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Empowering young people with sight loss to safely access and participate in online spaces

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Together, CNIB and CIRA are making the internet a safer and more equitable place for young people living with blindness.

In late 2022, CIRA stepped forward as the inaugural and lead funder of Safe Internet Use with Sight Loss (SIUSS), a first-of-its-kind initiative to teach young people who are blind or have low vision the skills they need to safely access and participate in online spaces.

Through a newly designed and scalable curriculum that’s now being delivered online and in select communities across the country as part of a pilot phase, young people are learning about the different types of content published on the internet and how the content we consume impacts us, as well as key topics around disclosure, advocacy, and privacy. Participants are also learning how to use adaptive software tools that are essential for navigating the internet with blindness, such as screen magnifiers.

“The idea for this project came from a person with sight loss who works with youth living with blindness through CNIB programs,” says Becky Dyck, Program Lead, Next Generation for CNIB Ontario East and the program coordinator for SIUSS. “They observed how many additional skills are required to meaningfully participate online as a young person with a sensory disability, and how disclosing a disability online raises many issues that can impact a person’s employment, safety, and social inclusion.”

The curriculum was developed in close consultation with CNIB’s National Youth Council as well as people who are blind who have lived experiences of online inequity, discrimination, and inaccessibility. It’s being delivered free of charge to groups of young people participating in CNIB programs, and has been made widely available to educators, staff, and parents involved with CNIB.

“CIRA is extremely proud to have supported this CNIB initiative with a Net Good Grant to create a safer and more engaging online experience for youth with sight loss,” says Charles Noir, Vice President of Community Investment Policy and Advocacy at CIRA. “Supporting impactful and lasting community-led internet projects is key to making a real difference in the lives of all Canadians.”

Feedback from both educators and participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Young people participating in SIUSS sessions have shared that they enjoy learning how to be safer on the internet, discussing ideas with other young people who are blind or have low vision, and engaging with the curriculum’s interactive content, which includes elements of gaming.

“Ultimately, we hope this initiative will help create a generation of young people who feel confident participating in online spaces while raising awareness of the need for internet equity and accessibility,” says Dyck. “We are incredibly grateful to CIRA for making this first-in-Canada project possible.”

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