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A change is gonna come! 2023 President's Report

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By Marcia Yale, National President


How in the world is it the end of another year, and the end of my two-year term? It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating our thirtieth anniversary. Thanks go once again to the organizing committee: Chantal Oakes, Chair; Louise Johnson; Maryse Glaude-Beaulieu; Devon Wilkins; and Diana Brent. Our special ceremony opened last year’s AGM festivities and included door prizes and very inspiring presentations from Richard Marion, singing O Canada and providing the land acknowledgement; David Lepofsky; Ms. Stephanie Cadieux, Chief Accessibility Officer; Dr. Paul Gabias and Mrs. Mary Ellen Gabias, AEBC founders; and long-time members, Irene Lambert, and Albert Ruel. We even opened our Annual General Meeting with a presentation by Marc Workman, the CEO of the World Blind Union, and a long-time member of AEBC. Nevertheless, the celebration was bittersweet, due to the sudden loss in April of 2022 of John Rae, one of the members who had participated in most of those thirty years. I hope he was watching and that he approved of our efforts.


At that AGM, we welcomed three new members to the National Board — Diana Brent as Second Vice-President, Peg Mercer as Treasurer and Ryan Fleury as Director — and we said fond farewells to Minette Samaroo (off to make her name at York University), Peter Field (off to try to find more hours in a day), and Hilton Schwartz (still helping us to think outside the box). Ryan, Diana, and Peg have settled in nicely and we have all been part of a year of change, with more to come! In fact, since Amanda Cape and Maryse Glaude-Beaulieu have chosen not to seek re-election on September 9, we will be welcoming at least two more new Board members. Thank you both for the work you have done, and I wish you well in your future endeavours outside of the Board and know you will continue to support the organization. We held a primer for new Board members, where we answered questions, and explained roles, responsibilities, and time commitments, in the hope that we would encourage members to run.


Projects Come, Projects Go


It was a busy year for projects, with changes, beginnings and endings, bringing excitement and enthusiasm to AEBC. The Pandora Project, and its Triple Vision podcast, continued to tell our story. Although they had to reorganize their technical base, they have come out of the situation stronger than ever. I believe they will produce better episodes due to their new independence.


The AEBC Banking Project wound down, after producing five short educational videos and a ten-episode podcast, Eyes On Your Money with Ryan and Becky. Thank you, Peter Field and Brandon Schiafone for leading, and Betty Nobel, Diana Brent, Wayne Antle, and Minette Samaroo, for steering the project. It wouldn't have been possible, though, without Linda Bartram, who came up with the idea for it when she heard that funding was available from the Disability Confidence in Finance project, wherein AEBC was already participating.


As that project was ending, the PREP Project, with funding from Disability Alliance BC, was beginning. A steering committee was convened to oversee the project: Betty Nobel, Peg Mercer, Cathy Stuckenberg, Mary Brunner, and Chantal Oakes. Laura Mackenrot was hired as the project manager, and she has been tasked with researching, planning, delivering, and documenting up-to-date practical and accessible information related to emergency preparedness. The project's goal is to assemble tools to be made available online, designed to assist individuals to better prepare for emergency situations and to also educate the public on how to best meet the needs of persons who are blind, deafblind, and partially sighted in the event of an emergency. Although the original project is restricted to the province of British Columbia, it is hoped that it might be expanded to the rest of the country at some point with the help of our ESDC funding.


In the meantime, the Toronto Chapter received a $75,000 grant from United Way of Greater Toronto (the “UWC” through the CSO Project) which is funded by the Government of Canada under the Community Services Recovery Fund, to lead a project on Returning to Normal Life After COVID-19. They will be conducting virtual consultations with organizations serving people with disabilities, marginalized communities, and people with disabilities. They are interested in hearing from you if people with disabilities in your organization had challenges with job loss, interview processes or experienced isolation due to accommodation in the workplace. They also want to hear from people with disabilities who have found challenges and successes in employment during and post pandemic. This project is likely to provide some very important data about the results of a pandemic from the disability perspective.


Another exciting project was finally completed this year—the creation and launch of a new blindcanadians.ca website. We have wanted, and needed, a website refresh for many years and I am so honoured that the work was completed at last. We hired our web designer, Kimberley Vircoe, as part of a Request for Proposal process. She began the work last September, with the assistance of a combined IT and Communications committee: Brian Bibeault, Ryan Fleury, Maryse Glaude-Beaulieu, Diana Brent, Grant Pattingale, Hilton Schwartz, Marlene Pestana, Minette Samaroo, Betty Nobel, and me. We worked through content discussions and the overall balancing act between accessibility and visual appeal, with the result that our site is educational, aesthetically pleasing, and accessible. We also succeeded in conquering some major back-end accessibility issues and now anyone can be trained to update the site, regardless of their level of visual acuity.


On the less than positive side of things, we saw the end of our human rights saga, which started in 2019, when we filed a human rights complaint against Employment and Social Development Canada, due to the inaccessibility of the website and forms we attempted to use to apply for core funding in 2018. (This is the same funding that we have now succeeded in acquiring!) The Commission had dismissed our complaint in July of 2020 because it determined that the complaint had been filed by a corporation and not by an individual. We requested a Judicial Review, which was ruled in favour of ESDC in August of 2021. Our lawyer, Anne Levesque, encouraged us to appeal this decision to the federal court of appeal. Our case was heard on February 8, 2023, and, in a very unusual and rare occurrence, the three justices ruled from the bench, without even listening to the Department of Justice's presentation. Unfortunately, they sided with the previous decision, and used a technicality to dismiss our appeal. They stated that the Commission's decision to dismiss our complaint fell within the boundaries of reasonableness. The court chose not to pursue our lawyer's position that the victims of discrimination were the volunteers using the website and filling out the application form, as well as those who would have ultimately benefited from the funding. In the Justices' ruling, they acknowledged that this was a very complicated case, yet they still ruled against us. On our lawyer's advice, we did not ask for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. On behalf of AEBC, I want to sincerely thank Chantal Oakes, Dean Steacy, and David Best for launching the original complaint and working through the very long process which ensued. In addition, we could not have gone as far as we did without our lawyer, Anne Levesque, and her law students. They put in countless pro bono hours of work towards the cause. We are eternally grateful for Anne's encouragement and support throughout the many phases of the process. We also wish to thank M. Alyssa Holland who intervened in the case on behalf of the First Nations Child And Family Caring Society Of Canada. Her presentation was excellent.


Yes, I've saved the best news for last. On May 24, 2022, we applied for funding under the Special Partnerships Program – Disability Component. On January 12, 2023, we were notified that our application was successful. We had asked for almost $500,000 to cover a three-year project to build our capacity as an organization, mainly by covering the cost of hiring an Executive Director and an Administrative Assistant. Originally, the addition of the Administrative Assistant was made to enable us to hire a blind, deafblind, or partially sighted E.D., but none who were qualified applied. At the end of the day, over 60 applications and two rounds of interviews later, a hiring committee, made up of Dean Steacy, Chantal Oakes, Hilton Schwartz, and me, picked Lee Pigeau, now of Arnprior, Ontario. He has already begun to sow the seeds of change and, in his own words: "I look forward to being a part of the transformation that will bring AEBC to the next level, making a positive difference for even more people living with blindness and partial sight." He then conducted the hiring of an Administrative Assistant, Carol Austin, with the help of Diana Brent and Ryan Fleury. I haven't had a chance to get to know Carol yet, but I know she will find her niche and make a difference.


I cannot adequately express how proud I am of all we have accomplished, and the story isn't even over yet!


The Local Scene


Halifax


When I am not acting as National President, I fulfill the role of Treasurer of the Halifax Chapter. Our chapter has experimented with many online events in order to keep members actively participating. Throughout the past year, we have held book club, fitness, and various chat sessions. We began inviting all members to our "Mid-Week Meltdown" socials and this has begun to gain popularity.


Chapter members have also participated in many consultations on topics including the Canada Disability Benefit Act, accessible healthcare, and museum accessibility. In fact, Dar Wournell, our Chapter President, is now a member of the Nova Scotia Museums Accessibility Advisory Committee, representing our chapter in their efforts to find and remove barriers for blind, deafblind, and partially sighted visitors.


We are proud of our ongoing partnerships. We updated the brochure entitled "How to help blind, deafblind and partially sighted” for the Nova Scotia Health Authority.


In January, members of the AEBC Halifax Chapter attended an in-person meeting with Atlantic Accessibility in Bedford, Nova Scotia. We have agreed to partner with them moving forward. they asked for our assistance on improving accessibility in air Travel when travelling at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport as a blind person who uses either a white cane and/or a guide dog. Our feedback will help remove accessibility barriers and ensure that we can travel safely and independently. In the future, our chapter members will be provided a tour of the Halifax airport, which will allow them to view first-hand how we navigate the airport, and the barriers we face.


The Alderney Gate Public Library has purchased the license again to allow us to show movies with described video services free of charge. With recent renovations at the library, the accessible games purchased unfortunately went missing. The library has since purchased a number of new accessible games to replace them. We will be setting up an accessible games afternoon for anyone interested.


In Advocacy News, our chapter recently wrote a letter to the Halifax Municipal Taxi and Limousine Services regarding the inaccessibility of their Point-of-Sale devices. They have touchscreens and no tactile overlay, which means that a blind, deafblind or partially sighted person would have to disclose their PIN to a stranger, in this case the driver, in order to pay their fare. In our opinion, this is a breach of privacy, confidentiality and security.


Toronto


The Toronto Chapter in partnership with national and partner organizations held their 6th annual International Day for Persons with Disabilities Conference December 3, 2022. The theme was “Empowering Ourselves: Thriving in This New Reality.” Speakers included our own David Lepofsky and our first international speaker, Sandhya Rao from iBUG Today among other professionals in the disability community. Each year the conference seems to get bigger and better, so we can only expect that for the coming year.


The Chapter also held elections for president, secretary and member-at-large. Minette Samaroo was elected for another two-year term, Ari Margolis was re-elected for member-at-large, and they welcomed a new member to the executive, Jonathan Virtue as secretary.


The Chapter began welcoming members outside Toronto to join their meetings. On May 23, they held a successful Summertime Escapade fundraiser in support of the scholarship in memory of John Rae, to which National and the BC Affiliate also contributed.


Ottawa-Gatineau


The Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter also held elections. Alan Conway was elected President, Pierre Castagner, Vice-president; Shelley-Anne Morris, Secretary, and Lourdes Rojas, Treasurer. Wayne Antle was elected to the position of Director at large.


Ottawa also elected a new mayor and council, and the Chapter has begun to approach them to restate their opposition to e-scooters. The mayor has not committed either way on the issue.


The Chapter members have begun to plan a meeting with potential members in Gatineau to determine if there are some common priorities between them and the Chapter. They have a critical mass of members who speak French, so such a meeting is definitely possible and mutually beneficial, since they will be able to discuss common problems regarding such things as hospital experiences. If successful, this collaboration would be a great start to our organization's attempt to better serve our French-speaking community members.


BC Affiliate


Our BC Affiliate held their Annual General Meeting in-person and on Zoom, probably one of the first in-person meetings to be held since the pandemic. The meeting included social time and the election of a new Executive: Chantal Oakes, President; Louise Johnson, Vice-President; Mary Brunner, Secretary; Peg Mercer, Treasurer; and Cathy Stuckenberg, Rob Ponto, Lisa Lawson and Sue McAndrew as Directors. Betty Nobel and Rita Dilek finished their terms but continue to work for the organization.


BC Affiliate members are paying attention to the implementation of the province's Accessibility Act. Members for the first two Accessible Standards committees have been selected, and Linda Bartram was chosen to serve on the Accessible Service Delivery Committee. Affiliate members look forward to any and all opportunities to contribute to the work on the Act in the future.


There are also local issues which have attracted our members' attention, including completion of a survey to assist TransLink’s Advisory Committee with opinions and vital information on floating bus stops, discovering the benefits of a way-finding app like NaviLens currently being tested in a few BC lower Mainland locations, or ensuring our presence when appropriate during consultations.


The BC Affiliate also held a successful trivia event in March, "Blossom Into Trivia" in support of AEBC's scholarship program and, in particular, their contribution to the John Rae Scholarship and their own Scholarship for 2023. They were pleased to be sponsored once again by the Vancouver Renfrew Lions Club. Canadian Assistive Technology donated a few door prizes which were much appreciated!


Weekly Thursday evening chats have continued throughout the year, hosted by Louise Johnson and welcoming anyone who wants to socialize.


Committee Work


Advocacy and Outreach Committee


There were six members who worked on the committee: Chair: Dean Steacy; Secretary, Louise Johnson; Hilton Schwartz; Peter Quaiattini; Lou Pereux, with me as the Board liaison. Everyone contributed to the overall results, and I hope everyone will return after the AGM.


Six of the past year's Committee's initiatives stand out:

1. The Committee submitted comments on the proposed draft Built Environment Standard and is now working on a submission for the proposed draft Employment Standard. These federal standards may one day lead to regulations, and the Committee collected comments from the membership and hopes to encourage improvements to these drafts.

2. Dean and Marcia were successful in their efforts to join the Technical Subcommittee working on the next revision of the Rick Hansen Professional Handbook. This guides their ratings and ultimately will lead to certification if sites meet the required criteria. Having two blind Subcommittee members give input to the document has meant that our community's needs will be better served by the updated rating process.

3. The Canada Disability Benefit Act (Bill C22) was and still is an important focus for the organization. The Committee collected the views of the membership and wrote submissions to the HUMA Committee of the House of Commons and the SOCI Committee of the Senate. We were honoured to be chosen to appear before the SOCI Committee, and Linda Bartram and I presented AEBC's views directly to those who had the power to improve the Bill. Although the Senate did not make all of our suggested improvements, our concerns about the "working age" restrictions were voiced in both their final report to the House and in public speeches. AEBC held true to our beliefs in the face of strong opposition from others in the disability community and I am proud of our efforts on this front. We will continue to provide input whenever possible to the creation of the actual regulations.

4. As a result of a disturbing speech made by the Health Minister, the Committee followed up with David Boudreau, the Director-General of the Medical Devices Division of Health Canada. He reassured us that his division was indeed continuing to encourage manufacturers to consider making their devices accessible. He then contacted the five major manufacturers of diabetes-related devices and opened the door for us to contact them. Dean and I met with all five manufacturers; Amy Amantea joined us when we met with the manufacturer of the insulin pump she uses; and Lee joined us for four of the meetings. All were positive and we are very confident that accessibility will soon be more prevalent. It will take time, but everyone seems to be on the same encouraging path.

5. The Committee continued to promote ScriptTalk to Health Canada and to the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA). The next step will be to contact all the provincial Colleges of Pharmacy.

6. The Committee has begun to contact major appliance manufacturers—LG, Keurig and Samsung thus far—but none of them have responded to date. This will be one of the ongoing projects going forward. It is important that appliances become more accessible, and we just need to reach the right people to make it happen.


Membership Committee


This year's Membership Committee, consisting of Ryan Fleury, Grant Pattingale, Hilton Schwartz, Kim Bannatyne and Lisa Lawson finalized a Welcome package for new members. This is a project which has been long overdue, and I am very pleased that it is now complete. The Committee also began considering how to reach past members to attempt to reengage them. This work will continue. Going forward, it will be even more important when engaging new members, to have information on why some have left the organization.


Equalizer Committee


The Committee, consisting of Ryan Fleury, Peter Field, Minette Samaroo, Devon Wilkins and Neena Avery, produced three issues of our newsletter since September of 2023. It was Ryan's first year working on it, and he noted that it is not an easy task. However, his committee pulled together three collections of excellent articles, and I know there are more just waiting to be written.


Fundraising Committee


This past year's Committee consisted of Linda Bartram (Chair), Chantal Oakes (Secretary), Wayne Antle, Peg Mercer and me. We participated in Giving Tuesday and the Great Canadian Giving Challenge once again, with smaller returns than the previous year's campaigns. However, we raised almost $2500.00 dollars for Help Age to help those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and I am proud of our members for answering our second call for international relief.


The Fundraising Committee looks forward to fitting itself into the ESDC project and helping to create a sustainable funding plan.


Bylaws and Governance Committee


This committee, made up of Dean Steacy, Linda Bartram and Minette Samaroo, has been looking at both the Chapter and National bylaws to ensure they are in sync. It will be one of the Executive Director’s responsibilities to work with the committee to overhaul the National bylaws with the goal of making them more concise and easier to read and understand using plain language. The first two of these bylaw amendments will be discussed and decided at the AGM.


Student and Education Committee


Betty Nobel and I reprised our roles as Committee Co-Chairs, with Amanda Cape, Diana Brent, Alan Conway, Louise Johnson and Craig Coyle. This year's group of candidates was amazing—and of course it was the year we decided to take the larger amount of money we had and create a small number of awards! We honoured some very important members and past members of AEBC, as well as providing a scholarship in memory of John Rae, whose sudden passing in April of 2022 left a great hole in our history.


It is always wonderful to hear what goals and dreams students share. They often have major obstacles to overcome but they show grace and perseverance as they forge ahead with their education. It is our hope that some of the students will become new advocates. Whatever they decide to do with their lives, it was a joy and a pleasure to provide them with some financial support.


We sincerely appreciate the support of our donors, without whom no scholarships could be awarded. Anyone can contribute to a scholarship or set up a new one. Prospective donors are encouraged to email scholarship@blindcanadians.ca to contact either Marcia Yale or Betty Nobel, co-chairs of the committee, for further information. We also want to be certain that our contact lists for sending out application information are current and would be grateful for email addresses of any organizations that we should add to our email blast list.


A Change is Gonna Come


Thank you for taking the time to look back at the year just ended. Looking forward, there will be work on a strategic plan, a communications strategy, a new way to operate as a Board with staff, and many more changes not even contemplated. It is an exciting time to be a member of AEBC, and the more we embrace these changes, the smoother the path to completion will be.


Regardless of the election results, I will proudly work with the new Board to see us move forward with our well-funded reality. I would like to thank our sponsors—Accessible Media Inc., our lead sponsor; Allyant; and AIRA—for their ongoing support. I also want to thank the Government of Canada's Social Development Partnerships Program for providing operational funding to AEBC for the next three years. We will do them proud!


Marcia Yale, National President


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