Equalize - Issue #3, June 2017

Happy National Access Awareness Week! To celebrate, this edition of Equalize is all about showcasing advocates who have been smashing barriers to inclusion in their own communities. We've been smashing more literal barriers at our new community hub in Toronto, and we will be piloting our accessible neighbourhood advocacy initiatives with our neighbours. We hope you will join us!

The CNIB Ontario Advocacy team

1. Accessible Neighbourhood Pilot

CNIB has just moved into its new Toronto Community Hub at the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood. With thousands of people who are blind or partially sighted coming to the neighbourhood over the next few years, we will advocate to raise awareness and help our neighbours get ready.

CNIB in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is embarking on an exciting pilot project to improve accessibility of neighbourhoods, starting with the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood where our new Toronto Community Hub has just opened. CNIB is working with local businesses and City officials to create a model of accessibility for other municipalities to follow. Next year we will be creating an Accessible Neighbourhood Guide, listing recommendations and resources that can be used by any community across Canada.

"Over the next year, we expect upwards of 10,000 people with sight loss will visit the community. As well as coming to the new Hub at 1525 Yonge Street, our participants will be getting to know the local neighbourhood," said Angela Bonfanti, Executive Director of CNIB in the Greater Toronto Area. "We want to ensure the time they spend in the neighbourhood is fun, engaging and comfortable for them."

As part of the pilot, advocates will be canvassing local businesses to talk about accessible customer service, as well as installing BlindSquare beacons through what we are calling the "Shop Talk: BlindSquare Enabled" project. Using the free BlindSquare Event iPhone navigation app, people with sight loss will be able to explore their surroundings with independence. As app-users pass by businesses that are "BlindSquare-Enabled", the app will provide a spoken description of the business, including its name, goods or services provided, and the layout. The app also provides users with other information, such as the names of the roads they are walking along, or where the bus stops are.

Frequently Asked Questions on BlindSquare are available here: http://blindsquare.com/faq/.

Each business will also be provided with information and resources to offer accessible customer services to people with sight loss.

CNIB is working with the City and local councillor, Josh Matlow, to make the pedestrian crossings in the neighbourhood accessible (tactile and audible).  Our CNIB Ambassadors, who are volunteers living with sight loss, will be visiting schools in the district and delivering an educational session about sight loss and CNIB.

The second phase of the project is to expand the pilot to other regions. Already, a plan is developing to undertake a similar project in the area of Brantford, Ontario. Brantford is the home of the W. Ross MacDonald School for students who are blind, partially sighted and Deafblind.

Get involved!

If you live in the GTA and would like to help us in our efforts to raise awareness with local groups and business owners, and make lasting change, then please contact Ray.Smith@cnib.ca to find out how you can get involved. 

2. Guide Dog User Denied Service

Victoria Nolan speaks out about when Uber refused her guide dog, and advises what to do if it happens to you

In 2006, I was afraid to leave my house. I had lost about 95 per cent of my sight because of retinitis pigmentosa. As my sight deteriorated, I became more and more afraid. Afraid of getting hurt, afraid of getting lost, even just afraid of being confused. I wouldn't even go to the corner store unless someone went with me.

At 30 years old, not only could I not see objects, I couldn't see much of a future.

When I took hold of Jetta's harness and gave the command "forward", I entered a whole new world. Jetta was a small German shepherd from the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation [in Connecticut]. She moved down the sidewalk at a speed I was not used to walking at. For so long I had been slow and cautious, but Jetta had confidence gently guiding me around garbage cans and people. It was exhilarating.

  With a guide dog, my confidence and independence soared. My life has been transformed and I am so grateful this support is an option.

Recently, I requested an Uber car to get home. I had never used them before, but I had just learned about Uber Assist, a division of Uber for drivers who have had extra training to accommodate people with disabilities.

When the car pulled up, Alan, my current guide dog, brought me over to the door. The door was locked and I waited for the driver to unlock it — as I reached out again, I discovered the car was gone.

I thought that we had approached the wrong car and that it was not actually the Uber car, but then I got a phone call from the driver who asked me if I had a dog.

I knew where this was going because, unfortunately, this has happened to me countless times. I told the driver I had a guide dog because I was blind. He said he didn't take dogs. I continued to explain that I had called Uber Assist because I had a disability and he needed to accommodate me. I told him it was illegal to deny me service. He said it was not illegal and hung up.

After the initial, feeling of fright (being in an uncomfortable situation without visual cues), I always feel humiliated. When I have to argue my right to be in a public place, while I imagine everyone around staring, it is embarrassing and degrading.  

Then I feel determined to do something about it. The Blind Persons Rights Act was passed in 1970. That's almost 50 years ago! I'm angry that people in the service industry don't know this. When I speak to representatives of the companies, they insist they train their employees about guide dogs. Even when I have clearly explained:

  1. I am blind.
  2. It is a guide dog.
  3. It is illegal to refuse me service.

I still get told to leave or to leave my dog outside. 

The fact that this doesn't jog their memory about the law or how to treat people who use a guide dog alarms me. Something about the training is not working.

What can you do?

There are three separate laws governing the right to use a guide dog. I would encourage you to file all three complaints if you are denied service:

1. File a complaint with the Municipal Licensing Department. A bylaw officer will visit the business and ensure it complies and may press charges.

2. Call the main phone number for your local police and explain that you want to file a police report. Some officers are still not aware they have the ability to do this — they think it is a bylaw issue or a human rights issue. I was told this after my incident with Uber and I politely asked if they could double check with someone else.

The Uber driver has been charged with discrimination 
against a blind person using a guide dog and will be appearing in court.

3. You can also file a human rights complaint. It takes a long time, but it won't cost you anything — you will be provided with a lawyer.

You can also let media know. The more awareness we can raise, the better. Christina Stevens from Global News –Toronto has done a phenomenal job drawing attention to this issue. You can check out her reporting on this issue at globalnews.ca/tag/victoria-nolan or check out the links below:

Part 1 Paralympic athlete claims Uber driver left her at the curb due to guide dog

Part 2 Paralympic Rower says police not understanding role in protecting rights of those with guide dogs

Get involved!

If you have an advocacy success or story to tell, then we would love to feature your blog in a future edition. Please email advocacy@cnib.ca with your contact details and suggested topic. 

3. New Advocacy tools launched

Check out our new how-to guides and templates which you can use to advocate on the issues important to you!

A few months ago, we gave you a sneak peak of the new advocacy toolkit, which was developed through funding from the Ontario government (http://www.cnib.ca/en/ontario/volunteer-resources/Pages/Volunteering-to-Support-Advocacy-Toolkit.aspx). We need to ensure that people who are blind or partially sighted have the skills and confidence to self-advocate, if we are going to make real and lasting change in our society. This could mean contacting your local decision maker such as a councillor or Member of Parliament about an issue relating to your disability. Perhaps a service provider is not giving you information in your preferred format and you need to know how to navigate the system. These tools and resources will give you the templates, how-to guides and information you need to get started on your own advocacy campaign work.
Some topics from the toolkit include:

These resources are just the beginning, and we hope to expand on our toolkit to make sure that you have the resources you need to advocate in your community. If you have a suggestion for an advocacy resource or think something is missing, then we want to hear from you. Please let us know your thoughts at advocacy@cnib.ca

Get involved!

If you would like to join us as an advocate, become part of a growing network across the province which smashes barriers to inclusion, and receive further advocacy training, please express your interest via our online survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LW93RNL

4. Basic Income Pilot

Advocates gave their feedback to the Ontario government on the Basic Income Pilot, which would replace ODSP and Ontario Works

On April 24, the government of Ontario announced it is launching its pilot to assess whether a basic income can better support vulnerable workers, improve the health and education outcomes for people on low incomes, and help ensure that everyone shares in Ontario's economic growth. This followed a province-wide consultation, which began in November 2016. The most up-to-date information about the pilot from the province can be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-basic-income-pilot.

The Pilot

The following locations will take part in the pilot:

  • Hamilton, Brantford, Brant County
  • Thunder Bay and the surrounding area
  • Lindsay

Participants will receive:

  • Up to $16,989 per year for a single person, less 50 per cent of any earned income
  • Up to $24,027 per year for a couple, less 50 per cent of any earned income
  • Up to an additional $6,000 per year for a person with a disability.

CNIB's Submission

In January 2017, CNIB Ontario sent the province our submission, which was based on consultation with the community. Thank you if you were one of the people who provided us with input. CNIB's response was one of 537 written submissions made by private citizens and community groups. There were also thousands of responses gathered by the province through a public survey, an expert survey and in-person meetings.

In our submission, CNIB pointed out that an estimated 187,000 people who are blind or partially sighted live in Ontario. The employment rate of working-age people with vision loss (35 per cent) is lower than that of people with other disabilities, or people who do not have a disability. As a result, many working-age Ontarians with vision loss depend on social assistance, including the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW).

We requested that a number of recommendations be considered when developing the Basic Income Pilot, to ensure that Ontarians who are blind or partially sighted are fairly represented. A summary of our recommendations follows:

  • The pilot should not be restricted to a particular demographic in order to ensure people with disabilities are included.
  • People with disabilities should be recorded as a distinct group and the group's outcomes in the pilot should be analysed as a category in its own right.
  • No one should lose any of the other support benefits they receive through ODSP or Ontario Works.
  • The $500 supplement for people with disabilities should be adjusted, based on research that determines the exact cost of different disabilities. (The pilot should also consider that a certain amount goes further in different locations.)
  • There should be bi-weekly payments for people who have financial planning challenges because of their disability.
  • The $500 disability supplement should be prorated for each bi-weekly payment.
  • The built-in security features should not create accessibility barriers.
  • There must be a streamlined and automated process for requesting and receiving information – in an accessible format.
  • People who require accessible formats should receive this information at the same time as people who don't have this requirement.

CNIB Ontario's complete submission can be found here: www.cnib.ca/en/news/Pages/Consultation-Response-–-Basic-Income-Pilot.aspx

5. Self-advocacy for people who are Deafblind

Penny LeClair shares some important tips on what she's learned from years of advocating as a Deafblind person.

Advocating successfully is hard work.

Helen Keller once said: "When we do the best that we can do, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life and the life of another." 

I have no vision, and use Cochlear implants to hear. I have learned how to be an excellent self-advocate over many years. To advocate well, one needs to gain confidence in communicating one's need and have the patience to persist in requesting help from the right people.
Examples of basic needs I have advocated for are:

  • Providing accessible websites
  • Providing information either in braille or electronically
  • Keeping pathways clear of unnecessary objects
  • Training volunteers in the community how to interact with individuals who are Deafblind
  • Learning to guide, using proper techniques

When I choose something to advocate for, I try to think of all the questions someone might have about this, and some of the reasons I might be given as to why this change cannot be made. Then I try to answer these questions or concerns ahead of time, so that no one can surprise me as I persist with my advocacy efforts.

It is also useful to do some research into whether someone else has been successful in getting the change I want to happen where I live, so that I can refer to this success, and quite possibly interact with the person who achieved the change for themselves. If no one else can be found, I don't let that stop me, but I do know having this information is useful.

If you are not sure what you should start with, ask someone you respect to give you some feedback as to which one of your needs would likely be the easiest to achieve. You need to have success to build on, so think small to start. Have fun feeling the success you achieve and let that motivate you to choose the next successful change that will make your life easier and more enjoyable.

If you have a few people you know well, who can assist you, your success will be easier to achieve. So getting to know people and working with them is important. This is not easy to do for people who are Deafblind. I have found that if you have something to offer, you can exchange help and be a resource to others, as well as having their help. As Helen Keller said:

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

Because it is harder for people who are Deafblind to advocate, it is vitally important to choose a need you are most likely going to be able to achieve successfully. That is the key to moving forward and improving life.

One example of this was when I joined a guide dog class full of men and women I didn't know. When I introduced myself, I explained that I wanted everyone to always say their name before they interacted with me, or entered the room. I explained why I needed this and I thanked the group for helping me to know who I was with. I may hear words but I have a difficult time identifying voices.

During the summer of 2017, I will move to a small town in B.C. called Princeton. I will go from living in Ottawa, with 15 hours of help per week of professional intervention services provided by CNIB Deafblind Services, to nothing. For the last 20 years, I have had professional help to go to services I need in my community. I am not able to cross busy streets independently, due to hearing loss and sight loss. Sometimes I can't understand heavy accents, so that manual sign language – Two-Hand Manual Alphabet, is how I get the information, or having the words repeated by someone without an accent.

Obviously, I am going to have to organize my advocacy skills to focus on which need is most important and then taking small steps to make life in Princeton work for me. I will experience a degree of success; how much is not known. But starting with baby steps I will gain respect from my community for the way in which I achieve change that will make me a respected citizen and someone who knows what she needs, is willing to work with others to achieve change, and is also willing to give something to her community as they give something to her.

What do I have to give to Princeton? I have a warm personality and I like to give presentations about my guide dog. I love working with schools and groups to talk about blindness, deafness and advocacy. This is how I will make friends, and then work with those people to get what I need. Life will be isolating at first, but I will have family within a few hours from me, and I will have the internet support of hundreds of people. No one knows the success they can achieve, until they begin to work at small changes. Usually people can achieve more than they think they can.

As you advocate, try to recall the words of Helen Keller: "Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulty."

6. Advocate Network Survey

The results reveal what is important to our advocates, and how we can best work together to smash societal barriers

Over the last few months we've been meeting with many of our advocates in person and over the phone to understand what the pressing issues are in Ontario, and how we can work together to tackle them. In our last edition of Equalize we issued a survey to hear from our online community what your thoughts are. The results are in!

When we asked why people advocate, some of the most common themes were:

  • Education and public awareness
  • Improve lives for people who are blind or partially sighted to live fully inclusive and independent lives
  • To bring about change
  • To connect people with the right resources

People who responded to the survey (85%) felt that local and municipal issues were the most important, followed closely by provincial and individual advocacy. National and international advocacy were seen as the least important.

Employment, self-advocacy and sports and recreation were listed as the most important advocacy topics. The need for public awareness and education as part of advocacy was felt strongly through most of the answers to all questions.
We also received some great ideas about the advocacy resources that our community needs, including:

  • Public speaking training
  • Media training
  • Navigating the political system at all levels
  • Knowledge of your rights under law

We have training tools on all of this.

While these survey results may not be very surprising to our community, they demonstrate that there is still a lot of advocacy and public awareness work to be done, and which areas we should be focusing on. We cannot do it alone! We are in the process of a big recruitment drive of Advocates in Ontario, and we want you to join us in smashing barriers and changing what it means to be blind today.

Get involved!

If you are interested in becoming an advocate volunteer, then please look at our position description http://www.cnib.ca/en/ontario/volunteer/Opportunities/Pages/default.aspx#ongoing and complete our short onboarding questionnaire https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LW93RNL. By becoming an advocate you will not only have access to our advocate resources, but will also be invited to specialized training sessions to help you advocate in your community. Join us today and become part of the movement! 

7. Events


1. Accessibility Directorate of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees (AACs) Forums – 'Accessibility: Honouring the Past, Showcasing the Present and Inspiring the Future'

Registration is now open. Click on the date below to register, or visit www.eventbrite.ca and search for "Accessibility Forum" in the city of your choice.

June 1, 2017, Toronto - Intercontinental Hotel
June 7, 2017, Sudbury - Radisson Sudbury Hotel
June 14, 2017, Thunder Bay - Victoria Inn

If you need help to register, please contact the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario at accessibility@ontario.ca; phone 1-866-515-2025, TTY 1-800-268-7095.

2. 2017 TTC Public Forum on Accessible Transit

Date: Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Time: 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Location: Allstream Centre, Exhibition Place

Further info will be posted here: https://www.ttc.ca/TTC_Accessibility/Public_Forum_on_Accessible_Transit/index.jsp