Insight September 2017


Welcome to the September edition of Insight.

"Don't tell me I can't"

Deafblindness doesn't hold Barbara Milner back

It's hard for most of us to fathom a world we can't see or hear. But that's the world Barbara Milner lives in every day.

Barbara has a condition called Usher syndrome that results in severe vision and hearing loss. Although she was born with some vision and has memories of the visual world, her sight started to fade by the time she was a teenager. She has never been able to hear. 

"Currently I can see some shapes, shadows. That's all," she says.

But Barbara is a glass-half-full sort of person and she refuses to dwell on the negative. She's never let her deafblindness hold her back from leading a full, active life. She grew up to marry, have five children and, eventually, 10 grandchildren whom she utterly adores. She loves walking, reading, swimming, travelling and staying as busy as she can.

"Sometimes I'll put 15,000 steps on my Fitbit in a day," she says.

So how does someone who's deafblind lead such an active, independent life? On top of her own drive and determination, Barbara gives a lot of the credit to CNIB's intervenor services.

An intervenor is a professional who essentially works as a translator for someone who's deafblind. Using a form of touch-based communication that works best for the individual – like tactile sign language, for instance – the intervenor helps to bridge the gap between their client and everyone in the outside world, from doctors to store clerks to colleagues.    

Without intervenor services, Barbara says "I'd go crazy. How would I go places? How would I do things?"

That's why Barbara worked so hard to advocate for increased government funding for intervenor services in Ontario: because she knows how much people like herself depend on those services to lead a normal life. She was successful. Ontarians who are deafblind now have access to 25-29 hours of intervenor services each week – a far cry from the mere three weekly hours they received before. 

"Don't tell me I can't," she says. "Thinking that deafblind people 'can't' shouldn't be the default thought. We can do things. There are ways we need to adapt, but at the end of the day, really, we're the same as anyone else."

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20 helpful apps for people with vision loss

Person holds phone camera up to friendThere are literally hundreds of mobile apps designed to help folks who are blind or partially sighted do everyday things a little more easily. Here are a few of our favourites…

  1. Seeing AI

    This is a really cool new IOS app from Microsoft that has a lot of great features. It not only reads any text that appears in front of the camera, but it identifies money, products and even your friends.

  2. KNFB Reader

    Available for both IOS and Android devices, the KNFB Reader is a reliable, accurate reading app that works through your phone's camera. Since launching in 2014, it's been a favourite among millions of people who are blind.

  3. BlindSquare

    BlindSquare is the world's most popular GPS app created specifically for people who are blind or partially sighted. As this IOS app leads you to your destination, it describes the environment around you, and announces points of interest and street intersections.

  4. IDentifi  

    Created by a very talented teen from Markham, Ontario, IDentifi is an object and colour recognition app made for Apple devices. It can recognize virtually anything you take a photo of (from objects to brands, colours, facial expressions and text) and describe it aloud to you in 27 languages.  

  5. VM Alert

    If you're tired of people sneaking up on you when you don't realize they're there, you might like VM Alert, which is an IOS video motion detector. All you do is set up the alert sound through the app, place your phone down with the camera aimed in the direction you want to monitor and you'll hear the sound played back if motion is detected in that area.  

  6. Be My Eyes  

    Through Be My Eyes, you're connected via video link to a sighted volunteer who can answer a visual question for you like "What colour is this shirt?" or "Which one of these cans is corn?". It's currently available only for IOS devices, but developers say it's coming soon to Android.

  7. Aipoly Vision

    Available for both IOS and Android devices, Aipoly Vision can recognize thousands of objects and colours for you. All you have to do is point your phone at an object or colour and the app describes aloud what it is.

  8. NaturalReader

    NaturalReader is a text-to-speech app that can read pretty much any kind of text document you want it to. It's available for both IOS and Android devices, it's fairly simple to use and, for a free reader, you can't do much better.

  9. LookTel Money Reader

    Whether you're at home or abroad, the LookTel Money Reader is a great IOS app to keep in your back pocket. It can read 21 different world currencies in more than 15 languages.

  10. VO Starter

    If you're not sure how to use the built-in VoiceOver (VO) feature on your Apple phone, this app takes you through it step by step.

  11. ColorIDFree

    Available for both IOS and Android devices, ColorIDFree can help you identify colours through the camera on your phone. The results can be hit or miss, but it'll at least get you in the right ballpark if you really need to identify a colour in a hurry.

  12. VisionAssist

    Designed for people who have low vision, VisionAssist is an IOS app that works as a magnifier and also has a range of features that allow you to adjust the contrast and lighting levels of what you're viewing.

  13. TapTapSee

    TapTapSee is an object recognition app that works on both IOS and Android devices. All you need to do is take a picture of an object and the app will say aloud what the object is.

  14. Sero

    Formerly called iBlink Radio, Sero is home to lots of radio stations, podcasts and reading services (including major daily newspapers) of interest to people who are blind and their families. It's available for both IOS and Android devices.

  15. Voice Dream Reader

    Available for IOS and Android devices, this much-loved reading app will read aloud a huge range of print materials for you, including PDFs, text documents, DAISY books, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and text in many other formats. (If you like this one, you might also want to check out the company's newest app, Voice Dream Writer.)

  16. Blindfold Games

    Blindfold Games is a really fun IOS app home to dozens of accessible games, from pinball to tic-tac-toe to bowling to word games.

  17. Light Detector

    Light Detector is a simple IOS app that converts light into sound through your phone's camera. All you do is turn the app on and you'll hear it start to produce a continuous sound. The closer you get to a light source, the more high-pitched the sound will become.

  18. Blind Abilities

    Blind Abilities is a one-stop IOS media app offering a wide range of free podcasts and blogs mostly about technology, accessibility and employment for people who are blind. You can also check out their website at

  19. Magnifying Glass with Light

    This IOS app is exactly what it sounds like: a magnifier and a flashlight in one. 

  20. Transit

    Whether you're travelling by foot, bus, subway or Uber, the Transit app can help you navigate even the most bustling cities. It's available free for both IOS and Android devices.

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"That All May Read"

New website explores the history of blind literacy in Canada

screen shot of All that may read website home pageEver wonder how braille books first became mainstream in Canada? Or what an optophone is? Or how many books there were in the very first library for the blind in the country?

You'll discover all that, plus lots of other fascinating tidbits about the history of blind literacy in Canada, at a brand new CNIB website marking our 100th birthday this coming March.  

That All May Read is a fully accessible online exhibit dedicated to the fascinating evolution of reading for Canadians who are blind – from the earliest beginnings of tactile reading codes in Canada to the digital books we know today. It's filled with hundreds of items from our 100 years of archives, including artifacts, photographs, audio recordings and personal stories and testimonials contributed by Canadians who are blind.

To experience the exhibit for yourself, visit

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'Wow!' of the month

Meet Darleen Bogart

Darleen Bogart accepts a volunteering awardWe're thrilled to announce that CNIB volunteer Darleen Bogart has been appointed to the Order of Canada!

Over the last 40 years, Darleen's work has touched, and often been directly responsible for, almost every program and service the CNIB Library offers today.

She's been instrumental in keeping our library at the cutting edge of braille and computer technology for decades. She also initiated training programs for volunteer proofreaders, and transcriber courses for braille math, computer and music notation.

Darleen's dedication to blind and partially sighted Canadians doesn't stop with her work at CNIB. When she saw a need for an organization that would bring all Canadian braille stakeholders together, she helped found the Canadian Braille Authority (CBA), which grew out of CNIB's Braille Standards Committee. Through the CBA, many separate organizations began cooperating together for the first time to achieve their common goals. Darleen served as CBA president from 1996–99, during which time the organization became firmly established.

The fact that she has accomplished all of this – and more! – as a full-time volunteer for CNIB, as well as continuing to volunteer with other organizations, makes her even more remarkable.

Darleen was awarded the Order of Canada on June 30, 2017, along with 99 other appointees. You can read the news release and view the entire list of appointments here.

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It could be one of the most powerful decisions you ever make…
Changing your will is a big decision, but it's one that can change people's lives for generations to come. Get in touch with us for personal guidance in leaving a gift in your will to CNIB, and help blind or partially sighted Canadians see beyond vision loss and fully participate in life. 
Visit or call 1-800-563-2642 to learn more.  

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