Newfoundland and Labrador Newsletter October-December 2015

In this Issue:

Editor’s Corner

By Colin Rideout, CNIB Volunteer

The CNIB-NL newsletter has been going strong for a year now! We have brought you the stories of our provincial staff members and individuals with vision loss, provided updates about CNIB and our community partners, as well as shared important information that is relevant to individuals with vision loss across the province! However, we also want to hear from you! If you have any comments, questions, or an opinion you want shared with other newsletter readers, just send it to us by mail at 70 The Boulevard, St. John’s, A1A 1K2, fax at (709) 754 2018 or email at

Inspirational Quote

"My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” - Stephen Hawking

Letter from CNIB-NL

Dear readers,

We’re excited to share with you another great edition of the newsletter and know you’ll find lots of good information and articles to enjoy. 

On October 8th, World Sight Day, we hosted our Annual Community Meeting in St. John’s. Individuals with vision loss and their families joined us to learn more about some of the programs we provide, assistive technology devices available and even some of the toys we use in our early intervention programs for children’s development.  

With both a Federal and Provincial election taking place this fall we encourage you to be sure to vote.  If you are interested in learning more from the Provincial Leaders about their party platforms, the Network of Disability Organizations, of which we are members, is organizing a debate on October 21 at Easter Seals House in St. John’s.  With more than 75,000 persons in our province who identify as living with a disability there is a strong voice that needs to be heard.   

Deborah Wearn, Provincial Director
Duane Morgan, Manager, Programs and Services

Highlight of Staff Member: Karen Pottruff

By Colin Rideout, CNIB Volunteer


Karen Pottruff and her granddaughter, Skyler(Photo of Karen with her granddaughter, Skyler)

With four offices province wide, CNIB depends on the quality work of our staff. This edition of our newsletter will highlight the story of Karen Pottruff, one of the two members of our Grand Falls-Windsor office. Originally from Branford, Ontario, she was a diving instructor for about 7 years. She then decided she wanted a change, and so after taking a career aptitude test, was advised that she would be good at working with people with vision loss. She is a proud mom of 4 boys who all live in Ontario with children of their own.

Karen has a degree in Physical Education and Geography from McMaster University, as well as diving coach training. As a prerequisite to work with CNIB, she obtained the qualifications of ‘Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist for Partially Sighted and the Blind’ and ‘Certified Independent Living Specialist for Partially Sighted and the Blind’.

Karen is both an Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Independent Living Skills Specialist working with clients west of Terra Nova Park. Karen helps clients with vision loss learn how to know where they are, and how to move around safely. Her role also involves strengthening clients’ independent living skills, such as cooking and daily chores, which require a different, more systematic approach relying more so on the senses of touch and sound. As there is no “one size fits all” solution, but rather a different range and breadth of services for different people, Karen enjoys the problem solving aspect of her job.

While the workload can be very big, Karen says that her primary motivation to do what she does is the reward in helping someone gain independence in things such as walking outside on their own. She also enjoys being able to travel from her home in Botwood to places such as Corner Brook  and sometimes even farther.

When she is not working, (which sounds like a rare occurrence given her many responsibilities!), Karen enjoys watercolor painting, making pottery on the wheel, playing music on the piano and flute, swimming, diving, and walking outside.

Margaret Thomson’s Story

By Yong Ko, CNIB Volunteer

Margaret Thomson
(Photo of Margaret Thomson)

It is hard to find a better word than “energized” or “passionate” to describe Margaret Thomson. She has won two volunteer recognition awards for her relentless volunteer work that has helped reshape her community in a more positive way. But it is not the awards that set her apart. It is her positive and altruistic mindset.

Emigrating from Scotland in 1973, she embarked on a new journey in Canada where she started a new career as a computer programmer after completing courses at the University of Manitoba. After a two-year programming experience, she worked at CNIB as an administrative assistant. This was also when she was attracted to volunteer work and started to be deeply engaged in many community services at different levels. Later on, she had a chance to work at the St. John’s Tax Centre for the Federal Government. Among many career experiences, one of the most memorable for her was working for the human resources division of the Public Service Commission where she helped new immigrants, people with disabilities and women experiencing unfair treatment lead better lives by helping them find employment.

Margaret’s explanation of being happy is simple: “count your blessings and share them with people around you.” She lost her vision when she was three because of bilateral retinal blastoma, a type of tumor she had behind her eyes. However, that was never a setback for her. Instead, she describes herself as a very lucky person because she has a good education, had a successful career and has a happy married life. Furthermore, she believes her involvement in helping others in her community makes her even younger, healthier and more alive, thus enabling her to work more than thirty years as a volunteer; helping and nurturing others who are in need, and by sharing her blessings.

CNIB Family Camp 2015

By Yong Ko, CNIB Volunteer

If you are looking for an experience where you can make lifelong friends and take part in fun activities, the CNIB Family Camp could be for you! In addition to children and their families’ building new relationships, the camp plays a crucial role in the lives of campers with vision loss. Through active participation in various activities, children and youth learn to increase their independence by raising their confidence.

The 2015 CNIB Family Camp was an even bigger event than other years! More campers were able to attend and the camp was a day longer than previous years. Approximately 95 people attended the five-day camp, including many new families with young children.  The camp provided activities such as archery, swimming, a visit from Minions, a Newfoundland Kitchen party with mummers, and much more!

(Group photo of campers at CNIB Family Camp 2015)

There were also other exciting differences at this year's camp. Many teenagers who have attended the camp every year played a role as junior camp counsellors. They helped with planning and organizing the camp by shopping for supplies before the camp, filling out paperwork with families, and leading activities. While junior camp counsellors helped lead the camp, Darrell Pike, who won a CNIB volunteer award this year, shined at the event by attending as a volunteer. He spoke to families of children newly diagnosed with vision loss, taught children Braille with a slate and stylus, and entertained campers with some songs and jokes. But most importantly, Darrell showed everyone that his vision loss does not impede him in any way; it only changes the way he does things. There were also 15 volunteers who contributed their time from Keyin College! Altogether, there were 19 volunteers who dedicated 170 hours of their time to make the CNIB Family Camp a fun-filled weekend for children with vision loss and their families.

This year’s Family Camp was a huge success and plans are already underway for Family Camp 2016! If you have any questions about our Family Camp, please contact Kim Hart at or 709-754-1180 ext. 5803 or Jennifer Hynes at or 709-489-6515.

The TechTalk Corner

By Jim Noseworthy, CNIB Assistive Technology Specialist

Voice/Text Chat Service

In this brief article, I would like to talk about our online Voice/Text chat service that we, CNIB, provide for our clients.

A Little History

Approximately 10 years ago, I was given the task, by my Executive Director, to find a cost effective way to provide quality service to a greater number of clients, including, if possible, in group settings.

After giving the matter some thought, I decided to purchase an online Voice/Chat server called "iVocalize.” I then began to use this service to link our clients together and established some peer support groups.

Eventually, we realized that this technology could, and should, be utilized to provide online teaching and training classes for our clients. We also realized that, using this technology, we could provide information to a greater number of people at little cost.

As time went on, we switched from using the iVocalize service to the TCConference Voice/Chat service which we still use today.

Over the years, using this technology, many online training courses have been offered to our clients by our staff. These courses include, but are not limited to, subjects such as:

"Training in the Use of the JAWS, Window-Eyes, and the NVDA Screen Reading Programs," "Training in the Use of the Various Apple Devices," "Learning How to Use the Internet," "Learning How to Access our Online Library Services," and "Describing and Demonstrating Various Products from our Online Store," etc.

One of our very successful online Voice/Chat services that was established is called TechTalk.

TechTalk Tuesday, (as we like to refer to it), funny enough, is held every Tuesday at 7:00 PM (Atlantic Time.) We do, however, take a break for the summer months. Although two hours have been set aside for our weekly sessions, we usually run between 1 and 1.5 hours.

This time is reserved for a discussion/demonstration of all things technical: not necessarily relating to computers. Over the years, we have discussed hundreds of issues. Some folks join the group in order to provide input; while others like to sit back and listen; all are welcome.

Occasionally, we bring in an outside speaker to address the group and discuss a particular technology.

How to Join the Group

It’s easy to join the online TechTalk group. Just point your browser to: . You will then see a list of rooms. Choose the TechTalk room.

When you choose the room, you will be informed that, if you have not used this technology before, it is necessary to download and install a small program (client) to your computer. You will be provided with that option; go ahead and do it.

After that, you can log in to the room and enter your username and password which are as follows:

username:  your first and last name
password:  cnib

If you want to take part in the discussions, it will be necessary to have a microphone. We recommend that you purchase a USB headset for this purpose.

When you wish to speak, just press the left or right “Control” key. When you’re finished speaking, release the Control key.

For those wanting to learn more about the TCConference online Voice/Chat program, we'll probably do a walk-through training session when the situation warrants it.

If you have any ideas or suggestions as to how we can use this technology to enhance your quality of life, please, let us know. We, CNIB, after all, are really all about you.

Guide Dog Etiquette and Information

By Robert Sterling, CNIB Volunteer

What are Guide Dogs?

Though they are more than just furry friends, guide dogs are an incredibly important source of mobility, independence and safety, as they lead their handlers around the many physical obstacles in their path, including curbs, steps and crowds, thus enriching the quality of life for the guide dog user by helping them travel confidently in their busy and cluttered environments.

Myth of Guide Dogs

Contrary to popular belief, guide dogs do not choose when it is safe to cross the road. The guide dog user is responsible to align himself and the dog to cross the street and give the forward command when it is safe to cross. Both the handler and dog make use of their senses to negotiate their way across the road safely. The dog, commonly a Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever that has graduated from a registered guide dog training school, has been taught to respond to commands from the handler, such as "Forward," "Left," "Right" and "Straight on," thus the handler and dog work together as a team.

Guide Dog Legislation

 All Canadian provinces have adopted specific statutes which grant guide dog users full right of access to areas that the general public are allowed to travel, including planes, stores, restaurants and hospitals, where other animals are banned. In most provinces, the statutes specifically state that no special conditions, terms or fees can be imposed on a guide dog user because of the presence of a guide dog.

Guide Dog Etiquette

When guide dogs are at work, never try to talk to, pet, or feed them tidbits. If they were to lose concentration, the results could be disastrous. Distractions from humans or other dogs may make the guide dog unable to concentrate fully and safely guide their handler away from potentially dangerous situations.

If you own a pet dog, you should keep it on a leash and under control when out and about in the community. When approaching a guide dog team, you should introduce yourself and let them know that you have a dog with you and then give them room.

How to Obtain a Guide Dog

There is an application process to obtain a guide dog. The applicant must be deemed by a physician to be of good general physical health in order to work the dog every day. Prior to getting a guide dog, the individual needs to be an independent traveler. They must be familiar with their area and possess good orientation and mobility techniques such as street crossing, traffic lights and public transit. There are three guide dog training schools in Canada; Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, with several schools in the United States. Guide dogs and their handlers go through rigorous training before the new partnership receives certification that shows they meet the basic requirements to operate effectively and efficiently as a team.

Guide Dog Assistance Fund

Any person who works with a registered guide dog in Canada may be eligible to receive assistance from CNIB to pay extraordinary veterinary expenses, including: emergency care; surgical procedures excluding teeth cleaning; treatment for infections and fractures; long-term medications; special diets prescribed by veterinarian; and the cost of euthanasia.

For more information, contact the Administrator of the Guide Dog Assistance Fund, by e-mail at or by phone at (416) 486-2500, ext. 7563.

If you would like more information about guide dogs, contact a CNIB Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Alice Arns, (709) 754-1180, ext. 5801, e-mail or Karen Pottruff, (709) 489-6515, e-mail .

Accessible Elections

Federal Election

The federal election is fast approaching! Elections Canada is committed to ensuring that voting is accessible for all eligible Canadians. CNIB encourages everyone to get out and vote.

There are four ways:

  • Vote at your polling place on election day – October 19
  • Vote on advance voting days – October 9, 10, 11 and 12
  • Vote at any Elections Canada office before October 13
  • Vote by mail - The deadline to apply to vote by mail is October 13

Your voter information card will give information about the accessibility of your polling place. This information is also available at or by calling 1-800-463-6868. If your polling place does not meet your needs, please call and Elections Canada will assist you in making other arrangements.

When arriving at your polling place, an election worker will be available to provide assistance. Please let the election worker know how they can help.

Tools and services are available to make voting more accessible for individuals with vision loss including:

  • Voting screens that let in plenty of light
  • Large print lists of candidates
  • 4x lighted magnifiers
  • Braille list of candidates
  • Tactile and Braille templates that fit on top of the ballot
  • A support person or election worker can assist you in marking your ballot

If you live in a long term care facility or cannot leave home because of a physical disability, you may be able to vote another way. Some long term care facilities and hospital wards have mobile polls and the ballot box can be transported from room to room to make voting easier. The administrator of your facility can tell you if a mobile poll is scheduled at your facility. If you are not able to leave your home, an election worker and a witness can come to your home. You must contact Elections Canada before 6:00 p.m. on October 13 if you need to vote at home.
You can also complete a feedback form regarding your voting experience online or at your polling place.

Information about the voting process is available in many formats including large print, Braille, audio, and sign language video. For more information visit or call 1-800-463-6868.

Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Election – Electoral Participants Task Force

From May to October 2015, CNIB Manager, Programs and Services, Duane Morgan has been a part of the Electoral Participants Task Force.  The task force is made up of representatives from Elections NL and community disability organizations, and is working to improve the accessibility of the election process in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Some of the projects that have been completed include; an accessible video (including voice over, captioning, and sign language) that provides all the essential information for the election process and the accommodations available, as well as a check list that election officers can use while supporting a person with a disability.  Accommodations are available for a person with vision loss including a tactile template to place over the ballot to allow the person to vote independently, personal assistance to help mark the ballot in the appropriate place, and special ballots for those people that feel they will not be able to get to a polling station to vote. 

CNIB encourages everyone to get out and vote in the provincial election on November 30, 2015 from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  For information on accommodations, special ballots, or for other information or special requests please contact Elections NL by telephone: 1-877-729-7987, by e-mail:, or visit the website:

Community Mailbox Accessibility

No matter what happens in our lives, changes in the way things are done can have an impact. It can be especially challenging for someone who is blind or partially sighted. Getting in on the ground level when the conversations begin can sometimes affect the way those changes are implemented. Connecting with your local CNIB Orientation and Mobility Specialist can also help you identify ways to address the challenges.

In 2013, with Canadians mailing less and less each year, Canada Post was faced with making the decision to reduce costs by introducing locked community mail boxes in residential areas.

Community mailboxes are not a new concept in Canada. In fact they have existed for decades in a host of locations across the country and now these community mailboxes are being installed in areas that had never had this type of service.

There have been, and continue to be, consultations with the various municipalities to look at factors around snow clearing, safety, street lighting, and sidewalk access and where these community mailboxes would be placed in relation to residential properties.

If you are a person living with vision loss and are having issues accessing a community mailbox in your area, contact one of your local CNIB Orientation & Mobility Specialists; Alice Arns at (709) 754-1180, ext. 5801, e-mail or Karen Pottruff, (709) 489-6515, e-mail or call Canada Post at 1-844-454-3009 to discuss alternate options that may be available to you.

Adult Camp for the Blind and Visually Impaired

By Colin Rideout, CNIB Volunteer

Every August the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) holds an adult camp for people who are blind and visually impaired. Next year, the camp will be held from August 14th to the 20th at the Max Simms Memorial Camp in Bishop’s Falls. This year the camp hosted 54 campers. Coordinated by Michelle Bartram for 4 years in a row, this camp brings together people with vision loss and allows them to connect with one another and learn just how independently they can live their lives.

The goal of this camp is to bring people together to try new things, and subsequently bring new skills and activities home where at first the possibility did not even seem attainable. It is primarily a rehabilitative experience that allows for the participants to have fun at the same time. Campers are involved in a lot of activities during their week-long stay; including javelin and discus, shot put, throwing, bingo, darts, and goal ball (where players are blindfolded, and throw a ball containing a bell into the opponent’s goal). Campers also go for a shopping trip to Grand Falls-Windsor, play bingo at the Lions Club in Bishop’s Falls, and much more.

In addition to these activities, campers also participate in discussion groups pertaining to challenges facing people who are visually impaired; such as emergency preparedness, mental health, and women’s issues. Karen Pottruff from the CNIB office in Grand Falls-Windsor also spends the week doing white cane training, as well as other Orientation and Mobility skills and helps with discussion groups. Other CNIB staff assist with assistive technology and devices, and visual aids.

This event is by no means a simple feat to achieve. On the contrary, it requires contributions from members of the camp committee, campers, Lions, the general community, media, staff at the camp, student volunteers, buses for the shopping trip, and CNIB. However, once everything falls into place, Michelle says it is a whole lot of fun, and a big confidence builder, especially for people who have only recently lost their sight.

To participate in this camp, there is a fee of $280 plus travel, which includes everything for the week including food and accommodations. Most often the CCB recommends that people find sponsors such as organizations like the Kinsmen, Lions Club, retirement homes, and independent community-specific organizations. Campers can also pay their own way or do independent fundraising.

Anyone who would like to participate in this exciting event can get in touch with Michelle at 902-567-6871, or email her at by no later than February 2016. The deadline for applications is May 15th, 2016. Also, if you or someone you know is a nurse who would enjoy helping in this event, the camp is looking to fill 2 positions for next year. Applicants can contact Michelle through the same means.

Classifieds Section of CNIB-NL Newsletter

By Colin Rideout, CNIB Volunteer

Do you have any independent living aids or technology you would like to sell or give away to a fellow newsletter reader, or would you like to put up a wanted ad for one? If so, send us a request by mail at 70 The Boulevard, A1A 1K2, St. John’s, fax at (709) 754 2018  or email at

Holiday Message

By Robert Sterling, CNIB Volunteer

As the holiday season is upon us, CNIB-NL would like to wish everyone a happy healthy holiday season. We hope that you share the season with the ones you love and that your holiday season is filled with peace, joy, happiness and good cheer. From all staff members and volunteers of CNIB-NL we extend our warmest thoughts and best wishes for the holiday season and a very Happy New Year.

“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” - Helen Keller (1880 - 1968)

We Are Here For You - Contact Us

St. John’s Office
70 The Boulevard
A1A 1K2
(709) 754-1180

Corner Brook
3 Herald Avenue, 1st Floor
A2H 4B8
(709) 639-9167

Grand Falls-Windsor
1A O’Neill Avenue
P.O. Box 442
A2A 2J8
(709) 489-6515

Happy Valley – Goose Bay
49 Grenfell Street
A0P 1E0
(709) 896-8302

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