Insight E-Newsletter - February 2011

Welcome to the February issue of Insight! This month, we introduce our new CareerConnect Canada program, highlight a range of resources about overcoming the challenges of vision loss in the workplace and follow Calgary’s Heather McCuaig on her journey of empowerment. As always, feel free to drop us a line with your feedback at or follow @CNIB on Twitter.

CNIB and AFB to launch Canadian online job program in March 2011

Photo of Heather BrentonGiven Canada’s recent economic challenges, it’s crucial now more than ever that Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have access to cutting edge employment resources.

To this end, CNIB and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) have joined forces to create CareerConnect Canada — an online service that pairs people with sight loss searching for a career with a blind or partially sighted person employed in the job seeker’s field of choice.

The CNIB Employment Accommodation Service's EAS-e system and the AFB CareerConnect database collectively hold more than 1,000 mentors. Through this new partnership, CNIB hopes to sign up even more mentors, and create mentorship opportunities for career-minded people with vision loss from across Canada.

Since finding a mentor is an important part of any job search, CareerConnect is a welcome resource for working-age adults such as Heather Brenton-Pye from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, who lost her vision at birth due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). With only light perception as a child, she learned early about adapting to new technology.

At 24, Heather was considering a change of career. She came across this service and was amazed. “I thought, wow, this is great. It’s very daunting when you don’t know how to start networking. It’s one thing to talk to somebody in your field of interest, but another to speak to someone who also shares your vision impairment and who can relate and explain how they adapted to their workplace.”

Having decided she wanted to go back to school for court reporting, Heather connected with Carrie Snodgras, a court reporter from Florida, who became her mentor. They spoke over the phone about Heather’s progress, troubleshooting any challenges with her course-load.

“She’s given me a lot of insight. She explained how she overcame certain challenges, for example, using certain software to make the job easier,” she says.

“You really can grow as a person through this program, because you realize if this person can do it, why can’t I?”

By working with a mentor, people like Heather can learn what the demands are for a professional in their field and be able to prepare for every aspect of the job.

“It definitely gave me encouragement. When I became overwhelmed by my course-load, it gave me the knowledge that, yes, I can do this if I persevere. It gave me a lifeline.”


Accessibility in the workplace: Tips and resources for employees and employers

For those with vision loss, finding employment and advancing in an existing career can be a major challenge.

Photo of a man working at a computer using screen magnifying technologyClose to 27 per cent of working-age adults with blindness or partial sight say their employers do not see a blind or partially sighted adult’s potential, according to a recent survey by Statistics Canada.

However, new resources for blind and partially sighted Canadians are opening doors to exciting career opportunities and fostering understanding among employers everywhere.

Whether you’re an employer or employee, the following tips and resources from CNIB accessibility expert Debbie Gillespie are a great starting point to enhance the workplace experience for blind or partially sighted Canadians.


Target Employee Strengths

Gillespie stresses that employers should target the work to an employee’s strengths. “Ask questions, make the effort to learn about your staff, explore their strengths,” she says. “Don’t focus on the disability, focus on the ability.”

Encourage Openness

For employees with vision loss, Gillespie suggests being open and encouraging questions about vision loss and workplace accommodations. “Allow people to be up front with you. The more you’re willing to share, the more comfortable that other person’s going to be.”

But she warns that if there’s a problem — anything from an inaccessible application to an inappropriate seating arrangement — you should confront it. “Don’t assume the problem will go away. Make it clear what your needs are, and they’ll do the same for you. Keeping the lines of communication open will encourage your work colleagues to do the same.”


Workplace Essential Skills Partnership (WESP) 

The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) runs the WESP program, a four-week, full-time course. This program helps to get people job ready if they’re not, and help people who are find work. The program provides resources for creating resumes, interview techniques, career planning, and job coaching, all within an accessible environment.

Job Opportunity Information Network (JOIN)

This group caters to finding people with cross-disabilities employment. As a membership organization with a large network, they host seminars for employers and agencies.

“For anyone who’s interested in employing people with disabilities, it’s a great network to join,” says Gillespie.

CareerConnect Canada

CNIB and American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) have joined forces and resources to create CareerConnect Canada – an online service that pairs people with vision loss searching for a career with a blind or partially sighted mentor currently employed in the job seeker’s desired field.

Together the CNIB Employment Accommodation Service's EAS-e system and the AFB CareerConnect database currently hold more than 1,000 mentors.


CNIB services an “eye-opening” experience for Calgary woman

At first, Heather McCuaig attributed her poor vision to the dimly lit restaurant where she worked for more than a decade. But in 2005, at the age of 30, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a group of diseases that run in families and cause slow, progressive vision loss.

After receiving the diagnosis, her Photo of Heather McCuaigophthalmologist put the Calgary woman in touch with her local CNIB team. Since then, CNIB has worked with Heather to help her get back to her active, independent lifestyle.

Key to her independence is the ability to travel in her community, using first a white cane and, soon, her first guide dog. Working with CNIB specialist Brian Vey, Heather learned to navigate her community and take advantage of Access Calgary transportation services.

With CNIB’s support, she’s also become computer savvy for the first time in her life. “I never knew how to use a computer before my diagnoses, then I went to CNIB,” she says. “It’s really opened my eyes. CNIB came to my house and taught me accessible programs. Now I’m always on the computer!”

Learning braille has also been an empowering experience, and today she’s enrolled in third grade braille at The Hadley School for the Blind. She plans to become a certified braille teacher, and teach it to people of all ages with vision loss, not to mention help her own kids out with their homework. “I want to follow along with my kids while they learn to read and grow,” she says.

The next year holds many exciting challenges and opportunities for Heather. In three months’ time, she will get her first guide dog from the California Guide Dogs for the Blind. During the winter, she plans to try downhill skiing with her three children, Marissa (six), Jasper (three) and Julia (one). And throughout the year, she’ll continue her efforts to educate the public about vision health and vision loss.

Heather’s story is a great example of how CNIB can help you get back on your feet after losing your sight. For more information about the support that’s available in your community, visit the Services section of our website.



Large-print keyboard enhances online experience - $34.95

This user-friendly large print computer keyboard is designed for those who have difficulty withPhoto of large print keyboard a standard keyboard. Designed with a bold 41 point (0.6”) typeface on the keycaps, it features high contrast yellow keys with black printing. The keyboard also includes 12 additional “hot keys” to enable one touch access for commonly used commands such as email, internet and volume control. With power control and energy-saving options, its design and functionality will improve your online experience.


Monthly Giving - Become a Partner in VisionPhoto of a woman hugging a young child

For as little as $10 a month, you can help CNIB empower people to overcome the challenges and isolation of vision loss ensuring they have the confidence, skills and opportunities to actively participate in life – 365 days a year. Become a Partner in Vision today and help us provide direct, one-on-one support for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted in your community.

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