The meeting was called to order at 1:00 pm by Tom Dekker.
Attendance, there were 15 individuals in Attendance.
Tom Decker welcomed everyone to the meeting and opened the session with a presentation and demonstration of a new low-cost Braille display. The item is called BrailleMe and is produced by Innovision Tech
Tom is quite impressed with the item, especially in relation to what it can do based on the very attractive price point. The unit sells for around $575 (USD). the item can produce .BRF and .TXT files, and can read from an SD Card, but holds no internal memory. Tom went around the room with the item and let everyone have a look/test,
Other low-end Braille products were discussed including the Orbit, however their seams to be some serious issues with that product and people not having much luck with it, even if they are able to get their hands on one.
During the second half, Albert Ruel presented a demo of both the Be My Eyes App
Albert is a subscriber to the Aira service and wanted people to see the differences while highlighting the unique services offered by both apps.
First, he demonstrated BeMyEyes. it uses the camera on your phone. You connect via the app, cost is free, and you are connected to a volunteer who will assist you with whatever vision challenge you present. Today Albert spoke to a volunteer (randomly selected by the app) in Calgary. Albert asked her to read several cards he held in front of the camera, she did so with great ease and accuracy.
Then albert did the same test utilizing the Aira service. Although a cell phone camera can be used, Albert used the provided Austria glasses with an attached camera that one gets when subscribing to the service. Lining up the cards was a bit more of a challenge using the glasses due to a bit of a field of vision limitation. Albert also asked the Aira Agent to provide a brief description of the clothing being worn by some of the people sitting across the room, as well as to have some of the room described. Interestingly enough, there is a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall across from where Albert was sitting, a fact not previously known by the blind people who attend GTT meetings monthly. Aira is a “user pay” service and there are four plans available with varying prices based on the number of minutes you wish to purchase. They also have some referral promotions if people sign up from a referral from an existing user, who is referred to as an Explorer.
In closing a brief discussion was held about both the province-wide October 20, 2018 civic election, and the provincial referendum on Proportional Representation that will conclude on November 19, 2018. Albert said that CNIB will be contacting clients with particulars about the braille information and templates that can be requested for the latter, seeing as it is a mail in ballot. For accessibility features available for the Civic Election, please check with your City or region to ask about their what they’ve put in place for blind and partially sighted voters.
Albert also provided some sense of the poor intercity bus service available on Vancouver Island, particularly for communities North of Nanaimo. If one is travelling beyond Nanaimo the last intercity bus leaving Victoria is at 2:55 PM. Also, the first bus heading for Victoria leaves Parksville at 9:15 AM and doesn’t arrive in Victoria until after 1:00 PM if riding with Tofino Bus, and the IslandLink Express Bus leaves Parksville at 9:40 AM and arrives in Victoria at about 12:30 PM. Sadly, if intercity bus riders have occasion to visit Victoria from Up Island communities their work/social day will last no more than 2- and one-half hours in total.
Finally, a topic for an upcoming meeting was discussed, that being “how do we feel about asking for visual help and how might technology play a role in how we answer that in a changing world. How will we maintain our independence when accessing information in our home activities, work tasks and during our recreational pursuits?
The next meeting will be held on November 7, 2018, and it will have us receiving a presentation from Stephen Ricci from Frontier Computing in Toronto. They are one of the largest assistive technology resellers in Canada, and while Stephen is in Victoria attending the Foundation Fighting Blindness Vision Quest the previous day he is pleased to stay one additional day to attend the GTT Victoria meeting.
Meeting was adjourned at 3pm
Next meeting, Wednesday November 7th, Same bat time, same bat channel. Happy Halloween everyone!
GTT Victoria promotes a self-help learning experience by holding monthly meetings to assist participants with assistive technology.
Each meeting consists of a feature technology topic, questions and answers about technology, and one-on-one training where possible.
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.
There are GTT groups across Canada as well as a national GTT monthly toll-free teleconference. You may subscribe to the National GTT blog to get email notices of teleconferences and notes from other GTT chapters. Visit:
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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