Insight E-Newsletter March 2014

Welcome to the March edition of “Insight”. This month we’re talking sports! Read on to find out how AMI-tv describes live sports, meet Paralympic rower turned author Victoria Nolan, and learn about a sport that requires little-to-no adaptions for athletes who are blind or partially sighted.

AMI sports talk

The recent excitement of the Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, resulted in millions of Canadian fans tuning in to watch their favourite athletes go for gold. But, what if you couldn’t see the on-screen timer telling you how fast the Canadian skier was going? Or the winning goal in the sledge hockey game? Thanks to Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), sports fans who are blind or partially sighted are able to experience the Paralympics and other sporting events play-by-play through live description.

AMI is a multifaceted media company serving people who are unable to access media in traditional forms, including those living with vision loss. AMI-tv offers original and acquired programming with open-format described video, while the AMI-audio channel features local, national and international headlines along with a range of original content.

AMI began live describing sporting events in 2011, but before the introduction of live-description, event highlights were packaged and then combined with descriptions – with audiences waiting until the next day for all the details.

“The best part about live description for sports and other events is the fact that we’re able to provide individuals the opportunity to watch the event in real time with their friends and family,” says Emily Harding, a producer at AMI. “If you’re a Blue Jays fan you can watch the broadcast on AMI-tv and have all of the information at the same time as everyone else.”

Live describing is no easy feat. It’s a difficult art that requires a steady balance between too much description and not enough. AMI announcers don’t want to talk over the sportscasters that are calling the game, but also need to ensure that they’re describing the information that is strictly being told through visuals. It takes a lot of practice. AMI announcers will often use old footage to rehearse, such as an old Blue Jays game or Paralympic event.

“The most important aspect of live describing is making sure that we’re able to make sense of the program for our audience,” says Ron Rickford, a producer at AMI. “We need to provide the information that our audience wouldn’t be getting otherwise, without taking anything away from the actual broadcast.”

This year AMI provided record coverage of the Paralympics in Sochi by offering live described broadcasts of both the opening and closing ceremonies as well as nightly highlight reels. The channel will also live describe at least 13 Blue Jays baseball games throughout spring and summer, just as they did last season. Currently, all live described broadcasts are in English; however, with AMI Français launching in early 2015, AMI has opened the door to expanding its live description services.

For more information on AMI, its programs or to find the AMI channel guide, visit


Blind rower goes beyond vision loss to win gold

Growing up, Victoria Nolan always felt uncomfortable in crowds. Her classmates thought of her as a snob when she didn’t acknowledge them in the school hallways, she didn’t like speaking in front of people and she never excelled in sports. In fact, she was far from athletic. You probably wouldn’t believe that this young girl grew up to become a special education teacher, motivational speaker and gold-medalist Paralympian. But it’s true.

Nolan was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that causes slow, progressive loss of vision, at the age of 18. Though she was devastated by the diagnosis, it helped her better understand why she’d struggled with her vision for so long. It gave her the knowledge she needed to move forward. Despite years of frustration and battling misconceptions, she was focused on regaining her independence.

A lot can change in 10 years and, unfortunately for Nolan, almost everything in her life had changed by the time she reached her late twenties. Her goal of becoming a teacher was in jeopardy because of her deteriorating vision. Now a wife and mother, she was worried her young children would grow up thinking their mother was limited. She wanted her kids to be proud of her, not embarrassed by her. That’s when she decided she was going to find something that she could do independently despite her vision loss.

“I had never tried rowing before and then one day a light bulb went off and I thought ‘Why not give it a try?’” says Nolan. “It started out as just a hobby; something my kids could be proud of. So what if their mom can’t see? She can row!”

Hobby quickly turned into passion – one that she was really good at. In 2007, Nolan was named to the Canadian National Adaptive Rowing Team and began travelling the world, winning medals and breaking records and, within a year, competing at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing. Two years later, she and her rowing crew won gold at the World Rowing Championships in New Zealand.

Nolan’s struggles and accomplishments, both on and off the water, inspired her to put pen to paper and write her first book, an autobiography titled “Beyond Vision: The Story of a Blind Rower”. She launched the book surrounded by family, friends, supporters, Olympians and fellow Paralympians at an intimate event in Toronto on February 27.

“Writing this book has been really therapeutic for me. It’s been a means of venting my frustrations with the way I’ve found blind and partially sighted people are sometimes treated,” says Nolan. “Some of the things I’ve been through were really emotional and sometimes traumatic. Writing about those times allowed me to sort through what happened and move on from it.”

“Beyond Vision: The Story of a Blind Rower" is available for purchase through Iguana Books in ePub, Kindle and print formats and in print at Shop CNIB. Accessible formats are also available through the CNIB Library. A long-time CNIB client, Nolan recorded the audio book version of “Beyond Vision” at the CNIB recording studio in Toronto.


Dragon boat racing: A sport for everyone!

Hold water, draw, push, let it run! Experienced rowers hear these commands and react. And like any good dragon boat team, the rowers on the Eye of the Dragon know how to work together to increase speed, row safely and cross the finish line. But this team is different – almost 50 per cent of its rowers are blind or partially sighted.

The Eye of the Dragon dragon boat team was created in 1994 as part of CNIB’s 75th anniversary celebrations, which were geared toward highlighting the abilities of people who are blind or partially sighted. The original team was made up of 11 paddlers with varying degrees of vision loss, their family members and a few CNIB staff members.

A dragon boat team usually consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer who sets the crew’s timing and a steersperson who sits at the stern of the boat to steer and give the crew commands. You would think adjustments would have to be made for a team made up of people who are blind or partially sighted, but dragon boat racing is one of the very few sports that require no adaptions for athletes with vision loss.

“The wonderful part of dragon boating is that it’s a sport people with any ability are able to participate in,” says Adele Jury, Eye of the Dragon team manager. “We say it’s your ability that you bring to the team, not your disability.”

In 1995, after the introduction of CNIB’s Eye of the Dragon team, dragon boating became a sanctioned sport under the British Columbia Blind Sports Association’s umbrella. There are now three teams in B.C. (two in Vancouver and one in Victoria) that are sponsored and supported by BC Blind Sports. There is also one in Edmonton and two in Toronto.

"In 20 years we have moved from one blind paddler in the sport of dragon boating to several blind dragon boat teams across Canada and around the world,” says David Burn, Eye of Dragon’s co-captain. "I truly believe this sport empowers both the blind and sighted team members with self-esteem, commitment and sense of community."

If you would like try dragon boating, visit:



“Beyond Vision: The Story of a Blind Rower” by Victoria Nolan $13.99

From Canadian Paralympic rower Victoria Nolan comes, "Beyond Vision: The Story of a Blind Rower", a personal story of triumph against incredible obstacles. Available in English only.

Order ​"Beyond Vision: The Story of a Blind Rower" 

To browse hundreds of other Shop CNIB products for everyday living, visit one of our 20 stores across the country, visit our webstore or call the CNIB Helpline at 1-800-563-2642 to order a free catalogue.


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Note:The information provided in this article is for awareness purposes only, and should not replace the expertise of an eye doctor. CNIB recommends that you visit your doctor of optometry regularly for thorough eye exams, up-to-date medical information and advice tailored to your own unique vision health and family history.

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