GTT Edmonton Meeting January 11, 2016
The most recent meeting of the Get Together With Technology (GTT) Edmonton Chapter was held January 11 at 7pm at Ascension Lutheran Church 8405 83 Street in Edmonton.
15 people attended. Note that contact information and useful links related to this meeting are listed in the Resources section below.
January Feature Topic – Edmonton Public Library
We thank Wendy Gronnestad-Damur from the Idylwylde branch of Edmonton Public Library for her presentation on library services available to the print disabled. Highlights of Wendy’s presentation:
• EPL services are free to Edmonton residents.
• Home delivery of materials is available depending on the customer’s circumstances.
• Assistive technologies such as CCTV, hand-held electronic magnifiers, and SARA scanner/reader are available at the Stanley Milner main branch.
• Audio books from Overdrive can be downloaded using a computer or the EPL iOS app.
• EPL has DAISY CD books and Described Videos to loan.
Membership in Canada’s CELA network offering 80,000 DAISY and braille download books.
• CELA Paper braille books.
• CELA Online newspapers.
• CELA Audio DAISY magazines for download.
• CELA also gives optional download access to Bookshare’s over 125,000 e-text DAISY books.
• You may register for CELA service at your library if you self-declare as being print-disabled.
• NNELS e-text books.
• Library Talking Book club that meets in main branch every second Wednesday of the month.
After Sight Device
Mike McWilliams updated us on the prototype After Sight Device. This device now offers:
• Vibrating and verbal warnings of obstacles up to 5 metres ahead and above chest level.
• Object recognition.
• Sensory substitution soundscape of the surrounding environment.
Mike hopes to create a nonprofit business model to subsidize the cost of the device to be below $200.
We thank the AMI TV crew (Meagan, Vivian, Mark) who attended our meeting to do a story and interviews about our GTT group. The interviews will eventually air on AMI TV channel 888. We will advise when we get details on the broadcast schedule.
• For more information about Edmonton Public Library services for the print-disabled visit: http://www.epl.ca/assistive-services/
• Edmonton main Library Access Department may be reached at 780.496.1888.
• The CELA Library web site is http://www.celalibrary.ca/
• CELA toll free customer service number is 1-855-655-2273
• You can learn more about CELA Direct to Player download books at:
CELA-CNIB Direct to Player
• To learn more about Bookshare visit: http://www.bookshare.org/
• For more information about the demonstrated After Sight sensory substitution device contact:
Next Meeting (Monday February 8 at 7pm)
• One of our members has offered to talk about how she uses her MAC computer.
• We also have a couple of other topics yet to be confirmed. Watch your email for the agenda in early February.
• Send your meeting topic ideas to GTT.Edmonton@gmail.com.
Meeting Location and Logistics
• Ascension Lutheran Church 8405 – 83 Street NW, Edmonton.
• We meet in the basement hall.
• Enter the church from the back door. There is parking at the back and drop off space for taxis, DATS.
• Meetings are typically every second Monday of the month at 7pm.
• If you have someone helping you your assistant is welcome to remain for the meeting.
GTT Edmonton Team
• Carrie Anton is visually impaired and is the accessibility specialist for Athabasca University.
• Gerry Chevalier is blind. He is retired from HumanWare where he worked as the Product Manager for the Victor Reader line of talking book players.
• Heather MacDonald is the specialist for CNIB career and employment services. She has a wealth of experience helping blind and visually impaired people with the challenges of finding employment.
• Russell Solowoniuk is blind and works with alternative formats and assistive technology at Grant MacEwan University.
• Lorne Webber is blind and is the accessibility specialist for Norquest College.
GTT Edmonton Overview
• GTT Edmonton is a chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB).
• There are GTT groups in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Northern Ontario, Sydney, Edmonton, Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver, and more to come.
• There is also a national GTT monthly toll free teleconference.
• GTT Edmonton promotes a self-help learning experience by holding monthly meetings to assist participants with assistive technology.
• Each meeting will present a feature technology topic and general question and answer about any other technology.
• Small groups or one on one assistance is possible at the meetings.
• Participants are encouraged to come to each meeting even if they are not interested in the feature topic because questions on any technology are welcome. The more participants the better able we will be equipped with the talent and experience to help each other.
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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.
View all posts by Albert Ruel