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Our Rights, Our Future - A Rights-Holder Perspective

Date: 
Friday, May 21, 2010

President's Report delivered to AEBC's 2010 Conference, Montreal, Quebec, May 21, 2010, by President, Robin East

I want to welcome all of you to our 2010 Annual General Meeting in Montreal. I am sure you will enjoy your visit here and 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 on all the details to make this a success. They have spent hundreds of hours doing this and I, for one, certainly appreciate their commitment to making this weekend a wonderful time for all of us.

It is time to reflect on those that have passed since we met last. This could be a loved one, a friend, and of course, even your guide dog. Let us have a moment of silence and remember those that have meant so much to us.

Thanks to National Board, Chapter Executive, and National committees

I would 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 4 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.

I would like to welcome all the new members that have joined AEBC during the past year. To all the chapters, I thank all the chapter executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC. Also, I would like to thank the Affiliate for all their hard work in BC. Their Annual General Meeting is scheduled for June 26 at 2:00 PM in Vancouver.

AEBC has several national committees: scholarship, finance/fundraising, human resources, membership, and policy development that consist of many working groups.

I am pleased to report that this year three scholarships and two bursaries were awarded. We wish these students all the best in their studies and future plans.

2009 AEBC Scholarship Winners

The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts:
Mr. Allan Angus
Vocational Goal: Social Services
Major: Honors B.A. Sociology

The AEBC National Achievement Scholarship:
Mr. Anthony Tibbs, McGill University
Vocational Goal: Law, Business, Technology, Teaching, or some combination thereof!
Major: Law (Common & Civil)

The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship:
Ms. Helen McFadyen, Atlantic School of Theology
Vocational Goal: Universalist Unitarian Minister
Major: Theology: Master of Divinity (pre-ministerial program for seminarians).

Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for the Performing Arts:
Mr. Koceïla Louali
Vocational Goal: Classical guitar, singer, composer

Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for Vocational Training and Trades:
Ms. Stephanie Berry, University of New Brunswick
Vocational Goal: To work in a counseling/social work capacity.
Major: Masters of Education in Counseling - Clinical Psychology Program

Congratulations and our best wishes to the winners.

Update on National Library Services

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) who are 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.

The National Board of Directors has approved these recommendations with one exception. AEBC has a membership resolution in place that states that any entity like the one being proposed be government-run and operated. This resolution prevents the AEBC from endorsing this particular recommendation; however, the Board supports the remaining recommendations. The entire list of recommendations is available on our website.

Establishing a National Coalition

AEBC has been meeting with other national rights-holder organizations and CNIB to attempt to form a national coalition that will work collaboratively on common issues. The main purpose of these meetings was to build on some of the momentum established over the last several months as these and other disability 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 their participation in the Coalition. It is expected the groups will not meet again until the fall, 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.

Communications Working Group

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

We also need to work on our communications strategy. The redesign of the national web site presently underway 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 a member, to participate in determining how AEBC will go about communicating our activities in the future to you, our members. The final plan will need ‘buy-in’ from all levels of the organization to be successful (chapters, committees, and the National Board).

Charter Challenge

Several years ago, Donna Jodhan, our Second-Vice President, launched a Charter case in which she is challenging the Canadian government over inaccessible websites and unequal access to information. Donna and her lawyers and supporters, including AEBC, have been fighting to force the federal government to make their 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. The AEBC fully supports this landmark access case, and we urge members of our community to come out and show their support.

Activities

We continue to submit briefs, make presentations, and more and more, we are being recognized as the real voice of Canadians with significant vision loss by all levels of Government.

  • Met with representatives from the Office of Disability Issues re: national ID card
  • Michel Grenier, Director of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) attended November board meeting to discuss national library issues
  • Presentation to the review of the AODA, October 14, 2010
  • Presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development on poverty, June 2010
  • Presented Webzine on Ontario's Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act and the Accessibility Standards development process for CWDO
  • Presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for Bill 152, an Act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario, April 2010
  • Met with HRSD Canada Special Advisor to Minister to discuss funding, hybrid cars, electronic voting, library, etc., April 2010
  • Participated in Canada Transportation Agency Advisory committee Meetings, March
  • Spoke on advocacy and facilitated workshop at annual ODSP Action Coalition Conference, entitled "LEADING THE WAY: Developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy for People with Disabilities” Toronto, April 2010
  • Spoke on 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, February 2010
  • Attended the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on the introduction of the Blind Voters Rights Bill, May 2010

Briefs and position papers we have submitted:

  • Electoral Accessibility: A Key to Equality, to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, March 2010
  • Status of the AODA, October 2009
  • Copyright Consultation, September 2009
  • National Economic Strategy, to the Standing Committee on Finance, August 2009
  • Review of the Municipal Elections Act, to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, April 2009
  • Bill 152, an Act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario, to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, April 2009
  • Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS) to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, 2009

More details can be found by visiting our web site: www.blindcanadians.ca.

Becoming More Focused

Some members of the AEBC believe that 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 that 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 that there are many issues related to blindness that still need to be addressed at a lower priority.

Over the past few months, the Board of the AEBC 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 twenty 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 list of issues is 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.

Our Rights, Our Future

An AEBC member is a rights-holder that 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, in our national committees 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 that we face.

Our rights and our future are in your hands.

Robin East, President

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