Insight September 2016


It's back to school time, so in this issue of our e-newsletter, we're taking you to 5 classes: History, art, gym, music and science. Class is in session! Let's get started...

History classPainting of the Halifax School for Blind circa 1900

Growing Up Blind: Part 1 (audio story)

In the 1950s and '60s, life for blind children was a lot different than it is today. In our very first audio story, we bring you the stories of three Canadians who attended boarding schools for the blind...

Click here to listen to "Growing Up Blind: Part 1", Insight's first ever audio story.

Tell us what you think

This is our first ever audio story, so we need your feedback! Do you want to hear more stories like this? Did you like this story or dislike it? Pop us a line at and let us know what you think!

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Art class

Exploring the touch of art

Four creative sculptures made by Hands of Fire participantsThe idea of creating art without sight has long been something that was dismissed. "How can someone create art if they can't see it?" is usually the main objection on offer. But thanks to classes like Hands of Fire and Create Night, CNIB clients are throwing those misconceptions out the window.

"Art is all about playing," says Bruce Brown, who runs the Hands of Fire sculpting class at the CNIB location in Toronto with volunteers Nora and Douglas. "It's all about letting your mind be free and allowing it time to play and create."

It's been more than three years since Bruce first started the program, and he admits he's consistently blown away by what his students create.

"It's more than just a sculpture," he says. "Those in the class come together, share their ideas and, in a sense, become a tight-knit community. Playing and creating these pieces with clay brings out the best in my students."

A participant of Halifax's Create Night class works on a painting The students taking part in the class are encouraged to bring their ideas to each class and work with Bruce and his team to execute their vision.

"We've developed our own method of teaching how to sculpt along the way," says Bruce. "The students will follow my fingers or put their hands on mine to learn how I'm using the technique to help form the clay. It's all about communication – they tell me what they would like to create, and together we make it happen."

Meanwhile on the east coast, artists who are blind or partially sighted meet on the last Thursday of every month for CNIB Halifax's Create Night. The night is filled with painting, sculpting and socializing, as blind or partially sighted attendees are joined by volunteers to create tactile art. This includes volunteers creating tactile images with a glue gun on canvas so the artist knows the area to paint, or with sculptors creating bowls and figurines with clay.

"Playing and creating, whether with clay, paint or any other medium, has a therapeutic reaction," says Bruce. "It's soothing and fun. You don't have to worry about making mistakes, you just follow your heart and enjoy the experience."

Click here to watch a fantastic short documentary about the Hands of Fire class, produced by Ban Ibrahim.

Screen shot of YouTube video about Hands of Fire art class 

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Gym class

5 sports that can be easily adapted for blind players

Anyone who thinks people who are blind can't play sports definitely has another think coming! Taking part in a sport is a great way to get active, meet new people and have fun – whether you're sighted or blind. Here are 5 sports that can be easily adapted for blind players...

  1. Two young men wearing bathing suits near water Swimming

    Whether you're swimming just for the fun and exercise, or you want to swim competitively, all it takes is a few simple adaptations to hit the water if you're blind or partially sighted. For instance, competitive swimmers who are blind or partially sighted are often assisted by something called "tapping," where a sighted partner stands at each end of the pool to assist the swimmer. The partner gently taps the swimmer on the shoulder with a cane as he or she approaches the end of the pool, letting them know they should either turn around or, in the case of competitive swimming, make a final touch.

    Check out this video from the Ontario Blind Sports Association to learn more about swimming without vision.

    Screen shot of YouTube video of Robert Hampson, blind swimmer 

  2. Soccer

    Did you know that 5-a-side soccer, or blind soccer, is played at the Paralympic level? The rules are almost exactly the same as traditional soccer, but with a few modifications to help people who are blind or partially sighted more easily take part. In this version of the game, the soccer ball makes noises to help the players determine where it is on the field, and every single player on the team wears eye shades to level the playing field for people with varying degrees of vision loss. Only the goalkeeper, who is sighted, doesn't wear eye shades, as he or she acts as a guide for players in the defensive zones.

  3. Child playing ice hockeyHockey

    With some minor changes, this quintessentially Canadian sport can easily be made accessible for people who are blind or partially sighted. Like in blind soccer, the main difference in blind hockey is that the puck makes noise to help players locate it. It's also bigger and slower than a normal hockey puck, making it a bit easier to find and pass. Other differences include the fact that face-offs happen with the puck on the ice and players can only touch it when the referee blows their whistle. Also, no slapshots! All goals must be scored in the bottom three feet of the net because the puck doesn't make noise when it's in the air.

  4. Man playing golfGolf

    Is there anything better than enjoying a round of golf during the early days of fall? Blind and partially sighted people can enjoy a round of golf too, with a few minor changes. The normal rules of golf apply, and the only difference is that a blind or partially sighted golfer is joined by a sighted guide who helps with things like setting up their shot, and providing directional assistance. Click here to learn more about golfing blind.

  5. Curling

    Close-up image of curling rocks on ice with players in the backgroundCurling, another popular Canadian winter favourite, is a low-impact but still extremely challenging and intense sport. Blind curling teams are made up of four players who are blind or partially sighted. If a team has a player who is completely blind, they are allowed to add a fifth member who acts as the team's designated sweeper. Each team also has a sighted guide who assists the team on the ice. Players are also allowed to use a few tools to help them as they play, including flashlights, and monoculars or binoculars.

Calling all sports fans!

Did you know that Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) airs a lot of Toronto Blue Jays games and other sports with described audio? The baseball fan in your home can tune in to 15 Jays games this season, all completely accessible. For more information, visit

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Music class

How music therapy works

Music therapist Jennifer Buchanan sings with guitar next to little girl  It's Thursday morning and eight babies and toddlers with vision loss are sitting in a semi-circle with their parents. Jennifer Buchanan joins them in the circle, holding a flute on her lap. As the children's voices calm, Jennifer releases a single, haunting note from her flute to capture their attention.  

Jennifer is an accredited music therapist, founder of JB Music Therapy and author of the book "Tune In: A Music Therapy Approach to Life". She's also been facilitating the music therapy program at CNIB's Calgary location for more than a decade.

So what exactly is music therapy? Well, that's a very big question. Music therapy does do much for so many people. But in a nutshell, it's a field of therapeutics that uses music exploration and creative expression to help a person overcome physical, emotional or mental challenges they may be facing. The music therapist uses songs and musical instruments to facilitate self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication and personal development, among many other things.

Boy plays a drum, smilingFor children with vision loss, music helps create a safe place to develop confidence and engage with the world around them. It's also a great opportunity for parents to observe the capabilities of their child.

Jennifer says music therapy helps children explore their feelings and build confidence, while meeting other kids in a fun social setting. Through the program, children who are blind or partially sighted explore playing a variety of instruments, including tambourines, maracas and drums, and participate in song.

"Music accesses our auditory sense and has the capacity to create feelings of safety and opportunity," says Jennifer.

Bringing music into your home

Mother and toddler-aged boy smiling; boy holds a musical toyIf you're a parent of a child who's blind or partially sighted, here are some fun and easy ways to share the power of music with your little one:

  • Sing! Children will love to hear you sing (even if you don't sound like Celine Dion) and want to join in. Singing encourages self-expression, and it's fun!
  • Make your own instruments. You don't need to invest in expensive instruments to make music. Pots and pans can stand in for drums. Fill small containers with dried beans or rice to use as shakers. Cover the bottom of a cardboard tube with wax paper and secure with an elastic bag, and you've got a homemade kazoo.
  • Create a music song basket. Pick a song, like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", and fill a basket with tactile objects including musical instruments like bells or shaker and toy farm animals. Sing, make music and play along!

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Science classTim Doucette in his observatory, next to a huge telescope

"Wow!" of the month: Meet self-made astronomer Tim Doucette

Even though Tim Doucette only has 10 per cent of his vision, he sees a lot with that 10 per cent. In fact, he sees the whole universe. And he's sharing it with others at his own observatory, called Deep Sky Eye, located in Quinan Nova Scotia.

An avid astronomer since he was a young child, Tim was born with cataracts in both eyes, leading surgeons to remove the lenses. Remarkably, although the procedure left him legally blind, it also gave him night vision superior to that of the average sighted person.The outer shell of Tim Doucette's observatory, set against a night sky with thousands of stars

"I learned that with the help of some magnification by a telescope, I could see
comets, planets and deep sky objects, something I thought was impossible for
someone with only 10 per cent vision," says Tim.

Tim offers tours of his Deep Sky Eye Observatory to groups looking to learn about
and see the rings of Saturn, iridium flares and other objects in the night sky. To book a visit or learn more about the Deep Sky Eye Observatory, visit

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Get one free month of Zagga!

If you love watching movies and TV with described video, check out Zagga Entertainment, a brand new accessible video-on-demand service you can stream right through your computer. Visit to watch free samples and sign up for one free month of Zagga service.

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Fingers typing on the Orbit Braille Reader 20Be one of the first to own the innovative new Orbit Braille Reader 20

For the first time, a portable and refreshable braille reader is available at a greatly reduced cost! The Orbit Braille Reader heralds an exciting new option for people who are blind to access reading materials and books. Pre-orders of the new Orbit Braille Reader 20 are now available with a $50 deposit towards the $499 cost. Reserve your unit today through Shop CNIB. Limited quantities are available.

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