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Canadian Council of the Blind Newsletter
“A lack of sight is not a lack of vision”
Based on belief in ABILITY, not disability the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) is a vibrant network of active members across Canada. Each chapter is unique to its geographic area and engages in a variety of social and recreational activities based on the particular interests of their local members.
As we all know the first full week of February is White Cane Week and this is when we pay extra attention to demonstrating our ABILITIES. I do hope all who were able to take an active role in doing so through either display tables showing of how we use equipment to navigate everyday life, take part in some sports activity, speaking engagements or just one-on-one with someone we met along the way throughout the week.
Again this year we held a very exciting AMI Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Championship in Ottawa. Here we had a great opportunity to educate out two new umpires as to our way of curling. They both were at awe on how we set up and then executed the perfect shots made by all players. It was an awesome week with an increasing level of competition.
There were a number of new curlers who came to learn more which they did. They went away happy of their accomplishments which is another part of our mandate to assist persons with vision loss become more comfortable, more self-assured and be able to move forward through sight loss to lead a more fulfilling life.
This year we crowned a new Team Canada – Team Alberta had been here many times before and came close so often and this year the made it which shows that we never give up – try and try again then success. Congratulations to Natalie Morin and her team it was a great game. The audio play by play is available on AMI podcast so check it out.
Now we must continue through 2020 encouraging everyone to get their eyes examined regularly, work with health care to get the best possible care to prevent blindness, work with government to make Canada more accessible, plus all other things we do across this great nation to improve the quality of lives for everyone to enjoy life more.
By the time you read this Valentine’s Day will be gone but that is no reason not to care for the ones we love every day!
Oh yes, we have an extra day so happy Leap Year too.
Louise Gillis, National President
It was another fun and exciting awareness week from February 2 to 8. Events include our annual AMI Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Championship and countless local activities.
The winners of the CVICC 2020 were Team Alberta. It was their first ever gold, won by centimeters in the last throw by Natalie Morin. This very exciting game was on AMI-audio and was very well received. We can’t wait to see the exciting competition next year. If you are interested in the end scores of each game you can find them on the ccbnational.net webpage.
Come Celebrate the 2020 WCW Experience Expo!
The CCB Toronto Visionaries Chapter, Canadian Council of the Blind, welcomed you to our 5th great year! On Saturday February 8, 2020, we be hosted Canada’s only exposition and consumer show for those living with vision loss!
This year, the 2020 Experience Expo takes as its theme the ability for all of us to see clearly, to see the potential of people with sight loss as equal to the potential of other Canadians, and to show that, when it comes to having a clear view of their own potential, those who live with sight loss have a vision that is 20/20!
Once again, we returned to the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, 750 Spadina Avenue, right at the south-west corner of Bloor & Spadina in Toronto and just steps from the Spadina subway station.
In a single space with over 6000 square feet of room for more than 50 exhibitors, we brought together community groups, agencies, product and service providers serving the vision loss community here in Toronto.
* Free guest wi-fi provided was by BELL Canada
Visit our website at http://www.ccbtorontovisionaries.ca/WCW.php for more information.
President, CCB Toronto Visionaries Chapter,
Canadian Council of the Blind
Presenting Sponsors: Accessible Media Inc, BELL Canada, and VIA Rail.
Additional sponsorship provided by: Bausch + Lomb, Bayer, Labtician Thea, Novartis, and Best Western
Faith, Hope, and Love Chapter
As an ordained minister of Canadian fellowship of churches and ministers, I have started a CCB Chapter called Faith Hope and Love.
After joining CCB, I fulfilled a life long calling to the ministry.
We meet on the tag line of CCB once a month on the third Thursday 8pm NL time. We share special versed, songs and scripture.
If you are interested in giving us a try please get in touch with me at
709-257-3311 [email protected]
Or e-mail Michelle Bartram at [email protected]
Paster Lois Hibbs
Canada Reads shortlist has been announced, and they are all available in accessible content!!
Canada Reads is CBC’s annual battle of the books to find the book all Canadians should read. The theme for this year is One book to bring Canada into focus. A panel of notable Canadians will discuss and defend five diverse books during televised debates on March 16-19, 2020. All books are available in accessible format through CELA’s website.
This year’s contenders include:
Alayna Fender defending Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, by Megan Gail Coles
Akil Augustine defending Radicalized, by Cory Doctorow
Find it here on CELA’s website:
Amanda Brugel defending We Have Always Been Here, by Samra Habib
Kaniehtiio Horn defending Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Find it here on CELA’s website:https://celalibrary.ca/node/19566148
George Canyon defending From the Ashes, by Jesse Thistle
Find it here on CELA’s website:
More information, including interviews with the featured authors and the defenders, is available on the Canada Reads website here:
Find the shortlist in accessible formats here: https://celalibrary.ca/2020_CanadaReads
Advertisement: Get GPS apps for vision accessibility needs, brought to you by Bell. BlindSquare Promo and Nearby Explorer Online provide for safe, reliable, and independent travel by voicing directions, points of interest, and descriptions of surrounding areas both indoors and outdoors. Take advantage of these apps anywhere you go on Canada’s largest network. Learn more at bell.ca/network. Get Nearby Explorer Online for both Apple and Android devices for $0, or get BlindSquare Promo for Apple devices at an exclusive price of $9.99 for Bell Mobility customers (regularly priced at $54.99). Exclusive price available for a limited time only. Visit bell.ca/accessibility or call 1 800 268-9243 for more information.
GTT is an exciting initiative of the Canadian Council of the Blind, founded in 2011 by Kim Kilpatrick and Ellen Goodman. GTT aims to help people who are blind or have low vision in their exploration of low vision and blindness related access technology. Through involvement with GTT participants can learn from and discuss assistive technology with others walking the same path of discovery.
GTT is made up of blindness related assistive technology users, and those who have an interest in using assistive technology designed to help people who are blind and vision impaired to level the playing field. GTT groups interact through social media, and periodically meet in-person or by teleconference to share their passions for assistive technology and to learn what others can offer from their individual perspectives.
The CCB’s Get Together with Technology program offers a WhatsApp Channel for Canadians who are blind, deafblind and partially sighted.
This GTT Social Media channel is a good tool through which members can share their accessible and assistive technology discoveries, make comments, and ask questions about accessible and assistive technology.
For those who wish to join assistive technology discussions on our GTT WhatsApp group, simply follow this link and sign up: https://chat.whatsapp.com/Jyyj4uaMkXLEJ6W07Wwzmm
For more information please contact your GTT Coordinators:
Albert Ruel or Kim Kilpatrick
Introducing Snakes and Ladders by UNAR labs, a first of its kind accessible board game powered by Midlina:
Snakes and Ladders is a classic game played between two or more players on a gameboard having numbered, gridded tiles. A number of “ladders” and “snakes” are placed on the board, each connecting two specific board tiles. The objective of the game is to navigate one’s game piece, according to dice rolls, from the start (bottom left tile) to the finish (top left tile), helped or hindered by ladders and snakes, respectively.
While the game is based on sheer luck (you roll a dice and you navigate the board), our aim for the app is not just to bring a fun game but to use it as a tool to teach spatial orientation, spatial awareness, and familiarizing players with haptic feedback on smartphones.
The app and the gameboard is fully accessible via the phone’s haptics and by using our Midlina powered multisensory interface that allows players to interact with the game board using tactile and auditory feedback. In addition to the tactile cues and verbal announcement of all the board features, there are distinctive ascending and descending sounds associated with the snakes and ladders. By exploring the game board and following the ladders up and the snakes down, while also utilizing the verbal and tactile information, the game helps players (especially kids) to train their brain to think in a spatial, nonlinear manner.
Having built a spatial “picture” of the game board makes play more exciting as you will be able to determine as soon as the dice are rolled whether your game piece will be clear or have the fun of scampering up a ladder, or the frustration of sliding down a snake.
Spatial orientation and multi-sensory experiential learning are the hallmarks of all UNAR Labs games and Snakes and Ladders does not disappoint! Try it out for yourself and let us know your thoughts and suggestions!
Please visit our website at:
Introducing a New Assistive Technology Blog: Windows From the Keyboard Tips
Hello. This is Gerry Chevalier from the GTT Edmonton Chapter. This weekly blog provides tips that I find useful as a keyboard user of Windows. The information is for Windows10 and Office 365, although many tips still apply to older versions. The tips do not require a screen reader unless specifically noted. Thus, the tips apply whether you are a keyboard user or low vision mouse user.
Here is a new tip.
Windows List Views and First Letter Navigation Whenever you are in a Windows list or tree view, such as when you open a folder in File Explorer, you may arrow up and down the list to find the item of interest. However, you can also type the first letter of an item and Windows will jump your focus to the first item that begins with that letter. If you have several items that start with the same letter, just type that letter multiple times and Windows will move to each successive item that begins with that letter. Or, if you type 2 or 3 letters quickly, Windows will move to the first item that begins with those letters.
First letter navigation also works on the desktop which itself is a list view. While on the desktop you may press the first letter of an icon to jump to that icon which is much more efficient than arrowing around the desktop icons. If you have multiple icons that start with the same letter Windows will jump to each successive icon when you type the letter.
For JAWS screen reader users, note that shortcut keys such as JAWS+F6 to bring up a list of headings on a web page/document, or Jaws key+F7 to bring up a list of links on a web page are also Windows list views so you can use first letter navigation to more quickly find the heading or link of interest within those lists.
That’s it for this tip. Until next time, happy computing.
Get Together with Technology (GTT)
Beginners National Teleconference Call
You’re invited to the CCB’s GTT National conference call meeting for Beginners, where we will focus on the needs of computer, smart phone and tablet users who are just starting out and who want to know only the basics of accessible technology. This call will be one hour in duration and will take place during the day at 2:00 PM Eastern Time on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Also, this call will take place over the accessible Zoom Conference system, which allows participants to dial in using their landline phones, smart phones or computer.
Each month, there is a main theme, however, if time allows we will discuss anything else technology related that participants may wish to raise, so bring your ideas, concerns and nuggets of brilliance to share with us.
You can participate by phone or through a link from your smart phone, computer or landline from wherever you are.
The call-in info is:
Join Zoom Meeting
One tap mobile
+1 647 558 0588
983 959 5688
For more information, contact:
Kim Kilpatrick, GTT East Coordinator
1-877-304-0968 Ext 513
Albert Ruel, GTT West Coordinator
1-877-304-0968 Ext 550
Brian Bibeault, Volunteer Coordinator:
In the News
Blind people’s brains rewire themselves to help them track moving objects by sound, study shows
‘Enhanced’ hearing allows the visually-impaired to tune into subtle changes of frequency to track movements. For the first time, scientists have shown how changes in the brain explain improvements to other senses – a phenomenon that has inspired comic book superheroes like the Marvel character Daredevil.
Some visually impaired people are able to train themselves to use clicks as a type of echolocation to detect obstacles.
The latest research from the University of Oxford and a number of US universities tracked people who were blind at birth or lost their sight as children. They found their increased abilities may be possible because their hearing is much more finely tuned to variations in frequency.
Anyone who has heard a passing ambulance or police siren will be familiar with the way the sound appears to change pitch. This phenomenon, known as the Doppler Effect, is caused by a relative change in frequency of the sound waves. Being tuned into subtle differences in everyday noises may help blind people interpret their surroundings.
“For a sighted person, having an accurate representation of sound isn’t as important because they have sight to help them recognize objects, while blind individuals only have auditory information,” said Kelly Chang, one of the study’s authors from the University of Washington.
“This gives us an idea of what changes in the brain explain why blind people are better at picking out and identifying sounds in the environment.”
The findings are published in two papers. One study in the Journal of Neuroscience used MRIs to scan the brain activity of blind subjects and test how finely tuned their neurons were to subtle changes in frequency.
The second study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at how a region of the brain devoted to tracking moving visual objects in sighted people is rewired to focus on tracking these auditory movements.
Researchers also studied two people who had been blind from infancy but had their sight restored thanks to surgery as adults. In these cases, this tracking region of the brain, known as hMT+, was able to perform this role for visual and auditory movements.
Professor Ione Fine, a psychologist at the University of Washington and senior study author, said this was the first study to show these changes in the auditory cortex.
She said: “This is important because this is an area of the brain that receives very similar auditory information in blind and sighted individuals. But in blind individuals, more information needs to be extracted from sound – and this region seems to develop enhanced capacities as a result.
“This provides an elegant example of how the development of abilities within infant brains is influenced by the environment they grow up in.”
By Alex Matthews-King
Be My Eyes: the app that lets you lend your eyes to a blind person
Hans Jorgen Wiberg was 25 when he started to lose his sight. He was about to take over his parents’ farm. But he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that makes it hard to see things in the periphery.
Instead, he went back to university, got married and had a family. He was still studying philosophy when, five years ago, he came up with an idea for an app that would connect blind people to sighted volunteers to help with short, simple tasks.
“A friend was using Facetime to do this, but you always had to call someone you knew. I thought maybe we could do it another way,” Wiberg says from the sidelines of Oslo Innovation Week in Norway. In 2012, he went to a startup event in Arhus, in his native Denmark, where he met Christian Erfurt, a young business student who had already helped launch a health business. “Christian jumped on the idea.”
Three years later, Erfurt and Wiberg launched Be My Eyes, an app that has only one button – to connect blind people to volunteers. The app is now used by 600,990 sighted volunteers and 45,731 blind and partially-sighted people, most often when a blind person is in the kitchen, unable to read best before dates, cooking instructions or another detail in small print. It has been so successful, that neither Wiberg nor Erfurt ever finished their studies.
At Oslo Innovation Week, Wiberg is welcomed to the stage to collect the festival’s annual innovation prize. This year, the prize is a pink 3D printer the size of a small suitcase.
“The main ingredient in Be My Eyes is trust,” he tells the crowd packed into a warehouse converted into a food court on the docks. Nearby, the festival is exhibiting new designs for yachts and drones that reveal the bottom of the ocean, virtual reality that can help people with anxiety and new ideas about digital citizenship. Be My Eyes was championed for its simplicity and its potential to transform lives.
Accepting his gigantic digital printer, Wiberg says: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Be My Eyes was made here in Scandinavia. We have a very high degree of trust in each other. I hope that Be My Eyes can export trust to the rest of the world.”
Despite its tens of thousands of users, Be My Eyes has never been used by someone trying to deceive a blind person or to prank them, the company says. It does not reveal the identity or location of the blind person or the volunteer and it records all the calls, partly to guard against abuses, but also to learn about different test cases.
One of Wiberg’s favourite test cases was a woman using the app to read the results of a pregnancy test. “Sometimes there is information that you want to have for some time before you share it with other people,” Wiberg says. “This was this woman’s only chance to find out the results of her test without asking someone she knew.”
Warren Wilson is on his rounds for the Cambridgeshire blind charity Cam Sight when I reach him some weeks later, to hear about how he first started using Be My Eyes. Wilson has Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, a genetic disease that leads to sudden vision loss in young adults. He started to lose his sight at 18. At 27, he has learned how to cope with the low acuity, or sharpness of vision, and low contrast that come with the condition, even though he can’t read small type or see people’s faces.
“One of the most bizarre things I’ve used it for is out with my girlfriend,” he says. “She’s blind as well and has a guide dog. We lost a dog toy in some long grass and we were using Be My Eyes to find it! I assume it got hoovered up by a lawnmower or something because we never did.”
Wilson recommends the app to the blind and partially sighted people he works with at Cam Sight, though he says it is one of several apps that make life easier. Tap Tap See also employs the iPhone camera app. Users double tap the screen to take a photo of something they don’t recognize and the app speaks its name. Another app, BeSpecular, recruits volunteers in a similar way to Be My Eyes. They receive voice messages from blind people and respond in text.
All have their merits, Wilson says, but Be My Eyes is especially fast. Erfurt says the average response time is 20 seconds. The app is so popular that volunteers say they are sometimes not quick enough to answer calls. On the Be My Eyes Facebook page, volunteers say how rewarding the experience is, even though calls typically last less than two minutes.
Be My Eyes was started with a €300,000 (£265,945) grant from the Velux Foundation, a Danish fund. After they had secured funding, it took a while to find the right software developers to write the code. This was 2012, Wiberg recalls, and the early days of integrating video into apps. They launched in 2015 and the day after, they had 10,000 volunteers and 1,100 blind and partially-sighted users.
Though it started out as a non-profit, Be My Eyes is now working on a sustainable business model that means it will always be free to users. It will soon double its number of buttons to two, adding a specialized help button that will give users access to commercial companies, who will pay a small fee to be listed. That might include banking services, or tech companies. Be My Eyes will help them create a service suitable for those who can’t see, and list them through the app.
I ask how that works, if the user can’t see the buttons. “If you’re blind, you can’t see anything!” Wiberg says. He explains that the iPhone transformed tech for the blind and partially sighted by introducing a service called VoiceOver, which reads out the commands. Users typically turn off the screen to save battery life, and swipe up and down to operate the phone, listening to the options.
Be My Eyes recently launched on Android, which founders hope will help them expand into developing nations where iPhones are less common.
“Ninety per cent of the blind people in the world live in developing nations,” Wiberg says. “It would be a great pleasure for me if we could help people all over the world and be a service in many languages.”
Wiberg says that even though most calls are for very small tasks, each time a volunteer helps, it means a blind person can live a more normal life. “Before Be My Eyes, you would have to wait for someone to come around to help you with small tasks. When a friend came round, you would have a list of 10 things you needed help with, like sorting the post or reading instructions. Now you can get those things out of the way and your friends can just be your friends.”