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Canadian Council of the Blind Newsletter
“A lack of sight is not a lack of vision”
I hope everyone is
keeping well. We are now well over two-months of social isolation with minimal
outings. The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International
Concern on 30 January 2020. As our survey has mentioned many are feeling the
stress that goes with this “new” way of living.
False information on #COVID19 is spreading & putting people in danger. Make sure to double-check everything you hear against trusted sources. For accurate information on #coronavirus find official advice from your provincial public health authority & WHO.
Our GTT staff and volunteers are very busy keeping in touch with many persons with vision loss across the country. Also, many chapters are using the TAG line to have their meetings which also seems to be working well.
Many of you may have already read our survey report. The report has been sent widely across Canada to government, the Retail Council, medical professionals and many more. It has been referenced in articles in the Toronto Star, Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen, CBC Radio – 2 French interviews and an English interview on CBC News Net. All with the hope of the federal government taking action on our recommendations.
As a result of all the business closures we have not received information when our financial audit will be able to be conducted therefore the decision has been made to postpone our June 26th AGM to the fall. A date will be determined once we find out timelines. This is not only CCB but many not-for-profit organizations going through the same concerns.
It would be great to get some stories of how members are keeping busy during this time. Articles and photos can be sent in to our office so that we can put them on our website and in the next newsletter. Email either Shelley at [email protected] or Becky at [email protected]
Keep safe and contact our office at 1-877-304-0968.
Louise Gillis, National President
Get Together With Technology Youth Meetings—Tech and Talk, Together on Zoom
While the pandemic has imposed many restrictions on where we can go and what we can do, it has also brought about many opportunities to connect. The recently-established GTT Youth Group is one such opportunity, bringing young people together using the highly-accessible Zoom platform. In this virtual space, young adults meet to talk technology, and beyond.
The GTT Youth Group was initiated in early May 2020 by David Greene who teaches people how to use various devices such as iPhones and computers with screen-reading/magnification software. Many have commented that had the pandemic occurred ten years previous, those with vision loss would not be able to connect with necessary distancing measures in place. Necessity and having extra time have motivated people to adopt technologies, making the time just perfect for the advent of this group.
This group is facilitated by Nolan Jenikov who is working with CCB this summer. Nolan makes sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate. While the focus of the group is technology, there are a broad variety of items discussed. For example, there might be an exchange of ideas about venturing out and navigating in a very different world with low or no vision.
The group has had four meetings which take place on Wednesdays from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST. They have discussed all kinds of technologies, including accessible home security systems, the use of college/university learning platforms and more. There never seems to be a shortage of things to talk about. As the participants are those who are blind or have low vision, a B/VI perspective is a part of the discussion.
Many of the members live in Ontario, but, as the Zoom platform transcends geography, it is hoped that the group will develop nation-wide.
Along with the tech talk, the GTT Youth Group also provides a forum where people can check in with each other. Some had met before, while others are new.
Meeting on a regular basis in a fun, supportive atmosphere provides some much-needed structure during what must seem like a very unpredictable and ever-changing time.
Since its inception, the numbers of participants have grown. People show up in this Zoom room week after week—some have said that they wished that the sessions were longer. Many of the participants are students. They will continue to meet as long as there is interest. New members are welcome—no commitment necessary—the virtual door is open for all youth who want to check it out.
For more information, please contact David Greene Accessibility Trainer
613-567-0311 X 509 1-877-304-0968
By Shelley Ann Morris
CCB COVID-19 Survey Results
The recent Canadian Council of the Blind study reveals the stark reality of COVID-19’s disturbing impact on those Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially-sighted
Louise Gillis and Keith Gordon were interviewed regarding the CCB survey on Accessible Media Inc. (AMI).
The podcast link can be found at:
You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, TuneIn Radio and Spotify. Just search “The Pulse on AMI-audio.”
It goes without saying that at this time of crisis for the world, we are all feeling more stress than usual. Now imagine how much more stress you might be feeling if you were facing the dreaded COVID-19 with the additional challenges associated with those living with blindness or vision loss. We, at the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) became aware very early on in the pandemic (late February to early March) that many Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted were being heavily impacted by COVID-19. At the same time, it was acutely apparent to the CCB that the many government initiatives and programs being announced in response to pandemic-related challenges were, for the most part, not taking into account what we see as the fundamental needs of not only our community, but all people with disabilities. We perceived the need for all levels of government to provide support and solutions to help those living with disabilities and by extension vision loss, get through these stressful times.
We saw it as being necessary to provide the factual support required by governments to act. Working in cooperation with Louise Gillis, CCB National President, we determined that our best course of action would be to survey the vision loss community and report our findings. The survey was designed to specifically identify what impact COVID-19 was having on those living with blindness or vision loss. We wanted to know their current circumstance and daily experiences due to the pandemic, and what their specific concerns and needs were.
The survey, conducted electronically during the week of April 7th to April 14th, attained a robust sample of 572 responses with respondents representing all provinces. We promised to let their voices be heard so that they would not be left behind, or forgotten. Our goal, then and now, was to make sure that the members of the vision loss community would be provided with the support needed, both socially and economically, to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are a call to action and paint a disturbing picture of the experiences Canada’s vision loss community are confronted with, on a daily basis, during this COVID-19 crisis.
Key results of the study showed high levels of stress in the vision loss community. Respondents are very concerned about social distancing – they’re unable to see how far they are from others and are concerned that others don’t realize that they have vision loss and tend to come too close. Respondents feel unsafe when going out.
Those living with vision loss are particularly concerned that the effect of the added stress from the pandemic on their mental health may cause them to become overwhelmed.
This was re-enforced Thursday May 7, during a virtual conversation live streamed on YouTube, between Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada and Dr. Mona Nemer. Canada’s Chief Science Officer, discussing the importance of research and science in the times of global pandemic. When the conversation turned to a discussion on our vulnerable population and people with disabilities, the Governor General remarked as to having received a communication from the Canadian Council of the Blind; “that was alert particularly to the fact that people who are vision impaired are quite anxious in the time of the pandemic and that it was affecting them in many different ways.”
Survey respondents are stressed about their inability to access a doctor or health care practitioner and to meet their financial obligations, and about their ability to maintain their present standard of living. They’re further stressed due to their already-fragile economic status.
Respondents also expressed concern about having transportation and finding someone to accompany them should they have to go to the doctor or hospital.
Shopping is a concern as plexiglass shields make it difficult to negotiate payment and those with seeing disabilities are uncomfortable interacting with staff. About half of the respondents indicated that they had a personal care worker entering their home, about half of whom weren’t wearing proper personal protective equipment.
Respondents are concerned that when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, they’ll discover that their job no longer exists. Many who were asked to work from home have discovered that they don’t have the proper accessible devices and technology necessary to do their jobs from home, and that their employers have refused to provide or fund them.
The survey succeeded at identifying the challenges confronting those living with vision loss during the COVID-19 crisis. As Respondent 211 commented, “What’s affecting my mental health is this prolonged and extreme isolation. As a blind person, I already live a fairly limited life when referring to freedom of movement and independence and now even that small wedge of my active life has been completely eradicated.”
It’s clear that the vision loss community is being heavily impacted by the pandemic. It’s further evident that there’s a need for immediate action from all levels of government to provide support and solutions to help those living with vision loss get through these stressful times. The CCB’s resulting report includes detailed recommendations for all levels of government to consider.
The Survey Report on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadians Who Are Blind, Deaf-Blind, and Partially-Sighted ( https://ccbnational.net/shaggy/2020/05/05/covid-19-survey-results/ ) is fully accessible and available on the link above and on the CCB website at http://www.ccbnational.net.
by Keith D. Gordon Ph.D. and Micheal Baillargeon
Hands-On Strategies for Success
Presented by Kim Kilpatrick and Leo Bissonnette
Braille screen input on iDevices is a powerful and wonderful tool.
Participants in this workshop will learn all they need to know to get started with braille screen input on the iPhone. Topics include:
* Enabling braille screen input
* Using contracted or uncontracted braille
* Working with braille screen input
* Typing feedback
* Braille input screen gestures
* Important tips for users
A detailed step by step overview will be provided with hands-on demonstrations. Time will be allotted during the final portion of the workshop to answer questions and to provide one-on-one assistance.
Date: Saturday, June 20th, 2020
Time: 1:00-2:30 PM Eastern (10am Pacific, 11am Mountain/Saskatchewan, 12pm Central, 2pm Atlantic)
Cost: The teleconference is free for BLC members and the cost for non-members is $20.00
To register: Send an email to
By Thursday, June 18th.
We hope you can join us to learn more about this tool that brings braille and mainstream technology together!
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.
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.
Microsoft Office – Search for Ribbon Commands
Navigating ribbons using the keyboard or trying to remember Key Tip sequences to find a command can be frustrating. There is a way to quickly search for a ribbon command:
• Press Alt+Q which opens the Office “Tell Me What You Want To DO”
feature. You will be placed in an edit box.
• Type the name of the command you are searching for. For example, maybe you want to insert a table in a Word document, so you might type, “insert table”. Or maybe you want to Empty the Deleted items folder in Outlook, so you might type, “empty deleted”.
• Press the down arrow to find the list of search results and likely the ribbon command you need will be in the list. Simply press Enter on the command to execute it.
You have just executed the ribbon command you need without having to navigate the ribbon! The Alt+Q search feature works for all the Office programs: Excel. Word, Outlook, and Power Point.
That’s it for this tip. Until next time, happy computing.
COVID-19 Keeping us indoors, with unique opportunities supported by BlindSquare and NaviLens
Across our globe, the impact of the pandemic is found. Some impacts are led by common sense (avoid exposures, battle all exposures with “be clean” responses), and some by country/local laws restricting travel entirely or by degree.
Has the pandemic created a greater impact for persons who are blind, deafblind, or partially sighted? Absolutely. These persons now have a heightened need to “be aware” of current locations and planned destinations. They need to know where they are and limit their exposures.
A new opportunity to experience your environment.
BlindSquare and NaviLens, leaders in improving the lives for those who are blind/deafblind or partially sighted, bring you an opportunity to discover abilities and equip yourself in anticipation of a return to a new normal, and to provide you greater independence, comfort, and location awareness with immediate and long term rewards.
BlindSquare is the world’s most widely used accessible GPS iOS app developed for persons who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted. With the help of third-party navigation apps, BlindSquare’s self-voicing app delivers detailed points of interest and intersections for safe, reliable travel. Paired with NaviLens, the app that scans proprietary codes to deliver situational information instantly, this duo offers an unmatched experience for users to navigate independently and more importantly in today’s environment, safely.
While our products have been helpful for our current users, we pondered, why it can’t be great for all during this stress-filled time? We looked for a way to solve this, without cost.
BlindSquare’s reputation, across its 8 years of service, is replete with personal success stories such as those that extoll the value of travel information for making informed choices and the ability to “simulate” future destinations for adventure. When using simulation, BlindSquare behaves just as if you’re there! And with NaviLens on board your device, you have access to their award-winning technology to create personal tags that can be used to “label your world” for such things as cupboard content, prescription bottles, fridge contents (including best before dates!), contents of your bar, contents of your freezer, and more.
So, in co-operation and consultation with many educators and organizations supporting persons who are blind, deafblind, or partially sighted, we have committed to make BlindSquare EVENT and NaviLens available—free of charge—until November 2020. During this time, free access to BlindSquare EVENT means a full-featured version of BlindSquare for iOS users
that is geofenced to the continents of New Zealand, Australia, North America (Canada and the USA), Greenland, Mexico, Spain, Portugal and Japan—well over 25 million square miles! Mid November, BlindSquare EVENT will return to Demonstration mode, NaviLens will continue.
There are no strings attached and no obligations implied by this offering. Our mutual goals are to reduce the impact of the pandemic to you, to provide you with the ability to plan future travel, and to become familiar with the enablement that our solutions provide.
In the News
‘I don’t want to be scared anymore:’ physical distancing tough for the blind
The physical distancing rules put in place across Canadian society are supposed to shield everyone from the ravages of COVID-19, but Nick D’Ambrosio doesn’t feel protected.
Maintaining a two-metre distance from members of the public is a challenge for the 49-year-old, who has lost most of his eyesight and now travels with a white cane.
Neither that mobility aid nor his remaining vision are up to the task of keeping him at a safe distance from others, either in the Montreal-area drug store where he’s stocked shelves for 22 years or while running essential errands further afield.
Other potentially protective measures — such as the widespread distribution of hand sanitizer dispensers or the installation of floor markers intended to manage crowds in public spaces — also leave him and other Canadians living with vision loss on the margins, D’Ambrosio said. Sometimes the only way to locate the new additions involves soliciting sighted assistance from strangers — thereby further increasing exposure to the novel coronavirus.
D’Ambrosio said he’s fortunate to have supportive colleagues and loved ones who help mitigate his personal risk, but the additional barriers add another dimension of anxiety for blind Canadians navigating an already troubling time.
“I’ve been scared for a good portion of my life and I don’t want to be scared anymore,” D’Ambrosio said in a telephone interview. “But does the anxiety linger in me at times? I’d be lying to you if I say no.”
While the ravages of COVID-19 are being felt across all of society, a growing chorus of voices has been sounding the alarm about the virus’s impact on people with disabilities around the world.
Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for governments to place greater focus on the unique needs of their disabled citizens.
“People with disabilities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19,” Guterres said in a statement. “They face a lack of accessible public health information, significant barriers to implement basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities. If they contract COVID-19, many are more likely to develop severe health conditions, which may result in death.”
Canadians living with vision loss are among those feeling a disproportionate impact from both the virus and the measures meant to protect against it, according to a recent survey commissioned by the Canadian Council of the Blind.
The online questionnaire, surveying more than 500 blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadians, identified myriad concerns involving nearly all facets of everyday life.
Nearly half the respondents said they did not feel safe when leaving their home since the pandemic began, largely due to difficulties observing physical distancing protocols or failure of the able-bodied population to maintain a safe distance. Other concerns included the accessibility of COVID-19 testing sites, the ability to use public transit safely, heightened economic vulnerability and the increased toll that social isolation will take on mental health.
Council President Louise Gillis said blind Canadians have even been subjected to public scorn, being “hollered at” for inadvertently running afoul of public health measures that are inherently difficult for them to observe.
In nearly every case, she said, the community’s fears stem from pre-existing systemic issues now exacerbated by COVID-19.
“We seem to be more vulnerable when something happens,” she said.
For Penny Leclair, who is deafblind, vulnerability comes from an increased sense of isolation and the withdrawal of key social supports over the course of the pandemic.
The 68-year-old North Bay, Ont., resident said she feels excluded from many of the workarounds most of society is turning to for social connection, such as video conferencing and other platforms that rely on sound and sight.
She’s also cut off from the intervener services she relied on before the outbreak, since they’ve been scaled back and concentrated on people living alone.
Delegating all outside tasks to her husband, she said, has left her wrestling with both a loss of independence and powerful feelings of isolation.
“For deafblind people, touch is a must and dependence on an intervener is a part of life — not social,” Leclair said in an email interview. “The intervener is not just a family support person, they are eyes and ears for deafblind people.”
For deafblind people, touch is a must and dependence on an intervener is a part of life
For Barbara Amberstone, a legally blind Indigenous elder living in Victoria, the greatest frustration comes from proposed coping solutions that she said leave large swaths of the community on the margins.
Most efforts to respond to COVID-19 have involved the use of technology, she said, noting everything from reading government information to maintaining social connection depends on an internet connection and accessible hardware and software. Such reliance on tech is further entrenched in the vision loss community, she added.
But Amberstone said those who can’t afford or access the technology, including those living in poverty or remote parts of the country, are now coping with an additional layer of isolation on top of those already imposed by the pandemic.
“It’s so privileged,” Amberstone said of the national response. “There’s so much that poor people and disabled people are left out of.”
The council report found public awareness and more effective messaging from all levels of government are needed to limit the effects of COVID-19 and its aftermath on the vision loss community.
D’Ambrosio agrees, saying the unique challenges he and his peers all face can’t be ignored forever.
“Right now we’re at the very early stages and things are changing daily,” he said. “So I don’t know if this is the new norm, I don’t know if this will persist… but eventually our rights will have to be heard.”
By Michelle McQuigge, The National Post