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Canadian Council of the Blind Newsletter
“A lack of sight is not a lack of vision”
November is quite often a dreary month as we change season and fall colours begin to disappear, but at the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), we kept ourselves very busy as much of the Government business which had been quiet during election time, is now all in overtime mode.
As an example, the accessible payment committee is back in fast mode to complete what is needed by March as we work to make these systems more accessible to all. Stay tuned as we will provide more information in the coming months.
We have been working with other organizations in learning more about the future use of biologic and biosimilar medication to ensure that Canadians get the best health care possible. This will take considerable time and also education in many areas to reach this goal.
Our GTT program has been very active and providing excellent assistance to persons with vision loss across the country. This program has made a big improvement in many lives, and if anyone is interested in learning how to use technology, give our office a call (1-877-304-0968).
Individual chapters across Canada are deep into their fall activities. Anyone interested in becoming a member can call the number above and ask for information on how to join a chapter.
Our Board of Directors is currently reviewing the new bylaws as presented by the committee. This will take some time as everyone on the board has time to review the changes from previous years.
We are now moving into a time of holidays for all who celebrate in our multicultural membership so enjoy this time with family and friends to rejuvenate and be ready for 2020. It would be wonderful if we all had 20/20 sight but then there would be no need for our organization! Because we don’t have 20/20 sight we will use our VISION to remind our friends, family and coworkers to have their eyes checked on a regular basis.
Few months present as many multicultural celebrations as December. From Christmas to Omisoka, the last month of the year is “a world of holidays” Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Omisoka, Winter Solstice, Las Posadas, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Mawlid el-Nabi, Advent Fast begins (Orthodox Christian), Saint Nicholas Day, Immaculate Conception (Catholic), Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Catholic), Posadas Navidenas (Hispanic Christian), Solstice (Wicca/Pagan), Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra) (Zoroastrian), Feast of the Holy Family (Catholic), Holy Innocents Day (Christian), Watch Night (Christian), Rohatsu (Bodhi Day) (Buddhist), and others I have missed. Enjoy!
Louise Gillis, National President
Canadian Transportation Agency Accessibility Advisory Committee ++:
by Louise Gillis
As the CCB representative at the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) Accessibility Advisory Committee, I wanted to share with you some information from my meeting with the Committee and the Phase Two Consultation that is underway as of Dec 3, 2019. Your input is welcome and encouraged.
At our meeting four of the representatives from the Blindness related consumer groups, those being the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), The National Coalition of People who use Guide And Service Dogs, Guide Dog Users Of Canada (GDUC) and ourselves, The Canadian Council of The Blind (CCB) have decided to work together on this information gathering exercise, in the hopes that we can forward a strong, collective and concise message back to the agency. If and where differing opinions might need to be expressed by one or more of the four groups, the variance will be noted.
As many of you may be aware, on July 10, 2019, the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations were passed (ATPDR). The majority of the regulations will come into effect on June 25, 2020 and will apply to large transportation service providers that are federally regulated, while some smaller components will be coming into effect in 2021.
Two of more relevant areas that impact our community include….
- the completion of after security relieving areas for Guide and Service Dogs
- the installation and utilization of the accessible check in’s and Customs clearing Kiosks.
The CTA is also working on plain language Guidance Materials in the areas covered in the ATPDR for People with Disabilities and Federally Regulated Carriers. It is expected the draft will be distributed to the Representatives on the committee by mid-January 2020 and finalized sometime in Feb 2020.
A new three part test for acceptance of disability related complaints has been developed at the CTA. All complaints and the process established, are in conjunction with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and will be considered as following all aspects of Human Rights law in Canada.
For more information on this new process, it is available online at the following…. https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/accessibility#complaints
The ATPDR has established comprehensive and legally binding requirements on services, technical standards for equipment, communications, training, and security and border screening.
The Accessible Canada Act (ACA), which came into being on July 11, 2019, provides the CTA with new authorities to advance the accessibility of the national transportation system.
In Phase II of applying the regulations even further, the CTA has developed a consultation process to expand the regulations into more areas. We are asking that our members who may wish to provide input on any or all of the following four areas that will be dealt with next, submit them in point form via email to the following address [email protected] on or before January 3, 2020, so that we have time to write the submission and submit it to the CTA early next year.
Should you wish to read the entire consultation document the link is… https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/consultation-paper-phase-ii-accessible-transportation-persons-with-disabilities-regulations
Building on the developments of the Accessibility regulations in Phase I, Phase II of the ATPDR has four objectives. Questions pertaining to each objective have been listed below for your consideration and/or feedback.
A. Apply ATPDR provisions to small transportation service providers as much as possible – with adjustments, as necessary, to reflect their unique operating realities;
1) In extending the ATPDR to small transportation providers, what modifications to regulatory requirements, if any, are needed?
2) What would be the appropriate time frame for small transportation providers to come into compliance with requirements (e.g., 1, 2, or 3 years)? Do any requirements in particular require more time?
3) Are there any special accessibility-related challenges with small operators in any mode of travel in the federal network (airlines, tourist railway companies, bus operators, ferry operators) and the terminals that serve them, particularly in remote or northern areas of Canada? What solutions would help address these challenges?
B. Determine whether or not to apply the One Person, One Fare (1p1f) requirement to international travel and to small transportation service providers;
(This accommodation allows for an extra seat or seats to accommodate a guide or service dog, a support person or a disability that requires more than one seat with only one fare charged.)
1) Should the 1p1f requirement apply to transportation to and from Canada? If so, should it apply to both Canadian and international transportation providers?
2) Achieving consistent approaches to accessibility for international air travel requires discussions and cooperation among many jurisdictions. Given this, it may not be possible to achieve the goal of completely barrier-free international travel through the CTA’s regulations. What strategies — as a complement or an alternative to changes to CTA regulations — could be pursued to help remove barriers to Canadians with disabilities when they fly to or from other countries?
3) Should 1p1f apply to small transportation providers?
C. Determine what, if anything, to require of transportation service providers with respect to Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and service animals other than dogs;
1) What do you think about a potential requirement for transportation providers to accept ESAs? What conditions, if any, should apply?
2) Should transportation providers be required only to accept certain species/animal types as ESAs (e.g., dogs, cats, and rabbits)? Or should transportation providers be required to accept all species excluding a few (e.g., insects and snakes)?
3) As an alternative to a species-based approach, would it be preferable to have a criteria-based approach for the acceptance of ESAs? The criteria for carriers to accept or refuse to transport an animal could include habits of the species, age, size, or the potential allergy trigger to that the animal may create. For example, they could refuse to accept animals that gnaw, whose young age is likely to result in unacceptable behaviour, that pose a high allergen risk, or do not fit in a travel carrier or on the floor at a traveller’s feet.
4) Should all transportation providers be required to accept the same types of ESAs or should there be differences based on the mode of transportation (air, rail, marine, or bus)? If you think there should be differences based on mode, what differences?
5) Should the same requirements for ESAs apply to large and small transportation providers? Should consideration be given to the size or seating capacity of aircraft, rail car, bus, or ferry?
6) In the United States, enforcement action is not taken if an airline refuses to transport more than three service animals for one traveller, including ESAs. In Canada, should there be a limit on the number of service dogs and/or ESAs that persons with disabilities can travel with on-board? If so, what limit?
(Under the ATPDR, transportation providers can require a person with a disability travelling with a service dog to provide documentation issued by an organization or person specializing in service dog training. The documentation must identify the person with the disability. It must also attest that the service dog has been individually trained by a specialized organization or person to perform a task to assist that traveller with a need related to their disability.)
7) What documentation, if any, should transportation providers be able to request with respect to travel with ESAs with the aim of mitigating health, safety, or fraud concerns? For instance:
…that the traveller requires the animal to travel, for medical reasons, as indicated by a health care practitioner who is treating the traveller and confirms that the traveller has a disability and needs the animal to travel for disability-related reasons;
…that the animal will not need to relieve itself during transportation, and will not bark, growl, or act aggressively.
(The ATPDR allow transportation providers to require that persons with disabilities provide 48 hours’ advance notice prior to departure for most services, including travelling with service dogs. In some situations, they may request up to 96 hours’ notice to verify that documentation is in order and authorize an animal for travel. However, they must still make reasonable efforts to provide the service, even if notice is not given).
8) How much notice would be appropriate with regard to ESAs?
9) Should transportation providers be permitted to require that ESAs be tethered, leashed, harnessed, and/or enclosed within a travel carrier? Would any of these requirements prevent travellers from using ESAs therapeutically?
10) Apart from the issue of ESAs, should transportation providers be obligated to accept service animals other than service dogs? If so, should any restrictions apply?
D. Establish planning and reporting obligations for transportation service providers, pursuant to the ACA.
1) How much time should transportation providers be given to prepare their initial plans once the regulations are finalized (e.g., 12, 18, or 24 months)?
2) Should the timing of publication be consistent with that required under any other federal laws, such as the Employment Equity Act?
Once again your input and comments are welcome, The deadline for submissions (with no possibility of extension due to tight time lines) is January 3rd, 2020.
Thanks in advance to all who contribute!
Making Museums Accessible for All: Our visit to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum++
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum contacted the CCB and invited four people with varying degrees of vision loss to check out their Health In Space exhibit and to help them plan future accessible exhibits.
A staff member used the museum’s van to drive us to and from, as its location is not very accessible by public transit.
Much forethought had gone into planning the physical access of the museum to ensure that it would be accessible to all visitors through ramps, elevators and stairs with foot-and-cane-detectable edges. Our purpose was to assess the accessibility of this particular exhibit.
To do this, we divided into two groups and were asked specific questions about the exhibit’s accessibility. Each of our four participants has had different experiences of vision loss, ranging from total blindness to ‘guiding’ vision. Three of us had been born blind with the fourth having lost vision 7 years ago.
Two of the four people in our group read Braille, and were delighted that a complete guide to the exhibit was available in this format. The buttons on the exhibit panels to play audio segments were labeled in Braille but were not as clear to use for people who had some vision and/or were not Braille readers. We also suggested that the museum provide audio as well as large print guides, and discussed ways of creating them, and making them available to everyone.
We experimented with different ways of reading text-based information from the exhibit, including: using apps to scan and read text, touring the exhibit and accessing the text with the portable braille book provided, and listening to the audio that accompanied the brief video presentations.
Those with some degree of vision emphasized the need for bold contrast and large fonts on signage and within the exhibits’ descriptions. One in the group recounted a funny story about having to get close to an exhibit, unintentionally tripping an alarm and summoning a flock of curious security personnel.
After our tour, we met over coffee and snacks. Others joined the conversation and soon a lively discussion took place as curators, web designers, animators and students asked questions and listened with great interest to what we had to say. Along with our thoughts about the exhibit itself, they were interested in how we navigated the museum’s website and asked us what tactics could be used to improve way-finding.
This is part of an ongoing collaboration with several local Ottawa museums. We will continue to share our observations and strategies for collaboration in future newsletter articles.
We thank the staff at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum for being so open, interested and willing to make their museum more accessible to all visitors.
Submitted by Shelley Ann Morris and Kim Kilpatrick
The 2020 Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Championship (CVICC) is less then two months away and promises to be the best ever! We’ve added some new social events and changed a few things around in an attempt to give the event a bit of a refresh.
We look forward to welcoming our blind curling guests from across Canada to the nation’s capital during White Cane Week 2020. We are sure that the level of competition will be keen and the social component, bringing new and established friends together, will continue to make this event the pinnacle of blind curling in Canada.
Once again this year Accessible Media (AMI) will be broadcasting the CVICC final game live from the Ottawa Curling club. More details will be forthcoming in the January Newsletter.
And finally, rumor has it that if the members of our defending Champions, the Team Canada Rink from Sydney NS are real good, Santa might bring then some new curling attire, I guess we will find out the verdict of that next February.
Seasons Greetings everyone for the CVICC organizing committee!
The Loss of Grant Robinson
Several weeks ago Toronto Blind Curling Club (TBCC) lost one of our own – friend and fellow curler, Grant Robinson. I can’t put into words how this unexpected loss has impacted me, our club and Toronto’s VI community. Grant was someone you could turn to, no matter what support the occasion called for. In both his work and personal life, Grant was an ambassador for blind / vision impaired sports and accessibility. I know he was a mentor for several young, VI folks looking for career advice. He was a very successful and influential individual our collective “we” will feel his absence in our lives.
I turned to Grant when I wanted objective, intelligent advice, although I only understood about 80% of his response since his vocabulary was much better than mine. He helped me with simple technology tasks that I couldn’t figure out and remained patient and uncondescending. He was my vice at 2019 Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Competition and as a team we brought home our first silver medal. But mostly, he was my friend.
A previous Friday we found ourselves short of players for our second sheet. Grant, Dave Lee, Lloyd Pike and I played a two-on-two game. After social hour, Grant, my brother Rick and I shared a streetcar to Broadview. Throughout the evening we had good discussions, solved a lot of the world’s problems, shared some laughs and just had a great evening of fellowship. Never in my worst nightmare could I have imagined that, when we said goodbye to Grant that night, it was the last time we would see him. We all grieve his loss.
Our deepest sympathy goes out to Grant’s parents. Our thoughts are with you during this very difficult time.
President, Toronto Blind Curling Club
Experience Expo Poster
Mark your calendar now! Join us at ‘experience’ expo 2020. Canada’s only consumer show dedicated to Canadians who are blind and low vision. The Canadian Council of the Blind’s Toronto Visionaries’ Experience Expo 2020 Sat. February 8, 10 am to 4pm.
Presenting Sponsors: Accessible Media Inc. Bel VIA Rail Canada
Gold Sponsors: Bayer, Baushe and Lomb, Best Western Plus, Labtician Thea, Novartis
The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre 750 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON M5S 2J2.
For more information please visit www.ccbtorontovisionaries.ca.
Canadian Vision 2020 Summit: Questionnaire++
The Canadian Vision 2020 Summit will take place in Ottawa on February 12 from 8:30am to 12:30pm at the Christ Church Cathedral. Registration will open soon.
The survey is designed
to collect feedback and insights for an upcoming Summit on the current and
future state of (1) vision research, (2) experiences of living with vision
loss, and (3) issues of equity and access to vision care. Please take a moment
to fill it out at the following link.
An Experience Expo Special Event
Your special invitation to attend
The Visionaries Forum:
Independence through fainful employment
Check your calendar and RSVP now!
Saturday, February 8 at 4:00pm
Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON
Last year’s forum on Assistive Technology was an overwhelming success, and this year’s is expected to be no different. This is your chance to participate in a panel dedicated to a full discussion on achieving gainful employment and the barriers confronting Canadians who are blind or partially-sighted. The forum will be followed by a question and answer session.
The panel will include experts from across the employment spectrum and will be announced the first week of January 2020.
Space is limited to the first 150 reservations. Please send your RSVP to the CCB Toronto Visionaries Voicemail Line at 1-416-760-2163 or RSVP via email to [email protected]
Introducing CELA Library’s New Executive Director ++:
Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) is a national library service that provides books in accessible formats to patrons with print disabilities, including low vision and blindness. In October 2019 Rina Hadziev joined CELA as its new Executive Director. CCB’s Visions newsletter had the chance to interview Rina about CELA and her goals for the organization.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Thanks so much for inviting me to speak to you about CELA. Before being appointed as the new Executive Director for CELA I was a CELA board member from 2016 until I stepped down to take on this new role. I have more than 15 years of experience working with public libraries, most recently as the Collections & Technical Services Coordinator at Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) in Victoria, British Columbia. Accessibility has always been something that intrigues and interests me. Public libraries do a lot of things well. There are also some areas where public libraries have room to grow and I am loving the opportunity to work with CELA supporting public libraries in bringing more accessible content and services to their patrons.
You say CELA is a public library service. Can you elaborate on how CELA came to be and how you work with libraries?
As you know CELA provides 700,000 titles in accessible formats and we do this through partnerships with 2000 public libraries across Canada. Before CELA was established in 2014, CNIB patrons received their reading materials through the CNIB library. But that meant that those Canadians had to rely on a charity, rather than being able to access a wide range of reading materials through their local public library like their neighbours do. It also meant that other Canadians with print disabilities did not have access to those same reading materials. CNIB realized that the library service needed to grow and change to meet the evolving technology and needs of its patrons, and that this service should be publicly funded and rooted in public libraries.
After collaborating with a variety of partners including the CNIB, public libraries and governments, CELA was established with a mandate to provide accessible collections and services to public libraries and their patrons. Centralizing this service meant that we can provide a far broader selection of materials and services than any one library could offer individually and Canadians across the country can access that same content using their public library card. Libraries offer a rotating collection of our materials in their library branches, and their patrons can also access materials directly from us digitally or through our automatic selection service which mails out physical materials.
There have been a lot of changes since CELA was established 5 years ago. Can you tell us about those changes?
You are right that there have been a lot of changes. Some of the biggest changes have happened over the last year. In April we completed our transition to a truly independent organization, separate from the CNIB. We’ve expanded our partnership with Bookshare, and we have launched our new platform, which, when completed, will position us to take advantage of some exciting and innovative technological opportunities. With that level of change there are always some challenges. Our website launch was rocky, and that was certainly not the experience we wanted for our patrons. But we have been working very hard behind the scenes to improve it and I’m excited to say that there are a number of updates coming over the next few weeks which will provide patrons with more functions to manage their account, more reading options including a slew of new books and a return of our magazines. The new platform holds a lot of promise and once it is completed it will allow us to explore some exciting opportunities for patrons.
Can you tell us more about these opportunities that are coming?
I can’t give a lot of specifics, but I can tell you I am excited about the prospects. One of my mandates is to explore new partnerships and I have had some really promising conversations with organizations who are interested in helping us bring new content and new services to our patrons. As new technology is developed and integrated into everyone’s daily lives, we are paying attention to how that might offer new ways to read our materials. And government initiatives and international agreements like the Marrakesh Treaty are opening up new avenues to share resources and streamline production.
And while there are these exciting opportunities to consider, I also want to reiterate what’s not changing. We are unwavering in our commitment to serving Canadians with print disabilities by providing them with a comprehensive and robust collection of reading materials that they can access in the format of their choice. It’s really important to us to make sure patrons can choose their formats, even as technology evolves. For example, in 2018 we introduced a new way of producing and delivering braille so that each patron receives a fresh clean copy in a timely manner because we know how important braille material is to a key segment of patrons. That move was in response to new opportunities and some feedback we had received from our patrons.
Feedback is critical to what we do at CELA. We want to hear from patrons about the books they want to read, the ways they want to read them and the services they need to make finding and receiving reading materials as simple as possible. Patrons can email us, call us or reach out on social media to let us know what’s working for them and what we can do to make our services better.
World Blind Union Employment Survey 2019++:
Greetings from the World Blind Union (WBU) Employment Committee. We have developed a short survey designed to identify employment patterns of people who are blind or partially sighted and of working-age throughout the world.
We were fortunate to be able to review the work of our colleagues at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Vision Australia (VA), and the New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (NZFB), who deployed a similar survey in their respective countries and shared their survey with us, which helped us considerably.
The survey we designed for the WBU membership can be completed in 20-25 minutes and it is available in English, French, and Spanish.
We encourage you to complete the WBU Employment Survey in your region at your earliest convenience, so that we can report the results at the 2020 WBU/ICEVI General Assemblies in Madrid.
The WBU Employment Survey is a four-part survey, which uses skip logic to move respondents through the survey questions so that they only answer questions that pertain to them. Section One (demographics) is completed by all respondents. Section Two (current job) is completed by currently employed respondents only. Section Three (previously employed, but not working currently) is completed only by the respondents who have work experience but are not working presently. Section Four (never worked) is completed only by the respondents who have no work experience.
We are using Survey Monkey, which is accessible with both screen readers and screen magnification as an online tool for survey completion.
Respondents may use the link pasted below to access the WBU Employment Survey as often as necessary to complete the survey until they choose “done” – IF respondents are at the same computer each time they return to the survey.
The Survey Monkey link is: https://www.surveymonkey.ca/r/8ZP2KW3
Thank you for your interest in the work of WBU and your support to us as we gather this important information about employment of blind and partially sighted people throughout the world.
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.
Hello. This is Gerry Chevalier from the GTT Edmonton Chapter. My weekly blog, called Windows From the Keyboard Tips, 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 Desktop Icon – How to Create
If you use a folder or web site often, you may wish to create an icon for it on your desktop.
* Press the Windows key plus M to focus on the desktop.
* Press Control+Space to unselect the icon you are focused on.
* Press the Applications key or Shift+F10 to bring up the context menu for the Desktop.
* Arrow down the menu and press Enter on the New submenu.
* Arrow down the New submenu and press Enter on Shortcut.
* A wizard opens asking you to type the target location for the new icon. This can be a folder or document or a web site. For folders or filenames there is a Browse button to allow you to find the exact path to that document or folder. If the shortcut is for a web site, you need to type the exact HTTP address. If it is a long address it may be best to first go to that web site and then press Alt+D to focus on the address bar and then press Control+C to copy that web page address to the clipboard. Then you can simply press Control+V to paste the web address from the clipboard into this location field of the wizard.
* After filling in the target location, TAB to the Next button and press Space bar.
* Then type the name of the icon as you wish it to appear on your desktop .
* TAB to the Finish button and press space bar. The new icon will now be on your desktop.
Anytime you are on your desktop, you can select the icon and press Enter to activate it. To select the icon, arrow to it or type the first letter of its name.
That’s it for this tip. Until next time, happy computing.
This is just one example of the informative weekly tips provided in this blog! Check it out!
If you are interested in reading the blog posts, you can read them on the GTT National blog web site ( http://gttprogram.wordpress.com/
If you prefer to receive the posts in your email inbox there is a Follow link at the bottom of that web site where you can submit your email address.
Then you can simply watch your inbox each Wednesday for a new tip!
GTT Beginners National Conference Call ++:
Are you a beginner when it comes to technology, but curious to learn more? The Get Together with Technology (GTT) Beginners National Teleconference Call Sponsored by the CCB is for you!
You’re invited to join 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. These calls 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. See the details below. Contact Albert Ruel, Kim Kilpatrick or Brian Bibeault if you have any questions.
The November meeting focused on some of the new gestures and features of iOS 13 for iPhone, and How to set up some of the new Gestures.
Come join us, and learn how you can use technology to your advantage!
The Beginners call takes a break for December. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and we’ll be back on January 28, 2020.
You can participate by phone or through a link from your smart phone, computer or landline from wherever you are.
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
BOSTON — For nearly a century, the National Braille Press has churned out millions of pages of Braille books and magazines a year, providing a window on the world for generations of blind people.
But as it turns 90 this year, the Boston-based printing press and other advocates of the tactile writing system are wrestling with how to address record-low Braille literacy.
Roughly 13 percent of US blind students were considered Braille readers in a 2016 survey by the American Printing House for the Blind another major Braille publisher, located in Louisville, Kentucky. That number has steadily dropped from around 30 percent in 1974, the first year the organization started asking the question.
Brian MacDonald, president of the National Braille Press, says the modern blind community needs easier and more affordable ways to access the writing system developed in the 1800s by French teacher Louis Braille.
For the National Braille Press and its 1960-era Heidelberg presses, that has meant developing and launching its own electronic Braille reader last year-the B2G.
“Think Kindle for the blind,” Mac Donald said as he showed off the portable machine — which has an eight-button keyboard for typing in Braille as well as a refreshable, tactile display for reading along in Braille — during a recent tour of the press’ headquarters near Northeastern University.
The venerable press, which started as a Boston newspaper for the blind in 1927, has also looked beyond printing Braille versions of popular books and magazine titles.
Educational materials like school textbooks and standardized tests, as well as business-related publications like restaurant menus, instruction manuals and business cards, comprise an increasingly larger share of revenues, MacDonald said.
“Braille isn’t dead by any means,” he said. “But it needs technology to adapt and evolve.”
Waning interest in Braille has been a challenge since the 1970s, when school districts started de-emphasizing it in favor of audio learning and other teaching methods, said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore.
New technology has allowed people with visual impairments to live more independently than ever, but they’re also playing a role in eroding Braille’s prominence, said Cory Kadlik, a 26-year-old Massachusetts native who lost his sight as an infant.
Kadlik said he is “not the strongest Braille reader,” in large part because of what technology allows him to accomplish.
Computer software reads aloud emails and other digital documents for him and his smartphone helps him complete everyday tasks like sorting the mail.
“I have an application that can read the print on the envelope to me,” said Kadlik, a technology specialist at the Braille & Talking Book Library in Watertown, part of the Perkins School for the Blind, the nation’s oldest such school, where Helen Keller was educated. “That’s crazy. That’s unheard of.”
But while technology has opened up a new world not dependent on Braille, it also presents its best chance at survival, said Kim Charlson, the library’s director.
Electronic Braille computers allow users to digitally store hundreds of Braille materials that would otherwise be large and unwieldy in print, not to mention access the internet and complete other computer-based tasks in Braille.
Such machines have been around for years, but their average cost of $4,000 to $5,000 has so far kept them out of reach for most, says Charlson.
That is starting to change. The Perkins Library, for example, will soon start loaning out 200 devices that normally retail for about $475 and the National Braille Press’ Braille computer costs $2,495.
“Technology is the key to making Braille more relevant by getting it into the hands of more people,” said Charlson, who began losing her vision as a child and is now totally blind.
Another key is overcoming perceptions that Braille is hard to learn and inefficient to use, said Joseph Quintanilla, the vice president of development at the National Braille Press.
Quintanilla, who has been legally blind since age five, said he regrets shunning Braille growing up. He started to appreciate its role in imparting crucial grammar and communication skills only when he entered the working world and had to play catch up.
“I don’t think we would ask sighted people to go through life without reading,” Quintanilla said. “So we shouldn’t do that for blind people.”
Hi Everyone! Becky from the office here. Rebate time is over. Thank you to everyone who has submitted their chapter’s membership already. White Cane Week Orders need to be in before December 20th so we can make sure they ship out on time. This includes all requests for funding.
Early Bird Draw Deadline – October 28, 2019
Chapter Rebate Deadline – December 2, 2019
All 2019 Memberships Due – December 31, 2019
White Cane Week Orders Due – December 20, 2019
WCW Insurance Requests Due – December 20, 2019
DON’T FORGET DONATIONS!++
Donations Received in the office in 2019 are the only ones that can be receipted for 2019. Remember to send those donations if you want receipts. This is your last reminder, the next VISIONS will be out in 2020.