Insight E-Newsletter - January 2012

Welcome to the January edition of “Insight”! This month, we look at one artist’s passion for creating tactile art for those who are blind or partially sighted, while we recognize the work of other inspiring Canadian artists who are thriving with vision loss.



Niagara photographer with sight loss turns her lens towards family

Photo of Jennifer BlakelyIf anyone knows how quickly life can change overnight, it’s Jennifer Blakeley.

While eight months pregnant with her first child, she went to bed one night, and woke up the next day with no sight in her right eye.

“I went through a whole battery of tests; the doctors didn’t know what it was,” says Blakeley, president, founder, and photographer at AlphabetPhotography.com.

As a result of her pregnancy, low blood pressure combined with anemia had created the growth of calcium deposits in her optic nerve, blocking vital blood flow to her right eye. This hereditary condition, called optic nerve head drusen (ONHD), left her with no peripheral vision and very little sight in her right eye.

“I’d seen an optometrist my whole life because I wore contact lenses, but it was never detected,” she admonishes.

Her company, AlphabetPhotography.com, located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, continues to thrive employing more than 30 people. She has travelled the world photographing everyday objects and architectural monuments, placing them together to create meaningful collages for her clients. The hugely popular Canadian company has been featured in several international media outlets, including CNN and “The View.” More recently, Alphabet teamed up with Gymnastics Canada to create a human alphabet and support them on their journey to the London 2012 Olympic games.

Despite her high profile, she hasn’t been open yet about her sight loss.

“Most people don’t know I have vision loss. It’s been a hard adjustment, but I’m used to it now. I do most of the things I used to do before I lost my vision,” says Blakeley.

The 32-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down since her sight loss. In fact, losing her sight has motivated her to start yet another business. Her career direction has changed to focus exclusively on maternity, infant and family photography.

“I wanted to capture family portraits in a beautiful and meaningful way for people – so people have these portraits forever and they can pass them down through generations,” she says, adding that she relies on the advanced technology of her camera settings in a way she didn’t before.

Since ONHD can be detected by an eye doctor early in life, she would like to see more awareness around the condition and, hopefully, encourage more people to get eye examinations.

For more information on Jennifer Blakeley’s photography, visit jenniferblakeley.com and alphabetphotography.com.

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Lucas Haneman, winner of the 2010 iFactor, visits Jazz On The Mountain At Whistler

Photo of Lucase Haneman performing at the 2010 iFactor finaleLast September, Ottawa’s Lucas Haneman, CNIB’s 2010 iFactor winner, was awarded the CNIB scholarship to the Master Class Series, taught by some of the most influential jazz guitarists in the world during Jazz On The Mountain At Whistler (JOMAW), Canada’s newest jazz event that featured top international and Canadian jazz artists.

When he received the call from CNIB last summer, he was amazed.

“I was overwhelmed. It’s not every day you get a phone call from CNIB asking if you want to be flown out to an amazing jazz festival and study with some of the best guitar players alive today. I felt so lucky. I was overjoyed,” he says.

JOMAW took place during Labour Day weekend in the lively pedestrian village of Whistler, British Columbia. Along with 70 other guitar students, the 24-year-old learned from six Master Class Series faculty members who have 130 combined years of teaching experience.

He had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best musicians, including Kevin Eubanks and Stan Samole.

“Kevin and Stan had us play, and then they listened and critiqued us. Samole, this amazing guitar player, got everyone to play with each other – I was blown away,” he says. “I also had the chance to play two songs with Kevin, and he was really encouraging – they all were.”

Haneman, who has retinal detachment due to premature birth, has 10 per cent vision in his right eye, and no sight in his left.

The Concordia University graduate was accompanied by his father, flying to B.C. with WestJet.

“If I hadn’t had a guide with me it may have been a different experience, but if you’re going to be successful in your field you really have to work at being self-sufficient and independent,” says Haneman.

These days, he splits his time between Montreal and Ottawa working on his own music and playing with various bands, including Go Long (!), an acoustic duo with Ottawa musician Danielle Alard. Earlier this year, Haneman released his debut album, “This is What’s Up,” which he describes as soul jazz with flares of funk, rock, blues and a little bit of folk.

For more information about Lucas, please visit myspace.com/lucashaneman or lucashaneman.com.

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Local artist creates tactile installation art for people with vision loss, commemorates community collaboration

Image of Pamela Mingo's artCanadian artist Pamela Mingo’s passion for art has led her down many roads, most recently in a commemoration of a vital community collaboration. When community members in Scarborough, Ontario, walk into their new multi-purpose centre next month, local residents with vision loss will not only gain access to CNIB services close to home, but they’ll be welcomed with a new tactile art installation by Pamela.

The Scarborough facility is part of a United Way initiative to create eight “hubs” in priority neighbourhoods throughout the Greater Toronto Area where services are in need of improvement. The Scarborough community office – located on Kennedy Avenue near Ellesmere – will house a multitude of community-based agencies, including CNIB, so that those in need of these services will be able to access them all under one roof.

To commemorate this collaboration, each participating organization was assigned an artist to create an installation for the new centre. Tactile installation art is a multi-sensory experience for people with vision loss, designed to increase their opportunities to engage with art. Pamela worked closely with CNIB staff, volunteers and clients to develop ideas and ensure her artwork would be accessible to people who are blind or have partial sight.

“The piece consists of 10 self-portraits of people with vision loss ranging from age eight to 50,” explains Pamela.

The self-portraits were made into silhouettes, to represent the different faces that make up CNIB – from staff to clients – and decorated with words and images capturing how each person feels about CNIB.

CNIB will be providing vision assessments at the new Scarborough community office, with items from our Shop CNIB store available for purchase. As well, the shared space will house CNIB-run groups, such as peer support.

In addition to having better access to clients (particularly those who may not be able to visit our downtown Toronto location), the new facility will also allow CNIB to reach more new Canadians, many of whom live in the Scarborough area. Each of the organizations housed in the new community centre will have access to the building’s interpretation services, available in several languages, so that organizations such as CNIB can communicate with clients from a wider range of diverse backgrounds.

Visitors will be able to appreciate Pamela’s artwork and have access to available CNIB services at the new Scarborough community office in early February when the facility opens.

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Photo of talking pedometerRemember to make physical activity a priority this winter with this affordable talking pedometer with pulse meter. Not only will this device track how many steps you take in a day, but it may give you the necessary push this winter to get outside and stay active!

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Click here to order the talking pedometer now. 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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Photo of CNIB client Tim LaittMonthly Giving - Become a Partner in Vision

It was one of the worst blizzards of the season – with -30° temperatures and snow whipping through the air – when Tim went to the corner store to buy bread. But having recently been declared legally blind and unsure of his navigation, Tim became lost in the storm. By joining our Partners in Vision program with a monthly gift of $10, you’ll help people in your community like Tim build their independence and adjust to life with vision loss.

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