Welcome to the Summer issue of the Equalizer, July 2023!
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By Marcia Yale
Summer’s here! I am at the end of my two-year term, looking back at the time I have spent as your President. I am looking forward to our Annual General Meeting on September 9, where we will celebrate our accomplishments and take the next step forward.
Since the last Equalizer, our new website has launched and we were approved for funding for a project from the Government of Canada's Social Development Partnerships Program, which led to the hiring of Lee Pigeau, our Executive Director. He started on May 1, and I am already noticing the difference in how things are moving forward. A great big welcome, Lee!
As for the AGM, the dates to be aware of are July 11, the deadline for submission of resolutions, and July 26, the final day for membership renewal in terms of voting privilege as well as the final day for submissions of bylaw amendments.
We will be holding training for those of you who need a refresher on Zoom polls, as well as a primer on what it means to be a Board member. We are looking for new Board members and it is an exciting time to consider spending some of it with us! More information to come in the near future!
Enjoy the summer!
Message from our Executive Director
By Lee Pigeau
It has been two months since I started here at AEBC, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to lead our Alliance. The Alliance poised to gain momentum on the tremendous efforts that volunteers have contributed over the last several years. 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.
The work the AEBC does is extremely important. As the world comes out of COVID and tries to regain a sense of normalcy there is a definite place for organizations like ours who strive to make sure that the voices of everyone are included.
There will be a lot of positive changes with our charity over the next few years as we work towards building a strategic plan that will shape and guide our alliance into the middle of the 21st century. This plan will be built upon the 30 years of experience that AEBC has of being a strong voice for the needs of those who are blind, partially sighted and deafblind.
My hope is that together we will grow and be able to effect more change at the governmental policy level, with product manufacturers, employers and others who make decisions on how accessible our lives can be.
Thank you for welcoming me.
Our new website is live!
Work has been completed on our new website, so if you haven’t checked it out please visit www.blindcanadians.ca and let us know what you think. Also. if you find anything wrong or out of place please let us know so that we can correct it.
Tech Training Resumes
We have started up the training sessions again with the first one being Using Youtube with Windows and Screen Readers. There will be more to come so stay tuned.
Articles start here.
To Describe or not Describe
Contributed by Linda
What ever happened to only having to disclose your Name, Rank and Serial Number?
A new practice which is growing in popularity at on-line meetings, at least at meetings attended by persons with disabilities, is the full disclosure self description. Gone is the simple voicing of your name, the organization you represent, and perhaps your disability; now to be augmented by the addition of your gender at birth, sexual orientation, preferred pronouns, skin colour, race, cultural background, age or age group, the colour of your hair (wherever it is on your head), your eyes and glasses. Then there’s the colour of your sweater/blouse/shirt and whether you are wearing a tie or jacket. And of course, a land acknowledgement if you live somewhere different from the chair of the meeting.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a place for all of these descriptions to be included in one’s introduction, depending upon the nature of the meeting, but enough is enough, when the chair struggles to address the agenda in the remaining meeting time, then we need to examine this new practice. And when some blind individuals are feeling uncomfortable with the practice, then we need to determine its origins. So where did it come from? A recent post to the AEBC members’ list revealed some thoughts on the matter.
Although blind persons are used to not seeing those they are meeting with, Zoom presented sighted folks with an environment which they were not familiar or possibly comfortable with. Head shots, sometimes dozens of them, did not afford the same communication experience. They were no longer able to see body language, and perhaps even the face of the person speaking especially if they had chosen not to enable their video. Sighted folks found themselves with limited information and perhaps detailed introductions make them more comfortable.
There is also the thought that the new practice has given some folks license to say things about themselves they have wanted to disclose which they could not say at in-person meetings in the past. Promoting full disclosure can be seen as proof of inclusion.
If, on the other hand, sighted folks decided that this information deficit experience gave them an insight into how blind individuals feel in meetings and they figured that detailed descriptions were what we must want, many of us feel they got it wrong.
There are a few AEBC members who do wish to know what others are wearing. Some love the description but is this the best use of everyone’s valuable time? I cannot recall a single in-person meeting where the topic of one’s dress came up during introductions, or even during the coffee breaks. I have asked my friends how others are dressed at social events, but never at a meeting. And for some individuals who have never had sight, the colour of one’s skin, hair or clothing has no significance at all.
Other AEBC members feel the descriptions help blind persons be more aware, enabling us to comply with sighted standards. But is a meeting the best venue to be learning about how to present yourself in a professional manner? Could we not become confident about how we look, by seeking advice from friends and family or attending a “dress for success” workshop?
With the fulsome descriptions of others, comes the social pressure to give a similar description of oneself. Some of us do not know exactly how we look or the colour of the sweater we have chosen to wear. We run the risk of giving an incorrect description which is obvious to everyone else, pointing out what could be seen as a negative result of our disability. And for some, the “requirement” to describe oneself would deter them from attending meetings where this practice takes place. There is also the concern as to where one draws the line as to what is included in a description. Should one’s size or less than flattering facial characteristics be included?
Other members expressed that without descriptions, there is less chance of triggering bias. They were much more interested in “where someone was coming from” than how they looked, and this is what should matter.
Blind persons have survived up until now without description at in-person meetings so if this practice is for our benefit, the majority of blind folks say we’d rather carry on without it. It is presumptuous to assume that we want or need to know what someone looks like. Most of us would rather the time be spent addressing the purpose of the meeting.
Adventures on the Snow: Marcia Yale and the Ski for Light Canada Experience
By Liz Hurdman, Peter Quaiattini & Marcia Yale
Many years ago, Erling Stordal, a blind Norwegian musician, found freedom when he realized that he could cross-country ski independently when he followed tire tracks that were deeply grooved into the snow. The experience was so uplifting that he believed it should be shared with all his blind and visually impaired friends. The result became Ski for Light, an annual event that pairs blind and visually impaired cross-country skiers with sighted guides. The guide describes the immediate environment and conditions, telling the visually impaired skier when to turn, when to expect a change in elevation and when to just relax and go for it. Modelled upon the flagship Ridderrenn, in Norway, Ski for Light events take place across North America.
Every winter for the past 45 years Ski for Light Canada has provided a week-long pilgrimage for blind and visually impaired cross-country skiers to a Nordic centre in one of the western provinces. There, the Norwegian heritage sport is brought to life amongst the towering evergreen forests and well-groomed trails. It is here that Erling Stordal's vision of liberty is realized, as pairs of cross-country skier’s glide forward onto the dual tracks leading them along trails that wander through quiet forest and windswept meadows. Just as there is magic in the beauty of the surroundings, there is equally a chance for a special bond to form between visually impaired skier and guide. This trusting relationship often evolves into a lasting friendship.
In addition to playing on the snow during the day, the evenings at Ski for Light Canada offer entertainment that may include anything from a trivia night, silent and live auctions, performances from local artists and music jams. The organization, which is run entirely by volunteers and operates as a charity, prides itself on living up to its values which are community, teamwork, accomplishment, freedom, and Fun.
We asked Marcia Yale, President of the AEBC what she thought of her first-time experience at this long-time Canadian tradition held at the William Watson Lodge outside of Calgary from February 6 to12, 2023. And here is what she said:
"Although I didn't travel a lot before 2020, I had travelled so little during the years of the pandemic that I was going stir-crazy by the end of 2022. When Peter started to talk about Ski for Light, I decided to take a chance on it. I had done some cross-country skiing in my twenties, but that was quite a while ago, and I no longer owned any of the gear. So, half of the fun was going in search of the right clothing. Thankfully, ski rentals were available at the Lodge, and I was relieved that I didn't have to schlep skis and such across the country.
"When I arrived at the Scandinavian Centre in Calgary, our departure site, I met people whose names I had known from email lists as well as reconnecting with some people I hadn't seen in years -- Peter being one of them. The excitement was palpable!
"The bus ride was uneventful, and then we were in the middle of nowhere, finding out where our cabins were and just getting oriented. We then gathered in the main lodge, where we had our first meal and were introduced to our guides. I told Barbara (my guide), when we first met, that I had three goals for the week: to ski as long or as short a trail as I wanted, to laugh a lot—mostly every time I fell, which I knew would happen often—and to have fun! She agreed to the plan, and we agreed that we'd start the next afternoon, as she had to attend a first timers' session in the morning.
"For the next few days, we followed my plan to the letter—no long outings, with lots of fun and laughter. Barbara was a great skier and she got us out of a few crazy messes—in fact, every time I fell there was no excuse for it!
"The skiing was only half the experience. The rest was in the time spent either in the lodge with the whole group or in the cabins with smaller groups. There was always fun and laughter and unexpected experiences. I learned that Labradors could quietly chew through leather leashes; I learned that ravens would try to steal dog bones; and I learned how to shoot a target using audio cues.
"Sometimes you just have to step out of your comfort zone, and Ski for Light is a great place to land!"
Learn more about Ski for Light Canada by visiting its website www.skiforlight.ca Please join our mailing list for event updates. Better yet – get involved! Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
What does Advocacy mean to me?
Contributed by Simon
What advocacy means to me is learning to stand up for yourself and trying to get what you need. My main issues I try to advocate for is better public transit whether it be for those who use the regular service or para/adapted transit and more housing for people with disabilities. Here is an example of what happened to me while trying to go on a sugaring off trip.
Well, meeting everybody at the train station was a bit of a disaster, Lucien L’Allier to be exact, the Adapted Transport driver, could not find the train station, so the taxi driver ended up having to drop me off at the Provigo grocery store, which was across the street and the person organizing the activity had to meet me there.
Going to the place in Rigaud was no problem, food was fine, as we were walking around before having the toffee on snow, it was raining, and when we were ready to go back to the train station from Vaudreuil, there was a problem with the train so we had to wait for a bus to take us to Cote-Vertu─if we had to wait for another train, it wouldn’t be coming until after 7 o’clock. I tried to change my return when I was stuck at the Vaudreuil train station, because i did not know when I would get back to Lucien l’Lallier. The agent who answered the phone, asked me if I had another way to get back home, I wish I had another way to get back home like Muve, a link to their website is below. but a. this service does not seem to be in Canada yet. I would not need transport adapted anymore.
The agent eventually gave me a time, but the group and I ended up getting back to Cote-Vertu metro station and everybody including me got help to get back home either by regular taxi or by bus. So, I did not need the return plus the time the agent gave was late.
As a blind person I feel I am not being served very well to the point where I am crying a lot. Since the time I left my parents’ house and decided to try living on my own, I have not found a place I can call home, I don't seem to be getting much encouragement or help in this area. It seems to me that people think that we who are handicapped should just be happy with where we are placed because they feel it’s the right one instead of asking us where we want to go. How I ended up where I am now is because I knew the previous manager because he was a former teacher at the MAB school. He thought he was doing me a favor by mentioning this, but how the people who were living here at the time were treated, it was not nice and very controlling.
I live in what they call an assisted place, where I am now, these resources manage a group of accessible apartments and offer 24/7 homecare services. All meals are taken in a common room and leisure activities are sometimes organized. Furthermore, tenants must be out of their apartments 2 to 3 days a week for activities outside of the resource. The people who live here are not allowed to do any kind of cooking, just warming up snacks or other prepared meals, or tea or other drinks. The reason I ask is because I feel very isolated where I live, being the only blind person here. The others who live here have different disabilities and different illnesses and so on and are mostly in wheelchairs. The majority can see, so they do not really relate to what I feel from day to day. The people I know who are blind live in other parts of the city so it’s not always possible to hang out with them.
Thanks to the help of one of the members of one of the organizations I belong to I managed to get some info about how to subscribe for housing through the Quebec Foundation of the Blind. Its just too bad there are no other organizations in English like the Quebec Foundation of the Blind that do that for people with disabilities who want to find something else in NDG, Lasalle, Lachine, West Island or any other part of town.
I was considering that option, but I did not have a good experience when I was living with my parents 24 years ago in the east end of the city, as they are overprotective and did not allow me to do things for myself. I am concerned about a few things such as being away from people that I know as this option is at the other end of the city, and if I needed help for whatever reason, its mostly a French area, and there is no help living in their apartments you need to be fully independent or have some help organized either through a outside organization such as Check Employ or something similar maybe with the CLSC.
Personally, speaking I am tired of being sad and crying. I can speak French a bit, but not enough for a job or to write it. I mostly use a translate website on the computer called deepl.com.
What does advocacy mean to you?
Moving forward, advocacy is how we obtain necessary change. It works best if done with updated information.
Advocacy is a must do, when there are barriers or problems that need to be solved in new ways.
Advocacy requires working together, realizing it is not an individual activity.
What issues are important to you?
Access to info and getting more easy-to-use web sites.
Making travel experience less stressful for people with disabilities.
Advocacy is important not only to force change, but to bring issues to the attention of the people who can make the change. Sometimes it takes a long time, but positive change does often eventually happen. Even if you are not a good advocate yourself, it is very valuable to support those who have that skill.
What are some of your favorite summer activities? Have you had to make any adaptations to make an activity more accessible?
I would like to do many activities, but I don’t have the person to do them with. Tandem biking for one and boating for another.
This summer, I will be going up to the Cariboo country and maybe to Seattle to watch the Blue Jays play the Mariners. I plan to spend lots of time outside on my swing, too.
The Visual Aids Working Group, and Reforming Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program
By Ian White, President, CCB Toronto Visionaries Chapter,
Canadian Council of the Blind
Across Canada, there are as many government programs to offset the cost of assistive devices for blind and low-vision Canadians as there are Provinces and Territories, and, as many of us know, all of these programs have their deficiencies. The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care’s Assistive Devices Program (ADP) in Ontario is no exception, and advocacy groups – like the Canadian Council of the Blind, the CNIB, Balance for Blind Adults, and the AEBC - have been trying to bring reform to the ADP for a number of years, with little tangible result. Until recently.
Early in 2020, George Stevens, a member of AEBC’s Toronto Chapter, began advocating for a new assistive technology to be added to the list of funded visual aids approved by the ADP. George approached a number of organizations that serve the blind community, asking them to write to the Minister of Health and Long-term Care to have the ADP fund eSight, a high-tech sight enhancement tool. It was soon realized that reforming the Visual Aids category of the ADP was a much broader and more complex issue than the addition of a single new product. The problems with the program went much deeper. Despite being one of the most comprehensive assistive devices programs in Canada, an out-of-date Approved Product list, a bewilderingly bureaucratic process, restrictive authorization rules, and wait times that could stretch into months were just some of the challenges facing those with vision loss who applied for funding support through the ADP.
Later that year, a group of interested stakeholders comprised of AEBC Toronto, the Canadian Council of the Blind, Balance for Blind Adults, the CNIB, and others, came together to share their common experiences. The group, in the Fall of 2021, deployed a survey to gather quantitative and qualitative data on the experience of ADP clients as they navigated their way through the program in order to secure the assistive technologies they needed to increase their independence and improve their quality of life. In February of 2022, the Survey Report: Reforming the Assistive Devices Program in Ontario, was released, with 19 recommendations on how the Program should be reformed to bring it into line with the needs of its clients in 2023.
The Survey Report was sent to the Ministry of Health’s Assistant Deputy Minister Patrick Dicerni, who, on the strength of the data, directed the ADP’s senior administration to sit down with the coalition of stakeholders to form the Visual Aids Working Group (VAWG) and to find ways to implement the Report’s recommendations. Some additional voices were added to the mix, including the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University and Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada, and the new VAWG was formed.
In July of 2022, the VAWG began a series of meetings to focus on a critical short list of 14 of the original 19 recommendations. The work is ongoing, and the complexity of the Program is daunting, but the coalition of stakeholders, along with the ADP’s most senior bureaucrats, are making progress, as highlighted at the 2023 Visionaries’ Expo Forum in May of this year.
A thorough analysis of the Visual Aids Product list has been undertaken to remove obsolete devices and recommend new technologies, the requirements around assessment and authorization are being reviewed, the number, type and location of assessment centres is being looked at, and creative solutions have been put forward to remove a number of cost barriers. In addition, proposals have been put forward that, if workable, would see the ADP tracking every step of the client’s journey through the system, from initial referral by the primary eyecare practitioner, through assessment and authorization, to device purchase and user support. Most importantly, a proposal has been crafted to strike an independent advisory body, comprised of many of the original stakeholders from the blind and low-vision communities, assistive technology experts, and members of the ADP’s own Authorizer and Vendor networks, a body that could review the ADP’s processes on an ongoing basis and make recommendations to the Program for the adoption of new visual aids as they come onto the market, furthering the ideal of “Nothing about us, without us”.
The goal is to have an interim report on the progress of the Visual Aids Working Group out in the Fall, outlining exactly what will need to be done to put these reforms in place, and to make the Assistive Devices Program in Ontario more relevant, more responsive, and more cost-effective. But the ultimate goal of the Visual Aids Working Group is to make sure that more Ontarians with vision loss are being supported, and that their needs are being met by a Program that was originally intended to do just that.
Self-service Kiosk Subcommittee of the Consumer Access Group
By Hilton Schwartz
Last year The Consumer Access Group was asked to form a subcommittee focused on self-service kiosks. From our alliance, Hilton Schwartz and Diana Brent volunteered for this. As a first strategy, the kiosk task force decided to put together a questionnaire to find out which of our community had encountered a self-service kiosk and what was their experience. The idea was to bring feedback to the particular location, a big box store or the kiosk manufacturer, with the goal of improving the usefulness of the kiosk.
We hoped that by showing best practices from the most useful kiosk, to a manufacturer or big box store that had one that was less useful, there could be some cross fertilization of ideas. CNIB volunteered to host the survey, using a subset of their mailing list, perhaps 10,000 or 20,000 surveys to be sent out. We spent several sessions figuring out questions to get an easily analyzed and useable survey. Then it was sent to the CNIB research team, who added their own expertise, and finally connected with Carleton University to review and fine-tune the survey questions and ensure that ethics standards were in place.
Fast forward to today; the survey is finished and has been sent out by CNIB. Please watch out for it and reply, as every person who replies gives us more information to tackle this issue. If you have not received it from CNIB, our alliance has also sent it out to the membership. We encourage you to participate in this survey when you receive it. Thank you in advance.
Analysis of results will begin once we have received high enough survey numbers to produce accurate statistics.
Accessible Bus Stop Pilot Project in British Columbia
Written jointly by the three members from the BC Affiliate and Hilton Schwartz
TransLink, the transportation agency for the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, invited people with sight loss in the region to participate in a pilot project to test the NaviLens app as an option to increase accessibility for locating bus stops and landmarks in Skytrain stations. The NaviLens app is a free download for both iOS and Android smart phones. For the project, TransLink put a printed, weatherproof label in QR code format on both sides of the bus stop so the NaviLens app could recognize it and guide people to their desired bus stop post when travelling to the bus stop from either direction.
Three members of the AEBC BC Affiliate participated in the test, Louise Johnson, Peg Mercer and Cathy Stuckenberg. The testing activity had two sections. The first section was to enable them to get walking directions to get close to the bus stop area with the final destination to be at least 20 metres from their desired bus stop. The second part of the navigation process brought them the last 20 metres to the exact bus stop post that they wanted.
In order to receive signals from NaviLens, they had to hold their phone camera in a particular position at chest level and rotate their body slowly until the camera reported recognition of the position of the QR code label and could read it. At this point, using directional instructions from the app, our members were able to navigate the last 20 metres to the exact bus stop post, and receive the following relevant information – bus bay number; bus number(s); arrival time for next bus or buses.
If the individuals were already in the bus stop area and knew that there were different bus stops for different bus routes, they could walk along; the app would announce each bus stop route, and then they could navigate to the appropriate one. This app depends on the camera recognizing the QR code at quite a distance, and if there is anything in between such as other people, fog, or glare from the sun, then the app would be less effective.
Our members were very pleased with the test and look forward to being able to use it full-time. They did suggest that it would be nice if this could be integrated with other GPS apps, such as Blind Square.
Latest news from the Canadian Transportation Agency
By Hilton Schwartz
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has the mandate to regulate air, train, boat and bus travel to insure efficiency, safety and accessibility.
The agency was reviewed by the Office of the Auditor General and then called a special meeting of the Accessibility Advisory Committee at the end of March to report and discuss the results. There were major recommendations, and the agency agreed with them. The recommendations to the CTA from the Auditor General follow.
1. The CTA increase its capacity to identify and enforce removal of accessibility barriers by implementing additional oversight approaches, such as direct observation of available services to capture the actual experience of travelers with disabilities; and that the CTA adjust its enforcement staffing level.
2. The CTA identify and pursue opportunities to gather information on the number and nature of accessible complaints filed with air carriers and other transportation service providers; and this information should be used to improve the Agency's enforcement strategy and remove additional barriers.
They also mentioned being committed to looking into opportunities for Agency staff to gather information more directly from persons with disabilities, such as through educational walk-throughs or shadowing persons with disabilities during parts of their travel experience to better understand how services are being provided to them and to integrate this information into various strategies.
So, the next time you travel, if you sense someone is observing you, or following you around, it might be the Canadian Transportation Agency checking out how seamless your experience is. Additionally, the Agency has hired a web content professional to verify that websites of transportation companies comply with appropriate guidelines and regulations.
It was then our turn to talk, and the first major issue that came up was emotional support dogs, ensuring that they are properly certified, and how there needs to be adequate space for them. Other issues raised were what happens when newly trained employees are encountered -- hint, it does not always go well. Another issue is how seamless travel is difficult because there is more than one entity involved. And next, lack of consistency and inefficient procedures for documents and medical forms that enable the services that we require. It is frustrating that every time we book an air flight, we have to give information and sometimes certification from our doctors multiple times.
We had brought up two additional items, that ground transportation, such as taxis, sometimes will not accept guide dogs in their vehicles, and how washrooms are inaccessible, suggesting that a project with the National Research Council might be in order. A few weeks later, the agency relayed a commitment from the major airlines in Canada.
“The National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest air carriers (Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation LP and WestJet), recognize the fundamental right of all passengers to be treated with dignity and respect and are committed to identifying, preventing and removing barriers to ensure safe, accessible air travel for persons with disabilities.”
This includes a commitment to consult with disability organizations, and we will be communicating with them to ensure they know that our Alliance is available for this task.
Protected Bike Lanes Endanger Blind Bus Riders
By Linda Bartram
This is the first of a series of three articles about an advocacy issue I have been involved in for the past six years: floating bus stops and protected bike lanes.
In July 2015, Victoria City Council approved a two-way protected bike lane network, the first section to be constructed on Pandora Avenue, a major street downtown, adjacent to City Hall. A month later, the Victoria Accessibility Working Group (AWG) was formed, and I was nominated as its first chair. The AWG met 17 times before the city approached us regarding accessibility of the bike lane design. In January 2017, when the construction was well underway, a concerned wheelchair user approached the city as they thought the bus island between the bike lane and roadway might create accessibility barriers for pedestrians with disabilities. Turned out it did!
A protected bike lane is a section of the roadway which is separated from cars by a concrete median. At a bus stop, the median is replaced by an island where the bus pulls in. These bus islands are referred to as floating bus stops. Bus passengers get on and off the bus on the island. They are required to cross over the two-way bike lane, via a marked crosswalk, to get to and from the safety of the sidewalk.
The islands are not very wide and wheelchair users found themselves in the bike lane as they rolled down the bus ramp. Despite this, I am not aware of any official complaints voiced by this community. For the blind community however, the story is quite different. We have, and still are, advocating for change.
As soon as I was made aware of the floating bus stop design, in January 2017, I pointed out to the city engineering department, that the design was problematic. Blind persons would not be able to determine when a cyclist was approaching the crosswalk. I was told that it was too late to change the design and the challenge of mitigating this accessibility barrier for blind bus riders began.
Once the bike lane opened in May 2017, I demonstrated the problem to the same engineering staff. I could not hear the cyclists approaching, only becoming aware of their presence when they passed in front of me on the crosswalk. They usually did not stop, either when I was waiting with my guide dog or using a long white cane. If they did stop, they did not speak so I was not aware that it was safe to cross. During one attempted crossing, I even decided to step gingerly out, and a cyclist whipped past the tip of my cane. With the opening of the bike lane, sighted pedestrians had been advised to cross the bike lane with caution and make eye contact with the cyclists, but how do you use caution when you are unable to detect imminent danger, let alone make eye contact. When a car is approaching a crosswalk, blind persons can look towards the noise, but bikes are virtually silent so where do we look?
For the first couple of years, it was felt that cyclist education in the form of posters and signage painted on the ground and overhead, would improve the situation. The city themselves observed that it didn’t. Cyclists continued to ride through the crosswalks when a pedestrian was waiting to cross. Blind pedestrians, myself included, continued to avoid the floating bus stops, often travelling blocks out of our way. Blind pedestrians who dared to cross, continued to play “Russian Roulette”. A peer who did so, had his cane run over and broken, the cyclist failing to even stop to see if he was ok or needed any assistance. I have heard of blind pedestrians being hit and others who are normally independent travelers, requiring a sighted escort across the bike lane. Attempts to change the behavior of cyclists, was obviously not the solution.
The AWG was successful in advocating for the safety needs of blind pedestrians to be taken into consideration in two subsequent phases of the bike lane network planning and construction, and we unfortunately then let our guard down. In the next article in this series, I will explain how the city snuck in another floating bus stop, their next unsuccessful effort to modify cyclist behavior and the human rights complaint.
More Protected Bike Lanes Threaten to Endanger Blind Bus Riders
By Linda Bartram
This is part two of a series of articles on the barrier created for blind bus riders by floating bus stops and bike lanes, and the advocacy efforts to change this.
The second phase of the Victoria bike network was on Fort street which is a one-way street running in the opposite direction to Pandora Avenue (phase one). As the bike lane was to be constructed on the opposite side of the street to the bus stops, buses continued to pull into the curb so there was no potential barrier. There was talk however, of putting mid-block crossings which would require pedestrians to cross both the vehicle and bike lanes, but this idea was dropped when the Accessibility Working Group (AWG) indicated that these crossings would need to be equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS).
The next public consultation was for construction of a protected bike lane on Cook Street which is a bus route. After input from AWG along with other concerns raised by the general public, it was decided to move the bike lane to Vancouver Street which is not used by buses. With this decision, AWG was under the belief that the City now understood the challenges of floating bus stops and would not consider them in the future. At the same time, the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) launched a human rights complaint against the City regarding the floating bus stops already constructed. Surely, the City had recognized their mistake and would not repeat it, especially with a human rights complaint hanging over their head.
Fast forwarding a year or so, it came as a shock therefore when AWG was informed that construction (well under way) of the Wharf Street phase, was to also include a floating bus stop, this time with enhanced accessibility features. AWG had not been consulted about these features; tactile domes and pedestrian activated flashing amber lights with locator tones, and once they were installed, found them to be ineffective. The City had implied that they would study the mitigation efforts but no formal study involving blind persons has ever been conducted.
A year or so later, the human rights case concluded that the City had discriminated against blind persons by installing floating bus stops but that the City’s mitigation efforts installed at Wharf Street were an acceptable solution, despite blind persons testifying otherwise. No formal study has been conducted by the City and no research has been presented to support this ruling. Once again, the City of Victoria was not listening to blind persons and now the Human Rights Tribunal had let us down.
Very shortly after this ruling, the City installed flashing amber lights at the other floating bus stops and several years later, these floating bus stops continue to be inaccessible to blind bus riders. By the way, when the flashing amber light is activated, a verbal message says, “Yellow lights flashing. Cross with caution. Vehicles may not stop”. And the message is correct, some cyclists still do not stop. And this is an acceptable solution?
Late in 2022, I discovered, to my horror, that the Human Right’s ruling had been adopted by the BC Active Transportation Design Guide and that other communities in British Columbia were planning floating bus stops with flashing amber lights.
The next article, and hopefully the last, will describe my desperate efforts to get someone to listen. Someone needed to stop the ripple effect of the human rights ruling before it became a tidal wave! I remain hopeful but time will tell as these efforts are now part of a formal TransLink study, scheduled to conclude in the Fall.
Blind and Partially Sighted Individuals Need Accessible Housing Too
By Minette Samaroo
The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability declared that 22% of the Canadian population has a disability. That number is 24% for Ontario and even may be higher for other provinces. Yet, there is no federal or provincial law mandating the building of accessible or universal design housing. I want to make a distinction between affordable and accessible housing. They are not the same or interchangeable. An accessible home means a home in which anyone of any age or ability can live, and it costs less than 1% more per unit when included from the design stage.
When it comes to accessible or universal design housing, we often think of mobility challenges such as ramps, wide, automatic doors and elevators. However, people with vision impairment also face many other challenges due to inaccessible housing design. We need color contrast so someone can read the sign that directs to the apartment elevator. We need proper lighting that is not too dark nor would cause a glare. We need clear, straight paths that someone who uses a cane can trail and not get entangled and stumble on. We need rounded edges and walls that are free from protruding objects which can cause severe injury if someone were to bump into them. We need tactile signage such as Brailed elevator buttons.
Here's an example of how inaccessible design limits the independence of those who are Blind or partially sighted.
I went with one of my members who has low vision to a consultation. First, we could not find the sign to direct us to the meeting room. When we did find it, my friend could not read it because of the color contrast; the writing was yellow and set against a white background.
Now, what about those wide, plain glass doors in some condos and storefronts? Vision loss is on a spectrum and many with low vision cannot tell whether those doors are closed or opened. Many are injured from walking into them, and incidents often go unreported or are seen as funny, and the individual is regarded as stupid for walking into a closed door.
What are we waiting for to mandate universal design? How many more people have to be injured or forced out of their homes? Disability has no boundary as it cuts across every demographic and socioeconomic status, and it may affect almost everyone through illness, accidents or age.
We who are blind and partially sighted stand united with our allies calling for immediate action to mandate universal design for all new multi-unit residential buildings. You can help by reaching out to our politicians. Write a letter today to your elected officials calling for accessible housing. Protect our children. Protect our seniors. Protect yourselves from the risk of being forced to move into a long-term care facility all because your home becomes inaccessible to you in the event of a severe disability or illness. Advocate for accessible housing today!
A New Independent Triple Vision
By Peter Field
Since September 2021, the Triple Vision podcast has been bringing the Canadian blind, deafblind, and partially sighted community stories of the past, present, and future of our community. The podcast began with the assistance of Accessible Media Inc. which broadcast the podcast starting in September 2021, provided technical support, and made sure the podcast was carried by all of the major podcasting platforms. The Triple Vision team is proud of the work it has done in bringing the community these stories.
In January, 2023 the team began a series called “The Danger of the Single story,” or what happens when a group of people tell a story about another community, without in fact knowing the lived experience of that community. As part of this, the podcast featured a four-part series on governance, focussing on the governance around the CNIB. Part Four of this series was available to the listening community for a week, and then was taken down by AMI under threat of legal action by the CNIB. Three podcasts later, the TV team recorded a 10-minute segment as part of its own roundtable on entrepreneurship about how it felt about this censorship, and as a result, AMI moved to terminate its relationship with Triple Vision.
Going forward the Triple Vision team now has its own website at Triplevision.team. Listeners can find all 35 episodes of the podcast, including the two episodes, thirty-two and thirty-five, which AMI refused to broadcast. It is now putting the final touches on its first independent podcast, and will be sure to let everyone know once it is available. For a short time, the podcast will come out monthly, as opposed to biweekly, while we re-group to manage the technical aspects of the podcast on our own. In the meantime, you can find all of the podcasts in the same place you always did within your own podcast app or pod-catcher. You can also ask for Triple Vision on any smart speaker. The Triple Vision team is excited to be out on its own, and we want to continue to hear from you about what stories you would like to hear about. Feel free to pass along any story ideas to email@example.com. Thanks, and happy listening!
Conclusion of the AEBC Banking Project and the Eyes on Your Money with Ryan and Becky Podcast
By Peter Field
For 10 months now, Ryan Chin and Becky Armstrong have been bringing you the “Eyes on Your Money with Ryan and Becky” podcast. This podcast is part of the AEBC’s so-called “banking project” where the organization received money from the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work to promote “disability confidence in finance.” The podcast has been informing its listeners all about financial management, with a focus on living with a disability. The hosts have covered topics from, “Why do I need a bank account”, to budgeting, loans and mortgages, investments, retirement savings, insurance, trusts and financial planning. AEBC hopes our listening audience has picked up some financial literacy skills as a result of the podcast. It is expected that the podcast will also be used by the Canadian financial sector to learn how to better serve its customers with disabilities, or to help them with their “disability confidence”. You can catch all ten of the Eyes on Your Money podcasts on all podcasting platforms.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Equalizer this year and we hope you have a great summer.
A Webcam, A Must Have For Your Arsenal Of Technical Tricks For Success
By Neena Avery
My name is Neena Avery. I have been an AEBC member for a year while I was doing my undergrad in the early 2000’s, but I rejoined in 2022.
I am totally blind, and have a yellow Lab guide dog. I say these things to give you a context on why this piece of equipment was not on my list of priorities.
I have taken a Pre-Employment course from Balance For Blind Adults in Toronto. As a result of needing to perform professionally, I got myself a webcam on Amazon. Now, people can see me while I am on Zoom! I have a tripod, so most of a head shot is seen when people are looking at me. If they look closely, they can even see what I am wearing! This webcam has another virtue of having a microphone attached. As a result, it is easy to use, and versatile. I was so happy that it was $15! What a great price for someone on a “fixed income!”
As I now have a webcam, I can find success by going to job networking events, and functioning like anyone competing in the market of life. Not only that, the webcam gives me a chance to have great boundaries in keeping the camera on my computer. In this way, I don’t feel tied to my phone for every work or leisure activity. The webcam has been one of my favourite investments, because it is an important tool to gain confidence.
Accessible Web-cam Utility: Can You See Me?
Can You See Me is a simple tool that offers guidance on webcam placement to people with limited amounts of useful vision. Based on simple verbal feedback given by the tool, blind people are able to independently position themselves appropriately in relation to their webcam before attending online meetings.
How to use the tool.
Press enter to hear an approximation of where your face is.
Press d to receive a slightly more detailed approximation which includes your face’s location expressed as percentages.
Press p to take a photo of what your webcam can currently see (the photo will be saved in the folder where Can You See Me is located).
Press escape to exit.
You'll need 2 things in order to use Can You See Me:
A computer running Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 or 11; and
A webcam (both built-in and external webcams are supported).
Can You See Me is compatible with NVDA, Dolphin Screen Reader and JAWS. If you're using one of these screen readers. prompts will be spoken and brailled through your screen reader. If you're not using a screen reader or one that is incompatible the tool will speak its prompts itself.
To download Can You See Me visit https://canyouseeme.app/downloads/.
BC Affiliate, News from Out West
By Chantal Oakes, President, BC Affiliate
The BC Affiliate’s trivia event held March 25 was a big success and on behalf of all of us, I offer my deepest gratitude. Your attendance and support play an important role in our goals to raise funds. We know you have many choices when selecting what event is worthy of your attention and we appreciate your dedication to helping students in need through the scholarship program. We raised a little over $1800, which will be added to our reserved fund designated towards scholarship awards from British Columbia. (We especially recognize the Vancouver Renfrew Lions Club for their sponsorship and their participation as team leaders for a fun afternoon of trivia.
Also, a very special mention to Canadian Assistive Technology for their generous donation of assistive devices which were given as door prizes to a couple of very lucky people on that day. In previous years, the BC Affiliate has awarded a $1000 scholarship to a post-secondary student in honour/memory of one of our members whose involvement with AEBC is recognized as outstanding.
I am happy to report that the executive has agreed we will be able to increase the amount of this award to $1500 beginning next year. We are also grateful for the ability to further offer additional funds in collaboration with others, for the scholarship in memory of John Rae.
Weekly Thursday evening chats will continue during the summer, everyone is welcome to join in the conversation from 8:00 p.m. Louise Johnson has graciously hosted our evening chats during the past three years and she is open to assisting other members who may be interested in taking a turn from time to time. Without the pressures of a structured event, this would be a perfect opportunity to get comfortable hosting a Zoom call.
Fun in the sun! How will everyone spend their summer? Will there be gatherings of members from your chapter? Many of us enjoy spending time with family and friends, as it is important to maintain a balance between our work, whether volunteer or paid, as we respect the well-being of our personal lives. While this may involve decreasing our AEBC workload, I encourage you to take into account that we all need a rest every now and then.
The BC Affiliate will be working during the summer, although at a reduced pace. Our project dealing with Emergency Preparedness will require the attention of the steering committee as we continue with the research phase of the work. We are on track with activities which were proposed, our survey was launched and completed, and focus groups were held with much information shared informing our research for workshop materials and online resources.
A summer social event is planned, where many of us will gather for a luncheon at a restaurant to connect with friends we haven’t seen in a long time. We will hold one meeting at the end of July, to begin organizing our next fall fundraiser and to outline plans for our AGM. Stay in touch for further information.
Have a wonderful summer, we’ll check back in the fall.
Advocacy and Outreach Committee
By Dean Steacy
The Advocacy and Outreach Committee, as usual, has been very busy. In a continued effort to try and get major appliance manufacturers to make their appliances accessible and usable, we have written letters to Samsung and LG. We worked on the submission to the Senate for Bill C 22, as you’ve already heard from our President Marcia Yale. We were able to go to the Senate committee hearing, and both Marcia and Linda made great presentations.
We had a meeting with our Health Canada contacts concerning a statement made by the Minister of Health in the House. Fortunately, we were able to clarify that our efforts to get medical devices made accessible are indeed moving forward, although slowly. We will be receiving a list of diabetes-related device manufacturers so that we can meet with them, thereby allowing us to start a dialogue to get these very important medical devices made accessible for the blind community.
As well, Hilton has been working with the Neil Squire Society on several standards concerning the accessibility of kiosks and other devices. As you may or may not be aware, Mattel has introduced a new Barbie with Down syndrome. We are going to ask Mattel to create a blind Barbie as part of their diversity initiative.
Last, but not least, if there’s anyone out there who wishes to get involved in advocacy, we are always looking for individuals to join our committee. If you’re interested, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or if you have a pressing issue that you wish to see addressed please let us know.
The membership committee finalized a Welcome package that everyone can now use to send to new members, we have also been working on contacting past members about their experience with AEBC and asking them their thoughts about re-joining.
We have lost a few members this past year and so follow-up is important to us and we will continue to do so.
Thank You to everyone on the committee for work and their input this year.
By Ryan Fleury
Well here we are, the last issue before the AGM in September. I really didn’t know what would be involved in putting a newsletter together and it was definitely more work than I thought.
We put out 3 episodes since September 2022 and I want to thank all of you who contributed to your newsletter, we could not have done it without all of you.
I also want to say a Special Thank You to my committee members for their input and contributions.
We raised almost 2500.00 dollars for Help Age to help those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. A very special Thank You to all of you who took the time to donate to this cause, we really appreciate it.
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