Resource Article: VIA Rail and the Wallet App on iDevices

VIA Rail Tickets and the Wallet App:

Note: The below steps assume that a VIA Rail profile has been registered on their Web Site.

1. On your iDevice install the VIARail App from the App Store. It’s free.
2. In the VIARail App log in using your user name and password, which then will display your purchased tickets on the main page.
3. At the bottom of the page is a button called, Boarding Pass, double tap on it.
4. Near the top of the page will be a button called, Add to Wallet. Do that for each ticket you have purchased. In my case I had two tickets, my sighted guide’s and mine.
5. Open the Wallet App to confirm that your tickets are listed. If you have more than one ticket they will be stacked under the same item in the list. Double tap on it and near the bottom you will find a number picker that you will flick in order to show the second, or subsequent tickets. This might well be where you’ll find the bar code that the Ticket Agent will need to see when you board the train.
6. To remove the ticket once the event/trip has passed, double tap on the ticket in the Wallet App, then double tap on the More Info button at the bottom of the page, then scroll through the page to find the Remove Button. It will ask you to confirm that you want to remove it. Each ticket will have to be removed individually.

End of article.

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Resource Article: The Cost Of Disability: Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, February 6, 2017

The Cost Of Disability: Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Where’s Your Dog?
ACTUALLY, I PREFER THE WHITE STICK, THANKS.

The Cost Of Disability: Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things can be found at this link:

Being disabled is expensive. Slap a label like “adaptive” or “assistive” on a product and the price skyrockets, just like that. It seems odd, doesn’t it? Exploitative? Yet, that’s what happens.

The free market was supposed to help us all. The invisible hand of competition was supposed to keep prices reasonable. We were supposed to have choice. Unfortunately, capitalism can’t accommodate markets that are too small to inspire competition, nor can it liberate us from monopolies that keep prices extortionately high. I don’t begrudge these companies the right to value the bottom line. People need to eat, after all. There’s such a thing as going too far, though. With basic Braille technology costing several thousands and wheelchairs so expensive you’d need a full-scale fundraiser to afford them, the landscape for low-income disabled people is grim unless they have access to substantial funding. Considering that we have to use screen readers, wheelchairs and other assistive devices every day, it’s not practical to expect us to simply go without. We’re not a manipulative community whining about handouts. We really do need these products, especially in professional and educational contexts.

Living as a disabled person can incur significant costs when adaptable housing is needed. Installing adjustable beds and stair lifts can become staggeringly expensive, and for those living in low-income housing, proper accessibility is by no means guaranteed. It’s bad enough to be chronically unemployed and live in low-income housing; but living in a place where you lose much of your independence adds considerable insult to injury. Don’t even get me started on the markups on prescription drugs. Even life-saving drugs routinely sell at a 400% markup (100% is generally what is considered reasonable). It no longer surprises me when I see the lengths to which companies will go to monopolize a market and shamelessly exploit people who are already disadvantaged. We’re not asking for a pity party, to be sure, but a little reason would not go amiss.

We’re not the only ones affected, either. There are numerous grants available from governments and charities, which are intended to ease our financial burden. For example, the Government of Alberta provides $8000 a year which is spent on assistive technology and disability-related costs while I’m at university. You would think that’s overgenerous—I certainly did—but even during years when I did not buy any assistive technology at all, the entire grant was put towards paying for the editing of inaccessible textbooks. What is more, the grant did not even meet the full cost; my university covered the rest. It makes my head spin a bit, it really does. Governments are well and truly stuck, because manufacturers of accessible products have few incentives to lower their prices. Why mess with a business model that is working so well? There is more competition than there used to be, it is true, but for the most part, prices remain astronomical.

Worse still, these companies have managed to convince charities and governments that their most expensive products are the best, in any situation. Even though there are other viable options out there, many school divisions and universities insist that JAWS, one of the priciest screen readers, is the only wise choice. Encouraging this view is advantageous, so companies are happy to charge what they do, knowing that someone will gather the necessary funding. The little things bother me, too. Take watches, for example: very few stylish accessible watches exist. Most are either obnoxious talking watches that draw a lot of unwanted attention (and make startling bonging sounds when you’re not expecting it), or braille watches (which aren’t braille at all, but tactile). These watches are generally affordable enough, but they are seldom fashionable. This may seem like a frivolous gripe, given the more serious struggles we face, but why can’t we have nice things? Why do we have to wear tacky accessories just because we’re disabled? I’m not a huge fan of braille accessories, but a lot of blind people are. Why can’t they have more legitimate selection? I mean, have a look at these charming braille hoodies: they say things like “peace”, “joy”, “Jesus”, and my personal favourite, “Can you read this?” The site boasts that you can “spark conversations with total strangers!” Uh, no thanks. If I really want to spark conversations with strangers, I’ll get a dog.

Simply having a disability is financially and socially punitive, and there are many who are happy to capitalize on the issue for personal gain. Certainly, this willingness to exploit customers is not unique to assistive technology companies. However, the problem is compounded when we’re forced to purchase necessary products, much as we wish we could do without them. It’s encouraging to see how many grassroots attempts to provide affordable adaptive products and services are emerging now. I am immensely proud of open-source screen readers and inexpensive mobile apps. We’ve come a long way. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s wise to ignore the nasty elephant in the room: being disabled is prohibitively expensive, and few people know it.

Guest Article: High Tech Tools for the Visually Impaired

High Tech Tools for the Visually Impaired

Image by Erikawittlieb (via Pixabay)

Assistive technology for those who are visually impaired is a personal topic to me. My sister-in-law has limited vision and recently came to live with my husband and me. We knew had a lot of work to do in order to prepare our old farmhouse for her and her guide dog, but we didn’t know where to start. I’m so glad we did our research, because as it turns out, technology has come a long way in making the home a more accessible place for those who can’t rely on their vision to guide them!

The technology behind things like voice recognition, GPS and speech to text has continued to get more and more advanced. With each advancement comes a wide range of uses for those who are blind or partially-sighted. When preparing your home for a new resident with a visual impairment, it might be useful to explore some of the high tech appliances, applications and gadgets out there to make daily living easier for those with disabilities. Explore these new high-tech products for the blind or visually impaired.

Talking Microwave

Imagine the convenience of a microwave that is just a little bit smarter. This microwave comes equipped with a voice that walks the user through each function and setting for the unit. It comes with the same functionality of a standard microwave including the rotating plate for even cooking as well as the added features for independent use.

Apple Watch and the iPhone

Wearable technology like the Apple Watch can be useful for those with visual impairments when paired with applications for voice recognition, personal GPS, and voice to text. In order for the Apple Watch to work in this manner, it needs to be paired with an iPhone.Personal GPS Apps

Moving to a new area can be challenging for anyone, but for a blind person learning a new apartment building or city block can be especially challenging. Personal GPS applications use the standard GPS technology and customize it for someone with limited vision. An app like Seeing Eye GPS adapts GPS for someone who uses a white cane or a guide dog in the community. LowViz Guide uses GPS technology to assist those with low vision to navigate inside buildings. Nearby Explorer not only provides directions to those who are blind, but also describes surrounding environments in such a way that the user knows what landmarks are in the area. Similarly, Trekker Breeze is a handy GPS device that “speaks” directions, and is a good option for those who don’t have a smartphone and can’t download an assistive app.

Smart Light Bulbs

The average light bulb gets an amazing update in the Smart Light Bulb. These lights can be controlled from a smart application or via programming that includes changing color, brightness, and timers. The bulbs have a variety of features that can be useful for those with visual impairments including being able to adapt light to the user with the best colors of light for the individual, brighter lights as needed and even controlling timed intervals.

Moshi Interactive Voice Response Clock

Instead of using those tiny buttons and hard to control dials to set an alarm clock, Moshi is interactive and voice controlled. The oversized digital read out is great for those with limited vision while the voice activation feature works for the full range of vision abilities.

Recognition Apps

For someone with a visual impairment, something as simple as recognizing color can make dressing independently impossible. While recognition apps started with things like identifying a popular song, they are now being used to turn a smartphone into a tool for identifying color, denominations of money and more. The Color Identifier uses the camera on the smartphone to scan, identify and then verbally share the name of the color scanned.

High tech gadgets are often made in order to make life easier, and this is the case for those with visual impairments. Talking appliances, smartphone apps and even light bulbs with a brain give users a bit more freedom and independence as they navigate through daily life and give them an opportunity to pursue their passions, whatever they may be. Things like recognition software will only continue to expand and open up more possibilities for uses by those with visual impairments.

Submitted by,
Jackie Waters
jackie@hyper-tidy.com

Newsletter: Braille Literacy Canada, January 2017 Newsletter

[Braille Literacy Canada logo]
Newsletter
January 2017 ● Issue #5

Notice to B LC Members: Save the Date

Our next annual General Meeting (AGM) will take place in Toronto on May 6th, 2017. We recognize that not all members will be able to attend in person, so we will offer some options for participating electronically. These will include appointing a proxy or submitting an electronic ballot. A notice with more details will be sent out to members in the next couple of months. We look forward to seeing you there!

New UEB Listserv

If you are learning, teaching or transcribing Unified English Braille (UEB) and are looking for a place to post questions, Braille Literacy Canada (BLC) invites you to join our UEB listserve. Subscribers can post to the list, and all queries will be answered by code and formatting experts. Information and announcements relevant to UEB will also be forwarded to this list.

To subscribe to the discussion list, visit https://lists.blc-lbc.ca/mailman/listinfo/ueb_lists.blc-lbc.ca

Focus Group Announcement

As many of you may be aware, the federal government is currently undertaking a consultation process to inform the development of new legislation aimed at improving accessibility and removing barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society. Public consultation sessions have been held in major cities across the country, but individuals and organizations are also permitted to make written submissions to the process.

The scope of these consultations is wide. Feedback is being sought to help determine the goals of the legislation, the approach it will take to improving accessibility, how standards should be developed, how compliance and enforcement should be handled, and what the government can do to support organizations in becoming accessible. More information on the consultation process generally can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/disability/consultations/accessibility-legislation.html.
For more information on the scope and reach of the federal government’s regulatory power, please see:
https://slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=laws_canada_legal.

Braille Literacy Canada intends to submit a position paper to the government outlining the importance of federal organizations ensuring that information is accessible and available in braille. To facilitate this, we would like to hold a consultation session with our members to gather input on what factors should be considered in this submission. Questions to consider may include:

(1) What arguments (academic, theoretical, practical, or otherwise) would you use to justify the importance of having access to braille from federally-regulated organizations for Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind?
(2) Should braille materials be on hand, available upon request, or, within a “reasonable” timeframe? If the latter, what would seem to be a “reasonable”
timeframe?
(3) In the reverse direction, should Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind have the right to submit documentation in braille to federally-regulated bodies?
(4) To what degree, if at all, should the legislation specify the standards to which braille is to be produced? What ‘standards’ should it adopt, and how?
(5) Should we attempt to solidify, through legislation (or regulation), Braille Literacy Canada’s (internationally recognized) role as the preeminent “authority”
for braille standards in Canada? If so, how?

Anyone interested in contributing to this discussion is invited to join us by telephone for a conference call on January 28th, 2016 between 1 and 3pm Eastern (10-noon Pacific, 11am-1pm Mountain, 12-2pm Central, 2-4pm Atlantic) or, alternatively, to submit written comments and feedback to info@blc-lbc.ca
on or before January 28th, 2016.

If you would like to participate in the conference call, please e-mail secretary@blc-lbc.ca
to register. Information on how to join the call will be sent to you a few days before the event.

We look forward to your participation on January 28th! If you have any questions or require further information in the interim, please feel free to email info@blc-lbc.ca.

BLC Committees

As many of you know, the work of BLC is done by committees. Here is a list of our current committees and their responsibilities. New members are always welcome!

For more information please send an email to info@blc-lbc.ca.

The web committee

* Maintains web site and social media and updates content with current events, resources and other items of interest.
* Works with other committees to update content as appropriate.

The membership committee

* Collaborates with the BLC treasurer and the Corporate Secretary to manage membership data.
* Ensures that email reminders are sent to those members who have not renewed their membership.
* Proposes options for increasing membership.

The communications committee

* Proposes options for increasing communication with BLC members and the general public.
* Prepares and distributes the BLC newsletter.

The braille formats committee

* Determines other guidelines that should be reviewed by BLC for use in Canada. Members of this committee must have a thorough knowledge of braille and must be familiar with issues specific to formatting.

The teaching and learning committee

* Conducts research related to braille instruction of children and adults.
* Seeks funding sources to support this research. Committee members should be employed as an educator of visually impaired students or be studying in the field.

The nominations committee

* Seeks candidates to fill vacant positions on the Board of Directors.
* Presents the slate of nominations to BLC members at the Annual General Meeting.

The braille promotion committee

* Proposes and implements activities to promote braille in Canada. The brailler bounce initiative is a project of this committee.
* Plans teleconferences on various braille-related issues.

The French braille standards committee

* Proposes and implements research and/or other projects pertaining to French braille in Canada.

The bylaws committee

* Drafts text for changes to BLC bylaws as appropriate. Previous experience with bylaw revisions is an asset.

Braille Screen Input on iOS Devices
By Natalie Martiniello

For people who are blind or who have low vision, one could argue that the built-in accessibility of Apple’s iPhone and iPad ranks among the most significant developments for our community since the year 2000. Based on universal design, Apple products led the way by demonstrating that technology could and should be accessible to diverse users from the start. Rather than retrofitting, universal design from inception has not only levelled the playingfield for those of us who are blind, but has also benefited users with perfect sight. After all, doesn’t everyone – sighted or blind – use Siri nowadays? And this is the point. When you make things accessible from the start, everyone wins. And the trend is catching on. Though Apple paved the way, other companies are following in their footsteps – Google’s Android, being one.

As someone who is blind and who has also taught clients who are blind, I have seen multiple examples of how this innovative technology can increase independence and opportunities. I have about 7 pages of apps on my iPhone. The true wonder and joy of all of this, for those of us who are braille users, is that all of these apps that are accessible with VoiceOver (the built-in screenreader on Apple products) can be used with a braille display. Suddenly, we have so much more access to braille – for learning, practicing and using it in our everyday lives. With the launch of the Orbit Braille Reader (sold by CNIB in Canada), the first low-cost braille display, access to braille information in this way is about to increase for many more people. Despite what mainstream news at times inaccurately proclaims, technology hasn’t replaced braille – it’s solidified its place in a truly exciting digital age!

As a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, I’ve harnessed the power of this technology with braille learners – many of whom are adults and seniors, when possible. It allows us to access far more material than ever before, and enables braille learners to practice braille in ways that are so meaningful to them – writing a facebook post, a tweet or an iMessage provides instant satisfaction to many, particularly for those who are losing their vision and who are eager to reconnect with the social world. These are just some creative ways one might use a braille display (connected to an I-device) during lessons.

I’d like to use the remainder of this post, however, to describe the use of the on-screen braille keyboard. Since iOS 8, braille users can activate an on-screen braille keyboard that they can use in place of the regular, on-screen QWERTY keyboard that usually appears for typing. Though many blind users, myself included, can and do use the regular on-screen QWERTY keyboard, it can be somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming to use, since the letters need to be located and selected one at a time. The on-screen braille keyboard, in contrast, allows you to form braille letters directly onto the screen, which greatly increases writing speed.

I use the on-screen braille keyboard exclusively for all my iPhone typing, and can type quicker than most of my sighted friends because of it. It’s also a great way for learners to practice braille. Using the on-screen braille keyboard requires them to think about how braille symbols are formed and what dots are included – It can be a great way to reinforce the learning of braille letters while accomplishing meaningful and relevant tasks on an I-device. Plus, the built-in screen reader on Apple products provides instant audio feedback, which is a great motivator and learning support for students!

To activate the on-screen braille keyboard:
1. Select the Settings Application from the Home Screen.
2. Press the “General “button, found within the Settings main menu.
3. Press the “Accessibility” options button.
4. Press the “VoiceOver” options button.
5. Press the “Rotor” options button.
6. Find the Braille Screen Input function.
7. If Voiceover doesn’t say, “Selected,” double-tap on braille-screen input to add it to your rotor.

Though it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the Rotor and how it works, I recommend this website which provides a very helpful explanation: http://www.voiceover-easy.net/References/RotorFunctions.aspx

Once you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll also want to configure your braille-screen input to best meet your needs before using it for the first time. Visit this link to learn more about how to select uncontracted or contracted input, six or eight key entry, and the braille code you wish to use when typing. By default, the braille code that is used for Braille Screen Input is Unified English Braille:
http://www.voiceover-easy.net/AdvancedOptions/OtherInputMethods.aspx#section0300

Once you’ve added braille screen input to your rotor and configured the settings for the first time, the braille screen input will now be available to you whenever you’re within a text field and need to type. Simply perform the Rotor gesture to select braille screen input.

How to Type using On-Screen Braille Input: Once activated, there are two options for typing using braille screen input. Table-top mode (when your device is laying flat on any surface) allows you to use your index, middle and ring fingers for typing as if it were a Perkins brailler. Screen-away mode, which I prefer and find more reliable, is preferable for smaller devices (such as the iPhone). To use braille screen input in screen-away mode:

• Activate braille screen input in your rotor
• Hold your iPhone in landscape orientation (that is, with the screen facing away from you, and the home button to the right).
• Hold your iPhone using your thumbs on the top edge and your pinky fingers on the bottom edge of your device. Your Index, Middle, and Ring fingers should now form two vertical columns of three dots just like the dots in the braille cell.
• Imagine this braille cell in front of you before typing, with dots 1, 2 and 3 placed vertically on the left and dots 4, 5 and 6 placed vertically on the right. Press down the fingers that correspond to the dots of the symbol you’d like to form. For example, press down your left index finger (which should be located on the top left of your screen in landscape orientation) to form the letter “A”, and press your left index, right index and right middle fingers together to form the letter “D”.

Try doing the entire alphabet for practice!

Other useful gestures when using braille screen input in screen-away mode:
• Swipe with one finger towards the left to delete the previous letter
• Swipe with one finger towards the right to insert a “space”
• Swipe with two fingers towards the right to move to the next line (VoiceOver will say “new line”)
• Swipe with three fingers towards the left to switch to contracted mode (which allows you to type contractions).
Swipe with three fingers towards the right to move back to uncontracted mode.

Now, you can type in braille on your device wherever you are!

Braille: A Story of Personal Life-Long Empowerment
By Leo Bissonnette, Ph.D.

As we celebrate the contribution of Louis Braille and his impact on our individual lives today, this issue features articles that make a strong case for the value of braille. My story adds to this accumulated statement of empowerment and the need to keep braille relevant in the lives of the blind today.

Like so many others in the blind community, I have listened to audio books since I was able to operate the record player that used to store talking books back in my early childhood. Today I enjoy reading books on my iPhone, using my Victor Reader Stream, or sitting at the computer. As important as the digital age is to me, nothing has even come close to empowering me as a blind person the way braille has.

A Little About Me
I was born with low vision and started my education working in large print. Then my mother, who was quite the advocate in making sure that I received a good education and essential rehabilitation services, felt that braille should be a tool added to my toolbox. So I started learning braille in third grade while attending the Montreal Association School for the Blind. I quickly took to using braille right away, and have used it as my first tool, taken from my toolbox, on a daily basis ever since.
Back to the Present
These days, what with the portability and low cost of ebooks, it seems that braille is struggling to keep its place in the lives of the blind. The high cost of braille displays compounds the problem, making it easier to simply abandon braille, or perhaps relegate it to infrequent use. Does it really matter if Braille becomes a medium that exists only in the memories of older blind people? Is it time to move on to more modern and cost-effective ways of communicating the written word, or should we fight to bring braille back to the forefront of our collective consciousness? Why is braille still relevant today?

I believe braille is essential for good writing. I would not be the proficient speller I am today if I had not read hundreds of thousands of braille words over the course of my life. While any decent screen reader provides the ability to spell words and review lines of text character by character, it is virtually impossible to catch all formatting and spelling errors in a document with speech alone. Anyone who uses text-to-speech software at all knows all too well the frustration of deciphering b’s from d’s, and sorting out all of the words that sound alike but are spelled differently such as there and their.

When I really need to digest something I am reading, I will slow my speech rate down or transfer the content to an SD card for later reading on my braille display. I am constantly amazed at the number of errors I find in documents I am reading in braille that I did not catch with speech alone.

Would I want to go back to the days before I had my iPhone and portable book reader? No way. Am I as likely to use a slate and stylus today as I was 50 years ago—although I still carry one in my brief case just in case I need it? Probably not. Can I imagine what my life would be like if I never again read another line of text in braille? I don’t even want to dwell on the thought!

Exploring Braille Settings on iOS
by Kim Kilpatrick

This will be the first in a series of articles exploring the use of braille displays with iDevices.

In this article, I will briefly describe the braille settings and show you how to pair a refreshable braille display with an iDevice. Braille support for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and iPad Mini is built into the screen reader which comes with your iDevice. This screen reader is called VoiceOver. Most braille displays work well with VoiceOver. You must use Bluetooth to pair a braille display with your iDevice. Unlike other Bluetooth devices (keyboards, headphones, speakers) braille displays are not paired in the Bluetooth settings but are paired in the VoiceOver braille settings.

Braille Settings
In Settings on your iDevice go to General, then Accessibility, then VoiceOver. You can also ask Siri to open VoiceOver settings. Double tap on Braille.

The settings are as follows (double tap each setting to explore its options):
1. Braille Display Output (this is what you read on your display). You can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille. Double tap on the one you want.
2. Braille Display Input (what you use when brailling with your display). Again, you can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille.
3. Automatic Braille Translation: When this is turned on, it translates braille contractions as you type. When it is off, it waits until you press space to translate the braille.
4. Braille Screen Input: This is for typing braille on the screen of your iDevice. I will discuss this in a future article.
5. Status Cells: This will also be discussed in a later article.
6. Equations Use Nemeth Code: You can toggle this off or on depending on how you feel about Nemeth code.
7. Show on screen keyboard: I will discuss this in a future article.
8. Turn pages when panning: This is also a toggle and I suggest you leave it on as when reading a book it will just keep going to the next page.
9. Braille Translation: In English braille your options are: English (unified), English (US) and English (United Kingdom)
10. Alert display duration: This will be discussed in a future article.
11. Choose a braille display: Verify that Bluetooth is enabled on your iDevice.

Pairing Your Braille Display
Make sure that your braille display is in Bluetooth or pairing mode. How you achieve this varies depending on your display (consult your braille display manual). Then, find your braille display in the list below the heading titled Choose a braille display and double tap on it.

Some displays pair automatically while others require a PIN to be entered. Check your braille display manual for more information.

Once the display is paired, it should stay paired.

When turning off the braille display and/or iDevice, lock the device first, then turn off the display. When turning them back on, turn on the braille display first then unlock your device. They should pair again without you having to do anything in the braille settings.

If you need help using your braille display with your iPhone, or have questions or topics you wish to be covered, let us know.

BLC on Social Media

Braille Literacy Canada is now on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn! Find us there to receive news about BLC and braille, to stay informed, and to join a network of others devoted to braille just like you.

[Twitter]@brllitcan
[Facebook] Braille Literacy Canada/brailleliteracycanada.us10.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=83d7b705ce15164e7d276ebc9&id=5801fede7f&e=50d41d60d5>
[LinkedIn]LinkedIn/brailleliteracycanada.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=83d7b705ce15164e7d276ebc9&id=a06b5e8777&e=50d41d60d5>

Web Accessibility Advocacy: Letter to West Jet by Peg Mercer

To Whom It May Concern
Disability Assistance, West Jet
disabilityassistance@westjet.com

My name is Peg Mercer and I often travel with West Jet. I am a blind person and use screen-reading software to access information on the computer screen.

I often purchase airline tickets online. For several years, I appreciated the efforts that West Jet took to implement measures of accessibility to their site. The booking page for visually-impaired people was easy to access as the link for it appeared on the home page.

More recently, this booking page for visually impaired people has been moved inside an area under “Accessibility” which makes it harder to locate straightaway. The current issue that is most problematic with this booking page, however, is that now the date fields for choosing departure and return dates are no longer accessible to navigate by those using screen-reading software. The consequence of this current problem is that users of screen-reading software can no longer carry out online bookings on West Jet’s site.

I understand that web site content and design may need updating from time to time. It is very important, however, that the standard of accessibility for all users remain constant and not be compromised as a result of updating. I will add that ideally, accessibility standards need to be built in to the site globally so that accessible design is present in all areas of the site and not restricted to segregated sections of the site. In this way, the site would be easy for anyone to utilize from any page of it.

I trust that West Jet may consult with experts in web design that conform to accessible standards in order that all your site is fully and equally usable by all customers and that the standard does not change when updates are made.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important matter

Regards,

Peg Mercer
Pmercer51@shaw.ca

Cc: Access for Sight Impaired Consumers
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
Canadian Council of the Blind

GTT Victoria: Report on Trekker Breeze on BC Transit Busses, December 21, 2016

December 21, 2016

Two: Get Together with Technology (GTT) Victoria Members
RE: Victoria Regional Transit Street Announcements System, Trekker Breeze

We are very pleased to advise that the BC Transit Commission has approved an automatic vehicle locater system for the capital regional district fleet. This new system, once installed will allow BC Transit to implement accessible stop announcement systems that we have discussed in the briefing note you’ve seen earlier this fall. Christy Ridout, Director, Corporate and Strategic Planning for BC Transit has sent a note to us concerning it. We have had a recent discussion with her checking that we’re on the same page, which we appear to be. We’re meeting with her early in January, and we have offered the assistance of our membership as the process unfolds, which she was quite pleased to accept. Please see the full text of that email message below.

The new system will be implemented in Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo and the Comox Valley over the next 18 months, with the Request for Proposals being readied for Mid-January 2017. See the links at the bottom of this note to a couple of Times Colonist articles on the matter.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a wonderful Christmas holiday season, and a very safe, happy, healthy and successful New Year. We will continue to report progress as it unfolds.

Greg Koyl and Albert Ruel

From: Ridout, Christy
Date: December 16, 2016 at 4:14:09 PM PST
Subject: Letter regarding Trekker Breeze and Automatic Voice Annunciators
Dear Mr. Koyl and Mr. Ruel,

Your letter to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission was provided to me as the representative of BC Transit’s SmartBus Program.

Thank you for taking the time to reach out to discuss the future of BC Transit’s existing automatic voice annunciator system, Trekker Breeze. Your timing is excellent, given the Commission just recently approved a memorandum of understanding to move to a real-time technology solution for the fleet.

Under BC Transit’s new SmartBus program, Victoria’s conventional fleet of buses will be equipped with automatic vehicle locators by 2018. This technology, which is linked to schedules, will enable real-time tracking of buses in operation. Customers will be able to determine the expected arrival or departure time of their bus from a their selected stop either via BC Transit’s website, a mobile app, or passenger information displays at major locations. The technology will also enable next-stop announcements that are linked to bus stops, not just cross-roads as the Trekker device does now. As a result, the Trekker device will be removed when the real-time technology is installed. Although subject to negotiations with the preferred vendor through a competitive process, it is our desire to also equip all buses with passenger information displays so that upcoming bus stops are not only announced, but textually displayed for customers inside the bus.

While the existing voice annunciation system has assisted us in meeting an immediate need within our transit system, we are confident that our upcoming real-time technology will further enhance our services and better meet the needs of individuals with accessibility challenges.

Please let me know if you have any further questions about this project and I’d be happy to discuss further.

Best regards,

Christy Ridout
Director, Corporate and Strategic Planning

*Note: To read a couple of articles covering this event please access the below links:

Times Colonist Editorial, December 15, 2016:

Times Colonist Article, December 14, 2016:

Tele Town Hall, Let’s Get It Out There, Summary Notes, October 29, 2016

Hi everyone:
As previously promised, we are pleased to share a summary of the recently concluded tele town hall that was held on October 29.
We invite you to share your feedback with us by writing to LetUsGetItOutThere@gmail.com.

Please find our summary notes pasted below.

Some time in January, the Let’s get it out there tele town hall team will be convening to plan another meeting which we are hoping to host in the early spring and we will be keeping you abreast of our plans.

In the meantime, may we take this opportunity to once again thank you for your continuing interest and to wish you the very best for the holiday season. May 2017 be a bright and prosperous year for you.

Yours sincerely,
The Let’s get it out there tele town hall team

*****
Summary of Proceedings: Let’s Get it Out There Teleconference Town Hall October 29th, 2016, 1pm – 3:30pm Eastern

Moderator: Jane Blaine of Canadian Blind Sports

Special thanks to Louise Gillis of Canadian Council of the Blind, Pat Seed of Citizens with Disabilities – Ontario, and Robin East for their behind-the-scenes work on this teleconference session. CCB generously provided teleconferencing services for the call.

Panelists:

– Richard Marion (British Columbia) – He has been involved in blindness
and cross-disability advocacy for over 25 years. Richard has seen many improvements in accessibility over the years but at the same time, he feels that the issue of accessibility for people who are blind still needs to gain greater attention by society and decision makers.
– Albert Ruel (British Columbia) – A 60 year old totally blind father,
grandfather, and brother, as well as a partner for life to Brenda Forbes. He worked for 19 years in the forest industry when the visual world was available to him, and in the not-for-profit rehabilitation and consumer sectors since 1992 when his vision was perfected to total blindness.
– Melanie Marsden (Ontario) – Has been an advocate for over 30 years.
She has a degree in social work which she obtained while raising two boys.
She is the mother of three. Personally and professionally, Melanie advocates for safe, effective parenting and believes that when we all work together, acknowledging that each person has a voice, we accomplish more.
– Anthony Tibbs (Quebec) – Has more than six years of experience on the
national board of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, as treasurer and then president, and has served on a number of other boards over the years including Guide Dog Users of Canada and Media Access Canada. With a business and law background, Anthony’s day to day job is as a litigation lawyer, but he continues to support the charitable and not-for-profit organizations that play such an important role to the community.
– Paul Edwards (Florida) – Was born in San Francisco and has lived in
Canada and Trinidad. Currently living in the U.S., Paul is a father and grandfather and has been a teacher, rehab counsellor, and administrator.
Retired now, Paul derives much pleasure as a volunteer advocate at the local, state, and national levels. Paul is proud of what every blind person everywhere accomplishes every day.

Notice to Readers

The notes below represent a summary of the comments, positions, and anecdotes which were made during the course of the town hall teleconference call. They are not attributed to any particular participant. While the comments have been paraphrased and edited for duplication and redundancy, a conscious effort has been made in the preparation of these notes to ensure that all perspectives on the issues raised have been acknowledged. All views are those of the speakers alone and do not necessarily represent the views or positions taken by any of the panelists, organizers of the teleconference call, or any organizations that any participant or organizer may represent or be involved with.

Question 1: In order to ensure that people who are blind, partially sighted, or deaf-blind continue to have a strong voice in Canada, what do you think the national consumer movement should look like in the future?

Panel Comments
– All consumers organizations need to actively engage with youth to
introduce them to advocacy, and give them the tools, networks, and experiences to engage in advocacy
– Many basic needs now better met (thanks in part to technology), so need
to determine the burning issues for the next generation
– Need to recognize and acknowledge the history and move on, albeit hard.
But as people who are blind and visually impaired, we need to be at the table in a united front and a united voice.
– Find consensus on issues between organizations. United voice is
important because when there are disagreements within the community, government and others do not take us seriously or choose to do nothing rather than choose one competing view.
– Organizations must provide some personal benefit to members in addition
to advocacy activities
– Must remain independent (acknowledge difference between a service
provider and a consumer organization) and have respectful relationships
– Collaboration does not mean uniting into a single organization

Discussion
– Major challenge is to ensure we can obtain enough financial funding to
carry out the organization’s activities. In order to do so, we have to ensure our organizations’ respective mandates are strong enough to put forward to potential funders
o How do we fund what is seen by many as an “intangible” (advocacy)?
Organizations have to find creative ways to raise funds, perhaps by providing value-added consumables or services, because the reality is that advocacy is what we do today to improve the situation five or ten years down the road – the results are not immediately measurable.
o Pursuing funding opportunities requires a specific goal. For example,
many people with physical disabilities are eligible for direct funding (attendant care), and that program has just been given a significant funding increase. Establishing projects and programs to support blind and visually impaired people may be one way to attract funding
– Question: How have ACB and NFB worked together in the U.S.?
o ACB and NFB in the U.S. are not necessarily a great example to follow
because while they sometimes work together and are strong when they do, information exchange, collaboration, and communication do not happen (at the national level at least) nearly as much as they should. At the local and state level there are some stronger ties.
o Setting up systems for continuing sharing of points of view and
building consensus is a key to success.
– How do we include youth from various backgrounds (sighted youth/blind
parent, blind parent/sighted youth, etc.)?
o With respect to the college and university population, many of our
organizations offer scholarships or other programs that touch this population, but we do not offer much beyond that to keep them connected.
Need to look at what we can offer these future leaders: networking?
mentoring?
– Need to look at other countries and other communities (e.g. women’s
movement) where organizations are operating effectively: how did they do it and what can we learn?
o Consider whether this research is itself a fundable (capacity-building)
project
o In the UK, there is a model whereby consumers have “taken over” what
was originally a service provider organization. How can we move from a “for-the-blind” service agency to an “of-the-blind” service agency?
o In Australia, there is a very strong single consumer organization that
provides input at the state and federal level
o In New Zealand, there is a hybrid model
– Multiple Canadian organizations should join together to establish an
arms-length advocacy entity to pursue common issues
o CNIB has a new more proactive advocacy program that may help to unite,
but in the end advocacy must be consumer-led
– Must recognize and, without judgment, accommodate stratification and
the multiple dimensions within the “blind” community:
o vision level (low vision, legally blind, totally blind, deaf-blind)
o newly blinded/experienced blinded/congenitally blind
o retired vs working vs unemployed vs student
o anglophone vs francophone
o independent travellers vs those who rely on other means (ParaTransit,
etc.)
o technologically equipped and literate vs others

Question 2: Canada is a small country in population; however, it is geographically quite large. Would it be better in Canada to ensure that, on a national level, there is one organization of blind working on projects and advocacy to help strengthen community activities provincially and locally?

Panel Comments
– The answer is not “one organization” as each organization may be
meeting different needs within the community. Working together in a cooperative and collaborative way is more important than the form it takes.
– Each organization should allocate resources (people, etc.) to
developing joint position papers that could then be supported by all the organizations that exist in Canada
– Need to strengthen existing coalition-building activities to ensure
these can withstand changes in personalities at the coalition table
– Funding and granting organizations are often pleased to see strategic
partnerships and collaborative relationships, so there may actually be an advantage to presenting a “united front” across several organizations when applying for such funds

Discussion
– There are different organizations but there aren’t so many that we
cannot work together, and each organization has a very different focus so that there is little overlap.
– The specialization of certain organizations on can be a valuable
resource that others can utilize and build upon where needed for advocacy initiatives (e.g. Guide Dog Users of Canada, Braille Literacy Canada)
– For unity to work, each of us must be respectful and non-judgmental
about the differing needs of others. Society has imputed an implied belief that in order to be ‘independent’ or ‘successful’ you must do X, Y, or Z perfectly, but as a community we must recognize that we don’t need to be a “perfect blind person” to be deserving of respect and inclusion in the community
o “We must see every person for who they are, and where they are. We
cannot judge people by what they can do; we have to judge them instead by what they do every day. Being blind every day can be hard, but it is also something we can be immensely proud of, and we must come to a point where every person who is blind is equally respected and valued where they are, not where some of us think they need to be.”
o Example: not everyone has the same ability (or interest or motivation
to develop the ability) to travel wholly independently, or to use a computer for advanced work, and we need to be willing to work with these different skill sets.
o Example: not everyone needs or wants to receive the same type of
service in a restaurant setting.
– Education needed about the difference between a consumer organization
and a service provider.
o This education has to happen in the blind community, but also needs to
involve decision-makers at all levels, so that they understand the very different messages that come from the blind and those who speak on our behalf
o Whenever the issue of the service provider (CNIB) is raised, it is
difficult to address because community members seem to be afraid of conflict, punishment. As a community we do not feel empowered.
o Need to be careful about this “consumer organization” vs “service
provider” distinction: consumer organizations could very well become service providers
– A service provider has no place doing advocacy and would have no place
being a part of any kind of coalition or network of consumer groups.
o On the other hand, the support services that a service provider can
offer to a coalition can be very helpful: preparing research documents, secretarial/admin support, funding support
o Ideally we should be sufficiently resourced to not require their
involvement
– Any single national organization will need to recognize our linguistic
duality which may be difficult. Many years ago, the federal government funded more translation projects that helped national organizations become more bilingual but this has not been a governmental priority for some time.
– Recognize that a national organization cannot meaningfully address
local issues. National bodies should focus on national issues (telecom, interprovincial transportation, etc.). However, national organizations should facilitate networking between local cross-organizational groups to advocate on specific local issues (e.g. LRT in Ottawa). At the same time, local experiences should be documented and communicated nationally because issues arising in one city are bound to arise elsewhere, too.
– Public and organizational awareness about the fact that there are
multiple consumer organizations within the blind community, and that no single person can speak for all (multiple opinions matter) is required.
Organizations which require input from the blind community need to be educated about the array of organizations with which they could consult and the need to consider input from more than one source.
– Grassroots: Any national organization must be respectful of the
grassroots and people’s local needs, which might be delivered through chapters and personal advocacy, in collaboration with whomever the local service providers might be
– Education of and to the public sector is an important starting point
toward larger changes

Question 3: National, provincial, and local organizations have tried working in coalitions. Are you aware of any activities that these coalitions have done? Would you support a more formal working relationship between the existing national organizations of the blind?

Panel Comments
– There are rooms for coalitions at all levels of advocacy (local,
provincial, and federal – e.g. government contacts).
– Experience in the US has shown that bringing everyone into the room,
including any proverbial elephants, works best in the long run. But for this to work effectively, the service provider must be a true member of the coalition and be committed to standing united with the coalition viewpoint.
This is particularly true where a service provider has a powerful voice to decision-makers and a powerful voice to the public.
– A formal working relationship and agreement to participate in a
coalition on a specific issue works best to ensuring continued success even as representatives and personalities change
– Active participation and support of cross-disability initiatives and
undertakings can help to foster supportive networks that we can then call upon when advocating for the blind community

Discussion
– Common issues that we can likely all agree need to be addressed:
o Employment, whether that is being trained, skilled, employed,
self-employed, entrepreneurship – there are great opportunities to forge collaboration. Universities do not necessarily prepare the blind for employment. In the US there are dozens of organizations with the overlapping goal of facilitating employment and entrepreneurship for the blind. Why not here?
o Rehabilitation service delivery models. DASM (Developing Alternative
Service Models) was a report done by BOOST many years ago. If we want to change how rehabilitation services are provided in Canada, we need to present viable alternatives and working together to consider what those models may look like would be a first step forward and may dovetail with defining the future role of the consumer movement.
– Benefits of coalitions (uni-disability and cross-disability):
o Enabling organizations to come together over clearly defined issues
o Develop goals and objectives in the advocacy sphere
o In a cross-disability context, this also helps different communities
learn about the needs of others (so that advocacy initiatives intended to help one community do not inadvertently undermine accessibility for another)
o Differences between organizations and viewpoints can be worked out
behind closed doors, away from the public eye
o Organizations can then speak as one unified voice
– Cross-disability coalitions can be powerful provided that (1) the blind
community is prepared to effectively present our positions and needs, and
(2) the blind representatives are willing to fight and stand up to have our needs given the same priority as others. If we are to be expected to support other groups, they must support us.
– Networking (meeting to discuss and propose solutions to specific
issues) solves problems when we are working with other entities and are not at cross purposes, without losing any individual autonomy in the process.
Example: When the Ontario government cut funding for the O&M training program at Mohawk College, BOOST initiated a meeting with all the different organizations and proceeded to network (which was the word used with the media and the service provider). The result was a continuation and extension of the funding.
– Question: Should a blindness-specific coalition be restricted to member
organizations that have at least 80% of their governing body be blind or partially sighted individuals?
o Regardless of the number chosen, in a coalition of consumer groups, by
definition most consumer organizations will meet such a requirement.
However, there can also be a need for expertise, resources, and information from outside of our own sphere of what we have and can provide to such an initiative. Cutting out organizations by bright line rules risks losing out on expertise and feedback.
o This would be nice to have, but it isn’t necessarily a requirement
particularly on an issue-specific coalition. There are a lot of cross-disability networks and coalitions which have been very successful (e.g. AODA Alliance and Barrier Free Canada, each of which have a mixture of consumer organizations, service groups, etc.). Service organizations do have a level of expertise they can bring to that, as well as administrative resources that the consumer groups may not have.
o Bringing on board other professionals and entities in the blindness or
disability field, even though they do not meet the criteria as indicated, may be important on specific issues.
o Being a ‘member’ and ‘involved’ in a coalition does not necessarily
make one a ‘voting’ member: service providers could participate and support without setting coalition direction

Question 4: Why do you think the blindness community is so fragmented in its approach to advocacy and community activities?

Panel Comments
– “Fragmentation” is likely not real when it is applied to specific
issues. If we coalesce around making change and building coalition as core values, the fragmentation that exists across organizations will become irrelevant.
– As discussed above, accessibility needs across the “blind” population
vary considerably (to say nothing of those who may have additional needs beyond blindness). In a group of ten blind restaurant patrons, one might well need a sighted reader as well as large print, high contrast, braille, audio, and e-Text menus to accommodate everyone’s abilities or information access preferences.
– We lack the singular community identity of “blind”: we use many
different euphemisms to describe “blindness” (blind, visually impaired, partially sighted, etc.). Should we refer to it as the ‘blindness spectrum’
instead?
– “When two blind folks get angry with each other, a new organization is
born.” We lose focus and get tied up in ego and mistrust and we see disagreements on issues as an ending place. We need to view our disagreements as a starting place to find common ground, build trust and respect, and check our egos at the door.
– Funders want people who present a united front, who will be working
together with other organizations to achieve more.

Discussion
– Is there really fragmentation? To be sure, we are diverse and have
diverse needs, but perhaps the community is not truly fragmented.
– New communication mechanisms offer new opportunities to overcome
geographic fragmentation, if we are willing to work with it and make an effort to make it work for us
o Online streams (e.g. ACB Radio) and podcasts represent a new frontier
that we could use to build consensus in Canada if organizations can work collaboratively together to create programming
o E-mail has sometimes not served us well as a community, as it is too
easy to put a literal understanding on the written words and adopt contrary positions (or the mistaken belief that there are contrary positions), rather than working through to find commonality
– We need to build more “blind pride” into the very core of our being,
and more use of the word “blind” (to include the various levels of visual
impairment) so that we do try to unify ourselves.
– This may be a difficult sell to older individuals who are losing their
vision. Education is needed on the range and the spectrum, but whether describing everyone as ‘blind’ will succeed at uniting us.
– In 1975, the Cuban government said to the disability community, “this
is your revolution so get organized”. As a result, the president of each national disability group has a seat in the national assembly, and blind people are integrated in every level of society as a result. The Canadian disability act consultations represent the closest chance we’ve ever had to a revolution of our own in Canada.
– Some years ago, there was the formation of the Consumer Access Group
(CAG), which was hoped to bring, particularly, consumer organizations closer together. What CAG doesn’t appear to have found is the one burning issue that will motivate all these organizations to move in a single direction
– We need to get away from the “shackles” that prevent forward progress:
the one agency (CNIB) that is perceived as being “in charge” of all the names and addresses of blind people all over Canada.
o Federal government dollars flowing to CNIB for its Ottawa office, which
has no business “advocating” for the blind, really ought to have gone to consumers to make resources happen to the consumer movement
o In order to get funds from the federal government, it should put in
place programs that demonstrate its attempts to reach out and include the consumer organizations and consumers.
o The perception that the ‘service provider’ is a risk or fragmenting
force varies by province. In Quebec, where rehabilitation services are provided by the government, there is less of a divisive stance
– Fragmentation, if it exists at all, can be overcome by inclusive
advocacy that is done for all, with the whole community in mind, including those with other disabilities
– Important to recognize that we are not all, individually, experts on
everything – network is important to have individuals we can refer to for specific situations and needs (overcomes fragmentation)
– Egoism, lack of respect and unprofessional behaviour between advocates
limits our ability to move forward, and it is time for the community as a whole to step in and implement zero-tolerance policies toward that behaviour.
– Inclusion and universal design must be accomplished within our
organizations. People have different styles of approaching advocacy and different skill sets, and we have not (as a community) necessarily been very accepting of different approaches.
– Must recognize that people who are newly blinded often feel a great
deal of shame about their vision loss, thanks to the prejudice that courses through our society about blindness. If we can help to make it “ok” to be visually impaired, “ok” to be blind, in the eyes of the greater community, and begin to collect those people into our group rather than having them hide in the closest by themselves (unaware of resources and possibilities), this could help to unify and grow our advocacy community.
– Peer support activities, such as GTT-style groups, bring together a
diverse group of individuals with varying skill sets and backgrounds over a common uniting theme (technology) to allow information sharing and learning, which should help to narrow technological gaps in the community
– A coalition can be a coalition of three people. We need to build the
organizations just the way they are for now, and once we have a critical mass of people in the organizations, then the organizations can get together and work.
– Some fragmentation exists in that there is a gap in service and
attention to those between perhaps 25 and 60 who fall above the reach of “children and youth” programs and below the reach of “seniors” programs, but who nonetheless have a wealth of information, experience, and skills to contribute

Summary Notes: Tele Town Hall Notes for Circulation and Ongoing Discussion, December 2, 2016

Summary of Proceedings: Let’s Get it Out There Teleconference Town Hall
October 29th, 2016, 1pm – 3:30pm Eastern

Moderator: Jane Blaine of Canadian Blind Sports

Special thanks to Louise Gillis of Canadian Council of the Blind, Pat Seed of Citizens with Disabilities – Ontario, and Robin East for their behind-the-scenes work on this teleconference session. CCB generously provided teleconferencing services for the call.

Panelists:

– Richard Marion (British Columbia) – He has been involved in blindness and cross-disability advocacy for over 25 years. Richard has seen many improvements in accessibility over the years but at the same time, he feels that the issue of accessibility for people who are blind still needs to gain greater attention by society and decision makers.
– Albert Ruel (British Columbia) – A 60 year old totally blind father, grandfather, and brother, as well as a partner for life to Brenda Forbes. He worked for 19 years in the forest industry when the visual world was available to him, and in the not-for-profit rehabilitation and consumer sectors since 1992 when his vision was perfected to total blindness.
– Melanie Marsden (Ontario) – Has been an advocate for over 30 years. She has a degree in social work which she obtained while raising two boys. She is the mother of three. Personally and professionally, Melanie advocates for safe, effective parenting and believes that when we all work together, acknowledging that each person has a voice, we accomplish more.
– Anthony Tibbs (Quebec) – Has more than six years of experience on the national board of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, as treasurer and then president, and has served on a number of other boards over the years including Guide Dog Users of Canada and Media Access Canada. With a business and law background, Anthony’s day to day job is as a litigation lawyer, but he continues to support the charitable and not-for-profit organizations that play such an important role to the community.
– Paul Edwards (Florida) – Was born in San Francisco and has lived in Canada and Trinidad. Currently living in the U.S., Paul is a father and grandfather and has been a teacher, rehab counsellor, and administrator. Retired now, Paul derives much pleasure as a volunteer advocate at the local, state, and national levels. Paul is proud of what every blind person everywhere accomplishes every day.

Notice to Readers

The notes below represent a summary of the comments, positions, and anecdotes which were made during the course of the town hall teleconference call. They are not attributed to any particular participant. While the comments have been paraphrased and edited for duplication and redundancy, a conscious effort has been made in the preparation of these notes to ensure that all perspectives on the issues raised have been acknowledged. All views are those of the speakers alone and do not necessarily represent the views or positions taken by any of the panelists, organizers of the teleconference call, or any organizations that any participant or organizer may represent or be involved with.

Question 1: In order to ensure that people who are blind, partially sighted, or deaf-blind continue to have a strong voice in Canada, what do you think the national consumer movement should look like in the future?

Panel Comments
– All consumers organizations need to actively engage with youth to introduce them to advocacy, and give them the tools, networks, and experiences to engage in advocacy
– Many basic needs now better met (thanks in part to technology), so need to determine the burning issues for the next generation
– Need to recognize and acknowledge the history and move on, albeit hard. But as people who are blind and visually impaired, we need to be at the table in a united front and a united voice.
– Find consensus on issues between organizations. United voice is important because when there are disagreements within the community, government and others do not take us seriously or choose to do nothing rather than choose one competing view.
– Organizations must provide some personal benefit to members in addition to advocacy activities
– Must remain independent (acknowledge difference between a service provider and a consumer organization) and have respectful relationships
– Collaboration does not mean uniting into a single organization

Discussion
– Major challenge is to ensure we can obtain enough financial funding to carry out the organization’s activities. In order to do so, we have to ensure our organizations’ respective mandates are strong enough to put forward to potential funders
o How do we fund what is seen by many as an “intangible” (advocacy)? Organizations have to find creative ways to raise funds, perhaps by providing value-added consumables or services, because the reality is that advocacy is what we do today to improve the situation five or ten years down the road – the results are not immediately measurable.
o Pursuing funding opportunities requires a specific goal. For example, many people with physical disabilities are eligible for direct funding (attendant care), and that program has just been given a significant funding increase. Establishing projects and programs to support blind and visually impaired people may be one way to attract funding
– Question: How have ACB and NFB worked together in the U.S.?
o ACB and NFB in the U.S. are not necessarily a great example to follow because while they sometimes work together and are strong when they do, information exchange, collaboration, and communication do not happen (at the national level at least) nearly as much as they should. At the local and state level there are some stronger ties.
o Setting up systems for continuing sharing of points of view and building consensus is a key to success.
– How do we include youth from various backgrounds (sighted youth/blind parent, blind parent/sighted youth, etc.)?
o With respect to the college and university population, many of our organizations offer scholarships or other programs that touch this population, but we do not offer much beyond that to keep them connected. Need to look at what we can offer these future leaders: networking? mentoring?
– Need to look at other countries and other communities (e.g. women’s movement) where organizations are operating effectively: how did they do it and what can we learn?
o Consider whether this research is itself a fundable (capacity-building) project
o In the UK, there is a model whereby consumers have “taken over” what was originally a service provider organization. How can we move from a “for-the-blind” service agency to an “of-the-blind” service agency?
o In Australia, there is a very strong single consumer organization that provides input at the state and federal level
o In New Zealand, there is a hybrid model
– Multiple Canadian organizations should join together to establish an arms-length advocacy entity to pursue common issues
o CNIB has a new more proactive advocacy program that may help to unite, but in the end advocacy must be consumer-led
– Must recognize and, without judgment, accommodate stratification and the multiple dimensions within the “blind” community:
o vision level (low vision, legally blind, totally blind, deaf-blind)
o newly blinded/experienced blinded/congenitally blind
o retired vs working vs unemployed vs student
o anglophone vs francophone
o independent travellers vs those who rely on other means (ParaTransit, etc.)
o technologically equipped and literate vs others

Question 2: Canada is a small country in population; however, it is geographically quite large. Would it be better in Canada to ensure that, on a national level, there is one organization of blind working on projects and advocacy to help strengthen community activities provincially and locally?

Panel Comments
– The answer is not “one organization” as each organization may be meeting different needs within the community. Working together in a cooperative and collaborative way is more important than the form it takes.
– Each organization should allocate resources (people, etc.) to developing joint position papers that could then be supported by all the organizations that exist in Canada
– Need to strengthen existing coalition-building activities to ensure these can withstand changes in personalities at the coalition table
– Funding and granting organizations are often pleased to see strategic partnerships and collaborative relationships, so there may actually be an advantage to presenting a “united front” across several organizations when applying for such funds

Discussion
– There are different organizations but there aren’t so many that we cannot work together, and each organization has a very different focus so that there is little overlap.
– The specialization of certain organizations on can be a valuable resource that others can utilize and build upon where needed for advocacy initiatives (e.g. Guide Dog Users of Canada, Braille Literacy Canada)
– For unity to work, each of us must be respectful and non-judgmental about the differing needs of others. Society has imputed an implied belief that in order to be ‘independent’ or ‘successful’ you must do X, Y, or Z perfectly, but as a community we must recognize that we don’t need to be a “perfect blind person” to be deserving of respect and inclusion in the community
o “We must see every person for who they are, and where they are. We cannot judge people by what they can do; we have to judge them instead by what they do every day. Being blind every day can be hard, but it is also something we can be immensely proud of, and we must come to a point where every person who is blind is equally respected and valued where they are, not where some of us think they need to be.”
o Example: not everyone has the same ability (or interest or motivation to develop the ability) to travel wholly independently, or to use a computer for advanced work, and we need to be willing to work with these different skill sets.
o Example: not everyone needs or wants to receive the same type of service in a restaurant setting.
– Education needed about the difference between a consumer organization and a service provider.
o This education has to happen in the blind community, but also needs to involve decision-makers at all levels, so that they understand the very different messages that come from the blind and those who speak on our behalf
o Whenever the issue of the service provider (CNIB) is raised, it is difficult to address because community members seem to be afraid of conflict, punishment. As a community we do not feel empowered.
o Need to be careful about this “consumer organization” vs “service provider” distinction: consumer organizations could very well become service providers
– A service provider has no place doing advocacy and would have no place being a part of any kind of coalition or network of consumer groups.
o On the other hand, the support services that a service provider can offer to a coalition can be very helpful: preparing research documents, secretarial/admin support, funding support
o Ideally we should be sufficiently resourced to not require their involvement
– Any single national organization will need to recognize our linguistic duality which may be difficult. Many years ago, the federal government funded more translation projects that helped national organizations become more bilingual but this has not been a governmental priority for some time.
– Recognize that a national organization cannot meaningfully address local issues. National bodies should focus on national issues (telecom, interprovincial transportation, etc.). However, national organizations should facilitate networking between local cross-organizational groups to advocate on specific local issues (e.g. LRT in Ottawa). At the same time, local experiences should be documented and communicated nationally because issues arising in one city are bound to arise elsewhere, too.
– Public and organizational awareness about the fact that there are multiple consumer organizations within the blind community, and that no single person can speak for all (multiple opinions matter) is required. Organizations which require input from the blind community need to be educated about the array of organizations with which they could consult and the need to consider input from more than one source.
– Grassroots: Any national organization must be respectful of the grassroots and people’s local needs, which might be delivered through chapters and personal advocacy, in collaboration with whomever the local service providers might be
– Education of and to the public sector is an important starting point toward larger changes

Question 3: National, provincial, and local organizations have tried working in coalitions. Are you aware of any activities that these coalitions have done? Would you support a more formal working relationship between the existing national organizations of the blind?

Panel Comments
– There are rooms for coalitions at all levels of advocacy (local, provincial, and federal – e.g. government contacts).
– Experience in the US has shown that bringing everyone into the room, including any proverbial elephants, works best in the long run. But for this to work effectively, the service provider must be a true member of the coalition and be committed to standing united with the coalition viewpoint. This is particularly true where a service provider has a powerful voice to decision-makers and a powerful voice to the public.
– A formal working relationship and agreement to participate in a coalition on a specific issue works best to ensuring continued success even as representatives and personalities change
– Active participation and support of cross-disability initiatives and undertakings can help to foster supportive networks that we can then call upon when advocating for the blind community

Discussion
– Common issues that we can likely all agree need to be addressed:
o Employment, whether that is being trained, skilled, employed, self-employed, entrepreneurship – there are great opportunities to forge collaboration. Universities do not necessarily prepare the blind for employment. In the US there are dozens of organizations with the overlapping goal of facilitating employment and entrepreneurship for the blind. Why not here?
o Rehabilitation service delivery models. DASM (Developing Alternative Service Models) was a report done by BOOST many years ago. If we want to change how rehabilitation services are provided in Canada, we need to present viable alternatives and working together to consider what those models may look like would be a first step forward and may dovetail with defining the future role of the consumer movement.
– Benefits of coalitions (uni-disability and cross-disability):
o Enabling organizations to come together over clearly defined issues
o Develop goals and objectives in the advocacy sphere
o In a cross-disability context, this also helps different communities learn about the needs of others (so that advocacy initiatives intended to help one community do not inadvertently undermine accessibility for another)
o Differences between organizations and viewpoints can be worked out behind closed doors, away from the public eye
o Organizations can then speak as one unified voice
– Cross-disability coalitions can be powerful provided that (1) the blind community is prepared to effectively present our positions and needs, and (2) the blind representatives are willing to fight and stand up to have our needs given the same priority as others. If we are to be expected to support other groups, they must support us.
– Networking (meeting to discuss and propose solutions to specific issues) solves problems when we are working with other entities and are not at cross purposes, without losing any individual autonomy in the process. Example: When the Ontario government cut funding for the O&M training program at Mohawk College, BOOST initiated a meeting with all the different organizations and proceeded to network (which was the word used with the media and the service provider). The result was a continuation and extension of the funding.
– Question: Should a blindness-specific coalition be restricted to member organizations that have at least 80% of their governing body be blind or partially sighted individuals?
o Regardless of the number chosen, in a coalition of consumer groups, by definition most consumer organizations will meet such a requirement. However, there can also be a need for expertise, resources, and information from outside of our own sphere of what we have and can provide to such an initiative. Cutting out organizations by bright line rules risks losing out on expertise and feedback.
o This would be nice to have, but it isn’t necessarily a requirement particularly on an issue-specific coalition. There are a lot of cross-disability networks and coalitions which have been very successful (e.g. AODA Alliance and Barrier Free Canada, each of which have a mixture of consumer organizations, service groups, etc.). Service organizations do have a level of expertise they can bring to that, as well as administrative resources that the consumer groups may not have.
o Bringing on board other professionals and entities in the blindness or disability field, even though they do not meet the criteria as indicated, may be important on specific issues.
o Being a ‘member’ and ‘involved’ in a coalition does not necessarily make one a ‘voting’ member: service providers could participate and support without setting coalition direction

Question 4: Why do you think the blindness community is so fragmented in its approach to advocacy and community activities?

Panel Comments
– “Fragmentation” is likely not real when it is applied to specific issues. If we coalesce around making change and building coalition as core values, the fragmentation that exists across organizations will become irrelevant.
– As discussed above, accessibility needs across the “blind” population vary considerably (to say nothing of those who may have additional needs beyond blindness). In a group of ten blind restaurant patrons, one might well need a sighted reader as well as large print, high contrast, braille, audio, and e-Text menus to accommodate everyone’s abilities or information access preferences.
– We lack the singular community identity of “blind”: we use many different euphemisms to describe “blindness” (blind, visually impaired, partially sighted, etc.). Should we refer to it as the ‘blindness spectrum’ instead?
– “When two blind folks get angry with each other, a new organization is born.” We lose focus and get tied up in ego and mistrust and we see disagreements on issues as an ending place. We need to view our disagreements as a starting place to find common ground, build trust and respect, and check our egos at the door.
– Funders want people who present a united front, who will be working together with other organizations to achieve more.

Discussion
– Is there really fragmentation? To be sure, we are diverse and have diverse needs, but perhaps the community is not truly fragmented.
– New communication mechanisms offer new opportunities to overcome geographic fragmentation, if we are willing to work with it and make an effort to make it work for us
o Online streams (e.g. ACB Radio) and podcasts represent a new frontier that we could use to build consensus in Canada if organizations can work collaboratively together to create programming
o E-mail has sometimes not served us well as a community, as it is too easy to put a literal understanding on the written words and adopt contrary positions (or the mistaken belief that there are contrary positions), rather than working through to find commonality
– We need to build more “blind pride” into the very core of our being, and more use of the word “blind” (to include the various levels of visual impairment) so that we do try to unify ourselves.
– This may be a difficult sell to older individuals who are losing their vision. Education is needed on the range and the spectrum, but whether describing everyone as ‘blind’ will succeed at uniting us.
– In 1975, the Cuban government said to the disability community, “this is your revolution so get organized”. As a result, the president of each national disability group has a seat in the national assembly, and blind people are integrated in every level of society as a result. The Canadian disability act consultations represent the closest chance we’ve ever had to a revolution of our own in Canada.
– Some years ago, there was the formation of the Consumer Access Group (CAG), which was hoped to bring, particularly, consumer organizations closer together. What CAG doesn’t appear to have found is the one burning issue that will motivate all these organizations to move in a single direction
– We need to get away from the “shackles” that prevent forward progress: the one agency (CNIB) that is perceived as being “in charge” of all the names and addresses of blind people all over Canada.
o Federal government dollars flowing to CNIB for its Ottawa office, which has no business “advocating” for the blind, really ought to have gone to consumers to make resources happen to the consumer movement
o In order to get funds from the federal government, it should put in place programs that demonstrate its attempts to reach out and include the consumer organizations and consumers.
o The perception that the ‘service provider’ is a risk or fragmenting force varies by province. In Quebec, where rehabilitation services are provided by the government, there is less of a divisive stance
– Fragmentation, if it exists at all, can be overcome by inclusive advocacy that is done for all, with the whole community in mind, including those with other disabilities
– Important to recognize that we are not all, individually, experts on everything – network is important to have individuals we can refer to for specific situations and needs (overcomes fragmentation)
– Egoism, lack of respect and unprofessional behaviour between advocates limits our ability to move forward, and it is time for the community as a whole to step in and implement zero-tolerance policies toward that behaviour.
– Inclusion and universal design must be accomplished within our organizations. People have different styles of approaching advocacy and different skill sets, and we have not (as a community) necessarily been very accepting of different approaches.
– Must recognize that people who are newly blinded often feel a great deal of shame about their vision loss, thanks to the prejudice that courses through our society about blindness. If we can help to make it “ok” to be visually impaired, “ok” to be blind, in the eyes of the greater community, and begin to collect those people into our group rather than having them hide in the closest by themselves (unaware of resources and possibilities), this could help to unify and grow our advocacy community.
– Peer support activities, such as GTT-style groups, bring together a diverse group of individuals with varying skill sets and backgrounds over a common uniting theme (technology) to allow information sharing and learning, which should help to narrow technological gaps in the community
– A coalition can be a coalition of three people. We need to build the organizations just the way they are for now, and once we have a critical mass of people in the organizations, then the organizations can get together and work.
– Some fragmentation exists in that there is a gap in service and attention to those between perhaps 25 and 60 who fall above the reach of “children and youth” programs and below the reach of “seniors” programs, but who nonetheless have a wealth of information, experience, and skills to contribute

Consultations on Canada Post Services.

Hello everyone. I received this information and am passing it along although it is not quite related to technology itself. If the links in this document do not work, email me at
gttprogram@gmail.com and I will forward you the email.
Kim
In May, the Government launched an independent, evidence-based review of Canada Post to ensure Canadians receive quality and sustainable postal services at a reasonable cost.

This letter is to inform you that the first phase of the review process is complete. Today, I received the discussion paper prepared by the independent Task Force I established to undertake Phase 1 of the Canada Post review.

During this first phase, the Task Force undertook an analysis of Canada Post’s services and current financial situation, conducted public opinion research, met with key stakeholders, and examined international best practices for postal delivery.

It is clear that postal services are highly important to Canadians. Canada Post is an institution that is relevant and valuable to Canadians, and part of our fabric as a nation.

A copy of the discussion paper can be found on the Department’s Canada Post Review website.

The discussion paper will help inform the second phase of the review, which is being led by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The committee is carrying out national public consultations with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, beginning in Ottawa on September 20th. For more information on the consultations and how you can participate, please visit the committee’s website.

Based on its findings, the parliamentary committee will make recommendations to the Government on the future of Canada Post by December 2016.

This is only the beginning. A great deal of work has been done and more still needs to occur before the Government makes any decisions with respect to the future of Canada Post.

As always, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts on the review that will help ensure Canadians receive the postal services they value and need.

Sincerely,

Judy M. Foote, PC, MP

Minister of Public Services and Procurement