Partnering with Volunteers with Vision Loss Toolkit

This toolkit is available as a WORD document at the bottom of the page. We have done this to make the material as accessible as possible - and to allow people from different organizations to be able to adapt and tailor the toolkit for their needs. If you do so, please provide an acknowledgement that CNIB created the original document.

We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to offer this toolkit in accessible, alternative formats - our braille room volunteers for creating braille toolkits, our library volunteers for producing audio copies and Jim Parkin for formatting large print versions.

To request an accessible (braille, audio, large print) copy, please email ontario.comms@cnib.ca.

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The Spectrum of Blindness

What is Low Vision?

Normal vision is the ability to see comfortably what is around us, whether far away or near, with or without glasses. Generally, this is vision between 20/20 and 20/30 'best corrected'. Best-corrected means the individual has the best glasses or contact lenses available to improve vision. This simply means that the eye being tested is able to see an object at 20 feet as well as any eye with very good vision. If you have 20/60 vision, this means you need to be within 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 60 feet.

As changes in vision become larger, most people experience more and more difficulty in their efforts to continue their usual visual activities, even with the best possible glasses or contact lenses. If this is a change in vision between 20/60 and 20/190 it is called being partially sighted or having low vision. If the change in vision is to 20/200 or worse, the person will still keep some vision but will be classified as "legally blind". Individuals are classified as legally blind if their field of vision, or the area that they can see, is less than 20 degrees across – even if their vision is better than 20/20.

Low vision can occur at any age, but, by far, the greatest numbers of people who have low vision are seniors.

Blindness versus Partial Sight

Approximately half a million Canadians are estimated to be living with significant vision loss that impacts their quality of life, and every year more than 50,000 Canadians will lose their sight. This figure includes people who have no sight from birth, people who are legally blind, as well as people with less significant vision loss. 

The same eye disease, with the same recorded vision can result in totally different 'functional' vision for each person and functional vision may change from day to day.  As such, no two people living with vision loss see the world the same way, so it is important to have an understanding of some broad categories of blindness and partial sight:
  • Blindness: Total blindness would involve no light perception but is often described as a grey fog or mist instead of complete blackness. All mobility and orientation to surroundings is done through memory and mobility cane or guide dog use. Tactile markers on walls or floors to assist memory are useful. Pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are both important. Print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille, are necessary.
  • Blindness: Light perception gives the individual the ability to know whether a room’s light is on or off. The individual may also be able to orient themselves in a space by observing lighter areas (windows) and darker areas (corners), as well as by using a mobility cane or guide dog. Disorientation can happen on dark days when light is not typical. Tactile markers on walls or floors to assist memory are useful. Pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are both important. Print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille, are necessary.
  • Blindness: Large object identification means the person may be able to see items that are large enough. No details will be available but a dark table against a light carpet may be findable. The smaller or lighter colour chairs however may not. Pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are still important. Print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille, are necessary.
  • Partial Sight: Central vision loss can be simulated by putting your fists in front of your eyes and using your peripheral vision to see. The individual may be able to see doors, carpet and big objects (especially if in contrasting colours) but the detail vision used to read print is challenging or not available. The individual may use a mobility cane, ID cane, or guide dog, as well as visual cues for mobility. They may be disoriented if furniture is rearranged in the office or a meeting room, so pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are still important. Also, the individual may use handheld magnifiers and large print or print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille.
  • Partial Sight: Peripheral vision loss can be simulated by looking through a paper towel cylinder or, in the case of more advanced progression, a straw. The individual may have a very clear portion of sight that will be able to see in detail. Scanning a room with the reduced field of vision to find an aisle or doorway or empty chair may prove challenging or not possible. They may use a mobility cane, ID cane, or guide dog, as well as visual cues for mobility. They may be disoriented if furniture is rearranged in the office or a meeting room, so pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are still important. The individual may use handheld magnifiers and large print or print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille.
  • Partial Sight: Patchwork of blank & defined areas can be simulated by putting odd shapes of electrical tape on a pair of inexpensive sunglasses or an old pair of prescription glasses. The individual may or may not choose to use a mobility cane, ID cane, guide dog, or visual cues for mobility. They may be disoriented if furniture is rearranged in the office or a meeting room, so pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are still important. The individual may use handheld magnifiers and large print or print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille.
  • Partial Sight: Overall blur can be simulated by putting overlapping and crisscrossing pieces of clear tape on a pair of inexpensive sunglasses or old pair of prescription glasses. The individual may or may not choose to use a mobility cane, ID cane, guide dog, or visual cues for mobility. They may be disoriented if furniture is rearranged in the office or a meeting room, so pushing in chairs and returning things consistently to the same place are still important. The individual may use handheld magnifiers and large print or print alternatives, such as accessible electronic, audio and braille. 
What Causes Low Vision?
  • A variety of disorders that affect the eye and the visual system may cause low vision. Congenital abnormalities from birth, injuries, certain diseases, and aging may all lead to loss of sight. Most commonly for seniors, it is due to scarring because of deterioration of the central part of the retina (the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye) called the macula, known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Loss of sight may also result from cataracts, glaucoma, or damage to the optic nerve (carries visual images to the brain). For more information on the major causes of vision loss in Canada, please see Eye Conditions later in this toolkit.
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Defining Accessibility, Accommodation and Barrier-Free Design

To start with, it is important to recognize that accessibility, accommodation and barrier-free design are proper standards for contemporary organizations. As a society, we need to value showing dignity, respect and inclusiveness for individuals, and to make these values a part of our everyday routines.

Indeed, we are lucky to live in an age when federal campaign platforms have been known to include promises for a Canadians with Disabilities Act. Still, until the time that it becomes a reality, many of the definitions provided below come from provincial acts and municipal accessibility programs.

Accessibility Legislation

"The term accessibility means giving people of all abilities opportunities to participate fully in everyday life. It is used to describe how widely a service, product, device, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility can be seen as the ability to access and benefit from a system, service, product or environment.” To learn more, read the Ontario government's document "How to create an accessibility plan and policy".

Ontario has laws that set standards for accessibility, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). The first of the standards developed under AODA, which became law in 2008, is the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service. The second standard, called The Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation became law in 2011. This regulation includes accessibility standards for Information and Communications, Employment, Transportation and the Design of Public Spaces. These standards are designed to create a barrier-free and accessible Ontario by 2025.

Manitoba has The Accessibility for Manitobans Act, 2013  C.C.S.M. c. A1.7 whose purpose is to achieve accessibility by preventing and removing barriers that disable people with respect to employment, accommodation, and the built environment, including facilities, public transportation and the delivery and receipt of goods, services and information.

Nova Scotia has disability legislation which has been eagerly awaited, coming in 2016 (http://novascotia.ca/coms/accessibility/).

The Canadian government has the Canadian Human Rights Act (example: Canadian transportation systems, telecommunication companies, banks) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (example: Equal protection of the law without discrimination based on disability).

Accommodation

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, accommodation means making special arrangements for some people, so they can have the same opportunities as everyone else. For example, flexible working hours or tactile markers into a building can make a big difference.

On average, workplace accommodations for people with vision loss are very simple to achieve and cost on average no more than $500. Technology available today such as JAWS has leveled the playing field for people with vision loss living in a sighted world. Jaws is a speech output program or “screen reader” that reads aloud all the information on the computer screen. The user turns the screen off and listens to the voice information using headphones. They use their keyboard just like a sighted person, but do not use a mouse – they use computer commands instead.

Other accommodations that could be helpful to a person with vision loss might include:
  • Computer screen-magnification programs that change font size and shape, enlarge icons, enhance mouse pointer, and change screen colours
  • Devices such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) to enlarge printed documents
  • Refreshable braille systems that transcribe information from a computer screen
  • Portable note takers: handheld devices that electronically receive, store and retrieve data. They are equipped with speech and/or refreshable braille display output.
Barrier-Free Design

Planning for Barrier-free Municipalities, 2008 has comprehensive definitions for Barrier-Free and Universal Design such as:
  • Barrier, as defined by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, means anything that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability, including a physical barrier, an architectural barrier, an information or communications barrier, an attitudinal barrier, a technological barrier, a policy or a practice.
  • Barrier-free, as defined by the Ontario Building Code, means that a building and its facilities can be approached, entered, and used by people with physical and sensory disabilities.
  • Barrier-free design means giving users the ability to move around without restriction. The term barrier-free design is commonly interpreted as removing physical and attitudinal obstacles that prevent the free movement of people with disabilities in a manner that is consistent with regulations, standards or codes of practice.
  • Universal design is the design of products and environments, ensuring usability by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Universal design seeks to create products and environments that are usable by the broadest spectrum of the population, regardless of age or physical differences.
Accessible and Barrier-Free Design for individuals with Vision Loss

Accommodation of volunteers is often simple and inexpensive. This document will provide a number of quick tips for creating an accessible workplace that is both safe and comfortable. It is important to remember accommodation should be provided in consultation with the volunteer/applicant.
  • Discuss potential needs for accommodation with employees and ask “How can I help?”
  • Most documents can be made accessible with just a few changes.
  • Ensure walking pathways (indoors and outdoors), meeting spaces and working environments are barrier-free and clear of obstruction.
Creating an Accessible Workplace later in this toolkit has more tips for employers on creating an accessible workplace.

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Vision Loss Etiquette

When you first meet someone with vision loss who wants to volunteer, it is only natural to feel unsure about how to behave and to want to avoid doing something inappropriate. Here are a few simple tips to help you be more comfortable and supportive around a person with vision loss.

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that people with vision loss are only different from the rest of us with respect to their vision. They have interests, thoughts and feelings, and they do most of the same things sighted people do, from shovelling snow to playing sports to doing crosswords. They may just do them a bit differently.

In fact, people with vision loss often find other people’s beliefs about their abilities to be a much a bigger barrier than vision loss itself.

If you know this, you’ve already gone a long way towards a better understanding of how someone with vision loss might like to be treated. Below are some further tips for specific situations.

Introductions

When being introduced to someone with vision loss, say hello and wait for them to offer their hand to be shaken. When introducing yourself, simply say something such as: “Hi, my name is Michael Somers. Great to meet you. Let’s shake hands.”

Speak clearly using your natural voice and volume.

Day-to-day situations

Use everyday language. Don’t worry about using terms such as “see” and “look” when talking about your favourite TV show or the latest blockbuster flick. People with vision loss use these terms (and watch TV and go to the movies), too.

Always identify yourself by name. For example: “Hi Lucy; it’s David.” Don’t assume that the person will recognize your voice. After all, that person might be meeting dozens of people in a day. Unless you are a very close friend, they will need to know who you are each time you come across them.

If the person has a guide dog, do not pet it while it is in its harness (as tempting as this may be!). Guide dogs are working service animals, and distracting them can be hazardous for the people they are guiding. If the dog is out of its harness, you can ask its handler for permission to pat it, but be prepared to respect the answer either way.

Offering assistance

Ask first before reading aloud any printed material, or offering assistance of any kind. This allows the individual to respond according to his actual needs and desires, and it will avoid unwanted over-protectiveness. Remember to be discreet and maintain the confidentiality and dignity of the person with vision loss. For example, if you go into a restaurant or café, many people with vision loss may appreciate an offer to read a menu to them, if none are available in their format of choice.

If you are having lunch or dinner with someone with vision loss, use the clock method to describe where certain foods are located on a plate when dinner arrives. For example, “Jim, your rice is at three o'clock and your steak is at seven o'clock.”

If you are giving directions, don’t say things like “It’s over there.” Be as specific as you can. Try clear, concise language, such as “the second door on your right, about 20 feet down the hallway” or “that store is located north in the direction you’re already going, about two blocks away.”

In the workplace

If you are handing out materials in a meeting, make sure you have copies available for someone with vision loss in their preferred format. If this is not possible, send the person your materials well in advance electronically. When in doubt, ask the person what they need and when they need it in order to participate.

If any presentations are taking place (videos, PowerPoint’s, etc.), the presenter should describe what is on the screen, blackboard, or flipchart for the benefit of a participant with vision loss.

For more information, see Making Meetings Accessible later in this toolkit.

Social situations

Be inclusive. Including the person with vision loss in your regular events and activities demonstrates that you value that individual. Just because someone has vision loss doesn’t mean that they can’t participate – or even be the life of the party!
  • At an event or social gathering, let someone who has vision loss know when someone else has entered a room or circle of conversation. You should also tell them when you are leaving a conversation or room. Not only is this the polite thing to do, it will also avoid having the person tell an amazing story to…the wall.
  • If you are talking one-on-one with a person with vision loss, never leave them stranded. If you have to leave, introduce them to someone else, or offer to guide them to a reference point, such as a seating area or even a wall so they know where they are.
  • Most people with significant vision loss will appreciate it if you describe points of interest in the surroundings.
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Making Meetings Accessible

Here are a few ways to make sure that everyone in your meeting is on the same page in terms of school and work accessibility as you buckle down to business.

Taking the time to put people at ease, evaluating the needs of others and thinking before you act will make for successful meetings with participants who are living with vision loss.

Meeting/Training set-up checklist
  • The group meeting place is easily accessible by public transportation.
  • Enough notice has been given to allow participants to arrange for transportation and/or support.
  • Prospective attendees have been oriented to the routes they will need to take to attend.
    • The building and rooms where the group will meet are clearly signed.
    • An orientation to the facility has been prepared and includes important details:
      • where the toilets are located,
      • where the emergency exits are,
      • where break areas are located and what drinks and snacks are readily available,
      • how snack or condiments are arranged (which containers hold regular coffee, decaffeinated coffee, hot water; where the sugar, milk, tea bags, etc. are located and such),
  • Lighting options have been evaluated and task lighting is available.
  • The furnishings in the room are in the same place as they were when participants were oriented to the space.
  • Chairs are pushed under tables and doors are either fully open or closed.
  • Briefcases, computer bags, purses, or other packages are kept clear of the aisles.
  • All handouts designed to be presented visually, such as PowerPoint presentations, are available in braille, large print, or, in advance, electronically. Since it takes longer to review material in alternative formats, it is helpful to give material to the participants beforehand, if possible. Having the material in advance will allow participants to be informed, prepared, and better able to participate fully in the meeting.
General Tips
  • Conversing: Treat people with vision loss as people first. Relax, be yourself, and speak the way you usually do. There’s no need to shout or alter your voice. Also, feel free to use the words “see,” “look” or “read” – people with vision loss use them too!
  • Room Orientation: Describe the layout of the room, whether it is square or narrow, how many tables and chairs there are, how they are arranged, whether there are objects such as water glasses or candies on the table, and where the refreshments and washrooms are located.
  • Leaving: Tell the person with vision loss when you’re leaving their presence, even if it’s just for a moment.
During the Meeting/Training:
  • Introductions: Have everyone at the table introduce themselves, in the order they are seated, so that people with vision loss know who is at the table and where.
  • Speaking During the Meeting: Ensure that each person states his or her name each time before speaking, throughout the meeting. “This is Steve speaking,” is sufficient.
  • Visual Aids: Verbally describe any charts or visual materials you are using so that people with vision loss are able to use the information contained in them. Participants with vision loss may not be able to see information presented on a flipchart, so ensure that the presenter regularly summarizes key points.
  • Presentations: PowerPoint presentations in particular can be a challenge for participants with vision loss. Describing the content is a must, during the presentation, but you can also create a WORD document with the words used on your slides.
Afterwards
  • Belongings: At the end of the meeting, let people with vision loss know if they have left anything behind.
  • Leaving: Offer to assist the person with vision loss in finding their way to the elevators, exits etc. if needed, and don’t forget to say “goodbye” when you leave their presence.
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Document Accessibility

Print Accessibility

Whether we’re creating a PDF, sending an email, or designing an Excel spread sheet, it’s important that all of the documents we create and share are accessible to everyone. Here are some basics of ensuring readability for people who are blind or have low vision. For more information, please see CNIB's Clearprint Design Standard.
  • Choose the right font.
    • Arial and Verdana are easier to read than most other fonts because they have very plain letters. There’s a good amount of space between letters. They also have good number clarity.
  • Make it big.
    • 12-point or 14-point font is a good base size.
    • If in doubt, use 18-point font size when your audience prefers large print.
  • Think about colour.
    • Most often, it’s best to set your font colour to “automatic” and leave the background white.
    • When using colour, a high contrast ratio is required at a minimum of 4.5 to 1 for the foreground colour of the text to the background colour.
    • It’s also important to note that shades of red are the least discernible colours to many people. Try to avoid red. Blue is a good choice instead.
  • Use font enhancements carefully.
    • Standard formatting commands like italics, bolds and underlining can change the way different fonts look and can sometimes make them difficult to read. Here are a few things to note:
      • Italics can make the letters and words seem to merge together.
      • Underlining obstructs letters with descending tails like “g” and “p” and disrupts the shapes of the words. Avoid underlines where possible.
    • To emphasize a word or passage, it’s best to use bolding.
  • Avoid all capitals
    • Different shaped letters help our eye to travel across a word and work out what the word is. Because capital letters are all the same height, they are much more difficult to read in succession.
Tip: When sharing a long WORD document, keep in mind that many readers will enlarge the print size in order to be able to read it – some more than others. This means page numbers will not be helpful if you are reviewing the document with a number of people, since they will all be on different pages. Rather than just creating section heads and subheads, use a numbering system under the Style Guide for all headings to help everyone follow along as the document is being discussed (e.g., "Go to section 4, sub-section C.")

Best Practices for Text Accessibility

CNIB, as well as many of the colleges in Ontario have documents to assist students and faculty in creating accessible documents. The following are best practices from these resources:
  1. Design your documents using one of the styles rather than independent formatting.
  2. Use styles to be able to create an automatic table of contents.
  3. Avoid using enter to create space between paragraphs; instead, adjust spacing in the paragraphs menu.
  4. Avoid the use of text boxes.
  5. Do not use graphics of text.
  6. Use Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker.
  7. Use descriptive wording for hyperlinks.
  8. A description should precede any tables or charts used.
  9. Use formatted page numbers, and start new pages using page breaks.
Best Practices for Image Accessibility

Graphics and images can be used in your documents, as long as you provide an alternative text (“alt text”) description for each graphic or image you use.

For print documents, this can be done simply by typing a description of the graphic either immediately before or after the graphic, just like a photo caption. This description can then be brailled so that all users can access it.

For electronic documents, you should insert an alt text that will be read by screen reading software. This video explains how.

Instructions for doing so in a Word document are as follows:
  • Right-click on the image (or highlight the image and press “Shift” + “F10”).
  • Select “Format Picture” and then choose “Alt Text”.
  • Enter a short description in the “Title” field, and a longer description in the “Description” field if necessary.
  • Follow these general guidelines for writing an alt text description:
    • Identify the key concepts conveyed in the image and explain them.
    • Describe the overall image first, then provide further detail as necessary.
    • Organize the details of descriptions in a linear order, for example from left to right or following a process.
    • Try to give an adequate description without making it too long.
If an image is not transmitting any information at all, such as a purely decorative image or design accent, the image should be tagged as “decorative”. This tells screen reader users that the image is not communicative and to ignore the image.

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Creating an Accessible Workplace

Creating an accessible workplace is easy, and it will have a positive impact on your entire workforce. Accommodation of volunteers is often simple and inexpensive. This appendix will provide a number of quick tips for creating an accessible workplace that is both safe and comfortable. It is important to remember accommodation should be provided in consultation with the volunteer/applicant.

Quick Tips for the Physical Environment
  • Ensure walking pathways (indoors and outdoors), meeting spaces, and working environments are barrier-free and clear of obstruction.
  • Add contrasting colour and texture strips on stairs.
  • Ensure signage is clear, not obstructed, and in an appropriate size.
Quick Tips for Accommodations

A number of employees or volunteers who have vision loss can benefit from low-tech accommodations such as improved contrast, magnification and lighting. Some employees or volunteers may need high-tech assistive technologies such as synthetic speech software or other technical modifications. Training and job modification may be required.
  • Ensure overall lighting meets the specific needs of the employee or volunteers, providing adjustments and/or additional lighting resources, as needed.
  • Use large print/braille labels or tactile dots on equipment, tools, facilities and documents.
  • Use electronic text and voicemail communication methods instead of written notes.
  • Assign people to help with printed and handwritten materials that cannot be converted electronically.
Examples of High-Tech Accommodation
  • Use of software/hardware with synthetic speech output to translate text to speech (computers, data phones, PDAs, etc.) JAWS is a common program used at CNIB.
  • Computer screen-magnification programs that change font size and shape, enlarge icons, enhance mouse pointer, and change screen colours
  • Devices such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) to enlarge printed documents
  • Refreshable braille systems that transcribe information from a computer screen
  • Portable note takers: handheld devices that electronically receive, store and retrieve data. They are equipped with speech and/or refreshable braille display output.
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Travel Techniques for Volunteers with Vision Loss

Your volunteer with vision loss will be able to travel alone to destinations that are known. There are community resources, such as CNIB, that will assist the person in navigating new environments, such as a new workplace or the route to your organization.

People with vision loss use a variety of tools to assist them in navigating their environments, such as:

White Cane

The white cane is just one of many tools used by people with vision loss – from toddlers to seniors - to assist with safety, mobility and independence. The cane is used to check for objects in a person’s path, changes in the walking surface (from cement to grass, for example), and dangers like steps and curbs.

A secondary function is identification. Recognized around the world, the white cane clearly tells other pedestrians and drivers that the user is a person with vision loss.

Three to choose from

There are three different types of canes that someone with vision loss might choose to use: identification, support and long canes.
  • Identification canes are lightweight and can often be folded or collapsed to fit in a purse or knapsack when not in use. They are used to help with depth perception and finding things like stairs and curbs.
  • A support cane is designed to safely support the user’s weight – perfect for a user who is elderly or who has a physical disability. It can be rigid or collapsible, depending on the user’s preference.
  • Long canes are used as “probes” and are usually used when the person is traveling in an unfamiliar area to provide an extra measure of safety.
See an example of how a white cane makes travelling with vision loss easier and safer in this YouTube video.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are another one of the tools used by people with vision loss to assist with safety, mobility and independence. Guide dogs are taught not only basic obedience commands, such as come, sit down and stay, but they also learn to stop at curbs and stairs, to avoid obstacles in their paths and to negotiate streets, crossings, elevators and public transportation.

If a guide dog is in its harness, it is working and should not be seen as a pet. Distracting a guide dog – through touching, beckoning or otherwise interacting – is dangerous to both the dog and its user. A distracted dog cannot concentrate fully on avoiding potentially dangerous situations. You should only pet a guide dog when it is not in its harness, and after getting permission from the handler to do so. In this video, CNIB's Randy Firth talks about guide dogs (or service dogs) for people who are blind or partially sighted, including what kind of behaviour is appropriate when you're around a service animal. The video is part of the EnAbling Change series, produced with support from the Government of Ontario.

If you wish to assist a person with a guide dog, first ask, “May I help you?” If your offer is accepted, then offer your left elbow.  Do not grab the guide dog, the leash, harness or the persons’ arm. Doing so may place them in danger. CNIB Saskatchewan & Manitoba recently created a video to help spread awareness about the importance of respecting guide dogs when they are at work. In fact, Saskatchewan has laws in effect, under The Animal Protection Act, to protect service animals, including guide dogs. In that province, harm to a service animal can lead to fine of up to $25,000 and/or possible jail time of up to two years.

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Sighted Guide

Sighted guide technique is a safe and comfortable way to walk with a person with vision loss. Many people with vision loss feel comfortable travelling independently in many situations, but there may be times when a sighted guide comes in handy. For example, in crowded situations like parties, in unfamiliar places, or if the person is just learning to get around, a sighted guide may be helpful. Step by Step, a handy guide from CNIB, will teach you the skills and confidence you need to guide someone comfortably, respectfully and safely. Read Step by Step (accessible PDF). Here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you are guiding someone:
  • Introduce yourself and ask if the person needs assistance. Please, don’t just assume.
  • Have the person you’re guiding take your arm just above the elbow, placing their fingers on the inside of your arm and their thumb on the outside. This is a very natural way for the two of you to be connected. Never take the person’s arm or hand, or try to push or pull them along. Not only is this considered rude, but it’s less effective in trying to guide someone.
  • Stop walking before you approach obstacles or unusual terrain so that you have time to describe them to the person you’re guiding.
  • At stairs, tell the person with vision loss when you’re about to climb up and down stairs or curbs. Approach these squarely – never at an angle – and come to a full stop before you proceed up or down. While stopped, describe the stairs to the person. To ascend the stairs more safely, the person you’re guiding should switch to the side with the handrail.
  • To help a person with vision loss take a seat, place your own hand on the back of the chair, and tell the person you’re guiding that you’re standing in front of a chair. Be sure to let them know whether or not the chair is pushed in to the table. They’ll then move their gripping hand down your arm until they are touching the back of the chair. At this point you should step away slightly so they can locate the chair and/or table with their free hand.
To learn more, see CNIB's “sighted guide technique” video.

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Eye Conditions

CNIB has posted a number of videos on YouTube to put a personal face on vision loss. Watch the entire series in our convenient playlist.

Vision loss can be caused by eye problems that are present from birth, by conditions that appear later in life, or by infections or environmental factors. For information, visit the section on common eye conditions on CNIB's website.

Below is some basic information on the four most common eye diseases in Canada.

AMD

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes damage to the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for seeing fine details (such as reading print or seeing faces). Vision loss due to AMD is usually permanent and can range from mild to severe. People who have AMD typically have some peripheral (side) vision and almost never lose all vision completely.

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians 50 and older. Approximately one million Canadians have AMD. Meet some Canadians living with AMD.

Cataracts

Cataracts develop within the lens of the eye. As we age, our lenses naturally harden and may also turn cloudy. A cloudy lens blocks light from reaching the retina and interferes with vision. The effect is similar to looking through a dirty car windshield.

Cataracts may form in one or both eyes, at the same time or at different times. Fortunately, cataracts can be removed by surgery and vision can be restored.

More than 2.5 million Canadians have cataracts.

Diabetic Retinopathy

People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at high risk of developing vision problems. An estimated 500,000 Canadians have diabetic retinopathy, in which elevated blood glucose levels cause blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak. New blood vessels may also grow, causing further damage.

Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy can advance to permanent vision loss or even blindness, usually in both eyes.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma involves damage to the optic nerve. Most often this is caused by high pressure inside the eye. However, occasionally people with normal eye pressure may also develop glaucoma.

Glaucoma is usually painless and has no symptoms. Most people do not know they have it. Over time, the disease may cause loss of peripheral (side) vision, followed by “tunnel” vision or complete loss of vision. This means the disease could progress to blindness without the person knowing they have it. Glaucoma is the second most common cause of vision loss in seniors in Canada. More than 250,000 Canadians have chronic open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. Jerry Smith, 69, who has glaucoma and is a dedicated volunteer for CNIB tells his story here: Watch Jerry Smith's Story.

Living with a major eye condition
  
Vision loss doesn’t have to mean the loss of independence or quality of life. With the right support, people who are blind or partially sighted can do almost anything.

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Disability Legislation and Standards

We advocate on the premise that everyone should be able to participate in all aspects of society. There are laws and standards to ensure everyone can participate in society without discrimination. To advocate effectively, you need to understand the legislation and standards that protect our rights to ensure the law is working for you.

A. Ontario Legislation:  Legal requirements for governments, organizations and businesses
B. Canadian Legislation
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*Download a WORD copy of this toolkit:

3.6a JS Printable Toolkit, Volunteers with Vision Loss.docxPartnering with Volunteers with Vision Loss - Toolkit.docx

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