GTT Zooming Forward through the current Social Distancing Situation
The COVID-19 pandemic means that we all must observe ‘social distancing’ in order to ‘flatten the curve’ and stem the spread of the Coronavirus. Whether you are distancing or in isolation, there is no need to feel isolated. Now more than ever, technology allows us to be more ‘connected’ even when we have to spend time apart.
Blindness and low vision sometimes causes the need for additional supports like sighted guides and visual assistance in our homes and communities, which is greatly impacted by the need to “Socially Distance” ourselves. In such instances it isn’t just the virus that is isolating us, it’s blindness or low vision that is intensifying the situation.
The CCB’s GTT program is making plans to support Canadians who are blind and partially sighted. We will help you to learn how to stay connected while you ensure your personal safety. If you need assistance with your technology, this will now be provided through one-on-one telephone training sessions and with weekly 90-minute open chat calls, and through the already-available GTTSupport email distribution list, WhatsApp Group, GTTProgram.Blog site and on Facebook. One-on-one telephone coaching sessions can also be facilitated should people need to learn how to download audiobooks from Canada’s accessible Libraries, or to learn how to get sighted assistance through BeMyEyes and Aira services using smart phones and tablets. See below for booking information.
Zoom Conferencing One-On-One Tutorial Sessions:
Starting on March 18, 2020 GTT staff and volunteers will be available for one-on-one telephone sessions aimed at assisting those who want to learn how to install and use the very accessible Zoom Conferencing system on iOS devices, Android devices, or PC and Mac computers. For one-on-one training sessions contact GTT staff and volunteers as per below.
In the meantime, download the app for your device by following the below links to download the Zoom Cloud Meeting app for:
GTT Weekly Open Chat: Building Community among Canada’s blind and low vision population
Starting on March 18, 2020 for 90 minutes each Wednesday from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM (Eastern), GTT staff and/or volunteers will host a GTT Zoom call to discuss all manner of assistive technology and adjustment to blindness issues that are on your mind. These calls are free of charge, and the topics are open, and will address a variety of needs. Connect with us through your landline telephone, iDevice, Android device or computer as best suits your interests and abilities. Here’s how to get connected:
While in-person book clubs may have been cancelled and libraries may have closed, staying at home means that you have more time to catch up on your reading. Are you struggling to download audiobooks from your favourite Library; has the volunteer who usually does this for you had to self-isolate? GTT staff and volunteers can help you learn how to download the audiobooks you need into the listening device you own.
BeMyEyes and Aira for Sighted Assistance:
If you can’t have visits with people in your community and/or your family supports you count on to get those important things done around home or beyond on a daily basis, and if you have a smart phone or tablet, let GTT show you how to connect with sighted volunteers and staff of these two services so they can help. Contact GTT staff and volunteers for your one-on-one session to learn how to utilize the free BeMyEyes and subscription based Aira services.
If you need to do more online grocery and other types of shopping, and your access to such apps and websites is a struggle, contact GTT staff and volunteers and book a time for someone to coach you to learn the app or website that best meets your shopping needs. Please be sure to let us know the specific store(s) where you want to shop so the right person can be assigned to coach you.
Podcasts and Streaming:
Are you finding yourself with more time on your hands these days? Would you like to learn how to stream movies, podcasts and other forms of entertainment? GTT may be able to help, so contact us and book a time for a telephone or Zoom coaching session.
GTTProgram.Blog Site, for all GTT Events and Activities:
On the GTT Program Blog site you will find postings of all the upcoming events and activities we have planned, as well as some useful resources that might help you to stay connected. Register your email address on this site and all that gets posted there will land seamlessly in your Inbox in an easy to read format. If you’re not successful at the below steps, ask Albert Ruel to add you by email at:
Near the bottom of the page find and click on the Follow Link, type your email address and click on the Submit Button. That will prompt the system to send you a Confirmation email message, and once you have clicked on the Confirm Button within that message you’ll be registered. Welcome aboard.
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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