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Presidents' Reports

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.

President's Report: a Glimpse of The Past and a Look Into The Future For Rights Holders

Editor's Note: For further information on AEBC's Scholarship Program and award recipients, please see "Supporting Outstanding Blind Scholars" elsewhere in these pages.)

Notes for an Address at AEBC's May 2009 Conference and Annual General Meeting

Welcome/Thanks: I want to welcome each of you, from Victoria to Halifax, for joining us here at the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians' 2009 Annual General Meeting in New Westminster, British Columbia. Please help me in thanking the organizing committee--Charles Bailey, Richard Marion, Denise Sanders and the BC Affiliate--for putting everything together and ensuring that our time here will be as pleasant as possible. I would also like to thank the 2008-09 Board of Directors for their commitment. Each National Board member brings unique talents and experiences to the table and volunteers many hours to promote the issues of the AEBC. To Richard Quan and Brenda Cooke, who are leaving the Board, I look forward to your continuing participation as active AEBC members. Richard will continue to be active as President of the Toronto Chapter, assisting with the ACB Radio show, and involved in improving our website. Brenda will continue as Editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor magazine. And I welcome all the new members who have joined AEBC during the past year, particularly the new Brant (Ontario) and Prince George (BC) Chapters. To existing Chapters, I thank all Executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC.

Committees: AEBC has several National Committees: Scholarship, Education/Employment, Finance/Fundraising, Human Resources, Membership and Policy Development, which consists of many working groups. A new National Committee was struck with a new initiative that has been very successful--AEBC's monthly half-hour radio show called "An Eye on the North", which can be found on ACB Radio and on our website at http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

I am pleased to report that this year four scholarships were awarded: The Business, Education and Technology Scholarship: Mr. Darren Minifie, British Columbia; The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts: Mr. Marc Workman, Alberta; the Toronto Chapter Scholarship: Ms. Marie-Josee Blier, Ontario; And The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship: Mr. Gabriel Tremblay-Parent, Quebec. Congratulations! We wish these students all the best in their studies and future plans. ( Recognizing "Rights Holders": I thank John Rae (AEBC 1st Vice President) for his work on this piece. His insight and tireless work on Disability rights has been invaluable to me.

The term "stakeholder" is in widespread use by governments, social agencies and other decision-makers. The term implies that any person or group that has a "stake" in an issue should be consulted or given input into any decision being considered--regardless whether the decisions to be made will affect them directly, indirectly or hardly at all. "Stakeholder" is so loosely defined that it has come to embrace a wide range of players. In the area of developing disability legislation, policies or programs, "stakeholders" usually include government representatives, service agencies, parents' groups and even the eventual intended beneficiary, the consumer. All of these groups are considered to have a "stake" in the outcome of a decision, and to a varying extent they probably do.

However, the intended recipients of a benefit, service or program--the individuals most directly affected by any decision being made--are much more than just "stakeholders". Placing us in the category of "stakeholders" diminishes our primary "stake" and erodes what should be our direct engagement and role in reaching these outcomes. We who feel the full impact of any disability legislation, policy or program are much more than stakeholders. We consumers of such programs or benefits are in fact "Rights Holders". We are usually provided such services as a matter of our legally recognized right to equality of opportunity.

Rights Holders must be recognized as such, and must be engaged fully and directly on any decision to be made that will affect us. We "Rights Holders" demand and expect the right to a pre-eminent role in determining the outcome of any deliberations affecting us in the areas of legislation, policy or program development. We expect to be viewed in a different light, not merely as one more group of stakeholders. Consult with any appropriate stakeholder, but DO NOT make decisions without the support of rights holders and their organizations. Rights-holder organizations should take the lead on advocacy in the areas of legislation, government policy and/or group issues. This is the rightful role of such democratically constituted consumer organizations.

Recent Work: We've submitted briefs to: Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing concerning the review of the Municipal Elections Act; Standing Committee on Social Policy regarding Bill 152, an Act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario; Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services in response to the Draft Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS); Canada Post Corporation Strategic Review; Has CNIB Forsaken Blind Canadians?; and CRTC regarding Public Notice 2008-8 Unresolved issues related to the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services to persons with disabilities.

We have presented at these conferences: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Taking Action on Poverty, Poor Health and Bad Jobs, Sponsored by the Toronto Social Planning Council; NEADS (National Education Association of Disabled Students) Conference: Solutions to Library/Print Material Access; Vision Conference: Hybrid Car paper; and the general assembly at the American Council of the Blind Convention: Victories Won and the Challenges Still to be Met.

Some important meetings we have attended: Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Accessibility Standards development process; met with HRSDC (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) Special Advisor to Minister to discuss funding possibilities and review hybrid car, electronic voting and library/copyright issues; Canada Transportation Agency Advisory Committee Meetings; CTA Consultation on Tactile Markers for Aircraft; Ontario Pre-Budget Hearings on AEBC's call for a comprehensive economic strategy; Arch Disability Law Centre re: court action for blind electors (ongoing); Ontario government's Information & Communications Standard Development Committee (ongoing); CCD (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) Social Policy Committee (ongoing); Ontario Coalition for Social Justice meetings (ongoing); and participating in meetings with Library and Archive Canada's three-year Initiative for Equitable Library Access.

Also important to note are the efforts of the working Group for a National ID Card and the National Committees working on the copyright amendments, the accessible and verifiable vote at all levels, and poverty. More details on our work can be found on our website http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

Future Direction: Our future direction will take its roots from the past year and build on what you, our rights holders, direct us to do through our discussions and resolutions. With the economic down turn, the work of our organization must move from the National Board to the Chapters. It must do this not only for economic reasons, but because local, provincial/territorial and even the federal government do not want to hear from national organizations; they want to hear from local groups and, more importantly, from individuals. Thus, Chapters and their members will need to do more in-person visits, phone calling, letters to MLAs/MPPs, MPs and local representatives in your towns and cities to move disability rights forward. We also recognize we need to build more community and have discussions with other rights holder organizations to build bridges for a more united front on disability rights and services.

An AEBC member is a rights holder who mixes with community and inspires empowerment. This ties in with the "rights holder" piece earlier in this report. It also pulls together all that we have done as an organization, as National Committees, as Chapters, and finally as individual members--it ties together all the work that each of you has done and are going to do to empower each other. Over the next few days, I encourage each of you to meet, greet, network and mix with each other to empower yourselves. In this way, disability rights in our country will continue to move forward.

President's Report: Perspective and Possibilities

Editor's Note: The following is adapted from notes presented at the biennial conference of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), Victoria, British Columbia (BC), May 18, 2007.

This year, the AEBC turns 15. This is a significant milestone for any organization, especially a consumer organization such as the AEBC.

When we last met here in Victoria eight years ago under our original name, the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE), we had four chapters, while today we have 11.

Until that tumultuous Conference, we looked southward to the NFB in the United States for much of our philosophy and inspiration.

However, at that watershed event in our history, much changed!

Two different philosophies and approaches clashed, and the membership decided that this country needed a vibrant, forward-looking, "made in Canada" organization that was aware of Canada's unique history, culture, geography, political system and psyche, and that would develop "made in Canada" approaches to solve Canadian problems.

During that conference, our membership adopted Resolution 1999-02, which clearly enunciated that philosophy and approach. I think it is useful to remind ourselves of at least a part of what that resolution said:

"As NFB:AE members, we take our rights and responsibilities seriously. We will not tolerate being discriminated against by any corporations, governments or other entities because we are blind or otherwise vision-impaired;

"NFB:AE members believe that blindness is only one characteristic of an individual's overall being;

"NFB:AE members believe that, with appropriate training, education, and reasonable accommodation, individuals who are blind or otherwise vision-impaired can function successfully in the community and can compete effectively in the workplace;

"NFB:AE members expect the provision of information in various alternative formats--as a right, and not a "special need"--and that this right should be universally recognized."

Since that conference, we have held many important discussions with one another, consolidated our fundamental beliefs, changed our organization's name, established new chapters, worked on many important issues, and taken our message to an ever-widening range of events and other organizations. Throughout, we have been guided by thoughtful membership resolutions, and the participation of a group of extremely talented and committed individuals who have devoted incredible amounts of time and energy to developing the AEBC into what it has become.

The AEBC exists to challenge outdated stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness; to promote the capabilities of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted; to provide a focal point for personal support and work on issues in communities across our country; and to offer a consumer perspective on the development of programs and services that affect us.

Our "nothing about us without us" message focuses on developing mainstream solutions to the issues and barriers we continue to confront. The AEBC works hard to expand our range of rights and opportunities, as we attempt to achieve the elusive goal of the 1981 International year of the Disabled Person, "full participation and equality."

Today, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians works on a wide range of issues, from assistive devices, increasing access to information in multiple formats, to electoral reform, transportation, assisting individuals to file human rights complaints, changing public attitudes, and the bread and butter issues of increasing employment opportunities and fighting poverty.

This philosophy and approach sometimes requires us to examine our own ideas, and challenge and expand our own thinking and confront some tough issues head on.

The application by the National Broadcast Reading Service (NBRS) to the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) seeking the licensing of a specialty channel to broadcast DVS (descriptive video service) programming is a prime example. While AEBC members would love to see an increase in the availability of DVS programming, we filed an intervention opposing this application, believing that a new "special" service would be a backward step in our elusive search for equality through mainstream solutions, and fearing that its approval would be used as yet another excuse by Canada's broadcasters to further drag their feet on providing DVS programming through their regular programming.

During this weekend, we will devote some time to examining the principles of Universal Design, and attempt to further elaborate how they should be applied to assist persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted to live full and fulfilled lives.

The past year has been one of the most challenging in our history, especially in the areas of political climate and funding. At the same time, it has also been one of our most exciting and productive, especially in the areas of external work, organizational growth and transition, and I believe we should be extremely optimistic about our future, though much hard work is ahead.

In the summer of 2004, the AEBC Assistive Devices Program Committee conducted a nationwide survey to determine the unmet needs of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted when it comes to the equipment that would increase our independence and quality of life. In 2005, AEBC joined the BC Provincial Equipment and Assistive Devices Committee (PEADC) and Linda Bartram became co-chair.

One year later, the PEADC was working with the provincial government to develop a provincially funded Equipment and Assistive Devices Program, with AEBC playing a lead roll on the community side. As the program was taking shape, the needs of persons with vision loss became more evident to the lead Ministry, compelling them to start addressing this gap as a priority.

In March of this year, the AEBC was awarded a $355,500 grant to develop and administer a low-tech assistive devices program for British Columbians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. This is a pilot project, which will be based on the "Participation Model" being further developed for a broader, cross-disability equipment and assistive devices program. The scope of the program (what equipment will be included, eligibility etc.) is still being finalized at this time.

The AEBC will be coordinating a program that will demonstrate the Participation Model for Personal Supports, determine the current gaps in community capacity to deliver assistive devices to British Columbians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted, and increase community capacity to implement the Participation Model.

At the same time, British Columbians with vision loss will benefit from the provision of at least some of the low-tech devices they need.

This project should not be interpreted as a move away from our traditional work of public awareness and advocacy. Literature on advocacy work includes developing pilot or demonstration projects, to explore different or better ways of operating. That's exactly what the AEBC is doing by testing this "participation model."

The AEBC remains active in the work of the Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD). In November 2006, we participated in the End Exclusion conference in Ottawa, Ontario, where the pros and cons of a possible National Disability Act were outlined, and a paper on fighting poverty was released.

In March 2007, the AEBC joined with the broader disability rights movement in Canada to celebrate two important and hard-won victories!

Last year, I reported the AEBC and three other organizations retained ARC Disability Law Centre to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in support of CCD's case against Via Rail. On March 23, the high court handed down a 5-4 ruling in favour of CCD that is expected to have implications for other human rights cases.

The Court's ruling reinstates the decision of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), which requires Via Rail to modify 13 economy coach cars and 17 service cars in the Renaissance fleet so every daytime train and overnight sleeper train would be accessible to passengers using their own wheelchairs.

Having accessible trains travelling along some routes does not justify inaccessible trains on others, reasoned Justice Rosalie Abella, saying VIA offered "no concrete evidence" that refurbishing the "Renaissance" cars would create undue hardship for the carrier.

The benefits of accommodating disabled travellers are impossible to quantify in monetary terms, but financial cost isn't the only consideration, wrote Abella for the majority of the Court.

"What's really at issue is how far society, in this case transportation carriers, must go in accommodating the disabled and other minorities," said David Baker, who has represented the Council of Canadians With Disabilities throughout this case.

"Persons with disabilities must be accommodated unless doing so would create undue hardship. Now, just because there are significant costs involved, it doesn't mean it's the end of the story," he said.

Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters "VIA obviously will conform to the decision of the Supreme Court."

Throughout the past several years, the AEBC participated in meetings to help the Government of Canada develop its position on the proposed UN (United Nations) Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, and On March 30, Canada was among 81 States and the European Commission that signed the Convention. 43 States also signed the Optional Protocol.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities is the first human rights convention of the 21st century. The federal government is continuing to consult with the provinces and territories, and we hope Canada will also soon sign the Convention's Optional Protocol.

Signing is by no means the end of work on the Convention; ratification and effective implementation are still ahead, and the disability rights movement in Canada must continue to be involved to help ensure this Convention makes a real difference in the lives of the world's 650 million persons with a disability, most of whom live in the developing world where progress is so desperately needed.

We continue to meet with Elections Canada, and expect that voting at the next federal election will be somewhat more accessible to blind electors. Elections Canada has developed a new template, which is made of plastic, and contains both braille and raised numbers. All of their radio and TV ads will announce phone numbers. They are also working to provide lists of candidates in braille and large print at each poll location. I am delighted that the new template is being exhibited at this year's Conference.

AEBC's Scholarship Program, which supports outstanding blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted students, remains an important part of every year's work. We would like to congratulate the following recipients of our 2006 Scholarship awards and wish them every success in their futures: Laura Bulk, Victoria, British Columbia; Jennifer Dillon, Toronto, Ontario; Danielle Laplante-Ip, Montreal, Quebec; and Jacob Vaynshteyn, Edmonton, Alberta.

We continue to take our message to new places, either by staffing a booth or making presentations.

The AEBC Participated in the Northeastern Regional Conference of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) Conference, Montreal; the biennial National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) Conference, Ottawa; the BC Vision Teachers Conference, Kelowna; the Disability and Information Technologies Research Alliance Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba; the ARCH Annual General Meeting (AGM), Toronto; Inclusion and Participation: Persons with Disabilities in the Workplace--an invited symposium, Edmonton; the Vocational Disability Resource and Information Fair, Victoria; the W. Ross Macdonald School reunion, Brantford, Ontario; and the Jobs and Justice Conference of the Canadian Centre on Policy Alternatives, Vancouver, BC.

AEBC members presented at CAILC's (Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres) Executive Directors Forum to discuss access issues; the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum Conference to raise awareness of disability issues in the apprenticeship process; two seminars on museum access for the Ontario Historical Society; appeared twice before the Ontario Citizens Assembly to discuss access to voting issues; appeared before the Ontario Standing Committee on Justice Policy concerning an overhaul to the Ontario Human Rights Code; and appeared before the federal Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities at which we called on the federal government to develop a new National Economic Strategy for Canadians with disabilities.

And we will be making presentations at both the 11th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED), Montreal, and the Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disabled, Aging & Technology (FICCDAT) 2007 Conferences, Toronto, in June. (Note: To read AEBC's FICCDAT paper, see "Boomers Aging with Vision Loss: Public Attitudes are Key" elsewhere in this publication.)

The AEBC is a member of ARCH Disability Law Centre; the Association of Sight Impaired Consumers (ASIC); the media Access and participation initiative; CAILC's virtual independent living centres project advisory committee; and a National Telecommunications Working Group.

As part of our public awareness work, we continue to publish our national magazine, the Canadian Blind Monitor, in various formats; created six public service announcements and circulated them to media outlets in cities where we have chapters or potential chapters; and developed employment, mentorship and guide dog brochures, all of which are available at: www.blindcanadians.ca

We also published an extensive advocacy manual, "Stand Up! Speak Out!", also available on our website, which examines various areas of advocacy, provides past "real life" examples, and discusses assertive and effective communication techniques to assist individuals interested in advocating for themselves or others. The AEBC believes that education about the advocacy process, assertive communication, and available resources can help individuals successfully advocate, and that through this means, and public education, a more equitable and accessible Canadian society can be created.

Despite funding uncertainty, AEBC's Human Resources Committee took the bold step of recommending that we move ahead with the recruitment and hiring of our first National Equality Director. After a national search, Albert Ruel of Victoria started work in February 2007, and he has already added a lot to our organization.

Having Albert on board gives the AEBC a senior staff member that most other national organizations take for granted. It should make it somewhat easier for future Board members, but when we hired Albert we made it very clear to ourselves that we would remain involved and active on your behalf, though hopefully somewhat less involved in day-to-day work.

As part of the transition process, we have re-established a chapter in Winnipeg, reorganized our Calgary, Alberta, chapter, and formed our very first chapter in Edmonton. Several chapters have elected new Presidents--Lisa Neufeld in Kelowna, Mitch Lindsay here in Victoria, Beryl Williams in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Lorne Daley in Ottawa, Richard Marion in Vancouver, and on Sunday we will elect a new National President.

Following last year's AGM in Kelowna, the Board was forced to sever our relationship with our primary fundraiser, and throughout this year much time and energy has been spent on disentangling our organization from the problems that remained from that relationship. We are fortunate that previous Boards had accrued surpluses that have enabled us to weather this past year quite well.

The Board has proceeded very cautiously in signing new fundraising contracts. To assist our fundraising activities, the Board established a sister organization, the Alliance for Blind Canadians (ABC), a non-profit corporation that does not have a charitable number. This fact enables it to undertake fundraising activities that would cause difficulties for a charitable organization.

As discussed last year, the political climate in Canada has changed considerably. The new Conservative government believes in far less federal involvement, especially in areas of provincial jurisdiction. And this means we must become more effective in engaging decision makers provincially.

Future Priorities: While our new National Equality Director now plays an important role, the new President and Board will remain busy and directly involved in carrying out the work of this organization. Some priority areas I see for the next couple of years will be:

  • Increasing the name recognition of the AEBC across the country;

  • Developing new sources of funding;

  • Establishing new chapters and strengthening their Capacity to Engage. More and more, important decisions are being made at the provincial/territorial/municipal levels, and we must develop the capacity to engage politicians and other decision makers at these levels;

  • Increasing membership. Every member needs to talk to friends, as the one on one approach is often what brings in new people;

  • Seeking younger members. Canada's disability rights movement is led by a group of graying individuals. All organizations, including the AEBC, need to devote some concentrated time on attracting new and younger individuals;

  • Seeking more members who are partially sighted and/or seniors;

  • Membership development: The AEBC must continue to encourage members to participate directly in our work. All are encouraged to join at least one national committee. This is the way many of us developed the skills we now possess.

For the past nine years, I have been proud to serve on our Boards alongside a group of extremely talented and dedicated individuals. At times we have been criticized for being too slow to act, and at others for being too tough. That leads me to believe your Boards have done a pretty good job of representing the Resolutions we have adopted together.

I believe in the words of American author, Leo C. Rosten (1908-1977): "I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honourable, to be compassionate. It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all."

I look forward to continuing to serve.

I want to thank all of those individuals who have contributed their energy, talent and ideas to our work, and would like to mention three in particular.

Throughout my Presidency, Denise Sanders has taken the lead on the internal side of our work, thereby enabling me to focus on my own particular strengths of writing briefs and representing our organization.

Rick Oakes, who is leaving the Board this year, has brought a wealth of experience to our deliberations.

And our youngest Board member, our Treasurer Anthony Tibbs, came on board at an extremely difficult time, and jumped right in as if he had been on the Board for years.

In conclusion, "You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case."--Ken Kesey

"Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen."-Peter Marshall

Persons who are different can make a difference. Let's all redouble our intentions to make a real difference in the lives of all Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

President's Report

Click here to read the President's Report from this year's AGM (Opens in a new window)

President's Report: Celebrating Our Future

Editor's Note: The following are notes for an address to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians' (AEBC) biennial conference in Ottawa, Ontario, April 29, 2005.

We are here to celebrate! And we have a lot to celebrate!

The AEBC is now a reality!

We have an organization with a new name and look; an organization that has a hard-working Board and many committed members; an organization that is growing in the amount of work it is called upon to do.

Our new name, improved look, and state-of-the-art website represent an important milestone in our organization's history, a move which took far more time and energy than any of us could have imagined, but the AEBC is now a reality, and we are here to celebrate that achievement.

But before we can look to the future, we must review where we have come from and this last year's work.

In 1992, there was no National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) and no Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC). A few visionary individuals in Kelowna, British Columbia, decided it was time to found a new organization--the NFB:AE. Since our founding, the organization has grown, and the members who have joined have brought with them new ideas that form the basis of today's distinctive Canadian organization, now known as Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

The year just passed has been our busiest to date and that is exactly what we wanted! During this year, we have participated in more meetings, conferences and issues that directly affect the lives of all Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

New Name and Image

With the adoption of our new name and new look, there should be no further confusion about who we really are, and no more questions like "Aren't you the National Film Board?"

The AEBC, like its predecessor the NFB:AE, is a made-in-Canada consumer organization of persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

Our new name is descriptive of whom we are and what we are trying to achieve. We are a coming together of individuals in an ever increasing number of locations every year. All of our work focuses on attaining greater equality. We are a consumer organization, run by and for our members, and we are a Canadian based and Canadian focused organization.

This does not mean, however, that we are not interested in the situation of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world. We retain Associate Membership status in the North American-Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union (WBU) and we participated in a recent Regional meeting in Toronto.

We continue to participate actively in consultations towards the United Nations convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the next meeting is scheduled to take place in New York this summer. Perhaps by next year's Annual General Meeting, we may be approaching the completion of these negotiations and have a convention ready for adoption by the UN General Assembly in the fall of 2006.

But, just like the passage of any piece of domestic human rights legislation, passage is merely the beginning. Much further work will be required to gain its ratification and implementation by nation states around the world.

Conferences and Events

During the past year, we presented at the biannual conference of the national Education Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), the annual Conference of Canada-Wide Accessibility for Post-Secondary Students (CANWAPSS), the Rae Review into the Future of Post-Secondary Education in Ontario, and made two presentations to the Ontario Legislature's Standing Committee on Social Policy concerning the proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2004.

Issues

During the past year, we wrote letters or participated in meetings on an ever-widening range of issues, which included: the future of the motion picture industry; discrimination under Canada's immigration Act; access to credit card statements from CIBC; voting independently and in secret in elections; the disability tax credit (DTC); Canada's federal budget; hotel and restaurant access; transportation; cuts to employment programs for persons with disabilities; library access; dog guide issues; and funding for consumer organizations such as ours, to name only a few.

We participated in an important consultation by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), which published a report on the often negative portrayal and lack of representation of persons with disabilities in the media; participated in another Council of Canadians with Disabilities consultation on social policy; made a submission on the future of library programs across Canada; and continue to make submissions to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to expand access to and descriptive video service in television programming.

We conducted research into existing government programs for funding needed assistive devices, and released a major Report. The research found that still only four provinces--Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta--have any government program to assist individuals in purchasing equipment that is needed to live independently. This Report will form the basis for our future work in this crucial area, and British Columbia Chapters are attempting to inject this issue into their provincial election campaign.

Human Rights

We have been asked to assist with more and more human rights cases. As a human rights organization, we were naturally dismayed over the Ontario government's cuts to intake staff at the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a move that will make it even harder for Ontario's most vulnerable residents to file complaints of discrimination with the Commission. We participated in a number of unsuccessful fight-back activities.

We are supporting David Lepofsky by attending the tribunal hearings in his case against the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) concerning its failure to call out all subway stops. Marcia Cummings, our National Secretary, was quoted in the Toronto Star and appeared on both CBC and Global Television on this issue.

We have also been consulting on a number of other cases involving the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and various education issues, particularly the nagging access to information barriers that continue to plague students who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

Past Resolutions

We conducted the first comprehensive review of all membership resolutions, and a considerable number of these dealt with education and employment issues. As a result, we created the new education/employment committee and its initial work was to prioritize related resolutions. The committee adopted "access to information" as the first area of focus, and that subject is a major theme of this conference.

Chapters

Local chapters are an important part of our organization. They provide a presence in our communities and also offer members the opportunity to come together for mutual support, camaraderie, and to collaborate on local or national issues. During the past year, we organized two new chapters--Collingwood in July and Victoria in November.

Chapters have been playing a more active role in our overall work. Some highlights include: a pilot essay contest for public awareness conducted by our

Central Okanagan Chapter; a martial arts self-defense course that has developed new enthusiasm in the Lower Mainland Chapter; the spearheading of a campaign for a publicly funded assistive devices program for British Columbia by our Victoria Chapter; liaison with the local police in Collingwood; work with the

Toronto Transit Commission and participation on the local Accessibility Advisory Committee in Toronto; a national survey of accessible banking services by Saskatoon; and growing work on library access issues and our 2005 conference by Ottawa.

We held our first face-to-face meeting of chapter presidents in conjunction with our Special Membership Meeting in Toronto in October. This meeting was designed to improve communication and to help chapters feel more a part of our overall work.

Chapter Presidents now meet quarterly and Chapters in both British Columbia and Ontario have begun to work together on provincial issues. Considering the growing decentralization in Canada, more and more work needs to be carried on at the provincial level.

Expanded Work with Other Organizations

We have made some new friends over the past year with organizations with which I expect we will be working collaboratively in the years ahead. Most particularly are the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres (CAILC) and the Canadian National Society of the Deaf-Blind. We attended our first Annual General

Meeting of ARCH: A Legal Resource Centre for Persons With Disabilities, and have recently joined the Provincial Equipment and Assistive Devices Committee in British Columbia.

We continue to be active members of the Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD), and have participated in meetings involving disability supports, the disability Tax Credit, the proposed UN Convention, the last federal budget, Via Rail and others.

Each year, each CCD member organization can nominate one recipient for the annual CCD Award, and this year I am pleased to report the Board has chosen Beryl

Williams of Saskatoon to receive the AEBC 2005 CCD Award. Beryl has been a long-time disability rights advocate, was an early member of the NFB:AE and served twice as Vice President on previous Boards. Congratulations to Beryl!

Work with the Canadian National Institution for the Blind (CNIB)

During the past year, we were invited to participate on a number of committees overseeing CNIB research projects, and we have another request to decide upon--a national study into what makes individuals successful in employment. Without clear membership direction, these requests always create much soul searching as to how much time we should devote to CNIB's research rather than pursuing our own work, and what real benefit might result for blind consumers.

After some intense discussion, your board accepted two invitations to participate on the steering committees overseeing the VOICE Study (dealing with vision health) and National Needs Study. Helen Simson, Project coordinator of the National Needs Study, will be presenting some of the data during our next panel, which will give members a snapshot of the data that has been collected.

Human Resources

Over the past year, a lot of new policies and procedures have been developed. For the first time, we created a Human Resources Committee, and that committee has worked extremely hard.

Again this year, we have some new staff. Kim Kilpatrick as Executive Assistant is providing our organization with improved internal communication, especially with chapters; Judy Smith as Public Information Coordinator brings her extensive media experience to our work at a time when we need to publicize our new name; Sara Bennett as Assistant Editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor continues to take on more and more of the work of our magazine; and Carla Whitten as Clerical Assistant replaces Monika Penner, who left to accept an outstanding opportunity with Okanagan University where she is making excellent use of the knowledge she gained while working with us. I am hoping our new recruits will be with us for sometime to come.

Funding

We continue to search for alternative sources of funding for our activities, and this search for significant new sources remains very elusive. We have met with federal officials who assure us no new organizations will even be considered for core funding until after they conduct a comprehensive review of current recipients.

Again this year, our Treasurer Denise Sanders will be presenting an audit that contains another surplus. We remain reliant on contracts with third-party fund-raisers, but considering the continuing decrease in government funding initiatives, many of us consider this to be a strength. Our funding is more secure and not vulnerable to changes in government or government priorities. In addition to raising funds, our fund-raisers are critical to our public education initiatives as they distribute our materials as part of their work on our behalf.

The AEBC Board

Our organization continues to be governed by a group of extremely committed individuals who work very hard on our behalf, and I believe this is another strength of our organization. I want to thank each of them for their contributions to our varied efforts.

Paul Thiele, whom I will always remember as being the first person to approach me about the need to change our organization's name, has announced his intention not to seek re-election at this year's conference. I want to thank him for his years of service.

Your Board remains too much of a "hands on" Board, and this prevents some excellent candidates from putting their names forward. We must find ways of transferring some of the work currently performed directly by Board members to our paid staff.

The year ahead

There remains much to do!

We have a new name to publicize and promote. For those who have been waiting for us to adopt a new, made-in-Canada name, we have responded, and now it is time for you to join us and participate in our varied work.

For us as members, we must redouble our efforts to publicize this new name and image, encourage our friends to join, to reach out to the wider blind community, and to make all new members feel welcome and valued, especially younger members.

Our organization, like the rest of the disability rights movement, is led mainly by older individuals. We must reach out and attract new and younger individuals to our organization as they are our future! I believe our wide range of Committees provide an excellent training ground for all members, old, young or new, and I encourage all members to look over the list of Committees and sign up.

I believe the elusive search for the "burning issue" is over, and it is access to information. We must develop our own niche, set more of the agenda, and repackage some of our work and give greater attention to various access issues.

As a human rights organization, we must continue to advocate for needed changes in legislation, programs and policies, and support individuals who are challenging out dated and discriminatory practices, but at the same time we must expand our work on the practical side of life--advocacy for making regular everyday products, print information and websites universally accessible to all, including persons who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

We have applied for two summer student projects, one to work on developing an inventory of accessible products and the second to begin reviewing companies' websites. I am hopeful we will be successful with both applications. If not, the board has set aside funds to pursue both of these projects, and the new board must make these initiatives its priority.

We must continue to take our message of "nothing about us without us" to every corner of this vast country and to seek new events, conferences, and media opportunities to present our views, policies and proposals to improve the lives of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

One such opportunity comes in May when we will be participating in the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority's (APSEA) conference in Halifax. This should provide us an unprecedented opportunity to reach special education personnel, staff who will have a profound effect on the future lives of young blind individuals. This is an important group for us to reach.

In his book, "Freedom for the Blind: The Secret is Empowerment," James H. Omvig tells a story that I think we all can learn from:

In ancient Egypt a King was having a temple built as a monument to himself. He frequently visited the construction site to follow the progress. On one such visit, he asked a laborer, "What are you doing?"

The laborer replied, "I'm cutting this rock."

The King walked along the site and then asked a second laborer what he was doing, and the man replied, "I'm chipping this stone."

The King then thoughtfully approached yet a third laborer who was doing the same work. This time, when the King asked the man what he was doing, the laborer replied, with real pride and satisfaction, "I'M BUILDING A TEMPLE!" This insightful laborer saw the wisdom of perceiving himself as a valuable part of the larger picture--as an integral part of a team with a vision and a mission--rather than merely as an end unto himself.

It is my fervent hope that all of us who are involved in our work will also see ourselves as an important part of a larger team with a vision, integral to our objective of building that brighter future of maximum opportunity and empowerment for all Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

Regardless of what role we may play, it is up to each of us to make a contribution towards realizing our rallying cry of "nothing about us without us" the reality in Canada for all persons who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

Remember the words of Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has!"

Thank you.

President's Report: The Changing Landscape--The Landscape Must Continue to Change

Editor's Note: The following is taken from notes for an address to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, May 15, 2004.

When we met in Montreal last year, we celebrated two important events--our tenth anniversary, an important milestone for any organization, and the formation of our Saskatoon Chapter. This year we are meeting here in Saskatoon. I just received an email indicating that, at a meeting in Ottawa on Thursday evening, the members present voted to form the Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter, and we are excited and delighted to welcome this new Chapter to our growing family.

From time immemorial blind people have been the victims of mistaken identity. Not that their lack of sight has gone unnoticed or unrecognized--far from it. But at one time or another they have been falsely identified also as a class of pariahs, as divinely accursed, as mentally defective, physically incompetent or socially unstable. It is only in very recent years that society has begun to give recognition to the novel doctrine that blindness means only the loss of sight, neither more nor less, and that any further loss to the blind person is the consequence, not of his blindness, but of the social and psychological conditions in which it occurs. In short, the disability of blindness is physical, but the handicap of blindness has always been predominantly social.

This is still today a revolutionary doctrine, not only among the public, but among the professionally informed and expert as well. In the social diagnosis of blindness, mistaken identification is still the rule rather than the exception.

While these words were spoken by Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, in a speech entitled, "The Blind: A Case of Mistaken Identity", delivered in Berkeley, California, May 22, 1960, they resound as if they were spoken only yesterday, and they amply demonstrate how much further we still must travel before blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians achieve the promise of "equal benefit of the law" that is contained in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is one of the reasons why the national Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality was founded, and why a strong, vibrant, national movement of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted consumers remains so vitally needed today!

Since we were together in Montreal one short year ago, the political landscape in Canada has undergone numerous changes. As expected several provinces held elections, and some new provincial governments were elected.

In my own Province, voters were asked to "choose change", and many did so, electing a new Liberal majority government, but since then many Ontarians have realized very clearly that "choosing" change was far easier than making change actually happen. And this is another reason why organizations of ordinary people like ours are so important today, as it is up to the people to make sure all elected officials follow through on their election promises.

Since the close of the Decade for Disabled Persons in 1992, we have seen the amount of attention given to our issues gradually diminish until earlier this year, one leader in the disability rights movement went so far as to say the real issue for all of us is to remain on the political radar map of Canada.

With this in mind, consumer organizations across the country have redoubled their efforts at the federal level, and together we managed to get some disability content included in both the Speech from the Throne and the federal Budget. While these items did not go nearly as far as Canadians with disabilities need, it was encouraging to see some small recognition of our needs included. But we still wonder when our time will finally come

A federal election could be called any day. It is important that electors with disabilities play an active part in the upcoming election, being visible by working for candidates and asking questions at all candidates meetings about what planks on disability issues are contained in each party's platform.

Let me remind you of the words of famous anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

2003-04

This has been another busy year for the NFB:AE. We have participated in more meetings, round tables and consultations than ever before. These have covered such diverse topics as the Disability Tax Credit, the Ontario Human Rights Commission's Consultation on Education and Persons with Disabilities, braille credit card statements, a new concession plan from the theatre industry, health care, access to restaurants, the proposed UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, housing, the state of human rights protection in Canada, a national disability supports program including funding for assistive devices, continuing discrimination under Canada's Immigration Act, expanding integrated education, strengthening the Ontarians With Disabilities Act, and a variety of transportation issues from Via Rail's steadfast refusal to make its new trains fully accessible to the electric car and emerging issues such as automated check-in kiosks at airports. I believe our participation at more of these tables stems in part from being a member of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), and I expect this trend will continue. And speaking of CCD, every year each member group has the opportunity to nominate an individual or organization to receive an award, and the Board has nominated Penny Leclair to be the NFB:AE's 2004 recipient.

We remain involved in a variety of other organizations, and as a result of discussions at the Toronto Chapter, the NFB:AE has rejoined ARCH: A Legal Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities, based in Toronto. ARCH's work focuses primarily on test case litigation, and education of the legal profession so it will better serve us and advance our rights. I think there will be future opportunities for collaborative work that will prove mutually beneficial.

International Work

At last year's Conference, we adopted two resolutions endorsing Disabled Peoples Internationals Peace Declaration and support for the proposed UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, and we are supporting the proposed UN convention, which is being fast-tracked at the UN.

While we have decided to focus the bulk of our work on issues that will have impact in Canada, we must never forget the plight of our brothers and sisters in other countries. In addition, we must participate in the UN convention process, for the adoption of a weak Convention could be used to weaken the strong legal base for persons with disabilities that currently exists in Canada.

At our 1999 Conference in Victoria, our membership adopted Resolution 1999-12, to seek membership in the World Blind Union (WBU)--"provided that the above process is not inordinately difficult or expensive." Boards have pursued full membership for our organization in the WBU and attained Associate Membership in the North American-Caribbean Region. However, this year's Board believes that we should retain Associate Membership, but not pursue further the attainment of full membership even though it may now be available to us.

Common Look

Since joining our organization, our new Coordinator, Allan Shaw, has emphasized the need for our organization to focus on "branding", so that whenever an individual sees a pamphlet, magazine or brief, it will be immediately recognizable as coming from our organization. Our website has undergone some changes, and more are planned in the months ahead. It receives many visitors, and we must use it more effectively to promote our organization and its activities, to provide a wider range of information, and to use it as a vehicle for membership recruitment. Geof Collis has developed a new logo for our organization, and he has taken over from Marcia Cummings as Website Liaison to our new Webmaster, Jeff Burwick, who we recently welcomed when he succeeded Chris Gaulin. Directors now have organizationally based email addresses. We will also be resolving the current difference between our Mission Statement and Bylaws in the use of the terms "partially sighted" and "vision-impaired" so all our materials will possess a common look and feel.

Public Education

During the past year, over sixty thousand brochures have been distributed to households across the country. Our national magazine, the Canadian Blind Monitor, remains the most important vehicle for the public education side of our work. We have expanded overall distribution, and targeted ophthalmologists and optometrists with the "Focus on Health and Well-Being" issue. The next several issues are being planned to focus on the NFB:AE and Advocacy, Home Sweet Home, and Art and Attitude. Everyone is encouraged to contribute articles for these upcoming issues.

Mentorship Program

As the result of Resolution 2003-8, many hours have been committed by the Mentorship Committee, chaired by Linda Bartram, to the expansion of our Mentorship Program. After an extensive internet and literature search determined that a suitable manual was not currently available, the committee began gathering the necessary information, and Monika Penner was contracted by the Board to compile the Manual.

A comprehensive mentor application process has been developed. The program now invites blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind adults, as well as parents of blind, partially sighted and deaf-blind children, to apply as mentees, who now complete an expanded application form and undergo an informal interview prior to the matching process.

As of May 1, 2004, two mentor/Mentee matches have been made, and six other Mentors are at various stages of the application process, and will be matched with mentees in the near future.

Scholarship Program

In past years, we have announced our annual Scholarship recipients at our Conference or AGM. However, this year the deadline for applying has been changed to October 15, and we will be increasing the number awarded to five, thanks to our Toronto Chapter and Courtesy Call Inc.

Assistive Devices

At last year's Conference, we adopted Resolution 2003-18 to research and promote a national Assistive Devices Program. We established a Committee, chaired by Linda Bartram, and we succeeded in obtaining a summer student project to do the research and help us develop proposals. A report from this project should be available in early fall.

Financial Picture

When I joined the Board six years ago, we were subsisting from month to month, and I was determined that situation had to change. Again this year, our Treasurer, Denise Sanders, will be presenting a financial statement that shows a considerable surplus. Due to frugal management and increased revenue over the past couple of years, we now have the kind of cushion that every organization needs and would love to have, especially in these times of government cutbacks. While future Boards must remain cost-conscious, our current situation will enable us to self-fund some initiatives, and this will be a priority item for your new board, so don't wait--send in your suggestions.

Funding

Funding remains a controversial subject. Despite the resounding defeat of Resolution 2003-5 Third Party Fund-Raising at last year's Conference, the Board has given priority attention to the search for additional/alternative sources of funding for our organization, and I believe we have devoted more resources than ever before to this elusive search, but so far we have not succeeded in attracting significant results, though we have just secured a summer student project to work on proposals for a National Assistive Devices Program, and we are receiving $1,000 from the Union of Taxation Employees and $400 from Sask Tel towards this year's Annual General Meeting. We have also received an S.A.P. receiver from Audio Vision Canada as a major door prize, and we thank all of these organizations for their support.

We have an active Fund-Raising Committee, Chaired by our treasurer, and our Grant Developer/Writer, Karen Leboe, has worked hard to search out those new sources of funding that we would all like to find. Almost 100 applications were sent to foundations, corporations, in search of funding, for activities such as public education, mentorship, the CBM and this AGM.

For the past several years, HRDC said it would not consider new organizations for core funding. We had expected their position would change this year, but the new Department of Social Development decided to only accept proposals for projects and not to cover core activities. Nevertheless, we have approached The Minister, the Honourable Liza Frulla, and put the subject of core funding for our organization on the table, and asked for a meeting to discuss our needs with her directly. In the months ahead, we will be pursuing this request.

I want to pause for just a moment and ask you to join me in thanking those who have devoted a great deal of time to our work over the past year. I work most closely with my colleagues on our National Board of Directors, our contractors and also with Sara Bennett, Associate Editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor. Sara has committed a tremendous number of hours toward this important publication. Again this year, our Secretary, Marcia Cummings, has produced excellent and timely minutes, and she is playing an increasingly important role in Ontario. Following last year's conference, Beryl Williams spearheaded the name change process, and kept me informed on discussions on our Listserve, which often becomes far more active than I can follow. I also want to thank Chapter Presidents and everyone who has stepped forward and participated directly in aspects of our diverse work, either by participating on Committees, writing articles for the Monitor, or offering their timely advice on particular topics. There are lots of ways to plug into our diverse work! If you have not yet found your niche, there is no time like the present.

2004-05

I now want to discuss several areas that I believe require added focus in the year ahead.

Membership

Building our organization must receive greater priority in the year ahead. Like most organizations, especially groups like ours, we attract some new members each year, while others slip away.

Chapters play an important role. Not only do they provide our organization with a presence in a community, they can offer personal support to individuals, public education, fund-raising and a vehicle for collective action on local issues.

However, too many chapter members still see themselves primarily as a member of their Chapter, and do not identify enough with our organization as a whole. In an effort partly to overcome this tendency, and also to give Chapters added encouragement, a meeting of Chapter Presidents took place, and they intend to meet quarterly to discuss activities and ways to increase membership.

We have an active Membership Committee, chaired by Paul Thiele, which needs to be expanded. Each Chapter will be strongly encouraged to designate a representative to this Committee. A Membership Survey has been developed, and it will be distributed to all members over the next couple of weeks. It is designed to learn what makes individuals join, and to develop more and better ways to involve you directly in our work, though in a self-help group such as ours much of that must come from within each of us.

We have held meetings in both Victoria and Ottawa, have attracted some new members from these meetings and have a brand new Chapter in the Ottawa area. However, from my experience, some membership recruitment comes in batches when new chapters are formed, but most of it is a one-to-one process, one member to another, and just consider where we would be one short year from now if each of us could convince one or two new or returning members to get actively involved in our work--what a difference this could make!

Over the years, we have heard various reasons why individuals have shied away from joining us, and one of those excuses has been the name of our organization. At last year's Conference, Resolution 2004-17 was adopted to conduct a "feasibility study" of a new name, and your Board began working on that resolution immediately following last year's Conference. A contest was held, and 35 proposals from members and non-members alike were submitted. Later today, we will determine that very fundamental question--the name by which we want to be known. If a change is adopted, that will remove that excuse for not joining our work, but a new name will give us new challenges of name recognition. The Board has a road map already in place should a new name be adopted.

I challenge each of us to talk with our friends, and encourage them to join our organization and its work.

Consumer Input

Over the past ten years, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) has begun using such words as "collaboration" and "consumer involvement" more and more. However, the change has seemed more in the area of rhetoric, rather than real substance

In January of this year, CNIB organized a two-day, by invitation only, symposium on the Cost of Blindness as a follow-up to the October, 1998 National Consultation on the Crisis in Vision Loss. This major event, organized by service providers, health care professionals and researchers, brought together an impressive array of speakers from around the world, but not one of these presenters represented a consumer organization. At that Conference, the question "who represents consumers" was raised several times, and shortly afterward the NFB:AE and CCB were both invited to participate on the Steering Committees of two major CNIB research projects--"A Lack of Social Policy in Low Vision Service: a Case Study of the Impact on Patients and Providers", in collaboration with Health Canada and "Nationwide Study to Identify the Needs of People in Canada Who are blind or Vision-Impaired".

These invitations caused your Board a considerable degree of soul-searching, trying to determine whether and in what way we might wish to participate in these initiatives, so that our limited time is well spent and the real needs of consumers are advanced--not just the interests of CNIB.

Needless to say, this does not go nearly far enough. Today, the federal government provides some research grants in the field of disability. While there is room for some new research, what is generally needed far more than new research is government will to implement research that already exists and to implement new programs that will improve our quality of life in tangible ways. We have written the Minister of Social Development, advancing the view that consumer partnership and meaningful and demonstrable involvement should be present in all new research projects they fund.

Access to Regular Products

As a human rights organization, we and many other organizations have worked hard to ensure that an equitable legal base will be in place, and much success has been achieved in that area. However, especially in these times of government cutbacks, we must never rest on our laurels, and there is always room for improvement in the area of the law and especially in the ways in which it is administered and enforced. Thus, we must continue to play a leading role in that area.

It is also abundantly clear that, while Canadians with disabilities may have achieved a considerable degree of the Charter's guarantee of "equal Treatment under the law", we are a long way from achieving the other important part of the Charter's promise, namely "equal benefit of the law". Today, persons with disabilities remain among the poorest of the poor in this plentiful land.

I believe we must devote more of our time and energy to the more practical side of life, both as a way of attracting membership and also as a means of making it easier for each of us to go about our daily lives, and after all that's what it's really all about--being able to participate on terms of equality in everyday life as members of the community.

We applied unsuccessfully for a second summer student project, which would have begun work in this area. Nevertheless, this work is vitally important, and we will be establishing a new Committee charged with developing what I hope will be a major new initiative in the area of access to ordinary, everyday products, and I invite those of you who are interested in this area to step forward and join this Committee.

Conclusion

Our former cost-cutting Finance Minister, now Prime Minister, Paul Martin, said on November 7, 2002: "I think it's unforgivable that we've not developed a comprehensive program and level playing field for disabled Canadians. If there's anything a wealthy country like Canada should do, it's that."

We agree wholeheartedly with those words of our new Prime Minister, and it's up to organizations and individuals like us to turn those noble words into reality. We have recontacted some other consumer organizations across the country, and developing a closer working relationship among consumer organizations remains an important goal for us. Let us redouble our efforts, put aside our differences and build towards a better future for all Canadians, including those of us who are blind, deaf-blind, partially sighted or otherwise disabled.

Thank you.

2003 Agm President's Report: The Times They Are A-Changin'

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following are notes for a report delivered at the 2003 NFB:AE Conference in Montreal, Quebec, May 16, 2003.

Come gather 'round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You'll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you Is worth savin' Then you better start swimmin' Or you'll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin'. Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen And keep your eyes wide The chance won't come again And don't speak too soon For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they are a-changin'. (Bob Dylan, "The times They Are A-Changin'," 1964)

When Bob Dylan released this song in 1964, "The Times They Are a Changin'" became a phrase that defined an entire generation. It is a phrase that aptly describes the past two years for blind Canadians generally, and for our organization, the National federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality.

I wasn't expecting to be standing here today delivering this report. Just one short year ago at our 2002 Annual General Meeting in Toronto, I was elected 2nd Vice President. However, the times have been a-changin' during the past year and here I stand.

Milestones

There have been a number of watershed moments in our organization's ten and a half year history, and three of them took place during the past year.

September 29, 2002 marked the tenth anniversary of our incorporation. Ten years is an important milestone in the history of any organization, especially any consumer organization these days, and we are celebrating that important achievement during this Conference.

Between August 29 and September 9, four of our seven member Board of Directors-President Gord Dingle, 1st. VP Richard Marion, Secretary Mike Yale and Director at Large Corry Stuive resigned for various reasons, including personal issues, a fundamental disagreement with continued use of third-party fund-raising, and simply having enough of the in-fighting and failure of the blind community in Canada to come together in a more cohesive manner. I want to thank each of them for their years of involvement in the disability rights' movement across Canada, and for their contributions to the work of our organization.

Their departure left quite a hole in experience and work.

This left two options, to fill Board vacancies or call a Special Meeting of the membership and hold elections. Marcia Cummings was steadfast that we should recruit new board members, fill the vacancies and continue our work. Members were contacted, nominations were sought, and we were delighted with the number of members who stepped forward and offered to stand for election to serve out Board terms. At that point, I was selected President. I am convinced Marcia's position was the correct approach, and I believe we should thank Marcia and Denise Sanders who remained with me, and those who stepped forward-Beryl Williams, Paul Thiele, Sara Bennett and Diane Dobson.

Staffing

Another watershed event occurred earlier last year, and it involved staffing. You will recall we had two persons working in our Kelowna office during the past several years, Ken Westlake and Kelly Boychuk. When Ken was forced to leave for health reasons, Kelly assumed a greater load throughout the remainder of her contracts with us. Since Board discussions on staffing over the course of a couple of years had not progressed very far, in July, Mike Yale moved a motion creating a Committee consisting of Corry Stuive, Denise Sanders and myself to review our staffing structure and develop options for the Board to consider. When Corry left, Paul Thiele took his place. These discussions lead to our new, cutting-edge staffing approach, more of a virtual office, where it is no longer necessary to live in Kelowna, where our Head Office remains, to work for our organization.

We conducted a national recruitment campaign and now have a new team in place - Dr. Marie Paul of Toronto as Coordinator, Wanda Fitzgerald of Toronto as Public Relations/Public Education Coordinator, Karen Klemp of Kelowna as bookkeeper, Monika Penner of Kelowna as Office Support and Karen Leboe of Kelowna as Grant Writer/Fund Developer.

We have undergone a considerable transition to this new approach and new team, and some work remains, but I believe we are well on our way to a new era where the Board can play less of a hands on role and spend more of its time and attention to determining policy and setting overall organizational direction.

I want to thank both Ken Westlake and Kelly Boychuk for their years of work on behalf of our organization.

Funding

I have spoken about some watershed events over our first ten and a half years, and early in our history, third-party fund-raising was begun. Despite its drawbacks-and I am well aware of its problems - it has provided our organization with a reliable source of funds that do not have the kinds of strings attached that come with most other sources. It has enabled our organization to conduct our activities.

To date, we have not succeeded in attracting alternatives that will bring in the revenue our national activities require, though we are anxious to develop a much wider range of revenue sources. Until this year, we have not had the luxury of having funds available that could be dedicated to this search, and there are costs associated with any method of fund-raising and risks associated with some approaches.

The most blatant example of the risks of fund-raising was contained in an article entitled, "Charity loses $7M gamble: Lottery backfires for diabetes group: by KEVIN DONOVAN, which appeared in the Toronto Star, December 2, 2002, which indicated the charity lost "$7.1 million in an unsuccessful lottery."

Your Board is very cognisant of its fiduciary responsibility to be cost efficient and to consider carefully the spending of our resources. We down-sized our Kelowna office, and are moving to less expensive premises that will accommodate our current staff.

Any organization should try to develop a contingency fund to cover against lean years when income drops, like it did following 9/11. During 2002, we achieved an impressive surplus and we should all be very happy about that. However, this surplus must be managed carefully and at least part of it retained for use during a future rainy day.

Karen Leboe has been hard at work, familiarizing herself with our funding history, and researching what's out there that might be relevant to our work. She has just submitted a report with recommendations for the new Board to consider.

Today, third-party fund-raising is under attack as never before, particularly in Ontario, where the bulk of our funds are raised. In February, we received a letter from the Public Guardian and Trustee's Office of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General which commenced a review of our fund-raising operations via third-party sources in Ontario for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002. The board has taken this matter very seriously, and has provided the requested documents, including authorization for the Public Trustee to obtain documents from the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA). While we would like to see a speedy conclusion to this review, in the meantime, we are moving forward, business as usual.

Fund-raising for all organizations is about to get more difficult, as federal privacy legislation takes effect. This legislation not only prohibits the selling of donor lists, it also imposes other restrictions on the use and contacting of prospective donors.

Mentorship

Mentorship was embodied in our Letters Patent, and we believe it is an important initiative. It was begun to assist blind children and their parents. The Board believes that mentoring can be equally beneficial to blind adults, and we are in the process of re-invigorating the program and expanding its mandate to also include blind adults as possible mentees. Consider getting involved in this important program.

Importance of Local Chapters

Our chapters provide an opportunity for individuals to come together locally for personal support and to work collectively to effect positive change on issues. If the trend towards divestment of federal powers continues, more and more attention will need to be focused at the provincial and municipal levels and I am hoping our existing chapters will play an increased role in our activities in the coming years, and that new Chapters will be organized.

This year, we have added a new chapter - welcome Saskatoon!

Traffic issues, audible traffic signals and other access concerns have been high on our chapters' agendas over the past year. Montreal has remained active on the "right turn on red" issue and its effect on traffic patterns. Toronto has been concerned about the development of the silent electric car, and is working to ensure more regular calling out of subway and bus stops. Saskatoon came together to push for an increased number of audible traffic signals. Kelowna is involved in discussions over traffic flow in the downtown core, and again audible traffic signals are on the agenda. Our Lower Mainland Chapter and BC Blind sports are participating in the 2010 Para Olympics Organizing committee and I believe we should be proud of this level of recognition.

Our Toronto Chapter also held a successful fund-raiser at Jeff Healey's club, where Jeff and his Jazz Wizards provided an afternoon of great entertainment and plenty of fun, and, of course, Montreal has spent countless hours organizing this Conference.

And while I am on the subject of public transit, I must tell you a story that shows how crucial our public education work remains. Last Saturday night, I boarded a streetcar on my way home from a great concert. At the stop immediately prior to mine, there are tracks, and the streetcar rattles over them, so I know when I am almost home. I got up, went to the front of the car, heard the driver call out "Jarvis," - my stop - and I thanked him, as I often do when a driver calls out stops. To my astonishment he asked me "How did you know I was here? ..." Now I am not often rendered speechless, but there are times ... and these times need a-changin'!

Canadian Blind Monitor

Our national magazine remains our most public product. We have just published an issue which focuses on national issues, including the work of a number of other consumer organizations across Canada. The next issue will continue the theme of national issues, including material from this Conference. Later this year, we intend to publish an issue on health issues and blind Canadians. Shortly, the Publications Committee will meet again, to develop themes for future issues and strategies to expand the magazine's circulation.

CCD Membership

Externally, we finally succeeded in implementing the Resolution passed at our Victoria conference to obtain membership in the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), and we participated in both our first National Council meeting in Winnipeg in January and the Disability Supports Policy forum in Ottawa in March. At the Council meeting, discussions took place on various issues, including international topics, such as the proposed UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and DPI (Disabled Peoples' International) Peace Statement. These issues were discussed in our Brief on Canada's Foreign Policy. I am delighted that we are finally at the CCD Council table, offering a blindness perspective on all the Council's deliberations, and I also believe membership in CCD can assist us in opening new doors for our organization at the federal level.

We are delighted to have the Honourable Jane Stewart, Minister of Human Resources Development Canada here with us today as our Keynote Speaker.

Focus on Fighting Poverty

An era of cutbacks has hit our community disproportionately hard, eliminating vital programs and cutting others that were vital to many blind Canadians.

This is why we have supported efforts to preserve and extend Canada's health care system, supported retention of the federal Disability tax Credit, supported fight back efforts in BC, and begun "barrier busting" work in Ontario.

At last year's AGM a high priority was set on fighting the chronic level of poverty that still confronts much of the disabled community across Canada and throughout the world. Members of my age may remember the 1960's when U.S. President LBJ declared his famous "War On Poverty," when governments took proactive steps to create jobs and irradiate or at least lessen the negative effects of poverty.

Today, it seems as if governments are treating the poor as criminals, rather than treating poverty as being criminal in a land of plenty like Canada. Looking at reports from across the country, but especially from Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, one might easily believe our governments had declared war on the disabled and the poor rather than protecting their most vulnerable citizens. The times they have been a-changin', and we must help them change again.

We established a special committee to look at and develop proposals for fighting poverty. Determining how to focus our limited resources on such a vast and growing crisis, was very frustrating. The Committee got diverted and applied its meagre energy to British Columbia's immediate crisis, rather than the overall picture. When that did not result in positive action, our momentum flagged and eventually died out.

There is a lesson to be learned here! While our Committees give members the opportunity to participate directly in implementing the Resolutions we adopt, to achieve the results we would like, we must increase our membership and attract more members who will participate directly in doing our work. We must focus our activities in areas where we believe we can have some real impact; otherwise, we can end up spinning our wheels, and that only leads to further needless frustration.

The Electoral Process

Over the next year, elections will take place in several provinces across Canada, and Canadians with disabilities must be active, seeking positive planks in party platforms, election information in formats we can read, and being visible at candidates' meetings asking questions of all candidates about issues that are of direct relevance to the lives of persons with disabilities. Asking questions at public meetings may also bring some media attention to our issues.

Some Other Primary Issues

We submitted a Brief to the Ontario Human Rights Commission's Consultation on Education Issues Affecting Persons With Disabilities in Ontario and appeared at their public hearings in which we discussed such issues as the need for the school system to do far more to encourage persons with disabilities to consider the teaching profession as a viable career, access to textbooks in a timely manner, and the need to provide adequate funding to enable School Boards to discharge their legal obligations to provide accommodations, which must include needed supports.

We have remained active in broadcasting issues, supporting the licence renewal application of the National Broadcast Reading Service (NBRS) which operates Voiceprint, and intervened in the licence renewal applications of a wide range of specialty channels where we called for all of them to provide verbal access to both audio and visual portions of their programming where there is no dialogue and to develop programs to increase the hiring of persons with disabilities in the broadcasting industry.

We have remained involved in the Transport Development Centre/CNIB Accessible Signals Committee, which is still integrating the recommendations from consultations into the project's final report.

We have continued to participate in both the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation and the CTA Advisory Committee where we have pushed for accessible check-in kiosks and information, adequate space for dog guides on aircraft and trains, full accessibility to the new Via Rail trains, and consideration for persons with disabilities as more stringent security measures are implemented.

The Court Challenges Program project researching the possibility of a Charter challenge in the copyright area was completed, and I am seeking clearance from the Program to post the final report on our web site. We made a submission opposing the legalizing of optician sight testing in BC, and conducted some research into alternative methods of voting for our conference and annual general meeting, but do not have proposals to put before this year's meeting.

Approaches to disability issues

As the 2000's began, many of the gains we as a community had made over the previous two decades were under direct attack. During the past twenty years, the disabled community in the western world, including Canada, had made major strides in changing the ways in which we were perceived and our issues addressed. We had progressed a long way from the outmoded approach embodied in the charity ethic to a more rights-based paradigm where many of our issues moved from the human interest pages to the news section, where our issues were dealt with in the context of human rights, rather than charitable niceties.

However, even when a paradigm shift occurs, the old approaches are not entirely discarded or even fully set aside. And over the past few years, as the era of government cutbacks has accelerated, the old ways of expecting increased reliance upon charity are again in the ascendancy, we are being forced to fight back to retain the gains we won, and to avoid being relegated again to the backrooms.

Many argue the old ways of bringing public attention to deprivation and wrong is outdated and inappropriate, but I believe there are times when it is still desperately needed, and I also believe the disability rights movement in Canada has been too quiet for too long.

It is now very fashionable to say that strong words, demonstrations, active lobbying, and visible confrontational politics are no longer in fashion. But when you analyze who are saying this, it is today's decision makers, the power brokers, the business leaders - those who would most likely be demonstrated against. so are you surprised when they tell us direct action is no longer fashionable or appropriate?

Sometimes quiet diplomacy is right; at other moments, a more public show is the proper tactic. The point is to match tactics to issues and circumstances. But never shy away from a tactic because someone might become uncomfortable by the tactic. Whatever works. Whatever brings freedom and makes the quality of life better for those needing a "prosperity transplant" should be considered. Again, more public activities require a larger membership, and increasing our membership must be a priority in the years ahead.

Developing Greater Community Cohesion

But those who say these times are different are also correct. We now find ourselves in an era where the word "partnerships" is the norm, and organizations are expected to work together to achieve any goals.

We applied to HRDC for a grant to devote a significant portion of this year's Conference to sessions aimed at building a more collaborative working relationship among consumer organizations and a national agenda, but unfortunately we did not secure that funding. We remain firmly committed to working more and more collaboratively with other organizations, especially other consumer organizations of blind partially sighted and deaf-blind persons, both provincially or nationally, but this remains a difficult goal to achieve.

The blind community remains a very fractious community. We are not unique; but we are most familiar with our own community.

We can expect to have some differences. After all, each of us is the sum of our lifelong experiences. Some of us come from the community, others from a business background, others are civil servants, and still others have remained marginalized. Some of us are conservative in temperament and political belief, while others believe in a more radical analysis of our plight and activist approach.

However, all of us must confront the common stereotypes and negative attitudes that pervade our daily lives and negatively affect our opportunities. We are all affected by various barriers, and this should lead us to bury some of our differences and work together to improve our overall situation within Canadian society. We remain committed to pursuing this objective.

Change Comes to New Zealand's Blindness System

A new era for persons who are blind was recently inaugurated in New Zealand. Established in 1890 in Parnell, Auckland as the Jubilee Institute to educate blind children, on April 30, the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind became the New Zealand Foundation "of" the Blind. For some, the change in those two little words from "for" to "of" may seem insignificant, but this change did not come about easily or overnight, and this transformation will usher in a new era where blind consumers control the future of services.

As Jonathan Mosen wrote in a note to me: "there'll be a board of 9. And the beauty of this system is the Board doesn't have to have a single blind person on it if the blind don't want. What's important here is that we matured to the point where we realized that it's not whether the Board members are blind that counts, but who they are accountable too. So eight out of the nine members are elected directly by blind people. (the ninth is elected by volunteers, who join as associate members of the Foundation.) We had 25 candidates, and as it happens, the blind of New Zealand have elected four blind and four sighted, and the Associate member is sighted, so that makes five sighted, four blind, but eight directly accountable for their actions to blind people."

Change Needed in Canada

In Canada, the situation is not nearly as rosy. In a presentation entitled, "CNIB Employment Accommodation Service: Successful Model of Job Placement for Disability Groups," presented by Chris Sutarno and Robert Eichvald, which appears in the Proceedings of the 2003 CSUN Conference, the section on history/rationale for the program states: "The CNIB is a national agency that governs the provision of services to Canadians who experience vision loss."

To me this is either another example of CNIB's typical arrogance, or something far worse. Since the late Dr. Kenneth Jernigan coined the phrase "changing what it means to be blind" CNIB has frequently mouthed that phrase, but it is yet to walk that talk, and it is about time that it did so!

On February 19, 2003, a conference call took place involving representatives of CNIB, CCB and Marcia Cummings and myself representing the NFB:AE. During that call, very preliminary discussions took place on the following five topics, along with the prospects for further discussions on a range of subjects to be agreed to by the respective organizations:

  1. CNIB Governing Structures 2. CNIB Service Mission 3. Commitment to continuous improvement and quality assurance 4. Definition, specifically the term "visually impaired"

  2. Recognition of the importance of research and advocacy and defining roles

Last week, we received a pre-publication copy of CNIB's new Strategic Plan, and at this year's Conference, we must make some important decisions. We must decide if we wish to get involved in such a dialogue at all and, if so, in what ways and to what extent? How much time and energy are we prepared to invest, and if we are interested in participating, what kind of agenda do we want to advance?

If we decide we are interested in participating in this process, I believe it is imperative that we develop a clear agenda to take to the table. I believe we must focus our time and energy on obtaining greater representation for blind Canadians within the real decision-making structures of CNIB, getting CNIB to focus its activities on providing a somewhat narrower range of higher quality and nationally available services, and determining a realignment of roles and resources where blind consumers are seen as the legitimate spokespersons for our own needs and aspirations, and where we can obtain the capacity to take on a greater share of what should be our rightful role of representing blind Canadians.

On the other hand, should we decide not to take part in a formal, ongoing discussion process, this should not close the door on [participating in issue by issue discussions with CNIB, whenever we feel such discussions are appropriate or likely to be useful.

I would like to thank each member of the outgoing Board - Beryl Williams and Paul Thiele for their political savvy, wisdom and work on our hiring committees; Marcia Cummings for taking excellent Minutes, helping revise our web site and editing some of my own writing; Sara Bennett for all her work with the Canadian Blind Monitor, Diane Dobson for reminding us of the importance of fighting against poverty and vicious government cutbacks, and last but by no means least, our Treasurer, Denise Sanders.

Most individuals in my position have at least one person whom they particularly rely upon for advice and assistance, and in my case, that has been Denise. I have known her since my election to the Board five years ago, and know that, normally she is happiest to remain in the background and let others stand in the limelight, but she has taken on a tremendous amount of work connected with developing our new approach to staffing, fund-raising and finances and the transition in our Kelowna office, and for all of her help and advice, I offer her my particular thanks.

Future Direction

Finally, I want to look to the future. During this weekend's conference, we the membership of the NFB:AE will set direction which will have profound effect on the organization's future. Once that is completed, please elect a President and a Board of Directors who are in full support of whatever that direction is, and who are committed to carrying our wishes and direction into effect.

At last night's reception, we created the kind of spirit that Montreal is noted for, and if we deliberate together in that sane spirit of respect and search for consensus, we can build an even more successful and much stronger organization that can help blind Canadians overcome the barriers that are still in our path to first class citizenship and full participation in all aspects of regular Canadian Society.

Amandla!

President's Report

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following is the Report delivered by Gordon Dingle, President of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality at the 2002 NFB:AE's Annual General Meeting, held in Toronto, Ontario May 18, 2002

Welcome .

Let me begin by publicly expressing my pride and appreciation of my colleagues on the Board of Directors. Each and every one, as I have come to know them are dedicated, committed, and talented individuals. The trials and tribulations we have gone through this past year have given each of us insights, as to how individual abilities complement our efforts, in pursuit of the organization's interests and strengthened our resolve to work toward achieving them, as a group. Most assuredly, I personally and as a group, we will miss Irene's presence, and thank her for the many occasions when she provided a calming influence on the more reactionary inclinations. I can say it was with regret on the part of all of us that, Ross chose to resign. Even with diverse personalities there is always the capacity to work together. As a Board that has operated primarily on a consensus model we have demonstrated this.

Each Director in our own right has been active in many ways. I am told as a President one is permitted certain latitude in their actions, but choose rather to involve the Board. I do prefer to operate openly, and wherever possible with consensus. This can result in positions, or responses taking a little longer in processing, but it is consensus and mutual respect we need. At the same time, recognizing that one can not always satisfy everyone at which point, a decision must be arrived at. To paraphrase a quote Beryl Williams recently offered, "you cannot please everyone, and if you try, you will come to a grinding halt."

It has been nothing but a tumultuous year for many of us. It has been a very demanding and exhausting period for the Board. If there is one activity that, keeps the Board constantly preoccupied it is the ongoing operations of the office in Kelowna. The situation is now exacerbated with the difficulties of operating at half-staff. We are in the process of trying to relieve some of these pressures on both Board Members, and our staff through a complete review of internal processes.

A number of activities have been touched upon in some degree over the last year. In each and every instance the entire Board contributed input. It should be noted too that, a number of these activities included input from a number of the membership. What are some of the highlights?

Various interventions to the CRTC, on issues relating to accessibility, or in support of certain initiatives. We cannot always measure the true weight of our contributions. But we have seen evidence of positive decisions, such as, inclusion of provision of DVS in the granting of license renewals. It is not enough. Some mechanism needs to be established possibly within the CRTC structure, whereby the disabled community could be consulted directly in developing goals and standards for applicants, as opposed to the intervention proces.

Consultation in the development of a Manager's Guide for producing information in multiple formats. It is worth noting that both NFB:AE and CCB were consistent in their positions, in terms of expectations and applied standards. The Guide is now complete. It's value will only be demonstrated by the extent to which people access information services. It might be suggested that this Guide could have broader applications, if promoted and adopted in those provinces that do not have established guidelines.

Efforts taken to generate interest and joint support for development and issuing of a national photo identification card through several Federal Ministries, those being Transport Canada, Heritage, and CCRA. They have all responded. At this point in time, only Transport Canada expressed a real interest. It should be pointed out that such a proposed card does not meet with the approval of all consumers.

Contact has been established, and will be maintained with the federal 'Office for Disability Issues.' This is a forum where we must actively work toward inserting blind 'consumers,' as the ODI are becoming increasingly more active in promoting the Federal Disability Agenda. They are also a means of working toward effecting change at provincial levels, as they (ODI) work in concert with the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group. In other words they will be a focal point for implementation of the Disability Agenda. This could expand the potential for relations at the provincial levels. This contact has achieved some positive results. We are seeing indications of a broader inclusion of our organization in the consultation processes.

Attended a meeting sponsored by CCD and CCDS in Ottawa. The theme was "Future Directions." There was representation from all disability sectors. The focus being primarily on identifying the practicality of a "lead" voice so to speak, in terms of relations with the government, and developing consultation mechanisms that, would serve all sectors. It was acknowledged individual organizations would retain autonomy to speak to specific issues, but in general terms there would be a unified approach. There appeared to be consensus that the issue of 'Disability Supports,' in its broadest application was one of commonality through the disabled community. The process is evolving, and a paper proposing a strategy and agenda is to be produced, and distributed for input from the participants. It is anticipated there will be another meeting, to review such a proposal

As everyone knows, there was a meeting held between some members of the national Boards of the NFB:AE and the Canadian Council of the Blind. We have agreed to hold additional meetings. It was clearly evident to the participants that there are common interests. It was agreed in the initial stages wherever practical to support each other on issues. While we have done so, in indirect ways, there is another step we proposed to take but it has not been implemented yet. That is, to prepare a joint letterhead to release formal position statements. We did discuss fragmentation in the blind community, and the practicality in terms of resources, credibility, and visibility of somehow establishing a unified framework. Such discussions are preliminary, and what evolves would be subject to the approval of our respective memberships

Additional activities have included positions, contacts and/or communications in various venues such as in Ontario and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA), the Alberta Government and input into draft legislation, the National Library (noting we still have difficulty with representation, but a presentation and participation in a forum by Irene has served to insert NFB:AE in a constructive manner).There is the situation in B.C. with the Audio Library and with the support of the Board, Richard took a lead role in establishing a Committee whose activities and future directions I am sure he will report on.

As noted earlier there is a tremendous amount of time spent on dealing with administrative and operational matters. This included preparation and monitoring the conducting of a CCRA audit which many have speculated about. We can say we provided all documentation and necessary information to support a positive outcome. To date we have nothing to report of a negative nature. The Board has been involved in developing improved public education materials. Another issue of ongoing concern is the funding source of our magazine. Efforts are ongoing, on how to effectively address these matters.

That being said I have come to several conclusions, most of them brought home through some of the dialogue that has gone on, and with direct input from members. Some of it unduly critical, but most of it constructive. Its significance is not lost upon us, as a Board.

At times, I have often thought consumerism in Canada as it relates to our population is not that much better than that in many of the developing countries. I do not mean in terms of social, or service models available (though some are suspect), but in the recognition, empowerment and capacities of people, and the development of our organizations. Factors, particularly historical ones could uphold such a view. Like it or not, despite efforts from various quarters we, as organized consumers are in too many instances relegated to secondary roles, or add-ons, as an afterthought. I dislike pointing a finger, but it is commonly known that CNIB have and continue to pre-empt consumers from achieving inclusion. I have seen little evidence of them disengaging from any activities, or dispelling the perception they (CNIB) were not representative of consumers. Whereas in fact, they represent the interests of a Corporate, structure and its client base

In my personal view, this brings into question again the practicality, or viability of separate organizations. In defense, one might point to the co-existence of two organizations in the U.S. In fact, they are very different and arguably one resembles a service provider more than a consumer advocacy organization. Of course, there are those who would debate the defining of advocacy. At this point in time, I believe it is the latter type of organization we strive to be. Nonetheless, the reality is, they have the numbers to sustain two groups. We do not!

In many ways we are over-extended and we have brought this upon ourselves so intent are we, on trying to insert ourselves into the many different forums that, in truth we must be part of. Frankly, it is overwhelming, impractical, if not impossible. Yet we persist, in stretching our limited capacities and resources to the point where efforts too often may appear to be of minor consequence. That is not to say ineffectual, but it contributes to a sense of insignificance, or discouragement. As has been pointed out we have tended toward being reactionary, rather than proactive

IT IS a major problem, we do not have the capacity, or the resources (people, or financial) for such broad plans of action. In trying to do so, as well intentioned as these efforts are, and as we have been recently reminded, we may have either lost sight of, or diluted our energies, on a number of key issues. One has recently been highlighted, poverty. Employment is another. They are just two examples. We need to re-visit some of these core issues and develop a strategy that will allow us to mount a more focused and public campaign. A campaign, that could include not only other consumer organizations of the blind, but perhaps something of a cross-disability nature.

I would offer some suggested focus for the next year.

  1. Develop Communications Strategies - First I want to speak to the criticisms of our not being open, or transparent. It must be recognized that many things may be "works in progress." To publicize these efforts on a public list, as some would have us do, is irresponsible. In the first place it is not fair to other parties directly involved and by its public nature, it could and I would say does, place us at a disadvantage. Movement, progress, actions may be hampered, if not impeded, or damaged by critique of a relatively small number. Not to mention expending our time trying to satisfy them.

Whatever initiatives we are involved in as a Board, they generally flow from direction of the membership at large, or are grounded in the precepts of our mandate. Until we do find a way to practically inform all membership we cannot allow ourselves to be governed by the few.

Improving communications within our membership, through the blind community, and especially through government and private sectors should be a priority.

Acknowledging our limited resources, we must somehow broaden our reach, increasing by extension our visibility. Our visibility as a community within government forums should be of major concern.

Current activities are not putting us at the head of anybody's participants lists. Shall we invest our energies and resources toward establishing a presence and a coordinating vehicle in Ottawa? Do we look at a more sustainable magazine, and means to broaden its distribution, privately and publicly?

  1. Membership - Which by extension, could/would be enhanced/improved through communications. How many have not renewed memberships, and why? If we are to claim to represent member's interests, and to offer ourselves in a consultative capacity, then we need to establish real links and networks. We cannot be reliant on the listserve, as providing an accurate sampling of members views, or positions. What do we need to do to tap into the countless thousands of potential members out there? Some have suggested offering services. Defining what these would be and them being consistent with the mandate of the organization, and having the capacity to provide them must be evaluated. Not only that, never mind offering such services, first we have to have the resources to study such a proposal.

In any kind of membership drive because of our current limitations you need a campaign that would cost next to nothing. For example, just about every community has a local cable station. Following a prepared format, it might be possible to conduct a weekly infomercial type program. And just before someone else might bring it up, yes there are established chapters of the CCB out there, and why don't we encourage them to take out memberships? A typical answer will be, why should we pay two memberships? They do not see a real difference between the two organizations and what they are doing, and in many respects this is true. In our own individual circles have we really tapped into the potentials for membership? Bottom line, two issues, one and the same.

You have to be prepared to give people active and direct roles. On the flip side, people have to be prepared to make the necessary commitment.

  1. Fund raising - We all know the pitfalls of third party fund raising and the need to find sustaining alternatives. Until we can find such opportunities, we do acknowledge the need to re-structure our current arrangements, and should undertake to do this.

  2. Research and Project funding - There are people out there, who have put forward various constructive strategies. While this does not relieve us of a responsibility, if those authors were willing to invest the preparation time, and in some instances assume oversight for such programs, we would be prepared to review and sponsor proposals. In this regard our limitations again rear themselves, in that we cannot devote primary attention to these types of activities.

  3. Committees - Frankly I will be the first to admit that we have not effectively exploited the talents within our own membership. We should rejuvenate the Committee structure. I do not know how they functioned before, but I would imagine them, as groups with specific tasks such as, developing public strategies, project proposals, membership campaigns, and give them the freedom and responsibility to implement them. Perhaps committees assigned to address each of the four areas listed above. This presupposes people will step forward and take up these challenges. A Board cannot do it alone.

Ironically, much of what I have spoken to are the very same concerns and issues facing "the other organization." Energies and resources on both sides will be expended on duplicate agendas. We must give serious consideration to investing in developing a truly national platform and a vehicle which, united will advance the interests of blind and partially sighted Canadians. I could speak to our rights of citizenship, accessibility, universal design, but all of the concerns surrounding these issues are self-evident. There is no need to preach to the converted. To me, for many of the reasons previously touched on, we must not only bring people together, we must bring new people in.

This does not sit well with some, but I would maintain, IT IS supported by a majority. How can you not recognize the practical merits of going down this path. Numbers, effective use of resources, stronger presence, a focal point for government and agency interactions, and the list is lengthy. It is something I will work for. I WILL NOT do it at the expense of my obligations, as your President.

Elected, we are entrusted and empowered at that time to act in the best interests of the organization, and that includes the notion of some kind of alliance, or whatever might evolve. In the end this Board, our agenda can, and should be weighed by the membership - accountability is measured by the electoral process .

President's Report : Annual General Meeting, May 2001

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following is the President's Report that was delivered at the 2001 NFB:AE Conference on Friday, May 25, 2001.

Welcome to everybody who is in attendance at the conference. As far as I can tell from the list, we have people that are registered from five provinces and one territory.

To start off, I just want to say how much of a privilege it has been to serve as your President for the past two years. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me in terms of the issues that the organization has had to confront. I have met some absolutely wonderful people that I would like to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. I have seen some real dedication to changing what it means to be blind in this country. I cannot emphasize enough how appreciative I am of the work that has been done by the organization by its staff and by its members. I want to give you a sense of what that work has been over the past two years because the work record of the organization has been impressive.

To start with, the organization over the past two years has really started to build up a presence on the national scene. This has happened in a number of different ways especially in the areas dealing with descriptive video, access to information and guide dog legislation. The organization has been very much involved in lobbying governments, lobbying companies and lobbying various commissions and task forces on the needs of what blind people actually require to be accommodated so that we can read the newspaper at the same time as everyone else; we can watch a movie at the same time as everyone else and know what's going on, and we can get into the same buildings as everyone else without facing discrimination because we happen to be accompanied with a guide dog. These are absolutely critical, fundamental, life-altering change motivations that we have to deal with. These are things that blind people have to have access to be able to compete effectively with the rest of society. We need information; we need to have access to good services and facilities, and we need to have the opportunity on a level playing field to compete with everybody else because if we have that opportunity we are as good as or better than everyone else.

Another area where we have been very busy is of course in the publishing of our magazine. John Rae has done a fabulous job in putting four issues together during the last two years. The most recent one actually just hit the streets. It's on the topic of education. As I said in the front of the magazine - for those who haven't got it yet - I think it's the best we've done. It includes materials written by students, by itinerant teachers and others who are very much involved in the education system. I am very, very pleased with all of the work that has gone into the Monitor. As far as I'm concerned, I've been honored to see this magazine become one of the highest selling points for this organization. It's current, it's relevant, it's hard-hitting and it's topical. In terms of our community, it's probably the best publication out there to keep people informed of what's going on in this country in terms of advocacy, new technologies, in terms of work opportunities and the like. So I just can't say enough positive things about this magazine. I think it's been of tremendous value to the organization.

Now I'll put this next part in the middle because people usually get bored with it - and that's the finances. Somebody's got to say something sometime this weekend because John Rae isn't with us. In 1998, the organization ran a deficit of roughly $20,000. In the last two years, we have changed that position around to a surplus position of roughly $8,000, and we earned about one-third less income than we did back in 1998. So there has been a real change in terms of money management. We're also spending and acquiring our money more wisely. What we've seen over the last two years with our fundraisers is that we're getting a bigger share of the pie than we used to, which is an improvement for the organization. We've also diversified some of our fund raising to go into areas such as direct corporate mailings and internet fund raising. These initiatives were not done before by this organization. Through the hard work of people such as Richard Marion, Kelly Boychuk, and Corry Stuive when he was working for the organization, these things are a reality now. They weren't two years ago. And thank you to the three of you for your hard work in that area.

The next area that's really seen an improvement is the growth of the membership. As of the close of membership registration for the conference, we were at about 270 members. That's approximately double where we were in early 1999 in Victoria when I came into office. That again is due to increasing the profile of the group; increasing our activities so that people know what we're doing and find it beneficial; promoting ourselves better by using a web site, by using an e-mail distribution list and monthly reports to get our message out. We have also made significant efforts to be relevant to the members and listening to them and doing what they have elected us to do. That is so key. In all seriousness, I think that that in and of itself is a fundamental area of growth within the last two years. Quite frankly, if this organization is going to have more of a presence, it's the one area that really has to increase in its growth.

Last year I gave the group the challenge of trying to double the membership within the next year and we came awfully close, folks. I issue the same challenge to you again because this time I think we can do it.

The other piece of information on the membership front that was a big achievement was the creation of the Greater Montreal Chapter, which was formed in October 2000 through the hard work of Irene Lambert, Jennison Asuncion, Chris Gaulin and others. I would like to thank all of those people for putting together what is now the largest chapter in the organization, and also one that has embarked on quite an ambitious agenda for advocacy within Quebec. This is quite significant because this chapter is an English-speaking chapter and there really isn't a blindness-related group in Quebec who has been advocating on behalf of people who are English. So the role and the need that this chapter is filling is absolutely fundamental, and I would like to thank everybody for all their hard work in that area.

One of the perks of being President is that you get to do some fun things every once in a while. One of the tasks that I was lucky enough to do for the last three years is to be involved in the selection of the scholarship winners. It's amazing when you read these applications, how impressive the candidates are who apply for these scholarships and the diversity of experiences they have. How often do you get to find out all the details about a sound engineer, about a psychologist, about a nutritionist, about an aspiring lawyer - or whatever the case might be. The message I received in reviewing all of these scholarship applications is that those of us who are blind can achieve anything we want to achieve because there are people actually out there doing it. It's good reinforcement to see the diversity of experiences that we have had. I have been very privileged to be involved in the selection of ten first-time and two second-time NFB:AE scholarship winners, three of whom you will meet tomorrow.

The other thing that we have tried to do in the last year which I think has worked out quite well is we've tried to bring our organization more to the community in the form of information meetings. We've had meetings in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and I think there were one or two others that were scheduled but have not yet taken place. In arranging these meetings, we were able to get our message out to approximately 5,000 blind and vision impaired Canadians who received literature from us in the mail. Boy, It would be nice if they all joined, but at the same time at least we're getting the message out so that people know who we are and what we've done. At some point down the road they may be more inclined to join us and to have the organization grow. There have been a lot of people who have put a lot of work into these meetings and I cannot emphasize enough how important they have been in terms of the overall growth of the membership and the profile of the organization.

One thing I learned last year is when you're a lame duck like I am, the only useful thing you can really do in a speech like this is try to give a little bit of advice that people might be interested in following. Al Gore? May have a different view based on what Bill Clinton did for him. I think in our case the person who's looking to succeed me might appreciate this a little bit, and I hope that what I do offer is something that the organization can also benefit from. My first piece of advice - and I cannot emphasize this enough - is grow the membership. Until we grow, until we are a force to be reckoned with in the thousands of members, it's easy for governments, it's easy for companies, it's easy for the average citizen to say "Who are you? Speak for two, three, four or five hundred people? Come back and see me when you speak for five or ten thousand. Then I'll listen." I would say that the growth of the membership is probably the biggest priority that this organization has - over and above even the advocacy agenda - because once you've got the members, then you're more effective in your advocacy.

In terms of actually having a sense of how to do it, one of the ways is to promote your strong assets. Promote your magazine; promote the agenda that you've got already. Use your public education campaigns that Megan Tom, our summer student, is working so hard to design this summer to promote the group. Recruit, recruit, recruit! I cannot emphasize it enough!

The next issue that I'd like to raise is: We need to find a way to work better with other groups of like mind. There are a number of other groups in this country purporting to represent blind consumers. We have really failed as a community to unite those groups; to come up with common agendas; to come up with common purposes, and to work together. If you have a coalition of groups going forward, as has been developed in B.C. with the ASIC coalition, there are real advantages to it when you are advocating on behalf of the blind or the visually impaired as a whole rather than on behalf of a small section of the blind or the visually impaired. Rob Sleath - who is here today - his work on behalf of ASIC has amply demonstrated the effectiveness of this kind of coalition building a coalition. I think if this group or any blindness-related group is going to get anywhere in terms of lobbying governments, in terms of persuading companies to make products accessible, and the like, that's what we're going to need to see. They're going to need to get it from all sides and from all different perspectives. We have the skills to do that. We have the skills as a community to work together. The only question that we have to answer ourselves is: Is that what we want to do? And my view is that it should be what we want to do.

In the last two years, this group has really changed. I said to you last year when I was here that when I was lucky enough to join the group, it was really made up of an uneasy coalition between a number of different factions that really was focused on changing the status quo within the group that existed at that time. Now after two years I see a more vibrant group, a more expressive group, and even though there is considerable diversity within the group, I would still say that it is a much more tolerant group than we have ever seen before. Free speech, freedom of ideas, freedom of thought are all present, are all welcomed and are all appreciated by the leadership. I strongly hope that these trends will continue because it really has resulted in a much more positive and much more frank and encouraging environment in which I, as your President, have been able to work. I do appreciate the candour that I have received over the last two years from people.

People may not realize it, but there are some advantages with me leaving, the first of which is you have to have somebody else to beat up on. Seriously, we'll have to find somebody else that we can tease, we can pester, we can call at 3:00 in the morning and say "Hey, what about this?" I'm glad it's not me anymore. Also, a real advantage in a group like this is there are a lot of talented people who do have the capabilities of assuming the roles of leadership. I think it's really important that this group, unlike some of the other groups to the south of us, doesn't build up dynasties where you have the same leader for a long period of time who is leading the group for five, ten, twenty, thirty years because that leads to ideas becoming stale, approaches becoming out of date and ultimately the group becoming stale. And I think it's a good thing that there is as much turnover as there is so that we have new perspectives, we have new approaches and we have new skills being brought to the table.

In my time as President, I've tried to bring as best as I could the values of honesty, integrity and courage to the position. I hope that others will continue to do the same because in this job those three things are absolutely key. Your word means everything in terms of when you're negotiating with people. Your honesty with your membership, with yourself and with your friends means everything because without that honesty you cannot lead and you don't have people's respect. If you don't have courage to sometimes take unpopular positions with some within your membership, you're never going to get anywhere as a leader. In my view, there are times when you have to look at what's in the best interests of the community as a whole and make those tough calls rather than just focusing on what appears to be popular in the immediate term. I've tried to do that while at the same time respecting the wishes of our members and respecting their views. But I'd be lying to you if I said they've been acetum All the time; they haven't been. A leader has to make those tough calls and I hope I've done them well. I know that there are things that I could do better but I think overall we've made out okay.

Now the hard part of the speech. There are a lot of people that have really made a difference in the job that I've done and I want to thank them all individually. First, I'd like to thank our founders: the Gabias's (Paul and Mary Ellen), Alan and Doreen Neville, Rick Oakes, and others for creating this group and doing all of the hard work it took to get this group incorporated, to get registered charitable status and to encourage many of the people who are here today to actually join the group for the first time. Without that membership base, without that initial work being done, quite frankly we wouldn't be here today. So I thank them for their efforts.

I'd like to thank Alan Neville himself in another personal capacity because of his service with me on the Board of Directors in the first year of my term. Alan's wisdom, his commitment, his character and his dedication to this group are unparalleled. I remember having discussions with Alan very late at night just to get advice from another perspective on a number of issues - just to have that reassurance, just to have that knowledge that there's another way to look at a problem. He was very good at that.

In terms of the current Board, I'd like to thank Grant Robinson for all of his support, not only for the past two years but for the past seven as a friend, and for his work as Secretary in keeping us all intellectually honest.

I'd like to thank John Rae for all of his work on the Monitor, for all of his work as Treasurer, and for helping me develop the technique of tearing ideas apart to really evaluate their effectiveness. John and I used to have a number of discussions throughout the year of considering various ideas, and rather than getting into it on a personal level we'd actually tear the idea apart right down to the ground and work it back up in a better form. It's a very important skill to have when you're trying to build an organization and you're trying to lead it in new ways, to have people that you can bounce ideas off that quite frankly if they're not popular they won't see the daylight. And

I'd also like to thank Richard Marion who I would refer to as the "Jack of all trades" within this organization. Richard has helped in a number of different areas including fund raising, advocacy, providing a very good historical knowledge of the organization, and again, keeping us honest insofar as what the membership in the west thinks on issues. What tends to happen when you have so many board members out east in a big country like this is sometimes you lose perspective. Richard has been very good throughout the year in keeping us with that perspective, and I thank him for that.

Betty Nobel - you know, where do you start? I've known Betty now for I guess four years and I've been lucky enough to serve with her when she was the First Vice-President for the first year and a Member at Large for the second year of my term. We are lucky to have such a remarkable person on the Board who has such a breadth of experience in advocacy, education, training, adult learning, volunteering, etc. Her experience has been valued to such an extent that she has been awarded the Woman of Distinction Award from the YWCA in Vancouver in the area of education, training and development. I want you to understand that there were 11 awards given out and there were about 110 women nominated. That gives you a sense of the commitment that Betty has brought to her volunteer work generally, the commitment she has brought to this organization specifically and also the dedication that she generally brings to her work. And I'd like to congratulate Betty formally for that award.

Now we come to Ross, who basically was the savior of this organization when I was sick. Back in December I had some surgery and was flat on my back with morphine going into my arm. Ross kept us going. He kept the agendas moving forward; he kept the group moving forward, and he's also got us all interested now in the Court Challenges Program to advance a constitutional challenge against certain sections of the Copyright Act. What Ross has really brought to us that I would like to thank him for is his ability to think outside the box, his ability to cause us to consider new things that others of us would not have considered. When you're trying to build a group like this, it's important to have somebody with that perspective to cause us to think in a more forward way rather than just sticking to the tried and true approaches. And I'd like to thank Ross for that.

I would also like to thank Irene Lambert for her hard work in forming the Montreal chapter and in heading the Membership Committee. We will all remember receiving countless emails asking us to recruit, to give money to the organization to support recruitment efforts, etc. She also brought a certain wisdom to the board given her long service on behalf of blindness related groups in Canada and the United States.

Now the really hard part. There have been two people that without them I couldn't do this job, and those are our two staff in Kelowna. One is not here today; he will be dealt with separately, but one is. With this person's help and along with the help of her family who but for them we wouldn't be getting our Monitors, we wouldn't be getting our monthly reports because Chantel and Jessica are the chief envelope stuffers of the organization and we very much appreciate all you've done. Without the work of Kelly Boychuk, our books wouldn't be in the shape they're in; I wouldn't have the support from an administrative, from an emotional, from a confidence point of view that I've had for the past two years, and this group just wouldn't have got the work done that it's got done. I'm a bit short for words but I'd just like to say "Thank you, Kelly and to all of the rest of you for everything. "

President's Message

Many, or so I am told, are waiting to hear from the new NFB:AE President. That is more than a little intimidating. We place so, so much weight on what we take away from situations, such as walking from a room after having just listened to a speaker, putting down a book, and of course, after meeting someone for the first time. For a person who strongly prefers to remain quietly in the background, I must ask what have I done to myself? Despite this pre-pubescent phobia, I decided to offer myself for the office of President at this year's NFB:AE convention because of certain long - held convictions. I want to say "dream," but everyone has dreams.

For me, working on the dream of forging greater unity among organizations of the blind in Canada has become 'my reality'. That reality, I believe, is already shared by countless numbers of people; and those who do not know it yet, will work toward its achievement. The reality of bringing everyone together under one roof. The goal of assembling all the seemingly discordant, disaffected, fragmented, collective and/or individual voices, and have them coalesce into a single chorus; sounding as one may seem pretty idealistic and utopian? Still it is the here and now, and with the support and active participation of those who share this "reality", I want to contribute to help bring it about.

The NFB:AE, CCB, CFB, CAB, CBSA, GDUC, W.O.B.B.L , and others are all comprised of people. They are all people who, at the most basic level, share some similar values, anecdotal experiences, successes and/or failures. The wealth of people resources which we can access today is but the surface of a rich reservoir, and an untapped watershed. The base denominator quite simply is: we all know right from wrong.

The rights of independence, pride, self-determination, and full-fledged citizenship are basic beliefs. The right to use or develop our talents, values, and experiences to the benefit and well-being of our peers and for those to come must be enhanced. The wrong is: a system that fosters dependency or marginalizes people. The wrong is people being denied their rights to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Such notions may sound so simplistic, and I could go on, but you know what I mean. We are on the path to a "new reality" of bringing people together collectively. What it will resemble in the end, we cannot say at this point, but everyone will have a voice in shaping it. There are those within the NFB:AE and CCB who have already embarked on this path. We can only develop a framework. Making it work will ultimately rest with the grassroots of every organization who will have a voice in shaping this new reality for persons who are blind, deaf-blind, or partially sighted in Canada.

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