On a cool cloudy day in early January the Victoria GTT group met once again at the Knox Presbyterian Church Lounge on Richmond Road. This gathering was for the purpose of hearing a presentation by Allan Carlson from the Ministry of Education, for which approximately 28 blind and partially sighted participants attended. His expertise is in the area of Public Library services, and he was asked to present specifically on the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) adopted by BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, North West Territories, Yukon and Nunavut.
Allan gave a brief overview of how NNELS came to be, and how print disabled Canadians can access it for the borrowing of the collections over 12,000 audio book titles. NNELS is a member of the BC Libraries Cooperative which has a budget to produce audio books. He further explained how users can request new titles if the book they’re seeking isn’t available, and that NNELS tries to provide those requests in approximately one week. NNELS has a limited budget with which to purchase new titles, however endeavours to add as many voice recorded titles as possible. New requests are mostly scanned and saved as synthesized speech DAISY or MP3 audio books. If the Library customer already owns the book it can quickly be scanned and converted free of charge.
Allan went on to indicate that Open Source software is used to store and deliver the collection via computer and other portable device internet downloads, and that if participants require assistance to search, download or burn to CD a book from the collection those services are, or soon will be available through local Libraries, or the NNELS Help Desk. After all, this service is entirely funded through your tax supported Provincial Public Library budgets, and as such are mandated to be delivered locally. If your Library isn’t currently a member you are urged to advocate to have them become involved.
He provided contact info for NNELS and briefly outlined how people can register even if their local Library hasn’t signed up yet. You will require a Library Card from your local Library in order to sign up for a temporary membership, then you can either request assistance or register online. Use the contact info found below.
National Network for Equitable Library Service https://nnels.ca/
Phone: 1-855-383-5761, ext. 1017
Follow NNELS on Twitter: @NNELSca
During the second hour of the January 7 meeting a general discussion was undertaken around the use of iPhones verses Android smart phones, as well as a brief chat about accessible phones that might be just used to make phone calls. Some suggestions were offered, and people exchanged business cards in order to follow up after the meeting.
A question was asked about the use of free magnification on Apple and PC computers. Suggestions were offered, and people connected for ongoing support and strategies.
One participant asked whether he should make the move to the computer, or if he can find satisfaction with the DAISY player he currently owns. Albert will follow up to guide him in the exploration of his current device and ascertain his needs as they relate to his existing technology.
The high cost of assistive technology was also raised from the perspective of limited incomes with which to purchase/upgrade in order to keep up with ongoing improvements.
Due to the large number of Victoria residents currently battling the flu people were asked during this meeting to limit the amount of physical contact, however it seems that a couple of people came away with flues/colds regardless. Thanks to all who were so diligent in this regard.
The meeting ended at about 3:30 with several staying around to network and exchange contact info.
The Albert A. Ruel Road to Blindness
A 21 year old man stood on the beach at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park with friends early in May of 1977, and upon gazing across the lake found the Gulf Oil sign missing from the dock-side filling station there. When this fact was shared with his companions they glanced at him with puzzled looks and said, “No Albert, the sign is still there”.
That was the beginning of a road through confusion, anger, isolation, loneliness and discovery for me. It all began with a visit to a local Optometrist who could see that my vision wasn’t right, but that corrective lenses wouldn’t help. He then referred me to a General Practitioner, where I received a clean bill of health and an additional referral. This time to an Ophthalmologist. Immediately upon peering through the dilated pupils, Dr. McKerricher was able to see the problem, Retinal Vasculitis.
Now, you would think that all would start to improve at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, CNIB, from 1918 until 1985 only served the needs of people who were “Legally Blind”, a level of vision loss I wouldn’t reach until November of 1979. The words of Dr. McKerricher still echo in my mind today, “Albert, I don’t know what has caused this and nothing we’ve tried is helping to stop it, and you’re not blind enough for me to refer you to CNIB”!
In the middle of this transition from 20/20 vision to “Legally Blind” came the Motor Vehicle Branch and it’s rules of the road. On August 3, 1978 I drove a car for the last time as my vision had reached the level at which operating a motor vehicle became too dangerous, further intensifying feelings of fear, isolation and anger. Sadly, through this period the only available guidance and support was through family and friends, but not the experienced professionals I needed at the time. Although these support systems are critically important they can often be smothering and facilitating, rather than encouraging and supportive.
With gratitude, and some trepidation I finally was able to access CNIB services in November of 1979, and the world opened up then. There I was able to meet other blind people and receive the daily living and mobility skills required to live independently in this sighted world. I learned elementary braille and began to discover technology as necessary tools of independence.
Thankfully, in 1985 CNIB’s National Board altered the course of service to visually impaired Canadians forever. They added a third prong to their Mission Statement, “To promote sight enhancement services”. This opened the door to all Canadians who were beginning to lose sight, as well as those who had a fear of vision loss to access the full range of CNIB Support and Rehabilitation Services. So now, whether it’s someone’s Mother who is experiencing Macular Degeneration, or an Uncle experiencing the affects of Glaucoma, all have the ability to seek information, guidance and support as all involved deal with the fear and anxiety that accompanies such life altering experiences.
With the help of professional Rehabilitation Workers and Employment Counselors I was able to continue traveling independently within my own community, and even more remarkably anywhere in the world I desired to go. I managed to attend College in Nanaimo and New Westminster, as well as traveling to the Mayo Clinic and to doctor’s appointments in Nanaimo and Vancouver without assistance. All of this while living with some usable vision, but not yet needing a white cane for travel.
During the mid 1980’s I was a stay-at-home Dad and did all that was required of that challenging work, from changing diapers to preparing meals, and from cutting the grass to maintaining our home. I even took a woodworking course through Alberni’s Adult Education program and built and restored several pieces of furniture. Of course the 1958 Chevy Impala in the garage was my pride and joy, and I devised ways to do much of the work it required.
I also joined and participated in many community activities, like the local Car Club, and a disability support group that catered to the needs of people with many different disabilities. Of course, continued participation in family life remained of critical importance through this period.
In 1989 a secondary condition began to extinguish the vision that remained, which set into motion a new stream of professional rehabilitation services and supports. By the spring of 1990 Glaucoma had turned out the lights completely, and the darkness I had feared so desperately was upon me. Strangely though, I found this to be a great relief rather than the tragedy I had imagined it would be.
Through several professional rehabilitation sessions, and by joining peer mentoring and advocacy groups I was able to come to terms with this strange feeling, and to learn additional skills and strategies for living with no visual cues of the world around me. This is also about the time that I decided to explore CNIB as an employer, and to see if I could provide the sort of guidance and support to others that had been my pleasure to receive. Those 14 years were a wonderful experience of ongoing discovery for me, as teaching may be the best way to solidify one’s own learning. In other words, those we assist through this transition in turn help us all as we develop best practices and improved service.
Following a 14 year career with CNIB I also served the blind community as the first National Equality Director employed by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), and as a Basic Computer Literacy Trainer with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB). Most recently I have enjoyed coordinating the CCB’s newly launched Get Together with Technology Program in Western Canada, which brings to the fore my passion for assistive technology and the power of peer mentoring.
Without sight I have continued to travel far and wide, with trips to Conventions of and for the Blind in Anaheim California and Melbourne Australia, as well as to many events and activities in Toronto and Vancouver. Of course my work has taken me to many communities throughout Western Canada, and most particularly nearly all regions of BC and on Vancouver Island. None of which would have been possible without the services and support of organizations like CCB, AEBC and CNIB.
For most people blindness generates a fear of extended movement, both within one’s home and community, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Independence comes from personal desire and increased skill. Many community organizations can assist with both through their mentoring and skill development programs. I remember always that life has little to do with what happens to me and 100% what I do about/with it. There is a quote I like to use from the National Federation of the Blind in the USA, “With adequate skill development and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance”, and nothing could be closer to the truth.
Helen Keller said many years ago, “There is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight, but no vision”. She also challenged the Lions Clubs of the world to become the “Knights of the Blind, and to take up the crusade against darkness”. I too joined a Lions Club in 1992 and continue to work on the crusade that Helen Keller began in the 1920-s.
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