Advocacy Org Leaves the Scene: Thank you and Farewell ASIC, Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers

At a meeting held the morning of Saturday January 17th, 1998, with 20 members of the blind community present, the concept of a consumer-driven advocacy coalition was discussed and a few short weeks later, Advocates for Sight-Impaired Consumers was born. After
20 years of providing advocacy services for the benefit of British Columbians and other Canadians, after engaging a total of 122 individuals to serve on its volunteer board at different times, and after undergoing a minor amendment to its brand in 2007, the Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers Board has elected to wind down its entire operation effective May 31st, 2017. In doing so, it leaves behind a legacy of independence and access initiatives that will benefit persons who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted for generations to come. The list in part, includes:

* Leading the call for and creating the position paper for accessible pedestrian signals including wayfinding messages, a pedestrian clearance tone and other optional functionalities.
* Successfully advocating for high-contrast tactile platform edging on all Metro Vancouver SkyTrain and Canada Line platforms.
* Successfully advocating for and seeing the initial implementation of descriptive video and closed captioning services in Famous Players theatres that expanded into identical services in Cineplex Entertainment complexes.
* Developing the concept of, and assisting with the implementation of, the “VIP Assistance Line” which provides sighted guide assistance in and around SkyTrain and Canada Line stations.
* Successfully advocating for the installation and implementation of automated stop announcements on all conventional transit and community shuttle routes operated by the Coast Mountain Bus Company in Metro Vancouver.
* Successfully advocating for the installation of audio ATM machines at Vancouver City Savings branches.
* Creating a heightened awareness amongst senior officials at Elections BC of the needs of voters who are blind or partially sighted and working collaboratively with Elections BC to provide braille candidate lists, large-print facsimile posters of the election ballot, rigid plastic voting templates, a pilot telephone voting option for all persons with a disability for the 2017 general election, and participating in the creation of a training/awareness video to educate election officials on how best to assist voters with sight loss.
* Successfully advocating for the expansion of the Taxi Bill of Rights throughout BC which was voluntarily adopted by 33 taxi companies.
* Successfully advocating for the design and implementation of universally accessible bus stops with appropriate features to assist transit users with various disabilities (including blindness) so that they can independently locate a public transit passenger loading zone in the Metro Vancouver area.
* Successfully advocating for a pilot installation of taxi meters with optional audio output by the Vancouver Taxi Association. The success of the pilot project has resulted in the BC Passenger Transportation Board establishing guidelines for the implementation, installation and operation of Soft Meters (tablet-based) with optional audio output.
* Successfully advocating for the availability of accessible prescription medication information in an audio format from 10 pharmacy chains throughout BC.

These are only some examples of the many projects that were the focus of ASIC’s attention over the years.

As the ASIC Board works to tie up all administrative and operational duties by May’s month end, it is their intention to update the Resources section of the ASIC website and to leave the entire website running for as long as feasible. The Community Calendar will be discontinued. Accessible Media Inc began featuring audio promotions of community events throughout BC starting mid-April 2017. Details regarding community events may be sent to amyamantea@hotmail.com

ASIC’s Contact Us web page has been updated and now offers a telephone number which will be manned by former ASIC Board member Reed Poynter going forward. British Columbians who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted may write to our existing email address or call to obtain the name(s) of various resources when tackling a self-advocacy issue. Or, individuals may seek assistance from any one of the many other consumer advocacy organizations listed on our web page at:
http://www.asicbc.ca/resources/ConsumerOrganizations/Pages/default.aspx

At the close of the final meeting of Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers, ASIC’s Chair Rob Sleath summarized the past 20 years by
saying: “The past 20 years has given many caring and compassionate individuals an opportunity to give back to their community by volunteering time and energy toward the goal of improving the independence and access for British Columbians who are blind, deafblind or sight-impaired. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with these individuals, and we hope our efforts will enhance the independence of all British Columbians for years to come. To all those who supported Access with Sight-Impaired Consumers with donations, gifts-in-kind, financial support and/or through their donations of time and energy, I extend a simple but most sincere thank you! We could not have achieved so much without your generous and vvalued support.”

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About Albert Ruel

The Albert A. Ruel Road to Blindness A 21 year old man stood on the beach at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park with friends early in May of 1977, and upon gazing across the lake found the Gulf Oil sign missing from the dock-side filling station there. When this fact was shared with his companions they glanced at him with puzzled looks and said, “No Albert, the sign is still there”. That was the beginning of a road through confusion, anger, isolation, loneliness and discovery for me. It all began with a visit to a local Optometrist who could see that my vision wasn’t right, but that corrective lenses wouldn’t help. He then referred me to a General Practitioner, where I received a clean bill of health and an additional referral. This time to an Ophthalmologist. Immediately upon peering through the dilated pupils, Dr. McKerricher was able to see the problem, Retinal Vasculitis. Now, you would think that all would start to improve at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, CNIB, from 1918 until 1985 only served the needs of people who were “Legally Blind”, a level of vision loss I wouldn’t reach until November of 1979. The words of Dr. McKerricher still echo in my mind today, “Albert, I don’t know what has caused this and nothing we’ve tried is helping to stop it, and you’re not blind enough for me to refer you to CNIB”! In the middle of this transition from 20/20 vision to “Legally Blind” came the Motor Vehicle Branch and it’s rules of the road. On August 3, 1978 I drove a car for the last time as my vision had reached the level at which operating a motor vehicle became too dangerous, further intensifying feelings of fear, isolation and anger. Sadly, through this period the only available guidance and support was through family and friends, but not the experienced professionals I needed at the time. Although these support systems are critically important they can often be smothering and facilitating, rather than encouraging and supportive. With gratitude, and some trepidation I finally was able to access CNIB services in November of 1979, and the world opened up then. There I was able to meet other blind people and receive the daily living and mobility skills required to live independently in this sighted world. I learned elementary braille and began to discover technology as necessary tools of independence. Thankfully, in 1985 CNIB’s National Board altered the course of service to visually impaired Canadians forever. They added a third prong to their Mission Statement, “To promote sight enhancement services”. This opened the door to all Canadians who were beginning to lose sight, as well as those who had a fear of vision loss to access the full range of CNIB Support and Rehabilitation Services. So now, whether it’s someone’s Mother who is experiencing Macular Degeneration, or an Uncle experiencing the affects of Glaucoma, all have the ability to seek information, guidance and support as all involved deal with the fear and anxiety that accompanies such life altering experiences. With the help of professional Rehabilitation Workers and Employment Counselors I was able to continue traveling independently within my own community, and even more remarkably anywhere in the world I desired to go. I managed to attend College in Nanaimo and New Westminster, as well as traveling to the Mayo Clinic and to doctor’s appointments in Nanaimo and Vancouver without assistance. All of this while living with some usable vision, but not yet needing a white cane for travel. During the mid 1980’s I was a stay-at-home Dad and did all that was required of that challenging work, from changing diapers to preparing meals, and from cutting the grass to maintaining our home. I even took a woodworking course through Alberni’s Adult Education program and built and restored several pieces of furniture. Of course the 1958 Chevy Impala in the garage was my pride and joy, and I devised ways to do much of the work it required. I also joined and participated in many community activities, like the local Car Club, and a disability support group that catered to the needs of people with many different disabilities. Of course, continued participation in family life remained of critical importance through this period. In 1989 a secondary condition began to extinguish the vision that remained, which set into motion a new stream of professional rehabilitation services and supports. By the spring of 1990 Glaucoma had turned out the lights completely, and the darkness I had feared so desperately was upon me. Strangely though, I found this to be a great relief rather than the tragedy I had imagined it would be. Through several professional rehabilitation sessions, and by joining peer mentoring and advocacy groups I was able to come to terms with this strange feeling, and to learn additional skills and strategies for living with no visual cues of the world around me. This is also about the time that I decided to explore CNIB as an employer, and to see if I could provide the sort of guidance and support to others that had been my pleasure to receive. Those 14 years were a wonderful experience of ongoing discovery for me, as teaching may be the best way to solidify one’s own learning. In other words, those we assist through this transition in turn help us all as we develop best practices and improved service. Following a 14 year career with CNIB I also served the blind community as the first National Equality Director employed by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), and as a Basic Computer Literacy Trainer with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB). Most recently I have enjoyed coordinating the CCB’s newly launched Get Together with Technology Program in Western Canada, which brings to the fore my passion for assistive technology and the power of peer mentoring. Without sight I have continued to travel far and wide, with trips to Conventions of and for the Blind in Anaheim California and Melbourne Australia, as well as to many events and activities in Toronto and Vancouver. Of course my work has taken me to many communities throughout Western Canada, and most particularly nearly all regions of BC and on Vancouver Island. None of which would have been possible without the services and support of organizations like CCB, AEBC and CNIB. For most people blindness generates a fear of extended movement, both within one’s home and community, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Independence comes from personal desire and increased skill. Many community organizations can assist with both through their mentoring and skill development programs. I remember always that life has little to do with what happens to me and 100% what I do about/with it. There is a quote I like to use from the National Federation of the Blind in the USA, “With adequate skill development and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance”, and nothing could be closer to the truth. Helen Keller said many years ago, “There is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight, but no vision”. She also challenged the Lions Clubs of the world to become the “Knights of the Blind, and to take up the crusade against darkness”. I too joined a Lions Club in 1992 and continue to work on the crusade that Helen Keller began in the 1920-s.

2 thoughts on “Advocacy Org Leaves the Scene: Thank you and Farewell ASIC, Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers

  1. Wow,

    Thank you for the services you have done for the blind/deaf community.

    Is there a reason that the ASIC is shutting down?

    Bryan B.

    Like

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