille, daily living skills, technology proficiency, etc. At a minimum, the Ministry of Education should take an active role in managing the teaching and teacher assistant resources in all BC school districts to ensure the following needs are met:

  1. All teachers of the visually impaired and teacher assistants providing services to blind and vision-impaired students are qualified to teach or assist in the teaching of Braille, technology-related skills, (e.g. use of Braille displays, computers, synthetic speech and large print programs), daily living skills and basic orientation and mobility;

  2. Teacher assistants should be allowed to specialise so that they can develop skills for assisting in the teaching of students with specific disabilities such as blindness, deafness and the like;

  3. School districts, when assigning particular students to teacher assistants, should take into account the specialisation of the particular teacher assistant instead of assigning the teacher assistant to a student with a disability with which the teacher assistant is not familiar; and

  4. A new resource allocation system needs to be developed to reflect the true characteristics of particular disabilities. While the current model does reflect some differentiation in the allocation of resources between students who are blind or vision-impaired versus students with other disabilities, the differences in resource allocations are not sufficient to allow blind and vision-impaired students to receive adequate Braille instruction, daily living skills teaching, and transitioning services.

While some have advocated that blind and vision-impaired students will not require a special education designation once they have learned all of the skills necessary to deal with their disability, NFB:AE does not entirely share this view. There will always be a need for a Braille-using student to have text books and other classroom assignments transcribed into Braille, especially in mathematics, physics, chemistry and foreign languages. While the blind or vision-impaired student will often require less assistance from a teacher of the visually impaired and a teacher assistant as they progress through the school system, NFB:AE submits that some assistance from these professionals may be required until the student graduates from secondary school. Additional assistance may be required in the areas of orientation and mobility and daily living skills, depending on the particular needs of the individual student.

II. How Special Education Policy is Implemented

As indicated in NFB:AE's brief submitted to the review team on June 29, 1999, NFB:AE favours a centralisation of resources to be used to the best possible advantage in providing a high quality education to blind and vision-impaired children.

Given the low incidence of this population, one school district may operate for some time with no blind students and then have several under its jurisdiction. Resources should be available to districts from a central budget on an as-needed basis. Such resources would include the finances needed to hire qualified teachers and teacher assistants if necessary. If resources were controlled centrally, orientation and mobility training and other life skills could be taught on a more regular basis. Teachers or other consultants could be sent to where they are most needed. School districts should conduct regular reviews of their resource allocations so that resources can be redistributed to reflect the needs of the students which the district is asked to serve.

III. How Resources Are Being Used and if They're Being Spent Effectively

Special education resources in British Columbia are not being managed well. Some districts have resources they don't need, and others don't have enough resources to serve their blind and vision-impaired students. At present, some districts are hiring teacher assistants where specialist teachers should be providing the service. This is due in part to the lack of resources, but is being further encumbered by inadequate service provision, particularly in rural areas. NFB:AE supports the concept of bringing children together to a residential facility for short courses and assessments to utilise resources more economically. At these facilities, professionals who are qualified to teach blind and vision-impaired students could provide recommendations to the parents, the student, the school district and the student's educators on decisions regarding the appropriate educational services for the student involved. Research has shown that throughout their schooling, children require different levels of specialised instruction. In most cases, short-term centralized placements would alleviate some of the concerns regarding either the lack of appropriate instruction or the complete absence of qualified personnel within a district.

It is unrealistic to expect district management personnel to have the expertise to know what resources are required and how they should use them without specific direction from qualified staff in the Ministry of Education. The Ministry should set aside funds to hire qualified personnel to provide these services to the various school districts.

IV. How Effective Existing Programs are for Students with Special Needs and How Those Programs can be Improved

The issue here is simply one of inconsistency. Some districts provide excellent programs with qualified staff and others are using unqualified staff that are providing less than adequate programs. For example, some school districts are using teacher assistants to teach students Braille without adequate supervision from a teacher of the visually impaired. It also appears that in some instances, some school districts are not providing instruction in life skills training and orientation and mobility at all. Whatever the level of resources, a child, regardless of his or her disability, should expect the same quality of education, no matter where that child resides in the province.

V. What Accountability System Exists for Special Education

Children with disabilities are graduating from our school system with inadequate skills to deal effectively and competently with their disabilities to minimise the effect of their disability on their activities of daily living. Even less time is spent on preparing blind or vision-impaired students for employment placements or higher education. Virtually no time is spent in some districts in assisting blind and vision-impaired students in the transition between pre-school and primary school. If children with disabilities are integrated in name only but their social interaction is limited, then they will have difficulty coping with life when they leave school.

School districts must ensure that blind and vision-impaired students have the same access to aptitude testing as other students. Appropriate accommodations of the student's blindness or vision impairment are essential to ensure that the test results are accurate when they are compared against the other students in the testing sample.

VI. What, If Any, Barriers to Improvements Exist?

Barriers include:

A. The lack of qualified personnel to teach blind and vision-impaired students;

B. The autonomy of districts to use whatever resources they are given for purposes other than meeting the educational needs of blind and vision-impaired students when those resources have been designated for that purpose;

C. The lack of a central pool of resources for districts to draw upon if their current resource levels are insufficient to meet the needs of their students with disabilities;

D. The lack of a central management team to provide advice and consultation services to districts regarding the administration of special education programs for particular students;

E. The lack of a seniority list according to specialist qualifications of teachers and teacher assistants;

F. Inadequate funding for Braille users; and

G. Differences in interpretation of existing policies within and between school districts.

VII: NFB:AE's Answers to the Proposed Questions:

  1. Integration and Inclusion

Q. The Ministry has policies addressing inclusion and integration which are interpreted differently across and within jurisdictions. What accounts for the variation in interpretation?

A. Both the knowledge and attitudes of the personnel within a district reflect on how a policy might be interpreted. Integration generally works well if adequate support is provided, but it can be difficult for all concerned if the knowledge and expertise to facilitate integration and ensure the provision of adequate resources does not exist within the district.

  1. Consistency in the Interpretation of Policies

Q. What steps might be taken to ensure greater consistency in the interpretation and application of policies?

A. The Ministry of Education must take an active role in controlling special education resources so that a trained management team of professionals, teachers and other consultants can provide support and specialised educational instruction as it is needed.

  1. Parental Involvement

Q. How should parents of children with special needs be involved in their education?

A. Parents should be part of the team developing the individualised education and transition plans for their children. They should have recourse to an appeal process, other than taking action before the courts or the BC Human Rights Commission if they believe that their children are not being taught the skills they will need to become contributing members of society after leaving school.

  1. Assessments

Q. Why is it that, in practice, emphasis is placed upon referrals to school-based teams and extended assessments rather than pre-referral activities? How might pre-referral efforts be strengthened and extended by making use of teacher observations?

A. As a consumer organisation, NFB:AE's comments on this question are limited. While this area is largely the domain of the educational professionals, parents and students, if appropriate, should be able to make proposals to school districts regarding the nature and content of the individualised education plan and the assessment activities that they deem appropriate. If the reference to a teacher in the question refers to the classroom teacher, then it is obvious that that person has not had specific training to determine the most appropriate program for the student.

In addition, appropriate assessments must be performed to ensure that the blind and vision-impaired student receives the appropriate resources when they enter the school system. The assessment must also address any issues regarding the upgrading of the student's skills to ensure they are ready to participate actively in all aspects of their education along with their classmates.

Assessments are recommended for two distinct reasons. The first is when the student's vision level changes. The second kind of assessment, known as a learning media assessment, is used to determine whether or not a student should learn to read and write Braille. Both the parents and the student should have a role to play in both of these kinds of assessments so that they are fully involved in the child's education.

  1. Individualised Education Plans

Q. What might be done to ensure consistent development and use of effective Individual Educational Plans for the students for whom they are intended?

A. As a consumer organisation, NFB:AE's comments on this question are limited. While this area is largely the domain of the educational professionals, parents and students, if appropriate, should be able to make proposals to school districts regarding the nature and content of the Individualised Education Plan for their child or themselves.

  1. Evaluation

Q. Which goals established for students are different from the expected learning outcomes for their age or grade? How can we ensure that they consistently work toward high but attainable standards for their achievement?

A. The answer to this question will differ according to the individual student and her or his abilities. However, blind and vision-impaired students must have adequate blindness-related skills such as Braille reading, competency in the use of adaptive technology, orientation and mobility skills and the like in order to perform up to the standard achieved by peers in the same grade and at the same age.

  1. Transitions

Q. What steps should be taken to ensure consistent implementation of transition planning guidelines?

A. Again this will vary according to the ability of the individual student and the resources available in the district. The Ministry of Education should ensure that sufficient resources are available in all school districts to ensure that transition planning is available at a high level in all districts. Transition resources should be available to assist students when they move from pre-school to primary school and from secondary school into either the workforce or to higher education facilities.

  1. Employees Who Work With Students With Special Needs

Q. What specialised knowledge and skills should these different staff members have in order to work with students with special needs? What preparation should such personnel receive? How might such preparation be obtained?

A. It is a general practice in most districts for the teacher of the visually impaired to provide in-service workshops for staff who will be working with blind or vision-impaired students. Most disability agencies and organisations also have staff and volunteers who have the required expertise to provide in-service training. At the very least, brochures providing helpful information about interacting with people with disabilities are available for school staff to read. While the above principles should apply to classroom teachers and other school staff, teacher assistants who are asked to assist in the instruction of a blind or vision-impaired student must have the skills essential to do the job, e.g. Braille literacy, basic orientation and mobility teaching skills, daily living skills teaching experience and such other skills as may be required to permit the student to enjoy all aspects of their education and other extra-curricular activities available to other students at the school.

  1. Funding

Q. What, if any, alternatives exist to categorical funding of special education that will ensure that children who are in need of a particular educational support service receive the service? What are the advantages and disadvantages of changing the present model?

A. Many of the inconsistencies would be addressed if the Ministry itself were to manage the funding and put in place a specialised team to take responsibility for decision-making regarding the provision of educational support and instruction of blind students. Funding needs that still need to be considered are: A. Increased funding for Braille users; B. More funding for orientation and mobility training; and C. Funding for life skills training.

  1. Collective Agreements

Q. What, if any, impact do collective agreements have on students with special needs? What modifications should be made to such agreements?

A. Teachers and teacher assistants with qualifications to work with blind students should be protected from being bumped out of districts when transfers are made due to seniority. It has often happened that a teacher assistant providing Braille support has been transferred elsewhere, and the new teacher assistant has no knowledge of Braille. This kind of situation has an immediate impact on the support required for the student or students involved. Teachers with specialised training are also sometimes forced to work as regular classroom teachers when their expertise would be used more effectively working with students with disabilities. Barriers like this should not be created by the system seeking to provide quality education for students with disabilities.

  1. Measuring Success

Q. How can we ensure that the public is satisfied that students with special needs are receiving the full benefit of the resources devoted to their education?

A. Skills inventories exist that can measure the extent to which students are successful academically, socially, etc. Such instruments can also measure the extent to which the student has learned to cope with her or his disability. In addition, the system that tracks the success of secondary school graduates could also track students with disabilities to determine if they are continuing to study at the post- secondary level and/or if they become employed.

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