Canadian Council of the Blind

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Visions – May 2024

From the President’s Desk

Welcome to Vision Month, and a very Happy 80th Birthday to the Council.

Hearing from our membership there is so much to celebrate.  Our B.C./Yukon Division has just completed their very successful AGM (Annual General Meeting). Many of our chapters across the country are celebrating anniversaries this year, and there also seems to be much more of an emphasis on summer activity.

The annual Atlantic Sports and Recreation Weekend (ASRW) will be held in Summerside, Prince Edward Island this year beginning on May 17th, and more details are included in this Visions Newsletter.  Chapters across Canada are visiting theatre productions, many featuring accessible closed captioning headsets for our members; as well, we have heard that many more of our chapters are engaging in lawn bowling, a long-time favourite in certain parts of Canada, and which is now expanding into many different areas of the country. 

Traditionally, July and August has represented a slow-down in activity, but hearing from members from all across Canada, this seems to be a thing of the past.  It truly is wonderful that chapters are engaging with their membership throughout the summer months, with such events as outdoor picnics, BBQs, and trips to theatre. Other summer sports and activities such as lawn bowling, golf and promoting fitness through walking, tandem biking, and more encourage members to enjoy outdoor recreation. This emphasizes the importance of fitness and reaching out to members as well as their families and caregivers to get involved.

I personally would like to congratulate our Waterloo, Ontario Chapter, who is celebrating their 77th year, a wonderful milestone.  A huge shout out on being one of the original chapters of CCB!  We also wish to congratulate the Toronto Visionaries Chapter on the wonderful celebration they put on for their members for their tenth anniversary.  The Visionaries will also be hosting the Toronto CCB trade show and chapter event on May 25th, a huge opportunity for organizations to showcase their support of the blind community, highlighting the many different ways they support our community through outreach, accessibility, technology, sports, and promotion of activity.

The Council will be celebrating its 80th birthday with sponsors and partners of CCB at our annual dinner and awards presentation in Ottawa on May 21st. Preceding this event will be the release of the Spring 2024 CCB White Cane Magazine in recognition of Vision Health Month.

On behalf of the Board, staff, many volunteers, and sponsors, I would like to thank everyone for their outstanding support of CCB over the years, enabling us to reach this huge milestone.  Please ensure a brief update of your events are sent to our National Office, and please don’t forget to get your eyes checked regularly.

Happy 80th!

Jim Tokos

National President

Announcements

CCB Person of the Year Award: Congratulations to Heather Hannett, National Board Member from Alberta and member of the CCB Calgary Club, who is this year’s recipient of the Person of the Year Award.

Heather is being recognized for her outstanding contribution in her efforts with Alberta Gaming, and its impactful contribution to the members it serves in Alberta. Furthermore, she has been a proud member and supporter of CCB for decades and has been a representative on the National Board since the early 2000’s. Her mantra is when members at all levels of the organization communicate and work together as a united front, we can do great things.

The fundraising through the gaming initiative allows the Calgary Club to secure office space, which is a valuable commodity. This space gives the membership a place to congregate and provide peer support to each other through group activities such as cribbage. Other activities the club supports include bowling, curling, yoga, hockey, and lawn bowling-with bowling as the most popular activity of all.

“These activities bring out a lot of new people and introduce them to the CCB, as well as showcase people’s abilities,” states Heather. “These individuals end up getting involved, getting active and that’s what’s really important to me, and what I feel is the true mandate of the Council.”

Heather is very involved with the CCB Calgary Club, which boasts over 55 members. One of Heather’s favourite activities with the club is the weekly cribbage that the Calgary members participate in, drawing over 20 members each week.

“We noticed that through activities such as cribbage, members started to learn braille,” said Heather. “So, we took the opportunity to start a new group to teach braille.”

Another initiative the Calgary Club started lately was to produce certificates to provide to the bowling lanes, curling rink and other supportive locations, which helps to promote the club to new people.

“The best part for me is when we get a new member,” Heather went on to say. “I’ve seen individuals who started out as very hesitant and quiet. And then as they attend more activities through the Council, I watch them come out of their shell and get super involved. I love seeing that!”

Looking to the future, Heather would like to continue expanding the CCB throughout the province, especially in rural communities.

“I’ve noticed more folks are coming out now that COVID is over,” mentioned Heather. “I’d like to continue that trend.”

We’re sure that under Heather’s direction, CCB will continue to grow in the province of Alberta, and more people will take advantage of the wonderful activities and peer support the groups provide. Congratulations, Heather and thank-you for all your support and dedication over the years!

Atlantic Sports and Recreation Weekend:

The Atlantic Sports and Recreation Weekend is taking place this year in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, from May 17 through 19.  This is an annual event that provides sports and recreation, and fosters inclusion and camaraderie amongst the Atlantic Provinces.

Jim Tokos will be attending on behalf of the Council, spreading warm wishes amongst the participants who raise personal funds to attend this annual event.  Participants will be from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and the host, Prince Edward Island.  The CCB wishes to extend warm greetings to all those competing and celebrates the success and longevity of this event through the dedication of the many volunteers and committee who have made this an annual tradition.

A big shout out to the Organizing Committee, and Heidi White and guide dog Amy for their support in hosting the event in Summerside.

See you there!

CCB-Get Together with Technology (GTT) Program:

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

For a complete list of meetings and/or contact information please visit the GTT blog at gttprogram.blog

Invitation to May 2024 Vision Health Month Conference:

The CCB Presents Its May 2024 Vision Health Month Conference

The Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Vision Health

Attend Live or Virtually

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

10:00 am – 1:00 pm (EST)

Eastern Standard Time.

The Great Hall, Christ Church Cathedral

414 Sparks Street, Ottawa, ON K1R 0B2

On behalf of the CCB, we invite you to attend a special discussion on artificial intelligence (AI). AI is very much in the news these days as new algorithms and uses for it emerge almost on a daily basis. This conference will provide a wide view of the potential uses of AI in the field of vision health, focusing on technologies that are the most advanced and most likely to be implemented in the short term.

1. Background – Dr. Jutta Treviranus

Dr. Treviranus will provide an overview of the different forms of AI, the risks and opportunities posed by the design of AI, emerging regulations relevant to people with disabilities, and promising trends in AI.

2. Application of AI in Ophthalmology – Dr. Delan Jinapriya

Dr. Jinapriya will describe the potential use of AI in the diagnosis of eye diseases based on his personal experience and research over the past several years. In particular, he will discuss the use of AI in:

The Diagnosis of Glaucoma: Early diagnosis is the key to early treatment and prevention of vision loss due to glaucoma. This presentation will present a number of applications in which AI is being used to diagnose glaucoma and what we might expect in the future.

The Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy: This presentation will describe a Health Canada-approved AI program for the early detection of diabetic retinopathy as well as other research currently directed to the early detection of retinal diseases.

The Diagnosis of Macular Degeneration: This presentation will describe a Health Canada-approved AI program for the detection of macular degeneration.

3. Application of AI in Increasing the Accessibility of Devices for People Living with Blindness or Sight Loss – Jason Fayre

This presentation will describe how AI is already being used in the creation of accessible devices such as smart glasses. It will describe areas of current accessible device research using AI and what we might expect in the future.

If you require assistance registering, please contact us at [email protected] or by phone at 1.877.304.0968.

Exciting Camp Bowen Summer Retreat Opportunities for All Ages:

This summer, CCB’s Bowen Island Chapter, in partnership with the Canadian Organization of the Blind and DeafBlind (COBD), is hosting a series of summer camps designed specifically for children who are blind, DeafBlind, and low vision, aged eight to twelve, youth aged thirteen to eighteen, and adults from across Canada. These camps aim to provide a fun and inclusive environment where participants can learn new skills, make lasting friendships, and build confidence.

The camps, located on beautiful Bowen Island in British Columbia, offer a wide range of activities tailored to the needs and interests of campers who are blind, DeafBlind and low vision. From outdoor adventures to camps focusing on music, cooking, travel, or technology, our programs are designed to be both fun and educational, providing a unique opportunity for personal growth and development.

We have funding from the Government of Canada to help families cover the camp fees and travel expenses associated with sending those 8 to 30 to camp. In BC, we have additional funding from other sources to cover partial camp fees for those over 30.

We are pleased to be extending this invitation to your family and would appreciate you forwarding it to any other families you may know of, to ensure no child, youth, or adult is missed out.

Find information on our Community Exploration Camp, Foundations of Independence Camp (Teen Edition), the Linda Evans Memorial Music Camp, Music Lovers Camp, and Adult Retreat on our website at:

https://campbowen.ca/camps

We’re more than happy to provide more information about the summer camps by phone or email as well. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team by phone at: +1 (800) 264-2623 extension 100 or email: [email protected]

We believe that every blind, DeafBlind, and low vision Canadian deserves the chance to participate in these enriching summer experiences, and we hope to hear from you soon and welcoming you or your blind, low vision, or DeafBlind child or youth to Camp Bowen.

Submitted by: CCB Bowen Island Chapter

Update on the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB):

The Government of Canada’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI) within the Department of Employment and Social Development is pleased to provide you with the latest update on the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB).

On Tuesday, April 16, the Government of Canada announced funding for the Canada Disability Benefit in the 2024 Budget. Specifically, the Budget 2024 proposes an investment of $6.1 billion over six years, beginning in 2024-25, and $1.4 billion per year ongoing, for the CDB program. The proposed design is based on a maximum benefit amount of $2,400 per year for low-income persons with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64.

With this historic milestone, which follows the Canada Disability Benefit Act receiving Royal Assent on June 22, 2023, the Government is enshrining the benefit into Canada’s social safety-net. As you may know, the Canada Disability Benefit Act will come into force no later than June 22, 2024, and the regulations setting out the details of the Canada Disability Benefit must be in place no later than 12 months after that – in June 2025.

This paves the way for the Government of Canada to begin providing payments to eligible Canadians starting in July 2025, following successful completion of the regulatory process and consultations with persons with disabilities.

To deliver the benefit as quickly as possible and to ensure nation-wide consistency of eligibility, the proposed CDB would be available to people with a valid Disability Tax Credit (DTC) certificate. As proposed, this benefit is estimated to increase the financial well-being of over 600,000 low-income persons with disabilities.

To ensure access to the CDB for eligible Canadians, and to address an anticipated financial barrier associated with benefit take-up, Budget 2024 further proposes funding of $243 million over six years, beginning in 2024-25, and $41 million per year ongoing, to cover the cost of the required medical forms during the DTC application process. Persons with disabilities also face barriers in finding out about and accessing government benefits and services. The Budget therefore includes funding for community-based navigation services to improve awareness and take-up of federal, provincial, and territorial programs available to working-age Canadians with disabilities.

We are pleased to report that we have already embarked on the next stage of work required to make the new benefit available to eligible persons with disabilities. Recognizing that many Canadians with disabilities are in need of the additional financial support that this benefit will provide, we will move forward as fast as we can with the required regulatory development process, so that the benefit can be paid beginning in 2025.

Work has already begun on drafting regulations setting out important benefit details such as the application process, how the benefit amount will be calculated, payment frequency, and the mechanism for Canadians to appeal decisions.  We aim to publish the regulations in Part I of the Canada Gazette as soon as possible, which will enable persons with disabilities and other stakeholders to provide feedback on the proposed approach in the spirit of ‘Nothing Without Us’.  Input received through this consultation process will be considered in revising the regulations for final publication in Part 2 of the Canada Gazette.

At the same time, we have begun work on the delivery systems to receive CDB applications and distribute benefit payments.

Finally, we will also be working simultaneously with the provinces and territories to ensure that the CBD can best meet its goal of lifting persons with disabilities out of poverty.

We will continue to share information as this work continues, and updates will also be available on the Government of Canada’s website Overview of the Canada Disability Benefit – Supporting Canadians with disabilities – Canada.ca.

Office for Disability Issues, Employment and Social Development Canada

Voice Dream Reader, A New Chapter:

Lately there has been a lot of talk about Voice Dream Reader and their new subscription model. Voice Dream Reader is an accessible app that many individuals use to read books on their devices.

Good news, as of last month, they have changed their minds with regards to a proposed paid subscription model. All of us who have Voice Dream Reader can continue to use it for free.

We will maybe or maybe not get new features without a subscription but can add books and documents to our reader as we could before. So, we don’t need to worry about paying for it and those of us who like to use Voice Dream can continue to do so. Below is their official message:

Following our recent announcement to transition Voice Dream to a subscription, we received an overwhelming response from thousands in our community. Your feedback, along with the impactful stories shared about Voice Dream being a pivotal part of your daily lives, has led us to reverse this change.

We will continue to provide access to the app’s existing features at no additional cost.

As we continue developing Voice Dream, some new features may be offered as part of a subscription, but the current capabilities will remain free to those who have already purchased Voice Dream.

For those who have already moved to a subscription, it’s no longer necessary to continue using the app. You may cancel your subscription, but we welcome you to keep it active to support ongoing development.

We sincerely thank you for your passionate and loyal support of Voice Dream. Your voices have made a difference.

The Cane Kids Book:

Introducing “The Cane Kids: Everett and Willow’s Journey in Navigating Legal Blindness.”

“The Cane Kids” is a heartwarming children’s book that follows the adventures of Everett and Willow, two extraordinary children navigating life with white canes. Through their unique perspective, readers of all ages are invited to explore the world, embracing independence and pride.

To further our commitment to accessibility, “The Cane Kids” incorporates various options including large print with light backgrounds, audio description, ASL interpretation, and braille text files for download and embossing. We also offer the option of braille labels directly on the book pages.

You now have a chance to pre-order “The Cane Kids” before its official release in June 2024. By pre-ordering, you not only secure your copy but also support our mission to empower blind and low-vision children through relatable and educational literature.

To pre-order your copy of “The Cane Kids,” please visit the website: https://www.insightaccessibilities.com/shop/. The pre-sale period will run until June 2, 2024, so be sure to reserve your copy soon.

In the news

Young children are facing an epidemic of vision loss, experts say. What’s behind the surge in myopia?

Too much time spent indoors and an addiction to technology has meant more and more kids are nearsighted today, experts say. Can we reverse course?

When Karen Kawawada learned both her young daughters were diagnosed with myopia, she feared they would grow to share her struggles with vision.

The Kitchener-based mom started wearing glasses at age seven to compensate for her nearsightedness. Now in her forties, Kawawada says she “can’t see anything clearly beyond my hand in front of my face” without sight aids.

“I thought (my kids) were going to go the same way as me, and I was afraid of that,” she told the Star. But despite her best efforts to limit screen time and encourage outdoor play, her children have been swept up in what experts call a myopia epidemic.

Screen time is wrecking our vision, but there are ways to stop it.

Optometrists say excessive screen time is leading to an increase in eye disorders, but doing things such as taking breaks from screens and lubricating your eyes can help.

The vision disorder has risen dramatically in recent years, projected to impact half the world’s population by 2050.  — and our youngest generations will bear the brunt of the burden, eye doctors tell the Star.

“The thing that’s heartbreaking is it’s actually a fairly easy correction,” said Dr. David Wong, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Unity Health Toronto. Here’s what you need to know about the disease.

What is myopia?

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a common condition that makes objects further away appear blurry. It can occur when one’s eyeball is too long or the cornea too curved, leading to focusing issues inside the organ, Wong explained.

The disease currently affects around 30 per cent of the Canadian population, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists.

In the U.S., myopia rates nearly doubled in 50 years, from 25 per cent in 1971 to 42 per cent in 2017.

Across the pond, 80 to 90 per cent of Singaporean high school graduates are now myopic, and similar rates have been seen in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

If current trends continue, the world will have 4.76 billion people with myopia by 2050 — about half the projected global population that year, studies show.

Ten per cent of the total population, or nearly a billion people, will have high myopia by then. 

By definition, these people will have “far worse” unaided visual acuity than the threshold for blindness.

Although the majority of myopia cases can be managed through wearing glasses or contact lenses, the disorder may worsen to the point of threatening one’s eyesight. Anyone with myopia is at risk of developing retinal detachments, cataracts, glaucoma and myopic maculopathy — a leading cause of visual impairment worldwide — as the condition progresses, Wong said. That’s concerning because children’s eyes are still growing, lending to faster-progressing myopia and more severe outcomes, said Dr. Deborah Jones, a clinical professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science.

It’s normal for our eyes to lengthen by about seven millimetres growing up. But in kids with myopia, “we’re seeing this abnormal growth. It’s like this rapid elongation — so it gets to (seven millimetres) way before it should, and then it just continues to grow,” Jones explained.

As of 2018, nearly 30 per cent of Ontarian kids aged 11 to 13 had myopia. Jones expects this figure to have ballooned in recent years, especially after the pandemic — anecdotally, her clinic has been seeing a surge in young children with myopia.

The public health burden will be felt years from now when they grow up. What could be behind the surge?

What causes myopia, and why are cases surging now?

For years, scientists thought genetics alone dictated whether one developed myopia. Now, the debate has been muddied — one’s environment clearly made an impact, given the rise in recent cases, but the exact factors weren’t clear, Wong explained.

The consensus now is that exposure to natural sunlight likely plays a big role, he said. Studies suggest certain wavelengths of natural sunlight can stimulate dopamine release inside the eye, potentially protecting against nearsightedness as the organ develops.

“As more and more people are becoming educated, their kids are (spending more time) indoors reading, and not being into outside play as much,” he said. This was intensified during the pandemic lockdowns, when kids were kept away from sunlight at a time when they needed it most, Wong continued.

“The recommendation is kids really should be getting a certain amount of light, about 90 minutes to 120 minutes of light a day outdoors,” he continued.  Jones noted this issue is compounded by our collective screen addictions — bad enough for adult eyes, but far worse for those still growing.

“There’s this dependency on digital devices for entertainment. Kids have iPads, they have cellphones … and everything’s being watched up close,” she said.

“So, our big recommendations are to limit non-academic screen time and to go spend more time outside.”

Kawawada said she felt “dismayed” when her daughter Penelope, now 14, was diagnosed as myopic near the start of the pandemic. Her youngest, Lillian, now 11, followed suit a few years later. The Star is identifying both by their middle names for privacy reasons.

“I have been trying to ensure that they got a lot of outdoor time, and I was trying to limit their screen time and stuff,” Kawawada, who works in communications for the University of Waterloo, said. But it was difficult when both grew to be “bookworms” like their mother, and especially during the pandemic when they were “shut up in the house with nothing to do but stare at a screen.

“I’m sure that’s where the problems started,” she said.

Can myopia be improved?

After their diagnosis, Kawawada got her daughters started on myopia control — a suite of treatments including eyeglasses or contact lenses, as well as ortho-k or atropine eye drops, intended to slow the disease’s progression. She felt consigned to her daughters’ fates as myopes.

But then something unexpected happened. Against the odds and contrary to doctors’ expectations, both her daughters’ visions began steadily improving. “After a couple of years in both cases, their sight actually improved to the point where they no longer have a prescription,” she said. ” … I’m so grateful for myopia control technology and how it’s helped my kids.”

They’re still on low-dose atropine, and likely will be until they turn 18, she said — but the turnaround has felt like “a miracle.”

Kawawada’s family are the exception, as myopia control rarely leads to improvements in eyesight — but Jones urges parents to give it a try anyway, especially when kids are still growing.

“We are one of the few countries in the world that has access to all of the (myopia control) options,” Jones said. “So, in the States, for example, they don’t have the spectacle lenses that we have, they’re not FDA approved. Whereas here we have Health Canada authorization for basically all of the options.”

But for Wong, he’d rather kids not have to resort to that at all. There’s a far simpler solution. “If policymakers and schools would allow these kids the simplest, cheapest solutions — just have kids play outdoors — I think generations to come would be forever grateful.”

By Kevin-Jiang, The Toronto Star

www.ccbnational.net                         1-877-304-0968

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