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Maintaining our Rights in a Time of Volunteerism

Date: 
Friday, May 20, 2011

President's Report delivered to AEBC's 2011 Conference, Brantford, Ontario, May 20, 2011, by President, Robin East

“A volunteer is a person who believes that people can make a difference -- and is willing to prove it.” Anonymous

Welcome!

Welcome to all of you to our 2011 Annual General Meeting in Brantford. I am sure you will enjoy your weekend and hope you gain some valuable information from the presentations and workshops to take back to your chapters.

Thanks to the 2011 AGM & Conference Committee

Please join me in thanking the organizing committee:  John Rae, Anthony Tibbs, Bob Brown, and the rest of the Brant chapter for making this conference a success. I want to express my appreciation as it takes a lot of time and energy to make all the arrangements for a conference of this size.

Reflection On and Moment of Silence For Those Who Have Passed

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.

Vince Lombardi quoted: “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual."

Thanks to National Board, Chapter Executives, Staff, and National committees

I would like to thank the 2010-2011 board of directors for their commitment of valuable time and hard work to the AEBC. Each national board member volunteers countless hours working on issues to improve the lives of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted. I would be remiss if I did not give special mention to Denise Sanders, for her advice and support through my term as President has been invaluable.

Two board members left in the summer, Nancy Riley as Treasurer and Marc Workman as Secretary. Nancy, good luck with your future endeavours. Marc, I would like to thank you for all your work as national secretary, and your participation on the Library and Coalition committees, along with your involvement in, and submissions to rounds of CRTC hearings.

I would like to welcome all the new members that have joined AEBC during the past year. To all the chapter executives, I thank all of you for your 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 4th at 2:00 PM in Vancouver.

I would be remiss if I did not thank our dedicated staff for their hard work to our organization: Mary Potter, Sara Bennett, Lois Benko, and Joanne Hlina. Joanne left us at the end of December and Lois has returned as our bookkeeper.

AEBC has several national committees: scholarship, finance/fundraising, and human resources. We created committees to work on the three priority issues that we identified to focus on in 2010, library services, accessible websites, and accessible point of sale devices.

We awarded two scholarships this year. We wish these students all the best in their studies and future plans.

2010 AEBC Scholarship Winners

The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts:

Mr. Tommy Leung

Post-secondary Institution: Trinity Western University

Vocational Goal/Academic Program: Disability/Crisis Counselor

Major: Master’s Program – entering in January

 

The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship 

Mr. Daniel Huang

Post-secondary Institution: University of Northern British Columbia

Vocational Goal/Academic Program: Develop a career in the field of Human Rights and the Duty to Accommodate

Major: Master of Arts, Disability Management

Congratulations and our best wishes to the winners.

Robert F. Kennedy quoted: "Few people will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation." 

Establishment of the Coalition of Blind Rights Holder Organizations of Canada (CBRC)

On May 1-2, 2010, all of the national blindness related organizations in Canada met to discuss next steps for our national library and to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition. This will be the first time in Canada where all the national voices have come together and have worked out an agreement on how to work together to bring one voice to our issues.

In September 2010, the Coalition of Blind Rights Holder Organizations of Canada (CBRC) was officially formed with the following members: Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Canadian Blind Sports Association, Canadian Council of the Blind, Canadian National Society of the Deaf-Blind, and Guide Dog Users of Canada.

I was honoured to be elected for a one-year term as the Coalition's first Chair. The coalition will be made up of rights holder organizations and each organization will have two representatives. CNIB is not a rights holder organization, but the CNIB will be part of this coalition and will not have voting rights. However, all organizations agree that CNIB is an important partner.

The purpose of this coalition is to: 

  1. Bring organizations of blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted people together to speak with a unified voice;
  2. Create a strong and collective voice of blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted rights holders of Canada;
  3. Advocate on issues of common concern to blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted people of all ages;
  4. Communicate within the coalition the issues brought forward by the member and associate organizations of the Coalition; and
  5. Develop and implement a plan of action on issues chosen by the coalition.

We have agreed to speak with one voice on two important issues: (1) Library, and (2) PIN/Card Point of Sale.

AEBC is the organization in this coalition that can steer and power this coalition but we cannot do it without each of the other organizations. We have the experience of true advocacy and it is what AEBC is all about. So, be ready for the fight of our lives in 2011 and 2012 on the one issue that is so important to all of us: that is a publicly funded non-charitable library!

We as consumers and right holders must put our voices together on this issue and we must strategize like we have never done so before. We are going to need to convince a government that does not want to get into the library business that it is the right thing to do. We will need to convince our provincial and territorial governments the same in that although it is their responsibility and obligation they need to partner with the federal government to make this a reality. CNIB still maintains that the library should be run and administered by government and not by a charity.

I believe this coalition is very important as it speaks with one unified national voice -- our voice!! 

Just a few weeks ago, in early May, the coalition re-elected me for another one year term as their Chair. Again this is indeed a great honour to be able to volunteer with these rights holder organizations and continue to raise our unified voices.

Update on National Library Services

At our last AGM, I reported that discussions had taken place between representatives of consumer organizations of blind Canadians, CNIB, the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities on how a new network hub responsible for coordinating access to library services for print-disabled Canadians should be designed and operated. These recommendations were submitted to Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

In the fall of 2010, John Rafferty reported that the CNIB national board of directors would not close the library if there is not another entity in place, and will continue to seek funding. CNIB would like to move away from the charitable sector, however, they will keep the library for print-disabled Canadians open as they consider it an essential public service. 

Since we did not receive any responses to our inquiries or any detailed feedback for nearly a year from Library and Archives Canada, the National Coalition of Blind, Deaf-blind, and Partially Sighted Rights Holder Organizations of Canada (CBRC) decided to take this important issue directly to our Members of Parliament. In January 2011, the Coalition sent a letter to all levels of government demanding a publicly funded library system for blind, partially-sighted, and print-disabled persons. We will continue to advocate that the government create a sustainable and fully publicly-funded equitable library network for the over three million Canadians with a print disability.

Golda Meir, Israel's first woman prime minister, quoted: "Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement."

Update on Charter Challenge

Over four years ago, Donna Jodhan, our Second Vice-President, launched a Charter case in which she challenged the Canadian government over inaccessible websites and unequal access to information. 

On September 21 to 23, Donna was in federal court along with her legal team and many supporters defending the right of blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted Canadians to access federal government websites. Donna's team did an excellent job in preparing and arguing her case and seeking systemic redress.

The team thanked all of those AEBC supporters who attended court. The Judge acknowledged AEBC’s supporters in court, which is rare indeed.

Donna believes it was our fight and we did it for ourselves, for each other, and for the kids of the future who are depending on us to help make a better future for everyone. Let us keep believing in ourselves! Let us all work towards a future where equal access will be a part of it

Many AEBC members and other supporters attended. Our First Vice-President was honoured to have been present at what we consider to have been an historic event for all blind Canadians, regardless of the result, which we hope will be positive. We also hope that Donna's perseverance will encourage others to seek redress in instances where you feel you have suffered discrimination. Our community fought hard to achieve the legal provisions we currently have; we also need to use them to enforce our rights or try to expand them. Congratulations Donna for taking this case on behalf of all of us; that's exactly what she is doing, fighting for all of us, and not just herself.

This case received tremendous attention from media from coast to coast including many in the United States, Britain, and Europe, and even as far away as India.

On November 29, Justice Michael Kelyn delivered a landmark decision when he ruled in favour of our charter challenge. As part of his ruling, he mandated the Canadian government make all of their websites accessible; that is, those that fall under the common look and feel category. He also retained jurisdiction to monitor the government's progress and gave them 15 months to make these websites accessible.

In December the Canadian Government submitted an order for reconsideration. That is, they wanted Judge Kelyn to reconsider his decision and the hearing for this order was held on February 08. The judge did not change his mind; however the following should be noted: 

  • The government withdrew their objection to being monitored; and
  • The judge amended his order to state that the number of websites that needed to be made accessible should be 106 and not 146 as was noted in his previous ruling. This was an error.

Finally, the Canadian government has served notice that it intends to launch an appeal to object to the judge's entire decision.

This appeal has been launched and we await a date to head to the Federal Court of Appeal to maintain our rights.

It should be noted that the following groups have decided to seek intervention status in this case: the AEBC, the CCD, and the CNIB. In addition, Donna recently received an email from a teacher of a grade one class at Grove Community School. The teacher told her that these grade one students managed to convince their parents to take our cause to a Labour of Congress conference in Vancouver and that over one thousand delegates have passed a motion asking their two million members to write to Prime Minister Harper demanding that he drop his government’s appeal against Donna’s case. Donna had previously visited these students last November at their invitation and was extremely touched and humbled by their enthusiasm.

Point of Sale Devices – Pin and Card

New Point of Sale (POS) devices are useless to blind, deaf-blind, or partially-sighted individuals as they do not currently have voice output. Some handheld units may have tactile numbers with a raised dot on the number five, and one might be able to enter his or her Personal Information Number (PIN), but the individual has no idea what is being agreed to or what has been accepted as there is no other accessibility built into the device. The industry is not making corrections to these devices in a manner acceptable to those with sight loss.

Blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted individuals in Canada are unable to protect themselves with new chip technology, unlike everyone else who simply takes their privacy for granted!

Are you aware that the banks and credit card companies void all protection from the card if the user gives the PIN to another individual so as to use a bank machine? Even family members are not exempt. If the transaction is entered incorrectly, there is no one with whom the user can contact to address the concern, which can lead to loss of funds and privacy.

In the fall, we sent a letter to the Canadian Banking Association expressing our concern for many blind Canadians about the increased use of touch screen point-of-sale devices. Because touch screen POS devices do not provide tactile or audio feedback to blind Canadians, it leaves one with several unacceptable options such as giving your PIN to a family member or friend or salesclerk to have it entered. 

Also, use of a credit card, which did not require entering a PIN and was thus a reasonably accessible alternative to debit, will no longer be a useable option as credit cards begin requiring PIN numbers to be entered at the time of purchase. Soon, all non-cash in-person transactions will require the customer to use a POS device, and unless these devices are accessible to blind citizens, such Canadians will be forced into making use of one of the unacceptable options listed above.

In this letter, we asked several questions such as

  • What is the Canadian Banking Association (CBA) currently doing to address this issue;
  • Is the CBA prepared to work with its members, manufacturers, and blind Canadians to ensure that all Canadians can take advantage of the convenience and security offered by the use of POS devices; and
  • What is the standard POS that CBA advises its members to use that addresses accessibility and usability of these devices as noted above?

There are two committees working on these concerns. AEBC has an internal committee headed by Charles Bailey, who gathers information and works in conjunction with another group headed by Jeff Stark in Ottawa. As this report is being prepared, a meeting will have been held, all the information consolidated, and a number of priority actions will have been agreed upon and initiated. Both committees addressing these concerns are fully supported by the AEBC and the National Coalition of Blind Rights Holder Organizations of Canada (CBRC).

You are asked to review the correspondence on our website concerning this issue and contact your bank, stores, MP, or anywhere that you are forced to give up your protection and privacy, by giving your PIN to another person or otherwise cannot complete a transaction independently! You are asked to take at least one independent action and let the AEBC know what you have done. If each one does this, it will make a difference, and that is how the AEBC can advocate and get accessibility and usability into point of sale devices.

CRTC

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians has been working closely with Media Access Canada, a non-profit organization, and Access 2020, a coalition of associations, organizations, producers, and individuals towards a 100-percent accessible content broadcast day by 2020. This means an incremental increase in described programming.

Over the past year, AEBC representatives participated at three separate CRTC hearings:

On September 22, 2010 in Calgary, Marc Workman represented AEBC at a CRTC hearing to consider Shaw Communications’ $2 billion bid to buy Canwest Global Communications Corp. The takeover would make Shaw Communications one of the largest companies in the telecommunications and broadcasting industries in Canada. Led by Media Access Canada, a non-profit organization, the AEBC, along with the CNIB, the Canadian Hearing Society, and the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, presented concerns over Shaw's failure to include increased access in its purchase proposal.

Hearings in February, 2011 concerning BCE's proposed takeover of CTV, led to the establishment of a $5.7 million fund, and CRTC Chairman Conrad von Finckenstein directed BCE to come up with a clear plan to address the proposal of the Access 2020 Coalition for independent administration of this fund whose engineering, research, and educational work will ensure complete access by persons with disabilities to broadcasting and telecommunications by the year 2020.

An area that continues to present great challenges to Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted is gaining full access to television broadcasting. In February 2011, John Rae appeared at the hearings in Gatineau, Quebec, on behalf of AEBC concerning license renewal applications from several of Canada's largest broadcasters. We again worked closely with the Access 2020 Coalition and CCD. All three organizations called for 100% access to television by the year 2020. We await the CRTC's decision on these license renewal applications which should be released within the next couple of weeks.

More CRTC work is ahead. The AEBC currently serves on committees that are examining other access issues such as access to television listings, flow through of described programming from the U.S., and ways to make it easier to access the described programming that is currently available. Additional license renewal applications are also expected later this year.

As an organization of rights holders, the AEBC believes in MAC's approach of an independent fund controlled by accessibility organizations, including strong participation from rights holder organizations like the AEBC, rather than a process run by the broadcasting sector alone. BCE was given a month to submit its proposal; however, its plan would see the establishment of a structure under Bell Canada. The CRTC will establish a process to provide the community with an opportunity to comment on Bell's proposal before a final decision is rendered.

AEBC supports an independent trust, controlled by organizations with disabilities, not BCE. We strongly request that if the CRTC decides to grant BCE's application to acquire CTV, at least $5.7 million be allocated to the Accessibility Initiative and not to a BCE broadcast fund.

Mobile Services and Technology - Bell

Bell has struck an advisory committee to develop a plan to increase the accessibility of mobile services and technology. The AEBC, represented by Marc Workman and several other disability advocacy organizations will sit on this committee. The first meeting is scheduled for the week of June 13, and at this meeting, the committee will agree on terms of reference, an action plan, and a consulting firm to do the bulk of the work in accordance with the direction set by the advisory committee. The committee will submit its plan to the CRTC by October 3.

Ghandi quoted: “If you want to change the world, be that change.”

Activities

We continue to submit briefs, make presentations, and raise our voices as we advocate and partner with our community and rights Holders. Our voice is being heard and we are recognized by all levels of government. 

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

Communications

We have been talking at some length about communications and how we get information out to people. During 2010 we, with the leadership of Anthony Tibbs,  completely redesigned and re-launched our web site, blindcanadians.ca, making it much, much easier to find information you are looking for. Updates are now much easier. The site is integrated with a Twitter feed that people can follow to keep up to date on the latest changes. Members can receive updates by email whenever new content is posted. You can easily share interesting pages and articles through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

We are in the process of creating user accounts for everyone who is a member. If you haven't received a password yet you will, or you can create your own account in the meantime. Just send us an email at info@blindcanadians.ca to let us know you've done that so we can update your membership information. AEBC still needs help from you though. We'll talk about this some more in the social media workshop, but we need to know what is going on. If you're in a chapter, we need to know what your chapter is doing so we can post that and tell the world. Your chapter has a place on the website to post information, too. Get in touch with us for more information.

Becoming Focused

At the 2010 AGM, our members decided that AEBC should become more focused in regards to advocacy issues. You, our members, chose three main areas: (1) Website access; (2) Point of Sale (PIN and Card); and (3) Library.

Our focus has been narrowed and our advocacy continues. Your active volunteerism is important on each of these focused areas and only with your voice and activism can we expect great changes.

“An active Volunteer is like a catalyst that mixes with their community and inspires empowerment.” Robin East

Conclusion

Maintaining our rights in a time of volunteerism is becoming more and more difficult. As we consider the systemic barriers and issues that plague our everyday lives it is hard to decide which battle to choose. As we juggle family, work, and play we find that some of the issues we battled a decade or two or three ago keep coming back. It seems sometimes that we have not gained any ground and that the advocacy we have done has failed.

In fact, from time to time this may seem what is occurring but in reality changes have been made. If you review our web site you will find a number of ways of which one can communicate messages via Twitter or blogs. Technology in itself has changed our lives. If you consider the struggles students were faced with twenty, thirty, and forty years ago to the struggles now, some of the issues remain the same like access to books in a timely manner. However, the overall access to information is overwhelming.

If you consider gaining access to government programs and services there have been changes from the old style of communication of paper pamphlets and telephone services to now a wealth of information on web sites. This with international accessibility and usability guidelines and our own Donna Jodhan’s court case we find that government information, programs, and services will become more accessible and useable than ever before.

Consider the stigma of the white cane and how the attitude has changed from pity to indifference from the public. This is because more and more we are in the public face by doing our own shopping, travelling, participating in community, working, and volunteering. We in fact, are becoming more and more visible and as such, are becoming more invisible to negative attitudes. Please review the collection of Personal Successes: Unlimited Potential stories we have compiled found on our web site www.blindcanadians.ca.

How would you define success in your own life? This is a very individual question, and there are many different answers, both large and small.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians collected success stories from blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted Canadians. These success stories were on any topic, whether on employment, community involvement or conquering your own personal goals. Most importantly, these success stories differ from others that tend to reinforce the "superhero" notion of disability by highlighting the often simple and realistic techniques we employ to complete everyday tasks and achieve our goals.

First published in fall 2010, we hope that this collection of stories will, on the one hand, educate the public by painting a more realistic image of blindness, and on the other, encourage those who have recently experienced vision loss to work towards their goals.

It is each of you that speak out to gain or maintain a right that has helped foster this change not only in the attitudes of the public towards persons that are blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted but our own attitudes about us.

We cannot expect government to assist us in maintaining our rights. We must do it ourselves. They are our rights and we must use our voice and our collective voices to maintain and gain rights. We must continue to do this in our everyday actions and in our active role of being a volunteer. Last year at our AGM you would have heard the following: “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 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 that we face.

Our rights and our future are in your hands. What have you done personally to help maintain or move disability rights forward? Only you can answer this truthfully and it is my hope and desire that each of you has raised your hand and made a difference.

Indeed our rights and our future are in your hands! It is you, through volunteerism, who will maintain and grow our rights. So continue to be an active volunteer and continue to encourage others to become an advocate. Your voice is our voice and through this collective, we can affect change by maintaining our rights in this time of volunteerism.

Robin East

National President