Get together with Technology
the Canadian Council of the Blind
GTT Victoria Summary Notes
GVPL Main branch, Community Room
Wednesday May 4, 2015
The meeting was called to order at 1:10 pm by acting chair Corry Stuive
Participants were welcomed, agenda reviewed and self introductions, in attendance were
Kara, Bruce, Linda, Karen, Elizabeth, Vera, Shari, Doug, Sky, Corry and two new members Joan Graves and Blaine Steadman.
Corry updated everyone on the events that took place at the CCB BC/Yukon division conference, including election results and an overview of the tech and Braille presentation at the meetings. The Orbit refreshable Braille display was discussed at length and participants and eagerly awaiting more detail pertaining to it anticipated fall launch. CNIB will become the exclusive distributor of the product.
GTT national conference call was discussed and promoted, next call May 11th, 4pm pacific. To participate dial 1-866-740-1260, enter code 5670311#. All individuals are encouraged and welcome to participate.
Corry brought forth two useful websites to the group. The first is a gps site that could be helpful for low vision users. http://www.showmystreet.com gives the user a quick gps street view of any address loaded in the search box. The second site, http://www.audiogames.net is a site full of “only audio required” games.
In the absence of Greg, a discussion was held pertaining to the BC Transit “trekker” issue. Participants are still finding many inconsistencies pertaining to the use of these devices on Victoria buses. Low volume, No speech on second level of Double decker’s, and no trekker on many buses are only a few of the issues communicated by some of the members in attendance. Linda Bartram is tracking consumer feedback and people with concerns are encouraged to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The one year anniversary of the BC Government, Neil Squire administered, Tech at Work program was discussed. Still funding available and Linda suggested that people have been awarded funding for software like the Fusion program that Sky will be demonstrating later today.
The Vocal Eye described Musical at the Belfry on May 2 was discussed. That was the final production of the season. Costs run around $600.00 per performance and Aroga Technologies has played a key sponsorship role during the initial run of productions this year. Thank you Aroga! Additional and alternate funding is being sought during the summer to ensure that the described performances can continue in the fall. Any and all ideas welcome, contact Linda Bartram at email@example.com .
Linda informed the group that the Victoria Society for Blind Arts and Culture will be offering “open description” at the Movie Monday screening of the movie Brooklyn on May 30th at 6:30pm at the Eric Martin Theatre, 2328 Trent Street, in Victoria. (Phone 250.595.3542) Everyone invited, admission is by donation, it is hoped that the technology can sorted out so the described movies can become at regular feature there. Doug informed everyone about the limited offerings at the Cineplex at Silver City, some bugs in the system, suggested calling ahead to see what films offer the DVS service and equipment availability.
The Pacific Training Center for the Blind will be relocating. They will remain at there current address until the end of May. They will be taking a break for the summer months and then will be working out of the Victoria Disability Resource Center (VDRC) at 817 A Fort Street, Victoria, in the fall. The phone number for the Pacific Training Center for the Blind will not change, they can be reached at 250-580-4910.
The group was asked to consider if they would like to continue meeting over the summer. It was decided that we would meet in June, and then decide about July and August. Suggested topics for the June meeting can be forwarded to Tom Decker at firstname.lastname@example.org .
After a short break, Sky Mundell provided the group with an informative demonstration on the ZoomText / Window Eyes Fusion software program. Sky demonstrated to program and highlighted the options available. A 60 day, fully functional free trial is available, and a second 60 days can be requested. Costs associated vary depending on needs and previous software one has. The “none synthesised” voice, and tech tips were viewed by sky and the group as being major pluses. The software works well with windows 10, and previous versions starting with 7. Sky invited any of the participants to contact him if they had additional questions and/or require training assistance. Training support funding might also be available via the tech at work program. Sky also gave a short demo of NVDA (a free program) and highlighted some of the differences. Sky’s email address is email@example.com. For more Fusion product information go to http://www.aisquarred.com .
The group Thanked Sky for a very informative presentation. The meeting was adjourned at 2:50pm. Next meeting on Wednesday June 1st, 1:00pm.
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