Canadian Council of the Blind

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Visions – January 2024


From the President’s Desk

While we officially change over our calendars, it is time to reflect on the past year, and the successes we were able to celebrate in 2023.  Thank you to each and every one of you, as we all played a key role in what we were able to achieve as an organization. 

Many members were able to take part in celebrating events in November and December; from group outings to in-person get togethers to celebrate the great accomplishments and spend time with peers and friends.

Many chapters and groups also used this time to raise funds in an effort to plan events in the future, and again, we thank the many who participated, organized, and gave up their valuable time to ensure the success of these events, large or small.  Truly gratifying are those whom we call volunteers, and to each and every one of you, we thank you for supporting and helping us achieve our goals through your unselfish efforts in supporting our endeavors.  I cannot emphasize how important a role each of you play in ensuring we don’t put salt in our oatmeal,  or remind us that the mashed   potatoes  we are trying to cut are at  11 o’clock, or that our glasses of water are already full and no more will fit  in without us flooding the table we are sitting at!   Then, smiling as we try anyway, and you are there with a paper towel in hand to help our cause.  Thank you; you are everywhere and your support is invaluable.

Now as we bring in 2024, let us look forward to the tasks at hand, as we celebrate White Cane Week and White Cane Month.  The time of year when we celebrate as citizens living with vision loss, and educate the public on how proud we are of our many accomplishments which, with a little tweak here and there, prove we are no different than anyone else.  We thank the many for sharing their Christmas events with us, and it is of utmost importance that you share your White Cane Week activities with us as well, as it is very important to highlight events transpiring in promoting our abilities.

On behalf of the Board, staff, volunteers, sponsors and donors, we thank you for making 2023 such an outstanding year, and we are motivated by your continued support to surpass those efforts in 2024.

Again Happy New Year to all, and don’t forget to keep your eye appointments.

Jim Tokos

CCB National President


White Cane Week Events

If your chapter is holding a White Cane Week event that requires an insurance certificate, please contact Shelley at or toll-free at 1-877-304-0968 as soon as possible, so that the certificates can be issued in time for White Cane Week.

February 4-10, 2024 – White Cane Week

White Cane Conference, Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Great Hall, Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa, Ontario:

In person and virtually: registration information and conference times will be forthcoming.


Morning Session: A special session for AMD Awareness Month

All about age-related macular degeneration:

i. What is AMD?

ii. How is it diagnosed?

iii. How is it treated? Current treatments and new treatments under development for all forms of AMD will be explored, along with the patient experience.

iv. Update on Biosimilars


Afternoon Session: This session will focus on Statistics Canada’s Canadian Survey on Disability and their findings focused on Canadians with seeing disabilities.

Member Spotlight

We would like to introduce Iris Thompson, a member of the Vancouver Chapter of the CCB as a member of the blind curling community.

Iris was born and raised in Prince George, British Columbia. Diagnosed with a chronic eye condition at an early age, Iris grew up with an awareness of issues facing people who experience low vision and blindness. After living with low vision through her adolescence, Iris lost the vision in her left eye in her mid-teens, and then in her mid-thirties, lost the vision in her remaining eye quite suddenly.

When she experienced total loss of vision, Iris was the mother of two small girls, and she was determined that her blindness would not impact her involvement in the girls’ lives or the activities in which they took part. Iris immediately began planning to work with a guide dog and has been a guide dog user since 2006. She currently works with Jill, a Yellow Labrador who is Iris’s fourth guide dog.

Iris began doing volunteer work in the field of vision loss in 2002 and has continued ever since. Recognizing that there are many organizations that provide valuable service to vision impaired clients, Iris has worked with the CNIB, VocalEye Descriptive Arts Society, PAWS (Promoting Awareness Without Sight), as well as the Canadian Council of the Blind. Iris has also served on the City of Coquitlam’s Accessibility Committee and is active with the local alumni chapter for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Iris previously worked at the Dark Table, a restaurant that offers a dining experience in total darkness, and patrons are served by blind and vision impaired servers. She currently teaches conversational English online to students in foreign countries.

Iris served on the Board of the BC-Yukon Division of the CCB, and ever since leaving the board has continued to assist with organizing multiple events such as winter and summer sports days, and the Winter Wing-Ding celebrations.

Iris recognizes the strength that community brings, and the value of collective effort. This is what motivates her to continue her involvement in service for the good of those who are blind or vision impaired. 

White Cane Week 2024

Get ready for a fun and exciting awareness week from February 4 to 10. This year’s events will include lots of local activities. Please visit the CCB website to keep yourself updated on the many exciting events that will be taking place this year across the country. And stay tuned for reports on events in upcoming newsletters!

CCB-Get Together with Technology (GTT) Program

CCB’s GTT is very active and has many types of meetings each month that you are welcome to join to learn about new assistive technology. Whether you are a beginner, or an advanced user, there’s always something new to learn!

For more information, or a list of upcoming meetings, please contact us:

Corry Stuive, CCB National Program Coordinator   OR 1-877-304-0968 Ext 550

David Greene, CCB GTT Accessibility Trainer  OR 1-877-304-0968 Ext 509

Nolan Jenikov  OR 1-877-304-0968

Celebrate World Braille Day 2024

Join us for another wonderful World Braille Month in January 2024. This year we are celebrating artists who use braille to create! We are gathering creators and integrators to discuss how braille can be used in their craft and creativity. We will also be offering another year of Braille Boost with new activities and resources for braille learners and those who support them.

CCB is once again collaborating on World Braille Day events and we have exciting panels and workshops coming up.

Please visit the following link for more information:

The WEB Aim Screen Reader Survey

The following is a survey on Screen Readers. By completing this survey you will help inform development choices for those creating accessible web content and web standards. All screen reader users, even those who use screen readers only for evaluation and testing, are invited to participate.

The deadline date is January 31st, 2024, and here is the link to the survey:

Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017 to 2022

Statistics Canada recently released data from the 2022 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD), a national survey that collects information about the lived experiences of youth and adults with disabilities. Among other findings, the survey shows an increase in people identifying as having a disability in 2022 from 2017 in every province and territory, with the lowest increase (19.3%) in Nunavut and the highest increase (37.9%) in Nova Scotia.

View the findings here:

In the News  

Toronto Star Editorial Calls on Canada Transportation Agency to Crack Down on Airlines’ Poor Service to Passengers with Disabilities:

The Toronto Star’s December 12, 2023 edition includes a powerful editorial. It blasts Canadian airlines for failing passengers with disabilities. It slams the Canada Transportation Agency for weak enforcement of disability accessibility requirements. Continue on to read the full editorial.

Toronto Star December 12, 2023


Accessibility woes in air travel.

Sometimes sorry seems to be the easiest word.

Thanks to Air Canada’s poor treatment of passengers with disabilities, the national carrier is certainly getting good at saying it. After multiple egregious incidents, including one in which a man with cerebral palsy was forced to drag himself off a flight, Air Canada was quick to offer its “sincere” apologies.

Amid the flurry of negative publicity, Air Canada also issued a hastily crafted news release announcing “a series of measures to reduce barriers … for customers with disabilities.” It also acknowledged that it “sometimes” fails to meet its obligations, for which it offered “a sincere apology.” There’s that word again.

Not to be outdone, either in its shoddy treatment of disabled passengers or its displays of contrition, WestJet offered a “sincere” apology to a Paralympian who had to perform the Olympian task of lifting herself up to the plane, stair by stair, since a jet bridge wasn’t available.

Discount carrier Flair Airlines has also been doling out the apologies, including for leaving an elderly woman with a prosthetic leg at the gate and damaging a woman’s wheelchair.

These incidents reveal that mistreatment of passengers with disabilities – and the perfunctory mea culpas – aren’t limited to Air Canada. Nor are they recent phenomena; “discrimination and unacceptable treatment,” as the federal transport committee recently called it, has been occurring for years, decades even.

Consequently, following a motion by NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, the party’s transport critic, the committee said that it will invite the CEOs of Air Canada and WestJet to testify. But if past is prologue, we know what to expect: “Sincere” apologies, followed by promises to improve services – in other words, the same rinse and repeat routine the airlines have been performing for years.

Clearly, more conspicuous displays of contrition aren’t going to do the trick. The only thing that will is regulatory change which, fortunately, the committee seems to understand. In addition to the CEOs, the committee plans to hear from federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Auditor General Karen Hogan, and to study the regulatory regime surrounding accessibility.

That study will no doubt find that the regulator – the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) – has consistently failed to ensure the airlines fulfil their legal and ethical duties toward passengers with disabilities. The years-long “discrimination and unacceptable treatment” of such passengers is a testament to that fact.

While the CTA stresses that its role includes “monitoring compliance with regulations,” problems with accessibility are typically handled reactively, by responding to passenger complaints. It’s up to passengers to lodge a complaint, which is then followed by a long, arduous procedure involving contact with the airline, facilitation or mediation and, ultimately, adjudication before a panel.

Most passengers have neither the emotional nor the financial means to pursue this process to the end. Many never even bother to make a complaint in the first place, and a few bypass the complaints process and approach the media, which leads to apologies and promises to do better. And the problems continue to fester.

Instead of expecting passengers to police the airlines, lawyer and disability activist David Lepofsky argues that the CTA ought to step up and proactively enforce the law itself, by conducting “regular, unannounced on-site spot audits of airlines.”

Such “secret-shopper” visits would effectively put the airlines on notice, since at any moment they could face serious consequences for failure to discharge their obligations. It would therefore be a lot more effective than simply waiting for complaints, most of which will never materialize.

It would also effectively end the need for all the “sincere” apologies. Because treating all passengers, including those with disabilities, with dignity and respect means never having to say you’re sorry.

Increasing Economic Integration for Canadians with Disabilities:

*Heather Walkus, a CCB member and chair of the CCD, co-wrote this item. She is doing GREAT work on behalf of our members and the disabled community in general.

Shortly before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada reported that 20% of people in Canada aged 25 to 54 (the so-called prime working age population) live with a disability and that among this group, an estimated 645,000 individuals could be working but were not. 

Government public health responses to COVID-19 led to a pandemic recession, which hit the Canadian economy. The economic recession and subsequent recovery and rise in inflation have especially affected persons with disabilities, along with other social groups. Unemployment rates for persons with disabilities remain comparatively high. 

We will discuss the integration and success of people with disabilities and Deaf people in the future economy of Canada. We will use the ideas of social inclusion, economic security, human rights and social justice to suggest that success is a diverse set of quality of life experiences.  

Before outlining a vision for the future, we feel the need to express a cautionary note about inadvertently defining human self-worth or social status solely in terms of holding gainful employment in the mainstream labour force.  

We believe it is necessary to make this point because dominant cultural beliefs and material necessities place such great importance on getting a job, moving up the ladder, and having a career. 

The future economy, like the present economy, will undoubtedly create various kinds of economic opportunities and upward mobility. History tells us that it will also generate various forms of economic insecurity and deep poverty and that people within the intersectional cross-disability sphere and deaf communities are disproportionately at risk of these adverse outcomes. 

Even in times of low unemployment and tight labour markets, which is what we have today, the Canadian economy is unable to provide enough good jobs with good pay at good working conditions for everyone who seeks them. 

We know that too often, people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed, as well as undervalued and overlooked for jobs, training opportunities, and promotions.  

It is also important to remember that not all people, both with or without disabilities, aspire to or are able to work full-time in the general labour force. Their sense of personal identity, social standing, and overall quality of life come from other domains of life. 

Envisioning a Future Economy for All:

Success in our economy, as in life more generally, is a multifaceted thing. It takes many shapes and has many meanings for people. 

As a society, we need to acknowledge and value the inherent worth of all people. We must recognize that self-esteem and social worth come from many places and manifest in many ways – through natural connections, formal volunteering, artistic pursuits, and athletic activities, among others.  

We also need to support the thousands of people with disabilities in Canada and individuals with an array of disabilities and abilities who want to work, and also support employers in increasing integration in our future economy.  

Paid work and participation in the labour force will continue to be a key pathway of entitlement to many income benefits. These include Employment Insurance (both regular benefits and special benefits, such as sickness benefits), the Canada Pension Plan (retirement and disability benefits), the Canada Workers Benefit, and workers’ compensation programs.   

Creating the Right Environment for Canadians with Disabilities:

From a disability and human rights perspective, the government and other stakeholders should undertake the following actions to increase social inclusion and economic security for Canadians with disabilities.

• Adequate home support and personal services for individuals and their families

• Consistent Canada-wide person-centred funding for equipment and technology-based supports and other aids for independent living as determined by the person

• Adequate funding to community service agencies that offer accessible and inclusive programs

• Adequate funding to organizations of people with disabilities to monitor the effectiveness of laws, policies, and government funding streams focused on disability

• Adequate direct payments to individuals and families to enable personal choices in how resources are used to have a good life

• Adequate income security programs for all persons with disabilities including families with children with disabilities, adults of working age, and retired persons with disabilities

• Income security programs that are tied to individual needs

• Continued work on raising awareness, dispelling misconceptions, and building cultures of inclusion

• Enhanced prevention of systemic discrimination (for example, unconscious bias) in recruitment and promotion processes and decisions

• Advancing flexible working arrangements and promoting inclusive workplaces that may include hybrid work situations, while attending to the risk of social isolation

• Further investments in employment concerning meaningful work experiences starting at the high school level

• Investments in supporting entry, retention, and re-entry of Canadians with disabilities into the workforce as well as a focus on skills development and career advancement while promoting family-work life balance

Paid work is not necessarily the best form of social policy or disability inclusion for all, but for many who want to work, there are many barriers to overcome that can be addressed. These include attitudinal barriers that block individuals from taking advantage of education opportunities, a lack of understanding of technology supports when going to school, the length of time it may take to complete a program of study and the biases shown toward hiring qualified people with disabilities.

By addressing the calls to action above, governments and other stakeholders will go a long way toward building a robust future economy that is inclusive of the diverse disability and Deaf community.

By heather-walkus, Chairperson – Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and Michael-prince, Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy in the Faculty of Human and Social Development – University of Victoria

World Blind Union (WBU) Statement on Human Rights Day:

On December 10, the World Blind Union (WBU) highlighted the severe impact of armed conflicts on the blind and partially sighted community. WBU is deeply distressed by the intensification of armed conflicts around the globe, notably the recent Israel-Hamas war and the ongoing war in Ukraine. The devastating toll of armed conflict disproportionately affects those living with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or partially sighted.  Such conflicts are also a source of disability, resulting in more and more people entering a vulnerable state when government institutions are least able to provide the needed supports.

During the most recent WBU Officers meeting, the Officers received troubling reports about the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on those who are blind or partially sighted in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. On this year’s Human Rights Day, the WBU express sadness and alarm at this situation and calls for immediate action to protect the human rights of all blind and partially sighted persons affected by armed conflict.

Martine Abel-Williamson, President of the World Blind Union, said, “Imagine navigating through the chaos of war without sight, unsure where safety lies and unable to read visual cues for immediate danger. The unique challenges that persons who are blind face during such times are not just overlooked; they are often entirely forgotten.”

Diana Stentoft, Secretary-General of WBU and focal point on humanitarian action, further elaborated, “Being caught in the middle of a war zone without the ability to see imposes an additional layer of vulnerability. It is incumbent on governments, humanitarian organizations, and all stakeholders to recognize and address the additional barriers facing our community during these conflicts.”

In accordance with international human rights law and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in particular Article 11, the World Blind Union urges all involved parties to uphold and prioritize the human rights of individuals who are blind or partially sighted in current and future humanitarian efforts.

WBU specifically advocates for equitable access to fundamental services, including water, shelter, and healthcare, ensuring that individuals who are blind or partially sighted are not denied these basic necessities.

Regarding the recent conflict in the Middle East, WBU joins the international community in calling for the immediate release of all remaining hostages and the cessation of hostilities by all parties involved to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid. A renewed humanitarian ceasefire is crucial for the protection and safety of all civilians, especially those facing additional barriers.

WBU urges governments, humanitarian organizations, and other stakeholders to consult and collaborate with organizations of persons with disabilities to ensure that the rights of persons who are blind or partially sighted are at the core of humanitarian assistance, not only during the present situations but also if and when future conflicts arise. WBU stands ready to offer whatever assistance and advice we can to policy makers, humanitarian organizations, and all other stakeholders to achieve this goal.

National pharmacare plan is in limbo as health minister calls pending deadline ‘arbitrary’:

NDP agreed to prop up Liberal government in exchanged for a pharmacare bill by year’s end:

Health Minister Mark Holland signalled the government is unlikely to meet the end-of-the-year deadline imposed by the NDP for passing pharmacare legislation — a condition of the supply-and-confidence agreement that was struck to keep the Liberals in power until 2025.

Holland said talks are ongoing with NDP MP Don Davies, the party’s health critic, who has been working with the government to craft legislation to implement some sort of national drug coverage plan.

Davies also suggested the long-awaited bill may not materialize by year’s end.

“We’re going to keep working diligently in the weeks that follow to meet the spirit of our confidence and supply agreement,” Davies said, adding that his party’s deadline is “artificial.”

The supply-and-confidence agreement is clear about what the NDP wants in exchange for propping up the government in this minority Parliament: a Canada Pharmacare Act passed “by the end of 2023” to create a framework for “universal national pharmacare.”

No such act has been introduced.

Holland reframed the NDP’s demand when asked about it at a press conference.

“This is an extremely complicated space and trying to find areas of common ground certainly takes time,” Holland said of the discussions with Davies.

“These markers were set in the supply-and-confidence agreement as guidelines,” Holland added, referring to the “end of 2023” stipulation in the agreement.

“They are arbitrary. They really are about the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve.

“We have a few days left. Getting it right is more important than getting it done fast.”

Price tag a sticking point:

The sticking point could be the cost of a universal, single-payer pharmacare system — a program that would shift the financial burden from employers and people with out-of-pocket private plans to a government-run program.

Canada’s system of pharmaceutical coverage is divided between public insurance (44 per cent of prescription spending) and the privately insured/funded (56 per cent), according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Major changes to that regime would be costly for federal and provincial governments, according to a recent report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO).

The PBO found a single-payer system would cost the public sector (the federal and provincial governments combined) $11.2 billion more a year starting in 2024-25, before increasing to $13.4 billion a year in 2027-28.

The PBO also concluded that implementing such a program would save relatively little money.

There would be economy-wide savings of about $1.4 billion in 2024-25, rising to $2.2 billion in 2027-28, said the PBO.

The federal government is trying to rein in spending after years of outsized budget deficits incurred during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The country’s debt load has more than doubled to about $1.3 trillion. The cost to borrow all that money has spiked from $20.3 billion in 2020-21 to $46.5 billion in this fiscal year.

Holland has cited the cost of a single-payer program in the past, telling reporters in October that the “fiscal framework is tight” and the government has to be “responsible with dollars.”

“We are in a situation where we have to act prudently, that we don’t have the ability to spend, you know, what could be $40 or $45 billion,” Holland said, referring to a PBO report that said total drug expenditures under pharmacare would be about $38.9 billion.

Nikolas Barry-Shaw is a pharmacare campaigner at The Council of Canadians, an advocacy group that has long demanded universal drug coverage. He said the additional delays are “frustrating for the millions of Canadians who have been waiting for and expecting a pharmacare program.”

He said the Liberal government has been studying the issue for more than five years.

“It’s really hard to understand why it’s taken so long. Every day of delay means more people are going without their medication,” Barry-Shaw told CBC News.

“There doesn’t seem to be that much urgency on the side of the government when we know how important this is for so many Canadians who are struggling with high drug costs.”

Barry-Shaw said the government doesn’t have to stand up a $40-billion public pharmacare plan right away.

It can start by covering the most commonly prescribed essential medications. Later, he said, the list of covered drugs — known as a formulary — could be expanded.

That’s what the government’s pharmacare rapporteur, Eric Hoskins, has also recommended.

Drug companies call universal pharmacare ‘unrealistic’:

Barry-Shaw pointed to the frequent meetings pharmaceutical and insurance industry lobbyists have had with the minister, his staff and Health Canada officials as one possible explanation for the delay.

Innovative Medicines Canada, the group that represents pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca, Lilly, Pfizer and Sanofi, has said “single-payer options are unrealistic.”

The group says the vast majority of Canadians already have access to pharmaceutical coverage and the government should focus on filling “insurance gaps” that are “concentrated in a small number of provinces” rather than push ahead with a single-payer system that would dismantle what they call “higher quality employer-based insurance plans.”

But New Democrats have made it clear where they stand on the issue.

At the party’s October policy convention in Hamilton, members passed an emergency resolution that calls on the party to withdraw its support for the government if the Liberals do not commit to “a universal, comprehensive and entirely public pharmacare program.”

Davies addressed that ultimatum Monday, saying there are “very exciting and creative possibilities to make progress towards universal national pharmacare.”

“What’s very important is that we get it right — if that takes a little bit more time, then so be it. We think what’s more important is we get such a fundamentally important advance in our public health system correct, rather than meet an artificial deadline.”

By John Paul Tasker, CBC News                      1-877-304-0968

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