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Canadian Council of
the Blind Newsletter
“A lack of sight is not a lack of vision”
From the President’s Desk
While we turn the calendar again, it is December, a time to celebrate with family and friends.
While conversing with members over the last couple of weeks, it made me happy to learn that many of our Chapters are taking December to return to in person gatherings. The festive season gives us a great opportunity to reunite with those we have lost personal touch with over the past couple of seasons.
Within the Council, we continue our work to ensure persons living with vision loss across Canada are represented by the many committees we have in place. These committees are made up of our membership, as well as Board members, and put forth the ongoing needs of our community.
Of course we continue our work with the CCB Get together with technology program (GTT), which assists in training and peer support around the topic of assistive technology.
We also continue with our strong presence in advocacy, ensuring barriers to our members are being addressed such as self serve checkouts, guide dog safety, efficacy on prescription medication, and our continuous work with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
A barrier-free experience from drop off to access of transportation terminals need to be safe and seamless when we travel. This is especially true during the holiday season, which is a popular time to travel for most of us.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Charles Mossop has accepted appointment to our National Board of Directors. Charles brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the National Board and he has been a great supporter of the Council over many years. Welcome to the team, Charles!
On behalf of the Board, staff, committees, and volunteers, I wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday season, and the best of the New Year!
Patricia Gates, a highly valued CCB member for many years, passed away on November 16, 2022. Although she has been in failing health for some time, it was still a shock to learn of her passing.
Since losing the majority of her eye sight, she was driven to advocate for accessibility in the built environment not only in her community but also at a national level. Not only was she a founding member of the CCB Halifax Access and Awareness Chapter, but she also worked on a variety of Boards in the City.
We at the Council are grateful to Pat over these years for her work, and she will be sadly missed for her kindness and dedication to others. May you rest in peace Pat.
From your “CCB family and friends”.
Submitted by Louise Gillis
Patricia Anne Gates
November 12, 1953 – November 16, 2022
It is with heavy hearts and sadness that we announce the peaceful passing of Patricia (Pat), following illness, at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Born in Glace Bay, her Cape Breton home of which she was incredibly proud, and raised in Reserve Mines where she was a member of Warden United Church, in her twenties Pat moved to Halifax, where she lived until her passing.
Pat was defined by her passion for betterment of life for people with disabilities. Living with vision loss and diabetes, Pat was committed to embodying what was possible in life and lived with energy, drive, compassion, and kindness. She also possessed a grand sense of humor and a biting wit, neither of which were lost in her last months – if anything; they were more present than ever!
Pat was employed at Dalhousie University for many years and had a storied history as a celebrated volunteer. She volunteered for many years with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) and was committed to ensuring buildings in the city of Halifax, such as the new Central library, and all libraries across the province, would become accessible not only for people living with blindness but all disabilities. Pat was involved with taking concerns to the local municipal level to improve safety in the city for pedestrians and public transportation. Her work expanded to the national level, where she acted as the initial chair of the CCB National Advisory Committee. Beyond this, Pat engaged in many other volunteer endeavors included but not limited to Independent Living NS and other Accessibility Advisory Committees in HRM. She will be missed greatly by her friends and colleagues in the sector, and particularly at CCB.
Even in her most recent times in hospital, she was anxious to get well enough to “get back to her work” and spoke at length about the progress that was still left to be made.
Pat, you were a wonderful person and loyal friend. We are so glad that you got to take a road trip in 2021 to your treasured homeland of Cape Breton, and you will return there at your request to be laid to rest with your beloved mother, Viola. We will all miss your cheeky humor and warmth. Rest well our dear friend. You will not be forgotten.
The Fight Against Vision Loss is at a Crossroads
It Only Takes Less Than a Minute to Be a Part of the Change!
It’s a pivotal moment in Canadian vision health. Through our Stop Vision Loss campaign, the Canadian Council of the Blind has a powerful opportunity to fight back against preventable blindness nationwide. Bill C-284 “to establish a national strategy for eye care” is in front of Parliament.
We are asking all vision advocates to take two quick actions.
Fist, sign the petition supporting the National eye Care Strategy. Then, send a pre-written email to your MP supporting Bill C-284, which you can find here.
With your help, we can make the National Eye Care Strategy into law!
World Braille Days (WBD) 2023
NNELS, CCB, BLC, CELA, PRCVI, and AERO are collaborating to bring a month-long celebration of braille.
Braille Boost for WBD 2023!
Need to get back into the swing of things after the holidays with braille reading, writing, and tactile graphics? How about a little Vitamin B-R-L?! Join us for a month of fun with Braille Boost – a variety of braille-focused pursuits including dot-to-dot fun, word searches, and tactile graphics activities.
TSVIs and braille transcribers can download and emboss activities for big World Braille Month fun with their students. Register today! Materials for primary, intermediate/middle, and secondary learners will be available in contracted and uncontracted UEB.
Target Audience: K-12 Students, TSVIs, braille transcribers
Format: Downloadable package of braille – tactile graphic activities
Date/Time/Length: January — All Month Long!
Materials will be available in English.
The following WBD workshops will be presented on Zoom with automatic captioning.
The ABCs of Braille: Basics for beginners
Learning braille can be intimidating – but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are an adult learner just beginning this journey, or those who support new braille learners, this welcoming and informative session is for you. Join us for an introduction to basic braille and an overview of commercial and library resources available for new adult braille learners. Learn about available technologies to help get started. And hear insights and strategies from adults who have begun to learn braille later in life because of a later-life onset of a visual disability, as well as those supporting new braille learners. Braille can open a whole new world for readers. It’s never too late to start learning!
Target Audience: All welcome! This session might be particularly useful for you if you are: A person adjusting to vision loss and thinking about learning braille; A family member or friend supporting new adult braille learners; A professional supporting people learning braille; A Reluctant but curious non-braille reader.
Format: Information session + panel
Date/Time/Length: Wednesday, January 11, 2023. 1:00 pm Eastern (90 minutes)
Session is in English; it will be recorded and made available publicly after the event.
Living with braille
What is the relevance of braille in our times? How can braille enhance our lives and open doors to new opportunities? Join us for a session exploring the various ways in which braille can make a difference in daily living, work, school and play. You will hear from various panelists reflecting on the impact braille has played in their careers, education and other aspects of their lives.
Target Audience: All French speakers
Format: Information session + panel
Date/Time/Duration: Wednesday, January 18, 2023. 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (90 minutes)
The session is in French; it will be recorded and made public after the event.
A variety night showcasing braille. Join us on Saturday January 21 for a Celebralliation of in honour of World Braille Day. We want to hear from all talented braille enthusiasts. Record for us a story, a song, a spoken word piece, a poem, some jokes, with the theme of braille. You can audio or video record these or send them in BRF or written form to [email protected]
Entries must be no longer than 3 minutes each. We reserve the right to choose which entries can fit into our allotted time. There will be door prizes!
Special thanks to our door prize sponsors: Canadian Assistive Technology and Humanware.
Target Audience: Braille enthusiasts
Format: Variety Night
Date/Time/Length: Saturday, January 21, 2023. 1:00 pm Eastern (90 minutes)
Session is predominantly in English, but some entries may be in French. This session will not be recorded.
Let’s Keep in Touch: Productive Allyship for Braille in Post-Secondary
From books to braille signage, extra-curricular, health services, and every part of the post-secondary experience, disability offices, administrators, library staff, professors, and anyone interested in the post-secondary experience can join this World Braille Day event to see how they can be an ally for braille in all aspects of the post-secondary experience.
Target Audience: Centres for Accessible Learning offices, administrators, library staff, professors, and anyone interested in the post-secondary experience.
Public library staff may find some cross over topics of relevance.
Format: Information session + Panel
Date/Time/Length: Wednesday, January 25, 2023. 1:00 pm Eastern (90 minutes)
Session is in English; it will be recorded and made available publicly after the event.
You can register for all the workshops at the following link:
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In the News
Over 300 RBC Bank Branches Across Canada Now Offer Greater Independence for Canadians with Vision Loss – BlindSquare:
305 RBC branches (about 25% of the Canadian network) recently introduced the BlindSquare app to their customers to offer greater independence for those with vision loss. It’s estimated that 1.5 million Canadians identify as having some form of sight loss, which can be a barrier when entering unfamiliar locations such as shops, banks, new streets, etc. RBC has taken the innovative stance to change this with their recent integration with BlindSquare, the world’s most widely used accessible GPS app developed for the blind, deafblind, and partially sighted.
“You need to be able to make intelligent decisions once you enter an unfamiliar location. That means relying on sensory clues other than vision to navigate the world around you,” says Debbie, a long-time customer of RBC.
“For instance, if I am in a mall, I’ll listen for the sound of a water fountain, as that likely indicates I’m in a central location. The smell of a food court or the beeps of an ATM can also give me clues to where I am in proximity to other things.”
Clayton Van Esch, an RBC executive shares that the BlindSquare integration with the bank’s branches was well worth the effort. “BlindSquare, along with its EVENT app, is more than a ‘find your bank’ tool. It’s a doorway to greater independence and a lifestyle tool for blind and partially sighted people,” explains Clayton. “We often talk about being most helpful to our clients by being on our clients’ path. BlindSquare and its EVENT app make that path accessible even when it cannot be seen.”
David Demers, President, CNIB Frontier Accessibility, shared that “Canadians living with disabilities represent purchasing power of $55 billion annually. These potential customers, their families and friends, frequent banks, and other financial institutions. An accessible and inclusive establishment allows blind and partially sighted customers more independence and security when dealing with sensitive information, such as their personal finances. An accessible experience draws in new customers and keeps them coming back again and again.”
“Financial independence is an essential part of social participation. New technologies allow us to interact with our communities in a way never possible before,” says David. “Now, with greater abilities to participate in the world around us, provided by socially conscious corporations like RBC, blind people like me can better engage with and contribute to the society we are a part of. Obviously, the independence this technology brings provides me multiple benefits, but there is also an upside for our economy and the greater community.”
We look forward to continuing to expand this program with our friends at RBC. Are you a banker who would benefit from RBC’s BlindSquare integration? Anyone can download the free version of BlindSquare’s EVENT app from the iOS App Store to assist in navigating throughout your community, likely including your local RBC branch.
CN Tower Achieves New Heights of Accessibility, with Gold-Level Certification from Rick Hansen Foundation:
Canada Lands Company, the corporation responsible for the CN Tower, one of Canada’s most iconic landmarks and a recognized national symbol, has announced that the Tower has achieved the highest level of accessibility certification from the Rick Hansen Foundation. The Honourable Helena Jaczek, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Minister responsible for Canada Lands Company, was at the Tower to accept the certification and celebrate this important milestone for the 46-year-old structure.
“Canada’s most recognizable landmark is also one it’s most inclusive and accessible. Ensuring our communities and economy are inclusive makes them stronger and more resilient. By removing physical barriers of access, Canadians of all abilities are better able to participate and contribute,” said The Honourable Helena Jaczek, Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
“As we work together to create an accessible and barrier-free Canada, we need to ensure that everyone can access spaces and buildings. The CN Tower is an important Canadian landmark, and it is critical that everyone can enjoy it. Congratulations to Canada Lands Company for your Gold-level certification! And thanks to the Rick Hansen Foundation for your ongoing work to make our build environment accessible and disability inclusive,” said The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. In a video message, Man In Motion Rick Hansen himself congratulated the CN Tower on its achievement: “In 2015, I was honoured to be one of the first people in a wheelchair to do an accessible EdgeWalk, at the CN Tower,” he said. “In 2018, the CN Tower achieved accessibility certification from our Foundation, for reaching a level of meaningful accessibility for people with all disabilities. Today, I’m honoured to be able to congratulate the CN Tower for its accomplishment in achieving Accessibility Certified Gold, an even higher level of meaningful access.”
Opened in 1976, the CN Tower was constructed as a broadcast antenna and remains among the most visited tourist attractions in Canada. A series of recent renovations have prioritized the removing of barriers to accessibility, part of a longstanding commitment by Canada Lands Company to ensure that everyone is welcome at Canada’s National Tower.
For CN Tower Chief Operating Officer Peter George, retrofitting a building like the CN Tower has presented some interesting challenges.
“Accessibility has been among the highest priorities for Canada Lands Company and the CN Tower, and our journey to achieving Gold certification from the Rick Hansen Foundation reflects that,” he says.
Getting there has included the renovation in 2018 of the Main Observation Level, which saw the installation of floor-to-ceiling window walls and removal of barriers of access to the view that were a feature of the Tower’s original construction. The work has also included the addition of high-contrast signage, railing retrofitting, ensuring menus for the Tower’s 360 Restaurant are available in Braille, the installation of automatic doors, and accessible washrooms throughout the facility.
An extensive renovation of the Tower’s Outdoor Terrace Level, which is currently underway, will further enhance accessibility throughout the site.
Renovations are conducted in consultation with accessibility experts. “Ensuring our building is accessible and inclusive means that everyone can feel welcome visiting the Tower. It also helps us attract a diverse team of talented people to work here, and that benefits everyone,” George says.
For more information about the CN Tower’s work to promote accessibility, visit
Halifax transcriber designs Canada’s first ever Indigenous braille code
‘I think braille should be available to anyone who wants or needs it,’ says Christine Muise, whose Mi’kmaw Braille Code is garnering a lot of praise in both the U.S. and Canada
A Halifax woman is receiving widespread praise for her creation of a braille code specifically designed to help blind Indigenous persons.
Certified braille transcriber Christine Muise earned the Louis Award at this year’s annual meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind in honour of the Mi’kmaw Braille Code she developed earlier this year.
“It’s called the Louis Award, but the technical term for it is creative use of braille,” notes Muise, who was surprised but thrilled by the recognition from the American-based non-profit organization aimed at promoting independent living for the visually impaired.
“When the code got finalized in Canada, I sent them a copy of it (because I know) there is a large Mi’kmaw community in Maine, so just in case it came up, I wanted them to know this was available,” says Muise about how her work got noticed.
“The lady that I sent it to is actually the one who nominated me for it. I found out while I was down there and met her.”
Also endorsed by Braille Literacy Canada, the nation’s governing braille authority, Muise’s Mi’kmaw Braille Code ensures that blind readers of Mi’kmaw now have a standardized, consistent braille code available to them — giving the underrepresented visually-impaired group something they never had previously— the ability to read.
“When I started looking into it, I found out there was no braille for any Indigenous language in Canada and there was only one or two in the States,” says Muise, adding she’s a big advocate for the visually impaired.
“I think braille should be available to anyone who wants or needs it,” continues Muise. “The blind are already a pretty underserved population so you can imagine how underserved a Mi’kmaw blind population must be.”
Muise came up with the idea to create an Indigenous braille code in April, shortly after thousands of unmarked graves began to be discovered at various residential schools around the country.
“It just kind of got me thinking about what could someone like me do to make any sort of difference,” recalls the former Chronicle Herald graphic designer who now works with the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority (APSEA).
“I figured there would probably be a resurgence of people wanting to regain their language, and I knew from the few times I had come across Mi’kmaw in local textbooks here that there wasn’t anything, (so) I thought that was a way I could make a difference.”
Through her dedication on the development of the Mi’kmaw Braille Code, she has definitely poised to change many lives.
Created in collaboration with native linguist Dr. Bernie Francis (who helped developed a new orthography of the Mi’kmaw language) in consultation with other experts, Muise’s code has been supported and approved by Dr. Francis and long-serving chief of Membertou First Nation, Terry Paul.
“Creating a braille code that represents our language plays an important role in communication and accessibility to Mi’kmaw cultural education for future generations of Indigenous students,” declared Paul in a statement.
Muise notes that with Nova Scotia officially passing the Mi’kmaw Language Act recognizing Mi’kmaw as the official first language of the province, she hopes her braille code will provide an additional way of helping to promote and revitalize the Indigenous language.
“That was the whole goal basically — to have it live somewhere where someone would actually find it,” says Muise, adding that while hasn’t yet tackled any other Indigenous languages yet, she’s not above taking calls.
“I’m not going to just go and tackle them all,” laughs Muise. “(But) I would be open to if anyone wants to contact me about one.”
By Steve Gow
A list of the Best Apps for the Visually Impaired
Apps have made life easier for many people living with blindness or visual impairment. Being able to read things that are only in visual print, was a task that might have required a non-sighted person to seek the help of another. But apps in combination with the ever-growing presence of technology grant people new ways of reading things and doing really anything. We learn to read with our ears and write with our voices.
Here is the list of apps for the visually impaired that are useful for blind and low vision persons using iOS and Android devices.
1. Braille Tutor
This app is designed for both sighted and visually impaired people to learn and/or practice braille letters and contractions. Braille Tutor uses UEB braille.
The free version of the game provides 19 Grade 1 lessons, including letters, simple words and sentences Lesson 19 introduces Whole Word Contractions. There is a fee to access lessons 20 – 91 (Grade 2 UEB Braille) through an in-app purchase or you can purchase Braille Tutor + for $1.99 which includes all of the lessons.
Braille Tutor paired with a Bluetooth keyboard can be used by anyone – sighted, low vision, or blind!
This app, designed specifically for the blind, combines your phone’s compass and GPS with FourSquare data to explain what’s going on around you. A special algorithm works out the most relevant information about the world around you and uses a speech synthesizer to provide an audio digest. If there’s a popular café nearby, it’ll tell you. If it’s probably more important that you should know an intersection is coming up, it’ll tell you about that instead. When you’ve found an interesting place, BlindSquare can start turn-by-turn directions. The app can even detect if you’re moving by car, bus or train and adapt accordingly.
3. Lookout – Assisted Vision
Lookout is an app to help blind and visually impaired people learn about their surroundings. Created by Google, this app is a free smartphone app which can automatically read and scan text, recognize products and describe objects. Lookout by Google is the latest example of an ai-driven app equipped with automatic text reading and scanning features.
Google’s Lookout app helps people make it easier to read text on labels and signs, identify packaged foods by more than just their bar codes, and better identify currency notes.
Devices: iOS, Android
4. Seeing AI
Seeing AI is a scanner app for the visually impaired developed by Microsoft for the IOS app store. The app uses an AI to narrate the world to mixed results.
The app includes nine scanner modes Short Text, Handwriting, Document, Product (bar-code), Person, Currency, Scene, Color, and Light scan.
The most common use for Seeing AI in the classroom will likely be reading text — short, long, typed, or handwritten — for students who are blind or have a visual impairment. Students who are blind or have visual impairments will likely find this multifunctional tool to be a welcome and useful shift from more limited apps.
Devices: iOS, Windows
5. Voice Dream Reader
With advanced text-to-speech and a highly configurable screen layout, it can be tailored to suit every reading style from completely auditory to completely visual, plus synchronized combination of both.
Voice Dream Reader supports reading PDF and Word documents, DRM-free EPUB and DAISY eBooks, Web pages and more. It’s directly integrated with Bookshare, Dropbox, G-Drive, Evernote, Pocket, Instapaper, and Gutenberg. It is of the popular apps that read text from any document.
6. Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes connects blind and low vision users with sighted volunteers or company representatives for visual assistance through a live video connection. The app also can be used from anywhere in the world, with no language restrictions.
Be My Eyes was created to help people who are blind or low-vision. The app is made up of a global community of blind and low-vision people and sighted volunteers.
Be My Eyes captures the power of technology and human connection to bring sight to people with vision loss.
Devices: iOS, Android
TapTapSee is an Object Recognition app on the IOS app store, and Google Play store. The app is designed to help the blind and visually impaired by scanning objects through their phone’s camera.
The app is also able to identify the titles of movies and video games based on scanning the box, though it’s worth mentioning that it sometimes can struggle with more complicated box art.
Devices: iOS, Android
8. Prizmo Go
Prizmo Go lets you quickly grab printed text with the camera. After text is recognized in a blink of an eye, you can interact with it in many useful ways, or just send it to other apps. Prizmo Go comes with enhancements specifically built for VoiceOver, in addition to spoken guidance prior to shooting. That, combined with its text-to-speech capabilities, make it a great companion in case you need help reading printed documents.
9. SuperVision+ Magnifier
It’s a magnifying glass app for your smart phone that specializes in live image stabilization. It is designed to assist low-vision or visually impaired users and can be used easily with one or two hands. It can be used for various magnifying purposes, from reading small print on documents to seeing street sign in the distance, and everything in between!
Sullivan + is a visual-aid app to enhance the accessibility of the visually impaired and low vision users and informs users who need visual aids about information perceived via the smartphone camera.
Devices: iOS, Android
By Ciaran Walsh
New App: NaviLens
NaviLens is a high-density artificial markers system for long distance reading.
The tags generated by this system are designed in order to be read from a long distance, without the need of focusing and even in motion. This makes them useful for blind and low vision people. All you need to do is to point the camera of the device to a tag in order to quickly read its contents.
The application has a new sound system with which a blind person can locate the label in the space with precision, without the need for headphones.
Below is a link on YouTube that gives you a brief description of the app.