Equalize - Issue #2, January 2017

Welcome to the second issue of Equalize, CNIB Ontario's advocacy e-newsletter. In this edition, we are celebrating the Canadian Council for the Blind's White Cane Week (see our Guest Blog – "My White Cane" by Ray Smith). You might not think about it much, but when you use a cane or walk with a guide dog, you are self-advocating. Just by being seen by the people you pass, you are raising public awareness about your needs as a person with sight loss, and your right to maintain your independence. You are making people think. Also on the topic of independence, we have some important updates on threats to transit pass programs across the province.

Let us know what you think by emailing us at advocacy@cnib.ca. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we did creating it!


1. What Does an Accessible Canada Mean to You?

As you may already be aware, the Government of Canada recently announced its commitment to eliminating barriers and delivering equal opportunities to all Canadians living with disabilities. To help with this, the government has launched national consultations to allow people like you and me to influence the development of the legislation that will as transform how the government addresses accessibility.

"We have made considerable progress in making our society more inclusive, but there is still work to do," said the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. Referring to the consultations, she said: "Together, we will make history. Canadians with disabilities continue to face barriers in their daily lives. What does an accessible Canada mean to you?"

In a commitment to help people who are blind or partially sighted have their voices heard in this initiative, CNIB has partnered with two groups to help bring additional consultation opportunities to our clients and advocates – the Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada (AIAC) and the Canadian Access and Inclusion Project (CAIP).

As part of both groups, CNIB will be offering in-person, over-the-phone, and online consultations to those wishing to take part in this important discussion.

For more information on how you can get involved with the consultations, visit our advocacy website.


2. Threats to CNIB transit pass fought off

Our advocates have been busy over the last few months, defending the transit pass programs across the province from potential cuts. For many decades, people who are registered as legally blind have enjoyed the use of free or discounted transit fares in certain Ontario municipalities. As municipal budgets are being squeezed, these programs are repeatedly under threat as a way to cut costs.

Advocates pack gallery to defend London transit pass

A worrying report issued by the City of London in November proposed scrapping the London Transit bus pass for people who are legally blind ($10 per year) and its senior discount (25% off the full rate) and instead, funding a low-income pass. Under the new scheme, not everyone who is eligible for the pass would receive it. The City of London identified that out of the 32,745 people who could potentially qualify as low income in London, there is only budget for 3.5 to 7.5 per cent of those people to receive it. Between 320 and 400 people who are legally blind in London currently have the $10-annual bus pass.

Our advocates came out in force and packed the public gallery at the public participation meeting on December 13, 2016. There were 100 speakers that addressed the committee of city councillors, many who spoke passionately about what the CNIB pass means for their independence and safety. A motion was passed, four to two, to recommend to City Council that they keep the $10-annual bus pass for people who are legally blind.

The final decision remained with the City Council, and we are pleased to report that on December 19, 2016, the City of London voted nine to four to keep the $10-annual bus pass. Work will continue to develop a low-income pass program, but the pass for the legally blind will not be affected.

TTC Pass Continues for 2017

In November, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) released a staff report looking at ways to close the multi-million shortfall in its budget. It was suggested the free-pass program currently provided to about 3,000 Torontonians who are legally blind could be cut.

We attended the meeting at City Hall on November 21 and CNIB staff member Ray Smith presented a deputation (short speech) to the TTC Board to defend the free-pass program for people who are legally blind. CNIB GTA Executive Director Angela Bonfanti also sent emails to TTC and city leaders to state our case.

When the Executive Committee for the City of Toronto met recently, cuts to the CNIB pass were not discussed. We received a private communication from TTC to say that "The Board also rejected a list of options to close the funding gap (currently $61 million) including any changes to the blind/war amp concession fare program." See our news release reporting what happened.

The City's Executive Committee also voted to support a "Fair Pass Program", which will provide a discount (33 per cent off a single fare, 25 per cent off a pass) to people on low income. The program will come into effect in 2018, with people who are eligible under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) being the first on the list to benefit. We continue to work with TTC and the City of Toronto to ensure that transit remains affordable for people who are legally blind.

Call to Action!

We know from experience that this will not be the last time municipalities will review reduced fair programs for people who are legally blind. We have also heard about many different transit issues across the province, such as a lack of audio announcements or the need for better driver disability awareness in some municipalities. As an organization, we need to hear from you about the transit issues in your area, so we can work together with you on a suitable solution. We will be contacting you over the next couple of months to get involved in our Ontario transit consultation, so please watch this space. In the mean time, please email us at advocacy@cnib.ca to tell us about any transit problems in your area.


3. BlindSquare comes to Vaughan City Hall

 

GPS can be a lifeline for many smartphone users when navigating their way around outside. But what happens when you enter a building, and have no idea where to go once inside? Navigating around municipal buildings can be particularly tricky, and the massive Vaughan City Hall (Vaughan is a city located just north of Toronto, with a population of 320,000), standing at 280,000 square feet, is no exception.

BlindSquare is a GPS app designed to make it easier for people with vision loss to navigate or find their way in new places. Thanks to endorsement from Vaughan Mayor Bevilacqua and the accessibility team at the City of Vaughan, BlindSquare launched a three-to-four-month pilot in City Hall in December, co-sponsored by CNIB. The small BlindSquare beacons have been placed around the lobby area and add to Vaughan's Innovative Path System (IPS) already in place. When the user has the BlindSquare app open and is near a beacon, the app will announce information that will help you find your way, such as "You are at the entrance. Reception desk is straight ahead, washrooms are on the left". A video of how the app works can be found here.

The pilot period is due to finish shortly, and we are hopeful that the City of Vaughan will adopt the BlindSquare system permanently, throughout the entire building. All Canadians should have equal access to public spaces, like Vaughan City Hall, which are funded by taxpayers. This year we will be advocating for better accessibility in all public buildings, including the use of BlindSquare, and will keep you updated on how you can join us to push for this change. 


4. 9-1-1 service changes for people who are Deafblind

 

The CRTC, Canada's regulator of telecommunications, is looking at the future of 9-1-1 services in Canada. While most people assume that dialing these three critical numbers will bring help, it isn't that simple for Canadians who are Deafblind. Because they can't speak, they need an accessible system for communicating with the 9-1-1 operator. As well, first responders need to be given accurate information on how best to communicate with someone who is Deafblind.

Texting is possible in some communities and many new technologies are being examined for use across Canada, including full video, enabling operators and callers to communicate visually. While a long way off, our hope is that when fully implemented, a "next generation" 9-1-1 system would allow a person who is Deafblind to place a 9-1-1 call from anywhere in Canada and receive appropriate assistance from first responders.

CNIB, along with representatives from the Deafblind community, made a presentation at a CRTC hearing in Ottawa on January 19, 2017. Our presentation had two central themes:

  • That Canada's telecom and mobile and service providers need to create user profiles for subscribers who are Deafblind – well in advance of any possible emergency situations. These profiles, which would explain the communication needs of subscribers who are Deafblind, would be kept on file for possible future use. In the case of an emergency call, the 9-1-1 operator and first responders would immediately be informed how best to communicate.
  • That a solution, likely several years down the road, must include the involvement of people who are Deafblind.

CNIB will continue to work with the Deafblind community on this issue. If you would like to connect with us about it, you can email us at advocacy@cnib.ca.

CNIB's programs and services for people who are Deafblind, are available currently only in Ontario. Information on Deafblindness and CNIB Ontario's programs, including the Emergency Intervenor Service provided by the government of Ontario, can be found here.


5. Guest Blog - My White Cane, by Ray Smith

 

My name is Ray Smith, I am legally blind.  I lost my eyesight as a result of a workplace accident in 1986. Already being blind in one eye since I was 5 years old, I had to face the fact my life had been changed in one second – a second which could have been prevented, and that we all should think about every day either at work, home or play. It has been a long journey for my family and me, but now I work and proudly represent CNIB as a Coordinator, Advocacy & Stakeholder Engagement, helping to change what it is like to be blind and smashing down barriers for people with vision loss.

Resistance

My injury devastated me and my family. I was bitter and angry. When it was time for rehabilitation, I went to CNIB and took mobility training. I had to learn how to use a white cane so I could get around, especially on the busy streets of Toronto. I knew that if I were to find a job, it would most likely be in the city.

My Mobility Instructor was excellent and showed me the different types of canes I could use. I was apprehensive at first. I felt as though my pride was being challenged – I have always wanted and expected to be independent. I didn't want to be classed as a "person with a disability". Eventually, I chose an "identification cane" because it was thinner and I hoped "nobody would notice".

Once my training was complete, I reluctantly used my cane until I found a job. Then my pride took over again and I decided that I didn't need a white cane. I learned quickly that I was wrong. I started bumping into things and not paying attention to the traffic when crossing the streets, as I had been taught. Things were getting worse, and I was beginning to get discouraged.

I remember one day I went for a walk without my cane and ran into a huge man by mistake. He was quite annoyed at me and started calling me names. He did ask if I was blind and when I answered "yes", he began to feel sorry and put his arm around me and asked "why don't you have a white cane my friend?".  Then it started; I decided to use a cane and I'm so happy I did. 

Acceptance and Pride

I now use what is called a "Mobility Cane" and have never looked back. My confidence and independence have returned. I use my cane everywhere and don't feel ashamed at all. In fact, I feel proud of my white cane – proud enough to decorate it which calls even more attention to it. I've learned that some cane users decorate their canes to make them more personal, fun and fashionable. I think this is awesome, so I have done the same. I guess I'm "trending". 

So please never be ashamed to use a white cane. There is one that will be just right for you. A cane can assist in your mobility, once you get the proper training, and it will also give you new confidence and self-esteem. And now they look good too!

Enjoy your cane, but always have a backup, just in case.


6. Last chance to help us plan for this year!

 

A big thank you to everyone who has completed our advocacy survey so far. We are building our network of CNIB advocates across Ontario, so we can unite on issues that affect our community and work together to break down barriers to independence and inclusion.

It's not too late to help us identify the most important issues to take in in the coming year or to join our network of advocates. We provide basic training in advocacy to everyone who wants it. If this interests you, please fill out our advocacy issue survey.

Here is a sneak peek of some of the issues people are telling us they want us to work on:

  • Raising awareness, changing attitudes and overcoming stigma is currently the most frequently cited concern that people want to tackle.
  • Access to employment, the built environment and inaccessible health information are just some of the issues that people have highlighted as important to them.
  • The creation of an "issues library" has been suggested. This would help people learn from others who have tackled the same barrier.
  • Some of the great suggestions for future advocate training sessions included: "How to mobilize others to create a movement", "your consumer rights" and "advocating in the education system".

The survey closes on February 15, 2016 and we look forward to sharing the full results with you in our next edition! 


7. Events

 

February 5-11 – Check the CCB website for an event near you.
February 8 – Canadians with Disabilities Act Government Consultation event, Toronto (location to be announced) 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm
February 14 – Media Training for Advocates teleconference, 12 noon to 1:30 pm. To register please email advocacy@cnib.ca.
February 22 – Media Training for Advocates teleconference, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. To register please email advocacy@cnib.ca.