Equalize – Issue #5, Winter 2018

Welcome to the Winter 2018 edition of Equalize! In this issue, we focus on accessibility. Whether it's navigating the legal system, educating a co-op board about the built environment, advocating for accessible library materials, ensuring sidewalks are clear or protecting personal information at point-of-sale transactions, we're working with advocates across Ontario to remove barriers and create inclusive communities for people living with sight loss.
The CNIB Ontario Advocacy Team



1. CNIB launches new legal rights project

CNIB has received funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario for its “Know Your Rights” project, which will help people who are blind or partially sighted understand their rights under the law in Ontario. Through this project we will be creating resources to help people with sight loss advocate for themselves by clarifying Ontario's legal system for people who are blind or partially sighted and Deafblind communities – and to educate the legal community about the groups' disabilities, and their accommodation needs.The Law Foundation of Ontario logo
CNIB has confirmed a partnership with The Law Foundation of Ontario to develop several plain-language resources (fact sheets, videos, training, etc.) to empower the sight loss community with the tools to navigate the Ontario legal system and self-advocate to challenge discrimination through the legal process. In addition, CNIB will also be engaging in significant internal and external outreach activities, supported by these newly created training materials.

The project will be developed in partnership with legal community organizations, as well as a leadership volunteer working group. The materials created in this project will be kept up-to-date, and will be easily accessed by those seeking these resources. For people seeking individual legal advice about a specific case, we advise seeking legal counsel, as these materials will provide information that will help people navigate the legal system as a whole rather than information on a particular situation. 

The “Know Your Rights” project will be 15 months in duration, starting in January 2018.

Get involved!

We are looking for people to join our working group, which will help guide the project and advise on the project materials. If you have knowledge of the legal system in Ontario, including disability legislation, or are someone with sight loss that has experienced the legal system, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at advocacy@cnib.ca to express your interest for further information on ways to get involved.

2. Closing the financial gap for seniors with guide dogs

As you may be aware, Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients with guide dogs are eligible for the Guide Dog Benefit, a supplement ($82/month) to assist with general expenses such as dog food and supplies.
When an individual turns 65 and no longer receives ODSP, there isn’t an equivalent guide dog benefit through the Old Age Security (OAS) pension. This has put guide dog owners at risk of having to give up their guide dog due to financial hardship, which takes away their independence to navigate their surroundings safely.
Woman sitting with her guide dog

CNIB is working with community organizations, as well as with the Government of Ontario, to close this gap in financial support for seniors with guide dogs. To support our advocacy efforts, we are looking for real life examples of guide dog owners either approaching 65 or over 65 who have had to give up their guide dog due to financial hardship or are at risk of doing so. If this applies to you, and you are willing to share your story to help address this issue, please email advocacy@cnib.ca.

3. Advocacy success at housing co-op

All they wanted was for their daughter Georgia to be safe at home. At 2.5 years-old, Georgia is an active and curious girl who happens to be Deafblind. Her parents worry about keeping her safe, especially at night when her vision is the most limited. They were deeply concerned about the state of the stairs in their multi-level townhouse in a housing co-op that was built in the early 1980s. That's when they consulted with Brenda, Orientation & Mobility Specialist and Early Intervention Specialist, Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario, a CNIB organization.

Co-Op Stairs - Georgia (Web).jpg

Brenda did an environmental assessment, confirming the parents' concerns. The outside stairs leading to their unit were rotten and uneven, making it confusing and dangerous for Georgia. After installing the inside handrail (they had taken the initiative to do this on their own) and doing their research (extensively reading the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and Ontario Human Rights Code to determine Georgia’s rights), her parents reached out to the co-op's board of directors last summer. At the time, they were told they wouldn't be reimbursed for the railing and the repairs for the outside stairs weren't in the budget, it could take 5-10 years. Their sweet girl could be half way through primary school by then!

Brenda reached out to Rose, CNIB's local advocacy lead to help keep Georgia - and other co-op residents - safe. CNIB, VLRO and the family approached the local MPP’s office with their concerns. After the MPP's office connected with the co-op board, an accessibility action plan was negotiated - it outlined everyone's roles regarding AODA and the co-op was provided with information about tax credits and funding opportunities.

By mid-January, things were moving forward. Georgia’s parents were reimbursed for the internal handrail. Although the outside stairs have not been replaced yet, they are repaired and the nosings are marked in a bright, contrasting colour. You can see Georgia making her way up the stairs on her own. When we all work together – clients, families, CNIB, VLRO, government officials and caring volunteers, including board members – stair safety doesn't have to be an uphill battle.

A word from Georgia’s parents:

"Learn the laws, reach out to your local CNIB advocates, be prepared to educate your housing providers or landlords about AODA – they may not know the law – and be willing to find common ground. At the end of the day, your child’s safety is paramount, and you want to be able to continue living peacefully with your neighbours. Advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

While we found the process frustratingly slow at times, we knew an open dialogue with all parties would lead to a solution for Georgia. Now, she couldn’t be happier with being able to safely climb and descend the stairs, both inside and out."

4. Sidewalks for All

Over the past two years, the City of Toronto Licensing and Standards & Public Works and Infrastructure Committees have been reviewing proposed changes to the Patio and Marketing Bylaws to provide universal regulations and guidelines for cafe patios and marketing displays on sidewalks throughout the city. Their decision will play a significant role in determining how accessible sidewalks will be for pedestrians in Toronto. 

Ramla Abukar and Ray Smith at Toronto City Hall

CNIB is part of an independent coalition of accessibility advocates and organizations – Sidewalks for All – asking the city to address concerns around the safety of sidewalks for people with disabilities to ensure sidewalks are functional, well-designed, have clear pathways and meet the needs of all users. Toronto's commitment to be a barrier-free city means sidewalks must be accessible to all.

The City of Toronto Licensing and Standards and Public Works and Infrastructure Committees were scheduled to vote on the proposed bylaw changes on December 4, 2017, but failed to reach a final decision.

The committees have referred the item to the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards, and the General Manager, Transportation Services, for further consideration and report back.

Coalition organizers will be meeting to discuss strategies for addressing the issues raised by the committees, and getting these important bylaws passed as quickly as possible. If you would like to get involved, please email advocacy@cnib.ca.

For further information on what the coalition is calling for, please visit the Sidewalks for All website at ward27news.ca/aboutsfa.

5. Do you use a CNIB Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Pass?

CNIB is conducting a survey to learn how you use the CNIB TTC pass, where you use the pass, what you think of the pass and what the impact would be if the TTC discontinued the CNIB transit program for blind Torontonians.

TTC (Web).jpg

Please note: There are no known plans for the TTC to remove the transit pass program. CNIB is simply collecting data to use as evidence to advocate for our clients should there be any plans to cut the pass in the future.

This survey will take about 5 minutes to complete and is confidential. If you have any questions, please contact Ramla Abukar at Ramla.Abukar@cnib.ca.

Thank you for your feedback and ongoing support!

6. Guest blog: Dorothy Macnaughton

On Saturday, October 21, 2017, CNIB presented Sault Ste Marie’s Dorothy Macnaughton, an accessibility advocate and CNIB volunteer for 30 years, with the Arthur Napier Magill Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her outstanding efforts to enhance the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted.

Dorothy accepts her award

As a person with low vision, Macnaughton understands how living with a disability impacts daily life and she has worked tirelessly to ensure others with sight loss have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. Currently, Macnaughton serves as Chair, CNIB Ontario Northern Regional Board and Chair, CNIB Ontario Board. On October 20, 2017, she spoke with CBC Morning North about her volunteering.

We sat down with Dorothy to ask her about her journey with advocacy:

How did you get involved in helping other people living with sight loss?

About 30 years ago, I took part in a support group that CNIB offered because I was struggling to deal with challenges and not being able to drive, not being able to see, as well as raising young children. I was asked by one of the CNIB staff if I'd like to serve on the Sault-Algoma Advisory Board. I thought that would be an interesting thing to try and that was the beginning of my journey serving on boards and committees and volunteering with CNIB. I also served on the CNIB Library Board. I'm a former teacher and I am very connected to libraries and believe in libraries. What I was able to do when I was on the library board was to advocate for library services for people with print disabilities in public libraries. That took many years to come to fruition. I am excited that accessible materials are now made available to public libraries for people with print disabilities across Canada.

How have library services changed because of your advocacy?

In the early days, people who were registered as CNIB clients received something called a talking book machine and books were recorded on cassettes. When I joined the library board they were transferring over to digital services with books on specially-formatted CDs. At that time, CNIB had this amazing collection of accessible format materials – books on disks – and they could make sure they got to CNIB clients with vision loss, but nobody else in communities across Canada could access those materials. There was a push to approach federal and provincial governments to fund the creation of a new service where those materials would be available through the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA). I can now go into any library in Ontario and be signed up as a CELA client and I can receive accessible materials through my public library. That just thrills me because it makes library services accessible to everyone with a print disability in the community. I can also sign up for access to hundreds of thousands of books to download…which means I can get many more books than I used to be able to.

I assisted with CNIB advocacy to encourage the Ontario government to fund the integration of vision loss rehabilitation services into the health care system. I have spoken to many organizations such as the United Way, two different Ministers of Finance in Ontario, MPs and MPPs. I believe when these organizations and politicians hear from people with vision loss about the key issues, they listen in a different way. I hope they will come to realize how they can help remove barriers that exist for people with vision loss and help enable us to live more independent and fulfilling lives. Through advocacy and education, we can speak out, we can make a difference, and things will get better. 

Share your story!

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.

7. Addressing inaccessible point-of-sale machines

How often have people with sight loss had to share their personal identification number when paying for goods or services? Even worse, to blindly (pun intended) trust that clerks are honest when they read off the amounts at point of sale terminals. Fortunately, most are and while we have yet to hear of either someone’s security being compromised or intentional/unintentional fraud taking place, it’s undoubtedly a risk.

With support from the Neil Squire Society and the Canadian Council of the Blind, CNIB recently held a summit with the federal government, major banks and payment processing organizations to begin addressing this accessibility barrier. Our goal: To educate industry stakeholders and mobilize all parties, including our partner organizations, to work collaboratively to introduce retail payment terminals that are accessible to Canadians with disabilities.

With the assistance of volunteers from across Canada, a brief video illustrating how retail payment terminals create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities has been created. We hope to share this with our stakeholders in the near future.

For questions or comments, please contact Lui Greco, National Manager, Advocacy, CNIB at lui.greco@cnib.ca.

Stay tuned for an update in the next edition of Equalize.

Get involved!

If you are interested in becoming an advocate volunteer, please look at our position description and complete our short onboarding questionnaire. 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!

8. Events

February 3, 2018 – 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
White Cane Week "Experience" Expo
Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre
750 Spadina Ave., Toronto

A hands-on, interactive exposition in which exhibitors share their ‘experience’, providing creative, adaptive solutions to all aspects of life with vision loss. ‘Experience’ new ways to overcome barriers, gain independence, and live a full, rich life. With over 40 exhibitors, you’ll find information on: advocacy, education, accessible gaming, sport & recreation, rehab service providers, low-vision aids, new adaptive technologies, from 3-D printing to prescription readers, from blind sculpture to the latest in braille resources, and so much more! *Immediately following the Expo, we will be celebrating the strength and diversity of our community at a community social featuring music, food, a cash bar and door prizes!

Please email advocacy@cnib.ca to have your third-party advocacy event featured in the next edition of Equalize.