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The Cynics and The Choices We Make

Editor's Note: Dave Greenfield is a poet and activist in Saskatoon, SK. As an activist in a variety of issue areas, he has often stood outside the power structures and offered his criticisms. As a participant in history, he has an interest in various historical anti-establishment movements, of which the Cynics are one.

Dave GreenfieldToday, if you were to call someone cynical, you would probably mean that they are bitterly sceptical about everything, to the point of not believing in anything. Today, cynicism tends to mean the opposite of idealism. The original use of the term, however, in ancient Greece and Rome, was very different and in some ways almost the opposite of its current use.

In ancient Greece, as in most societies, there were pecking orders. There were haves and have-nots, those who were successful in the wealth and power structures and those who were not. Philosophers, whose chosen task it was to think about the universe and ponder on ethical, social and cosmic truth, were generally either part of the elites, or received the patronage of members of the elite. Not surprisingly, what most philosophers said was generally pleasing to the elite.

The Cynics were a school of philosophy, which attempted to say goodbye to all that. They rejected having a patron and being part of the power structure, and instead made it their goal to live simply and self-sufficiently, perceiving that living simply and outside of the power structures gave them the moral ground on which to stand and be critical of the various power games they observed in their society. The Cynics, in ancient Greece, and later in Rome, often lived on the street or in very primitive shelters. Some begged to survive, while others grew their own food, living, as it were, in a permanent state of protest.

The Cynics' relationship to the power elites can be symbolized in a story that is told about an encounter that is said to have occurred between Alexander the Great and the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. Diogenes was relaxing and enjoying the sunshine one day, when Alexander the Great came up to him and asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?" Diogenes replied, "Perhaps you could step back a bit. You're blocking the sunlight.” The Cynics wanted nothing from the power structures and saw them as an impediment rather than as a positive vehicle.

The Cynics were probably the longest-lived anti-establishment movement, lasting from about 350 BC to around 400 AD. Unfortunately, they left relatively few writings, and much of what we know about them is what others, often their critics, had to say.

Our own society, in many respects, is not much different from the world of ancient Greece and Rome. We have our various state, corporate and charitable elites, and those who say and do what is pleasing to the elites are rewarded, while those who criticize are marginalized and left to fend for themselves. In the Canadian blind community, those who say nice things about service providers like the CNIB are rewarded by the power structure, while those who offer valid criticisms and resistance are marginalized. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians finds its voice marginalized precisely because we strive to be independent of the structures in order to monitor and offer valid criticisms. We differ from the Cynics in that the Cynics chose to be marginalized, believing that that better enabled them to speak truth. We, on the other hand, choose to speak truth and find ourselves exiled to the margins because of it.

There is one lesson the Cynics may teach us, in the story about the encounter between Alexander the Great and Diogenes. Sometimes, when agencies like the CNIB ask, "Is there anything we can do for you?" we must have the strength to say, "Perhaps you could simply step back a bit and stop trying to speak on our behalf. You are blocking our way!"

Human Rights Coverage: The Unrealized Promise

Editor's Note: John Rae, Robin East and Donna Jodhan are AEBC National Board members, and are experienced litigants in the human rights process.

In the 1970s and early 80s, the Disability Rights Movement in Canada invested a lot of time and energy to obtain human rights protection for persons with disabilities (PWDs) at all levels. We were seeking the establishment of an equitable legal framework, and in many jurisdictions governments were not willing to provide us with our rights. In many instances, we had to fight very hard, but in the end we succeeded, and today PWDs are covered by all human rights statutes across the country, though numerous differences exist from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

John Rae had the great honour of participating in some of this tough work, and he remains convinced that this time and energy was well invested. However, we have not achieved as much progress as our movement had expected. We may have achieved an equitable legal framework, but we are still far away from achieving a similar level of substantive equality. Far too many PWDs continue to live on the sidelines in this affluent country.

An individual who feels discriminated against must first determine the correct body to which to complain. For example, when Air Canada introduced its inaccessible flat-screen entertainment system, should John Rae and Marcia Yale, former AEBC National Secretary, have complained to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), citing an "undue obstacle to travel," as CTA’s criteria requires, or was this a case of discrimination covered by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC)? Since they travelled on these and other airlines, it seemed like a clear case of discrimination. They filed with the CHRC, which took their complaint.

The Court Challenges Program (CCP), which once provided financial assistance for initiating challenges under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was invaluable in giving all equality-seeking groups, including the disabled community, the opportunity to test some federal government actions, and to try to extend the impact of the law. The cancellation of the Equality portion of the CCP by the Harper government has greatly weakened our community's ability to test federal government actions. If we want to launch new Charter challenges, we must now seek the support of a legal clinic, like ARCH Disability Law Centre, or find lawyers who are willing to work with us on a pro bono basis.

We had hopes and expectations that Human Rights Commissions would make a profound difference in our daily lives, by helping to level the playing field between citizens and large organizations, but resource inequalities continue to plague the human rights process. In addition, their emphasis on complicated judicial-like procedures, individual complaints, and our misperceptions of how Commissions really operate, can get in the way of making maximum use of what they can offer.

A complainant must first succeed in filling out the forms and figure out how to get their complaint taken. Today, it often seems as if Commissions are making the process needlessly complicated as a way of discouraging new complainants from even filing. Many potential complainants, furthermore, believe that the Commission provides a lawyer to "represent" them, but this is not the case. Even when a Commission lawyer does get involved, this is only after the process is well underway.

When a Commission lawyer is involved, he is there to "represent the public interest." In cases where the complainant is seeking a systemic or public-interest remedy, you may be able to work closely with the lawyer, who may be extremely supportive in developing and presenting the systemic side of your case; however, he is not there to represent you as the complainant. You are basically on your own.

After filing a complaint, you will likely be asked to participate in a mediation meeting, to which you may bring a friend, advocate or lawyer at your own expense. During mediation, the Commission may subtly, or not so subtly, encourage (or even pressure) you to settle.

Sometimes, there are good reasons to agree to a settlement. The facts in your case may not be as clear cut as you might like, for example, Or settling will be quicker and will alleviate the pressure cooker of going through a Tribunal, a quasi judicial hearing, where you may win or you may lose altogether. Settling, furthermore, will likely gain you something, such as systemic changes and/or a monetary amount in your favour. Sometimes, you may even be able to reach a substantial settlement, as John Rae and Marcia Yale did on March 12, which they hope will bring about an accessible onboard entertainment system on Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz flights.

For persons with disabilities who may be unemployed or live in chronic poverty, dangling even a partial victory in the form of a small monetary award may prove to be a carrot that is too attractive not to accept. Settling writes no law, however. Whenever a complaint is settled, it goes unreported and is of no help to others who have also been discriminated against. Thus, there is no indication as to which organizations are habitual respondents, information that would be useful in planning community actions.

In recent years, some settlements have not included the strict "cloak" clause, whereby the settlement is written in such a way to educate respondents and complainants. In such cases, neither the complainant nor the respondent is named. An example is a settlement on alternate formats that came out of the Canada Revenue Agency. This type of settlement can be useful but, again, most settlements remain entirely cloaked, in order to protect the respondent.

In the disabled community, the difficult task of filing complaints rests on the shoulders of too few individuals. It is easy for a Commission to say, "Oh no, here comes Robin or Donna or John again.” What should we be seeking from what often can seem like a David versus Goliath scenario? The process needs to be streamlined to prevent a well-resourced respondent from dragging out the proceedings because they can afford to do so. Before the human rights process in Ontario was overhauled, its Commission instituted a "fast-track" system that saw cases moving at a much faster pace, but this system was not in place long enough for us to know if it would succeed in the longer term.

Commissions need to devote more resources to cases that can bring about systemic remedies. While enabling an individual to seek personal redress in instances of discrimination will always be important, individual remedies do not help others confronted by a similar problem. Commissions also need to make greater use of the power that many possess to initiate complaints of discrimination that are in the public interest, and to try to extend the impact of important decisions that contain systemic remedies. Since David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer, won two cases against the Toronto Transit Commission concerning the calling out of subway and bus stops, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has used that decision to pressure most other Ontario transit providers to take similar action, thereby alleviating the need for additional community members to file separate complaints against their own transit providers.

We ourselves need to develop a group of individuals across Canada who are prepared to file complaints, as there may come a time when we will want to file a similar case in several provinces or territories simultaneously. And when we file, do we ever think of also alleging harassment, along with discrimination? When filing, if there are ever doubts on what grounds to cite, or what remedies to request, all ideas could be included at the time of filing.

Canada's Disability Rights Movement has fought hard to achieve human rights coverage, and disability, particularly in the area of employment, has consistently remained the number one category of discrimination complaints across the country. We must continue to support each other in taking cases to Human Rights Commissions, especially through the Tribunal process, where law gets written. After all, there was no point in securing this legal protection if we don’t use it.

Photo: Robin East, AEBC President
Photo: John Rae, AEBC, 1st Vice President
Photo: Donna Jodhan, AEBC, 2nd Vice President

Competing Models of Disability Must Continue to Evolve

Editor's Note: John Rae is AEBC’s 1st Vice President. This article is based on his presentation "From Invisibility to Rights Holders: Competing Paradigms of Disability," at Ryerson University, October 2009.

In his 1990 article, "The Individual and Social Models of Disability," Mike Oliver, an academic in the Disability Studies field, observes: "There is a danger that in discussing issues related to disability, we will end up with more models than Lucy Clayton [a modelling agency]. This is dangerous in that if we are not careful, we will spend all of our time considering what we mean by the medical model or the social model, or perhaps the psychological or, more recently, the administrative or charity models of disability. These semantic discussions will obscure the real issues in disability, which are about oppression, discrimination, inequality and poverty."

It is my view, however, that many of these paradigms themselves are a significant source of the current discrimination, marginalization and oppression that is still the life experience of far too many persons with disabilities (PWDs). Today, the primary debate in the field of disability revolves around the fundamental differences between the medical and social models of disability--between viewing the disability as the primary cause of our problems, and seeing policies, attitudes and barriers in the built environment as the real impediments to our full participation and equality. However, these are only two of many ways in which disability has been described over the centuries. As new paradigms emerge, they vie for predominance and sometimes supplant previous paradigms, but the old ways of describing disability continue to compete for the attention of the public and of PWDs ourselves.

Persons with disabilities have been present from time in memorial. In ancient times, they were often ostracized from their communities and left to fend for themselves in the wilds. In medieval and renaissance periods, they were often ridiculed, as the Catholic Church interpreted them as rejects, works of the devil, and punishments for parental mistakes. This led to being excluded from society.

Remember the story in the Gospel of John, Chapter 9, about the man born blind? As the disciples walked along with Jesus, they passed by a blind man (begging, of course) and asked, "Who has sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" In some cultures, PWDs are still seen as punishment for past sins.

Following Canada’s Confederation in 1867, the first residential schools for the blind were established in Nova Scotia and Ontario. While education for blind students was undoubtedly forward thinking at that time, these schools were established under the provinces’ respective Penitentiaries and Asylums Acts. In the early 1900s, the "hide us away syndrome" became even more prevalent, with the creation of various large institutions, usually in small towns, where many PWDs were housed, “out of sight and out of mind" from the rest of society.

In 1918, the CNIB was established, and later other charitable organizations were founded, to form the rehabilitation industry that is too often imbued with a philosophy based on the Charity Ethic. Training of medical professionals, furthermore, focuses on curing or fixing the sick, though most of us are no more ill than our non-disabled counterparts, and those of us with a permanent disability will never be "cured" or "fixed." Both the charity and medical ethics have some similarities to the Professional Ethic, where decisions about "what's best" for us are controlled by others, with or without our input.

In the 1970s, persons with disabilities, seeing the successes of the Civil Rights and Women's movements, began to establish our own organizations. The Consumer Movement, or the Disability Rights Movement, started partly as a reaction against the charity industry and partly to provide a vehicle for self-organization and self-expression, both fundamental rights in any democracy. This process gave us as citizens the opportunity to begin forging our own destiny. For many of us, the Disability Rights Movement was a source of empowerment, giving us our first chance to participate directly in developing policies and strategies that affect our daily lives. One of the lasting benefits of our Movement is the opportunity it has given many of us to develop skills that are so useful throughout our lives.

The Disability Rights Movement invested a great deal of time and effort to secure coverage under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under federal, provincial and territorial Human Rights Codes. We succeeded in gaining an equitable legal framework, but even today we are far closer to achieving the Charter's guarantee of being "equal before and under the law" than to enjoying the anticipated measure of substantive equality of the "equal benefit of the law," which we are still far away from attaining.

Today, various paradigms continue to compete for prominence. Robin East, AEBC's President, has recently developed the newest way of approaching disability--the Rights Holder approach. Based on the idea of "nothing about us without us," this paradigm posits that we who have disabilities must no longer be lumped with all other so-called stakeholders, but must be given a pre-eminent role in determining the policies and legislation that affect our lives. Currently, we as Rights Holders are forced to fight hard to maintain the fundamental idea that our concerns should be viewed as issues of rights and not charity, issues that belong in the news and not the Life section of our newspapers.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is a new and important international instrument recognizing the appropriateness of the social model of disability. Now, it is up to all of us to learn what the first human rights Convention of the 21st century means, and to learn how to use it, and other Conventions, to advance our equality, both domestically and internationally.

Blind Battle to Make Their Way in Ulaanbaatar

In several ways, Lkh.Urtnasan's story is atypical for a blind woman living in Ulaanbaatar. Despite losing her sight after a severe fall as a toddler, she has a university education, has studied in America and taught English in Japan, and now runs her own business as a masseuse and English tutor. However, Urtnasan says she still battles many of the same challenges and barriers faced by other blind and partially sighted people around Mongolia.

For her, one of the largest stumbling blocks is a lack of faith in blind people's abilities. While Urtnasan's massage business does fairly well--a masseuse is one of the few occupations available to the blind in Mongolia--very few people solicit her English tutoring services after discovering she cannot see. Living in Ulaanbaatar, she struggles to traverse the sidewalks, where ruts, uneven cobblestones and uncovered manholes pose regular danger, while the tactile walkways for the seeing-impaired (found on some of the city's main streets) are often interrupted by billboards. Public transportation, though free for the disabled, affords additional problems, as no announcements are made about which stop is which. Urtnasan's partially sighted husband, B.Khadbaatar, and a cane help her navigate the city, but it's difficult, especially with the growing traffic problem in Ulaanbaatar.

"People don't understand the white cane," she said. "It can be very difficult just to cross the street." Mongolian National Federation for the Blind (MNFB) Executive Director D.Gerel agrees that Mongolia suffers from a lack of awareness about blind people's conditions. "The government and sighted people generally don't [appreciate] our situation," she said. Getting people to recognize the difficulties and the abilities of blind people has been the MNFB's primary goal for about 30 years, but grabbing the ear of the public and politicians presents another challenge itself. After some initial success during the Socialist period, the MNFB struggled to win support for the blind in the early 1990s, as Mongolia struggled to establish itself as a democracy.

Over recent years, the MNFB has had some success, establishing the Rehabilitation and Training Center for the Blind, a Braille and Talking Book Publishing Center, and other facilities and initiatives with the help of international donors, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and the government--although they have sometimes had to fight for support from the latter. Over the last ten years, the MNFB has staged three hunger strikes to protest policies it saw as detrimental to blind Mongolians; the most recent of which took place last year following a proposal to alter the subsidy for disabled transportation. The demonstrations have worked and taught the blind community a lesson, according to Gerel. "If we want things to improve, we [blind people] need to do it ourselves," she said.

Urtnasan, who is a member of the board at MNFB, knows things can get better. During time she spent studying and teaching English in Japan, she experienced just how smoothly blind people can integrate into society.

"In Japan, everything is accessible," she said. "Blind people are living like they are sighted." That is not the case In Mongolia.

"Most blind people stay at home," Gerel said. "It's difficult for them to go out and socialize." According to MNFB estimates, over 8,000 blind people live in Mongolia, and only about two percent of the working-age, sight-impaired population have jobs; they work mostly as masseuses at the MNFB's massage centres, at a state-run ger factory, or at the MNFB itself. The rest live off a Tg40,000 government stipend, and the help of their friends and family.

Addressing these issues will be a tall order, but the Federation believes that it has made progress. Currently, it is attempting to connect blind Mongolians to each other, and to information and people around the world. If the MNFB can expand its capacity, Gerel believes, the organization and the services it offers can help blind people educate themselves, and find a place in the workforce. In order to expand the jobs available to them, however, blind people will need the confidence of the sighted, and that remains hard to obtain, even for someone with the qualifications and entrepreneurial spirit of Urtnasan. As she attempts to save enough to start her own massage centre, Urtnasan says people's perceptions, as much as any policy, need change before the blind can thrive in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia at large.

Reprinted from the UB Post, February 19, 2009:

Quiet Hybrid Cars a Risk For The Blind

Japanese Panel Considers Ring-Tones for Hybrids and Electric Cars

One appeal of a hybrid or electric car is its super-quiet drive. But worries are growing that blind people may be endangered by that silence.

The Japanese government has set up a panel with automakers, organizations for the blind, and consumers groups to come up with a solution that could have such vehicles emitting what sounds like engine noise, or musical sounds like a cellphone ring tone, officials said Tuesday.

A legal change would be needed to equip the vehicles with such special features.

"We are still listening to different opinions and trying to figure out the best solution," said Yuta Kaga, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Corp., which makes the hit gas-electric Prius hybrid and is represented on the panel.

The panel, which began meeting in July, plans to have a proposal by the end of the year, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. It was set up partly in response to worries voiced by the blind.

The Japan Federation of the Blind, which submitted a request in June, is asking the government to instruct hybrid-makers to make the vehicles safer for the blind. An informal survey of 52 blind people carried out by the group last year found that more than half of the respondents said they were terrified of hybrids because they were so quiet, although none reported being in an accident.

The Yomiuri, Japan's biggest newspaper, reported Tuesday that such measures may be available on Toyota cars going on sale in 2010, possibly with radar to sense nearby pedestrians and making noise only at slow speeds. Such measures are more useful for Japan's crowded streets than the U.S. and other nations, where cases of pedestrians getting hit by cars are fewer.

Sales of hybrids are booming in Japan because of government incentives and tax breaks to encourage green car sales. Toyota's Prius has been the top-selling car in Japan for four months straight. Honda Motor Co.'s Insight hybrid is also selling well, and the sale of hybrid models is expected to keep growing. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. began selling the i-MiEV electric car this year, and other makers are planning electric vehicles.

Reprinted from CBC News, September 8, 2009.

Poverty: The Poor Are Sick and Tired, Study Says

More money in people's pockets creates more opportunities

Being poor will make you sick or send you to an early grave at alarmingly higher rates than if you are a middle- or upper-income earner. That was a key finding of a report released Monday at a community forum on health and poverty held at the YMCA in downtown Toronto.

While the report, called Sick and Tired, looked at the health risks faced by welfare and disability recipients and the working poor across Ontario, Toronto's high levels of poverty result in more low-income earners (experiencing) medical problems, Toronto medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown said.

About 25 percent of Toronto residents live below the poverty line, twice the provincial average. A third of Toronto children are living in poverty compared to 19 percent nationally. Looking at different income increments, the report found residents living in rich neighbourhoods are less likely to (experience) health problems than those living in middle-income areas, who in turn are less likely to be sick than residents of poor communities, McKeown said.

The study found the median household income for social assistance recipients is $13,000 a year compared to $21,000 for the working poor and $80,000 for the non-poor. For almost every measurement--from suicide and depression to heart problems and arthritis--welfare recipients and the working poor are more at risk of health problems and death than the non-poor, said Andy Mitchell, one of the report's three-member research team. "When you have a higher income, you know how to get things done for yourself and your family," he said, adding higher-income earners are more adept at navigating medical and bureaucratic systems.

Raising a poor person's annual income by just $1,000 enables them to escape hundreds to thousands of chronic health conditions. "To me, that was very powerful," Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, while new immigrants come to Canada healthier than Canadian-born residents, they become sicker as lack of opportunities forces them into poverty, the study found.

The report's authors admit their findings tying poverty to health risks are nothing new. But as the economy worsens, they are calling on the province to address the issue in its spring budget. "The budget is an opportunity for the province to make a down payment on a poverty reduction strategy," said Michael Shapcott, Director of Community Engagement at the Wellesley Institute, which helped fund the study.

The report also laid out ten recommendations, including urging Queen's Park to establish an independent panel to set social assistance rates that reflect the actual cost of living in Ontario communities, and demanding the federal government introduce a national poverty reduction strategy with concrete targets and timelines.

John Rae, First Vice President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, and Mike Yale, Co-Chairperson of the ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) Action Coalition, are hoping politicians don't shelve the report like so many studies in the past. "Too many of the disabled community are marginalized and live in poverty. These reports confirm that fact again and again and again," Rae said. "We're looking for action, not just more studies. It (this study) confirms if you put money in people's pocket, it creates more opportunities to buy better food, to buy health care, to participate in the community, to go to entertainment. These things all benefit people's lives."

Yale, a North York resident, also doesn't want to see the study gather dust. "It won't mean anything unless it becomes part of government strategy," he said. "When a family has to decide between feeding itself or buying a winter coat, it is a serious problem and the government, in my view, hasn't shown it is serious about dealing with the disability pension."

Reprinted from Toronto Community News, February 10, 2009:

Border Inaccessible to Disabled

Despite lifting a blanket ban on disabled immigrants, it's easier to get a dog past the Canadian Border Services Agency than a disabled child

Paul and Barbara-Anne Chapman say even a dog has more rights than their daughter.

When the British couple arrived at Halifax airport July 12, their Labrador retriever sailed through customs. But an official with the Canada Border Services Agency demanded to know why they were bringing their seven-year-old daughter, Lucy, into the country.

"Why shouldn't I bring her to this country?" Paul Chapman asked.

He says the border guard replied that his daughter is disabled and is banned for life from entering Canada. It's a scenario that should bother anyone who cares about human rights. Canadian law allows officials to reject immigrants with disabilities on the grounds they might "cause excessive demand on health or social services."

Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, says such discrimination happens all the time. "We learn of families who wish to immigrate," Beachell says, "but a parent or child has a disability, and the family is denied." Beachell adds that the law is too narrow. "All it does is look at what is the cost to Canada and does nothing to look at the potential benefit. Under this law, we'd probably deny Stephen Hawking."

Beachell was referring to the brilliant British physicist who is renowned for his contributions to astronomy, in spite of (having) extreme paralysis caused by Lou Gehrig's disease.

In light of the Chapman case, Beachell is again calling on the federal government to change a law "that continues to devalue the lives of people with disabilities." In the meantime, the Chapmans were forced to leave Canada last week.

Beachell describes their situation as "bizarre" because the law allowing rejection of disabled immigrants does not normally apply to temporary visitors. The Chapmans were planning to holiday here--their third such visit in two years. The decision to bar the family shows that border guards have way too much power to {mess} with people's lives, if they see something in their files they regard as suspicious.

In 2005, the Chapmans had applied to come to Canada while Paul studied for four years at an Ontario university. They were denied entry because their daughter, Lucy, has a rare genetic disorder. She's unable to speak and has the mental capacity of a three-year-old, but is otherwise healthy. Then, a 2005 Supreme Court ruling forced the federal government to lift its blanket ban on disabled immigrants and consider each case individually.

The Chapmans noticed the change and applied to become permanent residents under Nova Scotia's immigrant nominee program. Their application was based on their experience and skills as business owners in Britain. They planned to invest more than half a million dollars here and hire 25 people to run a family entertainment centre at Dartmouth Crossing. After a two-year review, Nova Scotia officials OK'd their application and sent it to Ottawa for routine medical and security checks.

The Chapmans decided to come to Nova Scotia on holiday, staying in a house they bought last summer near Miller Lake. When their visas finally came through, they planned to cross into the United States, then return to Canada as required under immigration rules. But Chapman says a border guard at Halifax airport arbitrarily decided that Lucy was under a lifetime ban from entering Canada because the family had been rejected in 2005. A spokesperson for the Border Services Agency wouldn't comment on the Chapman case specifically, but suggested officials get suspicious when temporary visitors arrive with one-way airline tickets.

As a result, the Chapmans are back in Britain awaiting a final decision on their immigration application. There may yet be a happy ending, but what happened to them at Halifax airport last month focuses renewed attention on Canada's blatant discrimination against would-be immigrants with disabilities.

"What shocks me is I've never come across such open discrimination before," says Barbara-Anne Chapman. "My dog got in with no problem. An animal has more rights than my daughter."

Reprinted from the Coast, Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 7, 2008.

In Memoriam: Honouring Our Torch Bearers

Editor's Note: The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) announces the passing of four valued members and advocates. By devoting their time, talents, skills and energy, these individuals have helped to foster full and equal participation of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted persons in Canadian society. Whether within AEBC itself or in the blindness community at large, focusing on specific issues or on a broad range, they have blazed a trail of commitment, generosity and excellence. They now pass the torch on. AEBC remembers, thanks and salutes them.

Dr. Gerry Dirks of Victoria, British Columbia, died on February 28, 2008. Born and raised in Vancouver, he attended the Jericho Hill School for the Blind and later the integrated school system. He earned his first degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a Masters and PhD from the University of Toronto. Gerry was Professor of Political Science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he taught for over 30 years and shared Department Head roles with is wife. After his official retirement and return to the west coast, Gerry continued teaching as a Visiting Professor at the University of Victoria.

He dedicated many years of volunteer service to national organizations and local charities. Besides being a member of AEBC's Victoria Chapter, he was actively involved in the Vancouver CNIB Blind Men's Club and he was also a major player in the establishment of VoicePrint Canada, a division of the National Broadcast Reading Service, having been its first National Board Chair. He will be greatly missed by the many friends and colleagues he touched over his many years of selfless service. To many, Gerry was an icon of a "self-made blind person."

He leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Dr. Patricia Dirks, his mother and sister.

Theresa Marie Andrews, Past President of AEBC's Lower Mainland Chapter in Vancouver, BC, died suddenly on February 11, 2008. Blind from birth, she was a high school swimmer and runner, and attended UBC where she earned a B.A. in general arts and an M.Ed in Counselling Psychology. Theresa worked as a counsellor at CNIB's Bowen Lodge; braille transcription and computer technologist at Crane Library, UBC; and teaching assistant in Vancouver Community College's Vision Program.

She served on the boards of VoicePrint Canada and PAWS International Resource Center, the latter being an organization dedicated to guide dog issues. She was also a member of BC Blind Sports and of the Western Association of Persons with Vision Impairment.

Theresa is survived by partner Paul Thiele, guide dog Finch, her brothers and sisters, and their families.

On December 4, 2007, Rick Oakes of Kelowna, BC, passed away peacefully at the age of 56. Vision-impaired since birth, Rick lost the remainder of his sight in his mid 30's. He and his wife joined the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (now AEBC) in 1994, and both have been active members ever since. Rick served on our National Board in the offices of 2nd Vice President and Director at Large, and was instrumental in helping the NFB:AE/AEBC begin independent fundraising. He also held positions on boards of other non-profit service clubs, such as President of the Western Association of the Visually Handicapped.

Earlier in his life, Rick worked for CaterPlan, a division of CNIB, and later as District Manager. In the intervening years, he worked in the music industry, retailing and wholesaling electronic keyboards throughout Canada's four westernmost provinces. During a stint in Calgary, Alberta, he was hired to be the organist at home games for the Calgary Flames hockey team.

Rick is survived by his wife Chantal, daughters Whitney and Tiffany, his guide dog Christopher, and several siblings. Memorial donations, which will go toward setting up a scholarship fund in Rick's name, may be made to the Alliance For Equality of Blind Canadians.

AEBC's Toronto, Ontario, Chapter lost one of its most beloved members, Don Jacobs, on February 26, 2008. Don had been an integral member of the chapter for many years. His kindness, humour and generous nature will be sorely missed, as well as his passion and enthusiasm. Our thoughts are with his wife Bubbles and the entire family.

Crossing Signals Urged For Blind

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Orillia Packet & Times, May 16, 2007.

Picture: Laura and her black lab venturing out on busy roads

It's an art--and a dangerous one at that.

Laura Joyce, who is completely blind, has become adept at listening for the surge in traffic to decide when it's safe to cross the street.

Sometimes, however, her black Labrador ventures out a little too soon and, with the hum of bus engines at the corner of Mississaga and Peter streets in downtown Orillia, crossing becomes a real gamble.

"I can't hear the surge of traffic above the idling buses," said Joyce who, at 38, has been blind for nearly 21 years.

That's why Joyce said the city should install audible pedestrian signals at key intersections downtown.

"It's a safety issue," she said during an interview this week.

On Monday, elected officials considered a report from public works detailing options and costs for the signals, which are already part of many urban landscapes in Canada.

Orillia is behind the eight ball, Coun. Don Evans told the Packet & Times.

"We think about Orillia as being a progressive community. What better evidence of that could there be than making sure that all our citizens benefit from what it has to offer?"

Though not enthusiastically embraced during Monday night's council committee meeting, a report on the audible signals received positive feedback, Evans said.

Public works estimated it would cost between $25,100 and $29,600 to install the devices, depending on the type of intersection.

But council shouldn't be "scared off" by possible costs, Coun. Wayne Gardy said during the meeting: "I think it is probably a good idea for those who need it."

One type of audible signal employs a small speaker on a traffic pole and emits a cuckoo/peep-peep sound for north/south and east/west crossings.

Another uses a push-button system and a series of informational prompts to help the pedestrian cross.

"It's time that we move forward with this," Coun. Joe Fecht said, pointing out more and more Orillians will rely on the audible signals as their eyes worsen with age.

The city has 33 signalized intersections, but Joyce suggested an audible signal at the Peter and Mississaga crossroads would be a good start.

There are at least 375 visually impaired people in town who would benefit from that, she said.

Public works contended retrofitting intersections with audible signals would be too expensive unless the work were carried out with an overall signal upgrade.

Fecht suggested a multi-year plan to install the signals should be presented at budget time.

Joyce said she plans to write a letter asking for an opportunity to make a deputation on the issue.

Are Hybrids a Silent Danger?

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from, January 11, 2008. For a web cast of Richard Marion's presentation on hybrid cars to Burnaby City Council mentioned below, visit:,004


John Rae and Lawrence Enteneier demonstrate with signs saying No to hybrid cars

Port Coquitlam Blind Advocate Wants to See Hybrid Cars Have Sound Effects Added

Hybrid cars may play a key role in the push to halt climate change but they're also putting blind pedestrians at risk.

That's because when they run on battery, they're virtually silent, says Richard Marion, President of the Lower Mainland Chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

"If a hybrid is edging through an intersection to make a right-hand turn, a person that's totally blind wouldn't notice the vehicle," the Port Coquitlam man said.

In fact Marion, 39, said a blind person in Victoria had his cane run over by a hybrid vehicle last year in a similar situation.

Burnaby's traffic safety committee will review Marion's group's concerns and make a recommendation to council Feb. 5. By addressing city councils across Canada, the alliance hopes to fuel a dialogue about the dangers that hybrids pose to the blind and partially sighted; Burnaby is one of the first cities to respond and the alliance meets with Surrey's council Jan. 14.

Marion said his group hopes the city will lobby regulators about the need for hybrids to have sound generators, and use its purchasing power as an opportunity to bring its concerns to manufacturers' attention.

The alliance proposes manufacturers install a device that would emit a sound; its website suggests that the radiator fan switches on whenever the car is operating in electric mode or, perhaps, a device could be built into the axle to make a sound as the wheels rotate.

Hybrid cars use a blend of the traditional internal combustion-engine and electric motor technologies. Excess energy from the conventional engine, which is normally wasted, instead charges the car's battery. The hybrid switches between the two power sources and it is during the electric-power mode that the engine is silent.

A main selling point for hybrid vehicles is their low noise levels. Marion said members of the alliance understand that the sound generator should not be too intrusive to the point where it's causing grief for the driver but a compromise must be reached.

Bob Glover, a staff liaison to Burnaby's traffic safety committee, is unsure how the city will deal with the alliance's concerns but he said there are a number of options the city could take.

"The city council might decide to bring this to the attention of the federal government, who is responsible for regulating the auto industry," Glover said.

ICBC {Insurance Corporation of British Columbia} reported there were 7,000 hybrid vehicles in B.C. in 2006. As people look at greater fuel efficiency for environmental and financial reasons, Marion said the number of hybrids on the streets continues to grow.

Cyclists have also expressed concern about quiet hybrids.

"There's almost a wish that there should be a little bit of noise on hybrid vehicles so that you can detect them and not get panicked when they pass close by," said Jack Becker, President of the British Columbia Cycling Coalition. "But whether you really want that noise is to be discussed."

Marion said he hopes city councils will take the issue seriously and act quickly.

"The longer it takes for manufacturers to build a sound generator on hybrid cars," he said, "the more likely it will be for someone to have a serious accident."


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