RNIB: Factsheet for Employers and Employment Professionals; Guidance and good practice for Risk Assessors

Factsheet for employers and employment

professionals

Blind and partially sighted people at work

 – Guidance and good practice for Risk

Assessors

 

About this factsheet

 

This factsheet is for anyone who needs help with safety management in a place where blind or partially sighted people work. Blind and partially sighted people compete for, perform and succeed in a wide range of jobs. Many need little or no adjustment to their workplace or to working practices, and yet many employers worry about employing blind and partially sighted people, sometimes having concerns for their safety and for the safety of others.

 

This guidance has been compiled in consultation with: health and safety professionals; people in the workplace who assess the risks to employees; employers; and with blind and partially sighted people. We aim to help risk assessors by providing the information they need to reach decisions, and ensure a safe environment with safe working guidelines.

 

Contents:

 

  1. The need for Guidance
  2. Blind and partially sighted people at work
  3. The process of Risk Assessment
  4. Key points for Risk Assessment
  5. Common issues

 

5.1   Dealing with Guide Dogs

5.2   Mobility and travel

5.3   Lighting

5.4   Trip hazards

5.5   Lone working

5.6   Evacuating the building

5.7   Stairs

5.8   Safe use of computer systems

5.9   Machinery

5.10 Caring for others

 

  1. References
  2. Sources of help and further information

 

 

1. The need for guidance

 

Carrying out a risk assessment of the workplace or an activity for blind or partially sighted people doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can sometimes be a daunting prospect. If you haven’t worked with blind people before, it can be very easy to over-estimate risks or make assumptions about what blind people can or can’t do.

 

People who risk assess the workplaces and activities of blind and partially sighted people, looking for advice, often approach RNIB. While we are aware that mistakes can be made, we also know that risks can be managed successfully and we want to share good practice.

 

This guidance has been produced to highlight some of the things that we’re often asked about, share examples of successful risk management and suggest sources of help.

 

We are also aware that risk assessment, or health and safety in general, has been used as an excuse not to employ blind and partially sighted people (Hurstfield et al, 2003). We hope that the guidance we have put together will help to overcome unnecessary barriers.

 

Most importantly, we hope that this guidance helps you to reach informed decisions and, in so doing, ensures that blind and partially sighted people can continue to work effectively and safely.

 

 

2. Blind and partially sighted people at work

 

In the middle of the last century, blind people were encouraged to work in specific occupations. These included jobs as switchboard operators, masseurs, piano tuners and even basket weavers.

 

Things have changed quite considerably and blind and partially sighted people now succeed in a range of jobs across different sectors. “This IS Working 2” (RNIB, 2009), gave examples of ten people working as: a company director, senior physiotherapist, sales and marketing manager, shop owner, policy officer, development and funding officer, teacher, administrative assistant, and outreach worker. A copy of this document, which includes testimonials from employers, can be fond here: http://www.rnib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss/working/successstories/Pages/success_stories.aspx

 

Blind people do succeed at work. When safety management works well, we know that all employees, including blind and partially sighted people, can work safely.

 

 

3. The process of risk assessment

 

Employers are required by law to manage health and safety in the workplace. Each organisation will have their own ways of doing this and the roles of individual risk assessors can be different.

 

This document does not deal with the mechanics of undertaking and recording risk assessments. The principles are the same for everyone, but guidance is already available on dealing with “disability” in relation to safety management. See, for example, ‘Health and Safety for Disabled People and Their Employers (Health and Safety Executive and DRC).

 

IOSH, the Chartered body for health and safety professionals, offers advice on their website about the responsibilities that the Equality Act imposes on those who manage safety.

 

They specifically suggest that:

 

  • the Equality Act has an effect on the way you
  • manage safety.
  • while you may be able to use health and safety issues related to disability as a reason not to employ someone – or to refuse a service to someone – you can only do so if certain conditions are met.
  • if the safety of a task may be affected by someone’s disability, then a risk assessment should be carried out for everyone, not just for disabled employees.
  • if you don’t document the steps you’ve taken to consult disabled workers or customers, and to make reasonable adjustments, your organisation could be involved in an expensive tribunal case.

 

This factsheet will focus on how risk assessment can affect blind and partially sighted people at work.

 

 

4. Key points for risk assessment

 

In general, the following points will help to shape your risk assessments:

 

4.1 Risk assessments should address a task and everyone

involved

 

Whilst the legislation requires employers to identify groups that might be at risk of harm, telling someone that “you must be risk assessed” sends out a negative message. In a way, it suggests that the individual is the issue, when this is clearly not the case. It sounds much more positive to tell someone that activities are being assessed.

 

4.2 The individuals involved must be consulted

 

The Health and Safety Executive’s “Five Steps to Risk Assessment” recommends that: ‘In all cases, you should make sure that you involve your staff or their representatives in the process. They will have useful information about how the work is done that will make your assessment of the risk more thorough and effective.’

 

Your blind or partially sighted employee is usually the best person to describe how their sight loss affects them and you should be able to tap in to that knowledge. Risk assessments carried out without the involvement of blind and partially sighted employees are significantly more likely to be inaccurate.

 

4.3 “Adjustments” must be considered as part of the process

 

Employers have a responsibility to make “reasonable adjustments” to working practices and physical features. This is likely to include the provision of auxiliary aids. While this might be beyond your area of responsibility as a risk assessor, you must be prepared to take proposed changes into account.

 

4.4 It is important that you do not make assumptions about

the level of someone’s functional vision

 

Most blind people have some useful vision. Some people will be able to see fine detail, while some may have very good peripheral vision. Even people with the same eye condition can have widely different levels of useful sight.

 

Employers often ask for medical guidance to help understand what people can or can’t see. However, this is often presented in medical terms and is usually lacking an occupational focus.

 

Asking the individual to describe their sight is often the best way to gather information to assess risk. Professionals who work with blind and partially sighted people at work can be another source of information. Making assumptions about what people can and can’t see will produce flawed risk assessments.

 

 

5. Common issues

 

Employers often contact RNIB to ask for advice about specific worries they have about the safety of a blind or partially sighted colleague. Things we have been asked about include:

 

5.1 Guide Dogs at work

 

Guide dogs are one example of an aid to mobility. However, it has been estimated that as few as one or two per cent of blind or partially sighted people use guide dogs to get around. It is therefore important that you don’t assume that people either use guide dogs, or choose to bring them to work.

 

Having said that, if an employee brings a guide dog to work, proper planning is required to ensure that things run smoothly.

 

We have been asked about accommodating guide dogs at work and, in most cases, working practices can be adopted to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment.

 

Some of the common questions revolve around:

 

Toileting – a suitable area must be identified for the guide dog. While in some places there are very obvious locations for this, some companies (particularly in town centres) find this difficult.

 

Moving around building – the extent to which a blind person uses a guide dog once at their workstation will vary, depending on the person’s other mobility skills and knowledge of the environment. It is important that the guide dog user is aware of his or her responsibilities. Working rules should be established. These could include where the dog goes when not “on harness” or how often breaks are required.

 

Induction/emergency procedures – it may be necessary to review your evacuation plans. There may already be a structure in place (such as personal emergency evacuation plans) to facilitate this within your organisation. Standard instructions, such as those issued during induction should be available in the correct format for the employee to read.

 

Colleagues – the extent to which colleagues interact with guide dog users is likely to vary. There are both positive and negatives to this. For example, colleagues can distract a working dog, or alternatively can assist with “walking” the dog. Colleagues may need to be told of their responsibilities.  For example, they may need to know when it might be appropriate to play with or to walk the dog, or to know when the dog is working.

 

Allergy/Fear of dogs/cultural influences – Some thought may need to be given to where guide dogs are based while people are working to allay concerns.

 

If in any doubt about any aspect of working with Guide Dogs, representatives from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association will want to help you with this.

 

5.2 Mobility and travel

 

When considering potential risks involved in travelling, it is important to bear in mind that most blind or partially sighted people will travel easily with no problems. Some may need support.

 

Blind and partially sighted people have varying levels of sight and particular eye conditions affect sight in different ways. We can’t assume that people with the same eye condition are affected in the same way, as people with the same eye condition often see the world in entirely different ways. Familiarity with the area and environmental factors, such as lighting, are other things that can affect someone’s mobility.

 

Additionally, people adjust to sight loss in different ways. It is safe to say that the mobility skills of blind and partially sighted people vary considerably.  Some people travel independently, while others use mobility aids or support from others to travel.

 

It probably goes without saying that an individual should be consulted when considering potential risks with travel. It is also good practice to ensure that any concerns about mobility are kept in perspective – issues should not be allowed to be blown out of proportion.

 

If an individual is looking for mobility support for specific parts of their travel, two agencies might be able to help.

 

In each local authority area, there are mobility specialists, sometimes known as rehabilitation workers, who can teach people how to use mobility aids and help them learn to navigate routes. They either work for the local authority social work team, or the organisation that holds the register of blind and partially sighted people.

 

The Access to Work programme supports people at work and individuals can apply for financial assistance to travel to and from work and within work. The Access to Work programme can only cover the additional costs of travelling to meet disability-related and it is not intended to replace the standard costs involved in business use.

 

5.3 Lighting

 

Both the quality and quantity of lighting has a significant impact on all working environments. For some people, it can help to create a comfortable workplace. For others, lighting can pose a barrier to effective working.

 

Guidance on lighting levels tends to be either general, aimed at a technical audience, or individual, based on one person’s experience. For example, Building Site (1995), suggests that light levels are crucial. It suggests that lux levels (a measure of luminance) for blind and partially sighted people should be 25 per cent to 50 per cent above the “general” level.

 

The difficulty with such generalised recommendations is that individual blind and partially sighted people have very different needs. Increasing the general “background” lighting levels might not necessarily make a working environment safer or more comfortable.

 

For some people, increasing background light would be helpful. But it might be more effective to introduce additional light sources, rather than make the existing fittings brighter. This is particularly true if units can be switched on and off to allow more control over lux levels.

 

Other people find it difficult to work with high levels of lighting and prefer a darker working environment.

 

As well as the amount of light, the source of light is also an important factor.   Many people find that natural light is best. This can mean that making the best of light from windows is preferable to using electric lighting. Similarly, some people find that light fittings emulating natural light (daylight bulbs) are very effective.

 

The key to resolving lighting issues is to talk to the people involved and call in specialists where necessary. Sometimes simple changes can make a huge difference to a working environment. At other times, more work is required to strike a balance between the needs of one individual among a group of other employees.

 

5.4 Trip hazards

 

Research suggests that blind and partially sighted people are more likely to trip than sighted people (Legood et al, 2009). Yet, when we introduce controls to reduce risk, it is very important to keep a sense of perspective. Introducing “no-go” areas, such as stairs or in specific areas you perceive as dangerous, can be discriminatory. It is very unlikely that the only way to manage potential trip hazards is to exclude people from certain areas, as other alternative steps can be taken to reduce risk. Most blind and partially sighted people can navigate around buildings and other workplaces. If you feel strongly that there are parts of a workplace that are not safe, you should seek advice.

 

5.5 Lone working

 

Working alone is an integral part of many jobs. Whether this involves visiting customers at home, working from other premises, travelling either locally or more widely or working at home.

 

Lone working is an area that often raises concerns for employers. But while there may be occasions when a blind or partially sighted person is exposed to risk, these risks are often no greater than a sighted colleague would face.

 

It is very easy to make assumptions about potential dangers and introduce unnecessary risk controls. And yet, very many blind or partially sighted people work successfully and safely on their own, sometimes in challenging environments.

 

Considering risks

 

It is important to consider how an individual is affected by sight loss.  Some people travel independently and confidently. Others look for support, particularly in unfamiliar environments.

 

Some employers have found it helpful to consider the extent of an individual’s sight loss. Having an understanding of what a person can or cannot see can make it easier to discuss risks. Medical “evidence” is not likely to help with this. A diagnosis does not usually describe the extent of functional vision.  Most of the time, your blind or partially sighted employee is the best person to describe this to you.

 

Minimising risk

 

Your starting point for managing risks should be the systems you already have in place for your lone workers. Your local working practices must be robust and comprehensive, so that the work of all of your lone-working employees is covered. Your blind or partially sighted employee is no different in this respect.

 

5.6 Evacuating the building

 

Most blind and partially sighted people will understand the need for plans to deal with unexpected evacuations, for example, in the case of fire.   Employers generally deal with evacuation routes, procedures and assembly points during an employee’s induction period.

 

It is important to ensure that written evacuation procedures are available in different formats during induction. For example, having a Word version of the procedures available will allow most users of access technology to read them.

 

Some blind or partially sighted people would welcome the chance to familiarise themselves with the main routes and practise leaving the building by emergency exits. This could be arranged with their line manager when starting work.

 

If a blind or partially sighted person is finding it difficult to learn routes and needs some support, it may be appropriate to allocate a “buddy” to assist with evacuation until routes are learned.

 

Further information can be found in the publication “Fire Safety Risk Assessment: Means of Escape for Disabled People”, Department of Communities and Local Government, 2007.

 

5.7 Stairs

 

While risk assessing the use of stairs, your starting point should be to assume that blind and partially sighted people are subject to the same risks as any other employee. Therefore, any steps you might take to reduce risk apply to all employees.

 

If you believe that there are risks to stair users, you may want to consider the following extracts form Building Sight:

 

“Lighting on stairs should be sufficient to highlight any obstructions on the flight of the stairs, but should highlight the treads as opposed to the risers to emphasise each step.  It is very important that ceiling-mounted luminaires do not become a glare source – they should be well shielded. Alternatively, large-area, low-brightness sources can be mounted on a side or facing wall.”

 

“The stair covering should not have a pattern that can cause confusion between tread and riser or between one tread and another.”

 

It is worth pointing out that making physical changes of this type may be the responsibility of your landlord, but this does not mean that you shouldn’t raise the issues with them.

 

5.8 Safe use of computer systems

 

Employers are required to “analyse workstations, and assess and reduce risks. Employers need to look at the whole workstation including equipment, furniture, and the work environment; the job being done; and any special needs of individual staff. The regulations apply where staff habitually use display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work.” (HSE, 2006).

 

It is entirely likely, then, that the needs of blind and partially sighted people will be highlighted as part of a general risk assessment of display screen equipment.

 

In addition to this, employees will often highlight difficulties in using computer systems related to their sight. Unless the individual has a good idea of their requirements, it is usually a good idea to seek specialist advice. RNIB or Action for Blind People offices will be able to recommend ways to make it easier to change the way screens look, or alternative ways of accessing screen content.

 

 

5.9  Machinery

 

Employers often have legitimate concerns about blind or partially sighted people operating power tools, hand tools or other machinery such as grass cutting or gardening power tools.

 

There will be times when you will need to eliminate risk by specifying tools that should not be used at work.
However, it is very important to discuss with an individual exactly how their sight restricts them and how real the risks are. Bear in mind that some new employees may underplay any difficulties as they may have had negative experiences with past employers.

 

Another factor to take into account is the environment in which people will be working. If you can control the immediate work area, machinery can be made safe to use. For example, in a factory, machines can be fitted with guards and walkways restricted to improve the safety of the work environment. If you are in doubt, ask for advice.

 

5.10 Caring for others

 

Many blind and partially sighted people work in jobs where they provide social care services. This can include working in nurseries, care homes and delivering community services.

 

As you would expect, the generic risk assessments carried out to cover the working routines of care workers are often sufficient to ensure a safe working environment for blind and partially sighted people.

 

However, employers sometimes have concerns about certain aspects of working that could be perceived as dangerous. These could include, for example:

 

 

Reading facial expressions to predict behaviour:

 

This is a contentious issue. The vast majority of blind or partially sighted people will be able to read facial expressions, but some will find it difficult or impossible. Logically, this could suggest that a blind person may be at higher risk of sudden changes in behaviour.

 

However, there is a considerable body of research that shows how people are able to perceive mood or feelings from verbal communication only. So the extent of the risk involved is not at all clear.

 

Reducing risk in this situation calls for a balanced judgement based on an understanding of an individual’s sight and the requirements of the job.

 

Missing visual cues, such as evidence of substance misuse or

concealed weapons:

 

Potential hazards of this kind could be addressed by adopting working practices that apply to all employees. This could include ensuring that thorough background information is obtained with referrals. Additionally, initial assessments of the individual customers should cover the likelihood of issues arising. There may be situations where it is safer for people to work in pairs.

 

Reading correspondence while visiting customers:

 

In some jobs, workers may be required to read forms or letters when visiting people in their homes or other settings. Generally, this can be overcome by using access technology, such as portable video magnifiers or scanners.

 

Perceived difficulties dealing with children:

 

Nurseries, after school clubs and similar establishments that provide childcare services have well-developed risk management systems in place. If a blind or partially sighted person starts work, the working practices in place are often robust enough to ensure safe working.

 

Occasionally, parents have concerns about blind or partially sighted people caring for their children. Concerns could include tripping, not seeing children putting things in their mouths, escorting children in the local area or identifying parents when children are collected.

 

In your role as a risk assessor, you should discuss concerns with the individual to establish whether any of these concerns are genuine and if so how they could be minimised. For example, another worker could check the identity of parents collecting children.

 

It is really important that the concerns of parents are not confused with actual risk.

 

 

6. References

 

‘Building Sight: A handbook of building and interior design solutions to include the needs of visually impaired people’, P Barker, J Barrick and R Wilson, London HMSO in Association with RNIB, 1995

 

‘Fire Safety Risk Assessment: Means of Escape for Disabled People’, Department of Communities and Local Government, 2007

 

‘Five Steps to Risk Assessment’, Health and Safety Executive

 

‘Health and Safety for Disabled People and Their Employers’, HSE and DRC

 

J Hurstfield et al, ‘The extent of use of health and safety as a false excuse for not employing sick or disabled persons’, research report 167, HRC/DRC, 2003

 

JMU Access Partnership, Fact Sheet 24 – Lighting

 

Legood R, Scuffham PA and Cryer C, “Are we blind to injuries in the visually impaired?  A review of the literature”, June 2009

 

RNIB and Thomas Pocklington Trust, ‘Make the most of your sight, Improve the lighting in your home”, RNIB and Thomas Pocklington Trust, 2009

 

‘This is Working 2’, RNIB, October 2009

 

‘Working with VDUs’, HSE leaflet INDG36(rev3), revised 12/06

 

 

7. Sources of help and further information

 

7.1 RNIB and Action for Blind People

 

Employment services for employers

 

We can help you retain a current employee who is losing their sight, and we can help you to take on someone who is visually impaired.

 

Advances in technology mean that visually impaired people can now overcome many of the barriers to work that they faced in the past, and government schemes like Access to Work mean that many of the costs can be met.

 

We provide a number of services that can be directly commissioned by employers. These include:

 

  • Work-based assessments – a visit to a workplace, by one of our specialists, to evaluate the potential for equipment, software, and adjustments that would better allow an employee to fulfil their role.
  • 1 to 1 access technology training. Our technology specialists can visit your workplace and provide training tailored to suit your employee’s needs.
  • Visual and disability awareness training.

 

For further information about any of these services, please contact us via our website or directly via our employment services mailbox:

 

Web site: www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices

 

Email: employmentservices@rnib.org.uk

 

Employment factsheets

 

We currently produce the following factsheets for employers and employment professionals:

 

  • Access to Work
  • RNIB work-based assessment services
  • Blind and partially sighted people at work – Guidance and good practice for Risk Assessors
  • Testing the compatibility of access software and IT applications
  • Guidelines on meeting the needs of visually impaired delegates on training courses

 

In addition to this you may like to check out our ‘This IS Working’ documents, which showcase blind and partially sighted people working in a range of occupations, and include testimonials from employers, as well as our ‘Vocational rehabilitation’ document, which sets out the business case for retaining newly disabled staff.

 

All of these factsheets and documents can be found in the employment professionals section of our website www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices which also contains the latest research in the field, as well as information on IT and accessibility, the Equality Act, success stories, and more.

 

We also produce a number of factsheets aimed at blind and partially sighted people, on a range of employment related issues. These can be found at www.rnib.org.uk/employment

 

RNIB Helpline

 

The RNIB Helpline can refer you to an employment specialist for further advice and guidance. RNIB Helpline can also help you by providing information and advice on a range of topics, such as eye health, the latest products, leisure opportunities, benefits advice and emotional support.

 

Call the Helpline team on 0303 123 9999 or email helpline@rnib.org.uk

 

7.2 Access to Work

 

Access to Work is a scheme run by Jobcentre Plus. The scheme provides advice, grant funding, and practical support to disabled people and employers to help overcome work related obstacles resulting from a disability. Read our Access to Work factsheet, or visit the Access to Work pages at www.rnib.org.uk/employmentservices to learn more about qualifying for the scheme. Further details are also available at www.directgov.uk

 

7.3 Guide Dogs

 

The best place to find out information relating to guide dogs. Visit: www.guidedogs.org.uk

 

7.4 The Health and Safety Executive

 

HSE is responsible for enforcing health and safety at workplaces. Visit: www.hse.gov.uk

 

7.5 Equality and Human Rights Commission

 

The Equality and Human Rights commission have a statutory remit to promote and monitor human rights; and to protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine “protected” grounds – age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. The website includes a section on employment.

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/

 

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/your-rights/disability/disability-in-employment/

 

Factsheet updated: April 2013

 

 

 

Advocacy Org Leaves the Scene: Thank you and Farewell ASIC, Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers

At a meeting held the morning of Saturday January 17th, 1998, with 20 members of the blind community present, the concept of a consumer-driven advocacy coalition was discussed and a few short weeks later, Advocates for Sight-Impaired Consumers was born. After
20 years of providing advocacy services for the benefit of British Columbians and other Canadians, after engaging a total of 122 individuals to serve on its volunteer board at different times, and after undergoing a minor amendment to its brand in 2007, the Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers Board has elected to wind down its entire operation effective May 31st, 2017. In doing so, it leaves behind a legacy of independence and access initiatives that will benefit persons who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted for generations to come. The list in part, includes:

* Leading the call for and creating the position paper for accessible pedestrian signals including wayfinding messages, a pedestrian clearance tone and other optional functionalities.
* Successfully advocating for high-contrast tactile platform edging on all Metro Vancouver SkyTrain and Canada Line platforms.
* Successfully advocating for and seeing the initial implementation of descriptive video and closed captioning services in Famous Players theatres that expanded into identical services in Cineplex Entertainment complexes.
* Developing the concept of, and assisting with the implementation of, the “VIP Assistance Line” which provides sighted guide assistance in and around SkyTrain and Canada Line stations.
* Successfully advocating for the installation and implementation of automated stop announcements on all conventional transit and community shuttle routes operated by the Coast Mountain Bus Company in Metro Vancouver.
* Successfully advocating for the installation of audio ATM machines at Vancouver City Savings branches.
* Creating a heightened awareness amongst senior officials at Elections BC of the needs of voters who are blind or partially sighted and working collaboratively with Elections BC to provide braille candidate lists, large-print facsimile posters of the election ballot, rigid plastic voting templates, a pilot telephone voting option for all persons with a disability for the 2017 general election, and participating in the creation of a training/awareness video to educate election officials on how best to assist voters with sight loss.
* Successfully advocating for the expansion of the Taxi Bill of Rights throughout BC which was voluntarily adopted by 33 taxi companies.
* Successfully advocating for the design and implementation of universally accessible bus stops with appropriate features to assist transit users with various disabilities (including blindness) so that they can independently locate a public transit passenger loading zone in the Metro Vancouver area.
* Successfully advocating for a pilot installation of taxi meters with optional audio output by the Vancouver Taxi Association. The success of the pilot project has resulted in the BC Passenger Transportation Board establishing guidelines for the implementation, installation and operation of Soft Meters (tablet-based) with optional audio output.
* Successfully advocating for the availability of accessible prescription medication information in an audio format from 10 pharmacy chains throughout BC.

These are only some examples of the many projects that were the focus of ASIC’s attention over the years.

As the ASIC Board works to tie up all administrative and operational duties by May’s month end, it is their intention to update the Resources section of the ASIC website and to leave the entire website running for as long as feasible. The Community Calendar will be discontinued. Accessible Media Inc began featuring audio promotions of community events throughout BC starting mid-April 2017. Details regarding community events may be sent to amyamantea@hotmail.com

ASIC’s Contact Us web page has been updated and now offers a telephone number which will be manned by former ASIC Board member Reed Poynter going forward. British Columbians who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted may write to our existing email address or call to obtain the name(s) of various resources when tackling a self-advocacy issue. Or, individuals may seek assistance from any one of the many other consumer advocacy organizations listed on our web page at:
http://www.asicbc.ca/resources/ConsumerOrganizations/Pages/default.aspx

At the close of the final meeting of Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers, ASIC’s Chair Rob Sleath summarized the past 20 years by
saying: “The past 20 years has given many caring and compassionate individuals an opportunity to give back to their community by volunteering time and energy toward the goal of improving the independence and access for British Columbians who are blind, deafblind or sight-impaired. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with these individuals, and we hope our efforts will enhance the independence of all British Columbians for years to come. To all those who supported Access with Sight-Impaired Consumers with donations, gifts-in-kind, financial support and/or through their donations of time and energy, I extend a simple but most sincere thank you! We could not have achieved so much without your generous and vvalued support.”

BC May 9th Election and CELA/NNELS Library Funding Talking Points

Dear CCB/GTT participants,

Here are the “Talking Points” circulated by CNIB following a conference call with their CEO, John Rafferty on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 where blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians were invited to learn more about the state of CELA Library funding in BC specifically, and in other parts of Canada. Please use these talking points if you intend to contact candidates running for office in your community, and if you live in other parts of Canada, use them when you meet with your elected Provincial representative.

Quoted text:
Key Messages – Accessible BC Library Services

Access to alternate format materials has been a long-standing barrier for Canadians with print disabilities. Today, Canada’s answer to this challenge has manifested through two very different models of service – CELA (Centre for Equitable Library Access) and NNELS (National Network for Equitable Library Services).

Accessible alternate format materials include many different medium given an individuals reading or literary preferences. This could include high quality natural voice audio books, literary or braille books or braille music and access to current electronic and news papers/magazines. This content, as with that provided through Canada’s public libraries must be easy to access, either through a library service point, through Canada Post delivery or via direct to player download.

For a system to be considered truly equitable and accessible, the unique needs and individual preferences of patrons must be at the forefront of the delivery model. A one-size fits all approach, will further marginalize those who do not fit into a uniform service delivery model.

In order for access to CELA services to continue, we are asking that you contact candidates running in next weeks’ election and ask them to commit to fully funding CELA as your library service provider. Currently, the Government of BC has fully funded NNELS and CELA receives very limited financial support. This is both wrong and cannot be sustained.

To continue CELA services, $135,000 is required. This will ensure that the residents of British Columbia who have downloaded or received over 38,000 items via Canada Post last year can continue to do so in the future.
End of quoted text.

Thx, Albert Ruel, GTT Coordinator
The Canadian Council of the Blind
Western Canada

GTT British Columbia: Promote Your GTT Groups on AMI Audio Monthly Through Amy Amantea

Hi GTT friends and colleagues.  See below, and let me know if you have any questions.

 

Amy has been offered an exciting opportunity to present on AMI Audio Once a month to showcase upcoming events in British Columbia that are relevant to those living with sight loss and their networks. Please consider providing her with your May activities during the first week of April.

 

What, the name of your event and organization; When, the date; Where, the location address; What, Who, How, A quick summary; For more information about your event contact:

Person’s name;

phone number;

email;

website;

 

Please provide the info to Amy Amantea by April 7 at the end of the business day:

604-763-2695

amyamantea@hotmail.com

 

Hello friends and supporters of people with sight loss.

 

I’ve been offered an exciting opportunity to present on AMI audio Once a month to showcase upcoming events in British Columbia that are relevant to those of us living with sight loss and our networks.

 

As you can well imagine this is a great opportunity but a large research task.

 

Here is where I ask for all of your help. You are all well connected and a part of many organizations with their finger on the pulse of activity in our community.

>

> I want to know everything! Every social gathering that people can attend, AGM’s, workshops, fundraisers, raffles and 50-50 draws, sporting events, arts and culture… You name it.

>

> Don’t assume that I already know about your event or activity.

>

> During this first week of April I will be collecting data on activities and events happening in May 2017. But please, if you have calendars with other dates already secured please send me those in advance and I can archive them.

>

> There’s really only two qualifications… It must be relatable to British Columbia it must be relatable to people living with sight loss.

>

> So, let me know what you have going on in your respective community… No event is too small.

> If there’s an exciting triumph in accessibility related to people with the sight loss I may be able to work some of that into the piece as well.

>

> I will also be posting on Facebook but I have one request, please send me your event details via email. I must admit, I’m not a great Social media user but I think this new project might be A reason to stretch my boundaries.

>

> This opportunitythis opportunity can be great for securing new membership, ticket sales and so many other things.

>

> The details I would need: the name of your event, the date, the location and address A quick summary and a contact phone number/email/website.

>

> I am very excited to have been asked to participate in this way with AMI And I hope I can count on our community to help me source what’s going on.

>

> Remember, no idea it’s too small…

>

> Thank you in advance to you all. Please feel free to circulate my contact information

>

> I want to make sure we get representation from the corners of British Columbia that don’t often get focus, So please pitch in and let me know what’s happening in your area.

>

> You can reach me at anytime.

>

> Kindest regards, Amy

> 604-763-2695

>

>

>

> Sent from my iPhone

> Message has been dictated with the use of Apple dictation software. This message may not have been checked for dictation errors.

>

>

> Sent from my iPhone

> Message has been dictated with the use of Apple dictation software. This message may not have been checked for dictation errors.

 

Canada Revenue Agency Post: Why claim medical expenses

Your association or organization has been identified as a key stakeholder of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). We hope you will share the following information with your membership.

English version ***La version française suit***

The below text can be found at the CRA Web Site:

Did you have medical expenses? You may be able to claim them on your income tax and benefit return

Why claim medical expenses

You can reduce the amount of federal tax you pay by claiming a non-refundable tax credit on a wide variety of medical expenses, including hospital services, nursing home fees, and medical supplies.

You may be able to claim medical expenses for yourself, your spouse or common-law partner, your dependent children (under 18 years of age), and other dependants.

Conditions for claiming medical expenses

To claim medical expenses, the expenses must:
* be eligible
* have been paid by you or your spouse or common-law partner
* have been paid within a 12-month period ending in 2016 and not claimed for 2015

Before filing your return, make sure you are claiming eligible medical expenses. If you claim expenses that are not eligible (for example, athletic or fitness-club fees or over-the-counter medications), the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may reassess your return accordingly.

Claiming travel expenses

Did you travel at least 40 kilometres (one way) from your home to get medical services? If so, you may be able to claim the public transportation (for example, taxi, bus, or train) expenses you paid. Where public transportation is not readily available, you may be able to claim vehicle expenses instead.

Did you travel at least 80 kilometres (one way) from your home to get medical services? If so, you may be able to claim accommodation, meal, and parking expenses in addition to your transportation expenses.

Did someone accompany you? If so, you may be able to claim that person’s transportation and travel expenses. To make that claim, a medical practitioner must certify in writing that you were not capable of travelling alone to get medical services.

Refundable medical expense supplement
If you have a low income and high medical expenses, you may be able to claim a refundable credit of up to $1,187.

Visit the CRA’s website for more information on eligible medical expenses you can claim on your return or watch Segment 3: Medical Expenses in the CRA’s video series on Tax Measures for Persons with Disabilities.
Stay connected
To receive updates on what is new at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), you can:

· Follow the CRA on Twitter – @CanRevAgency.
· Follow the CRA on LinkedIn.
· Subscribe to a CRA electronic mailing list.
· Add our RSS feeds to your feed reader.
· Watch our tax-related videos on YouTube.

Votre association ou organisation a été désignée comme intervenant clé de l’Agence du revenu du Canada (ARC). Nous espérons que vous partagerez les renseignements suivants avec vos membres.
Version française ***The English version precedes***
Avez-vous engagé des frais médicaux? Vous pourriez être admissible à demander leur remboursement dans votre déclaration de revenus et de prestations.

Pourquoi demander des frais médicaux

Vous pouvez réduire le montant de votre impôt fédéral en demandant un crédit d’impôt non remboursable pour une vaste gamme de frais médicaux, dont des services hospitaliers, des soins à domicile et des fournitures médicales.

Vous pourriez demander des frais médicaux pour vous ou votre époux ou conjoint de fait, vos enfants à charge (enfants de moins de 18 ans) ou toute autre personne à charge.

Les conditions pour demander des frais médicaux

Les frais médicaux que vous pouvez demander doivent :
* être admissibles;
* avoir été payés par vous ou votre époux ou conjoint de fait;
* doivent avoir été payées dans une période de 12 mois se terminant en 2016 et aucun remboursement ne doit avoir été demandé pour celles-ci en 2015.

Avant de produire votre déclaration, assurez-vous de demander des frais médicaux admissibles. Si vous demandez des frais non admissibles (par exemple, des frais d’adhésion à un club d’athlétisme ou à un centre de conditionnement physique ou l’achat de médicaments en vente libre), l’Agence du revenu du Canada pourrait établir une nouvelle cotisation de votre déclaration en conséquence.

Réclamer des frais de déplacement

Vous êtes-vous déplacé à au moins 40 kilomètres (en une direction) de votre domicile pour obtenir des services médicaux? Si oui, il se peut que vous soyez admissible à demander le remboursement des frais de transport en commun (par exemple, taxi, autobus et train) que vous avez payés. Lorsque le transport en commun n’est pas facilement accessible, vous pourriez plutôt demander les frais d’utilisation d’un véhicule.

Vous êtes-vous déplacé à au moins 80 kilomètres (en une direction) de votre domicile pour obtenir des services médicaux? Si oui, il se peut que vous soyez en mesure de demander le remboursement des frais d’hébergement, de repas et de stationnement, en plus de vos frais de transport.

Est-ce que quelqu’un vous a accompagné? Si oui, il se peut que vous soyez en mesure de demander le remboursement des frais de transport et de déplacement de cette personne. Pour présenter cette demande, un médecin praticien doit attester par écrit que vous étiez incapable de vous déplacer seul pour obtenir des services médicaux.

Supplément remboursable pour frais médicaux
Si vous êtes un travailleur à faible revenu qui a des frais médicaux élevés, il se peut que vous soyez en mesure de demander un crédit remboursable maximal de 1 187 $.

Pour plus de renseignements sur les frais médicaux admissibles que vous pouvez demander dans votre déclaration, consultez le site Web de l’ARC ou visionnez le Segment 3 : Frais médicaux dans la série de vidéos de l’ARC sur les mesures fiscales pour les personnes handicapées.
Restez branché
Pour recevoir des mises à jour sur ce qu’il y a de nouveau à l’Agence du revenu du Canada (ARC), vous pouvez :

* Suivre l’ARC sur Twitter – @AgenceRevCan.
* Suivre l’ARC sur LinkedIn.
* Vous abonner à une liste d’envoi électronique de l’ARC.
* Ajouter nos fils RSS à votre lecteur de nouvelles.
· Regarder nos vidéos sur l’impôt sur YouTube.

Resource Article: Dictation Commands for Mac OS X & iOS

Dictation Commands for Mac OS X & iOS

Find the text of Dictation Commands for Mac OS X & iOS here:

Additional resources titled, 60+ dictation commands available on your iPhone or iPad by Matt Hopkins:

And finally, follow this additional link to a YouTube video titled, Dictation on the iPad with VoiceOver:

Dictation is a feature of iOS and Mac OS X that lets you speak as you normally would, transforming your speech magically into text. It’s impressively accurate, letting you easily crank out notes, emails, diary entries, or just about anything else with it just by talking. To really get the most out of Dictation though you will want to learn a few extra commands, they will help with things like punctuation, creating paragraphs, jumping to new lines, and setting capitalization.

These commands will work in both OS X and iOS, so long as the Mac, iPad, or iPhone supports Dictation and has the featured turned on (here’s how to enable it in OS X and how to enable it for iOS, though it’s almost always turned on by default in the latest versions of both.)

List of Dictation Commands for iOS & Mac OS X

These are to be spoken when Dictation is active:

• “All Caps” to capitalize all of only the next word (e.g. START)
• “Caps” to capitalize the next word (e.g. Start)
• “Upper Case [letter]” for making a spelling out acronyms (e.g. SAT)
• “Caps On” to turn on caps lock
• “Caps Off” to turn off caps lock
• “No Caps” to use no capitals with the word
• “Numeral [number]” to type the number rather than word
• “New Paragraph” to create a new paragraph
• “New Line” to insert and start a new line
• “No Space” to prevent a space from being between the next word
• “No Space On” to turn off all spaces in the next sequence of words (helpful for passwords)
• “No Space Off” to resume normal spacing between words

Adding things like periods and commas can be done automatically by pausing in speech, or, usually more accurately, by just simply saying aloud the punctuation needed.

Here’s an example of how to use Dictation to write a quick message that looks as if it was typed normally:

“Hey Homer [comma] [new line]
What time do you want to see a movie

I think the [numeral 5] showing is the [all caps] best [period] [new line]
Toodles [comma] Bart”

That would come out looking like this:

“Hey Homer,
What time do you want to see a movie? I think the 5 showing is the BEST.
Toodles, Bart”

There are a lot of other punctuation and special commands available, and even though most are common sense, you can find the full list below for convenience.

Punctuation & Special Character Commands for Dictation in Mac OS X & iOS

Most of the punctuation commands are common sense, but here’s the full list of possibilities from Apple:

table with 2 columns and 45 rows
Command
Result
question mark
?
inverted question mark
¿
exclamation point
!
hyphen

dash

em dash

underscore
_
comma
,
open parenthesis
(
close parenthesis
)
open square bracket
[
close square bracket
]
open brace
{
close brace
}
semi colon
;
ellipsis

quote

end-quote

back quote

single quote

end single quote

double-quote

apostrophe

colon
:
slash
/
back slash
\
tilde
~
ampersand
&
percent sign
%
copyright sign
©
registered sign
®
section sign
§
dollar sign
$
cent sign
¢
degree sign
º
caret
^
at sign
@
Pound sterling sign
£
Yen sign
¥
Euro sign

pound sign
#
smiley face (or “smiley”)
🙂
frowny face (or “sad face”, “frown”)
😦
winky face (or “winky”)
😉
table end

Many other commands were mentioned on the web page, so follow the link at the top of this document to access those comments.

Resource Article: VIA Rail and the Wallet App on iDevices

VIA Rail Tickets and the Wallet App:

Note: The below steps assume that a VIA Rail profile has been registered on their Web Site.

1. On your iDevice install the VIARail App from the App Store. It’s free.
2. In the VIARail App log in using your user name and password, which then will display your purchased tickets on the main page.
3. At the bottom of the page is a button called, Boarding Pass, double tap on it.
4. Near the top of the page will be a button called, Add to Wallet. Do that for each ticket you have purchased. In my case I had two tickets, my sighted guide’s and mine.
5. Open the Wallet App to confirm that your tickets are listed. If you have more than one ticket they will be stacked under the same item in the list. Double tap on it and near the bottom you will find a number picker that you will flick in order to show the second, or subsequent tickets. This might well be where you’ll find the bar code that the Ticket Agent will need to see when you board the train.
6. To remove the ticket once the event/trip has passed, double tap on the ticket in the Wallet App, then double tap on the More Info button at the bottom of the page, then scroll through the page to find the Remove Button. It will ask you to confirm that you want to remove it. Each ticket will have to be removed individually.

End of article.

Resource Article: The Cost Of Disability: Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, February 6, 2017

The Cost Of Disability: Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Where’s Your Dog?
ACTUALLY, I PREFER THE WHITE STICK, THANKS.

The Cost Of Disability: Or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things can be found at this link:

Being disabled is expensive. Slap a label like “adaptive” or “assistive” on a product and the price skyrockets, just like that. It seems odd, doesn’t it? Exploitative? Yet, that’s what happens.

The free market was supposed to help us all. The invisible hand of competition was supposed to keep prices reasonable. We were supposed to have choice. Unfortunately, capitalism can’t accommodate markets that are too small to inspire competition, nor can it liberate us from monopolies that keep prices extortionately high. I don’t begrudge these companies the right to value the bottom line. People need to eat, after all. There’s such a thing as going too far, though. With basic Braille technology costing several thousands and wheelchairs so expensive you’d need a full-scale fundraiser to afford them, the landscape for low-income disabled people is grim unless they have access to substantial funding. Considering that we have to use screen readers, wheelchairs and other assistive devices every day, it’s not practical to expect us to simply go without. We’re not a manipulative community whining about handouts. We really do need these products, especially in professional and educational contexts.

Living as a disabled person can incur significant costs when adaptable housing is needed. Installing adjustable beds and stair lifts can become staggeringly expensive, and for those living in low-income housing, proper accessibility is by no means guaranteed. It’s bad enough to be chronically unemployed and live in low-income housing; but living in a place where you lose much of your independence adds considerable insult to injury. Don’t even get me started on the markups on prescription drugs. Even life-saving drugs routinely sell at a 400% markup (100% is generally what is considered reasonable). It no longer surprises me when I see the lengths to which companies will go to monopolize a market and shamelessly exploit people who are already disadvantaged. We’re not asking for a pity party, to be sure, but a little reason would not go amiss.

We’re not the only ones affected, either. There are numerous grants available from governments and charities, which are intended to ease our financial burden. For example, the Government of Alberta provides $8000 a year which is spent on assistive technology and disability-related costs while I’m at university. You would think that’s overgenerous—I certainly did—but even during years when I did not buy any assistive technology at all, the entire grant was put towards paying for the editing of inaccessible textbooks. What is more, the grant did not even meet the full cost; my university covered the rest. It makes my head spin a bit, it really does. Governments are well and truly stuck, because manufacturers of accessible products have few incentives to lower their prices. Why mess with a business model that is working so well? There is more competition than there used to be, it is true, but for the most part, prices remain astronomical.

Worse still, these companies have managed to convince charities and governments that their most expensive products are the best, in any situation. Even though there are other viable options out there, many school divisions and universities insist that JAWS, one of the priciest screen readers, is the only wise choice. Encouraging this view is advantageous, so companies are happy to charge what they do, knowing that someone will gather the necessary funding. The little things bother me, too. Take watches, for example: very few stylish accessible watches exist. Most are either obnoxious talking watches that draw a lot of unwanted attention (and make startling bonging sounds when you’re not expecting it), or braille watches (which aren’t braille at all, but tactile). These watches are generally affordable enough, but they are seldom fashionable. This may seem like a frivolous gripe, given the more serious struggles we face, but why can’t we have nice things? Why do we have to wear tacky accessories just because we’re disabled? I’m not a huge fan of braille accessories, but a lot of blind people are. Why can’t they have more legitimate selection? I mean, have a look at these charming braille hoodies: they say things like “peace”, “joy”, “Jesus”, and my personal favourite, “Can you read this?” The site boasts that you can “spark conversations with total strangers!” Uh, no thanks. If I really want to spark conversations with strangers, I’ll get a dog.

Simply having a disability is financially and socially punitive, and there are many who are happy to capitalize on the issue for personal gain. Certainly, this willingness to exploit customers is not unique to assistive technology companies. However, the problem is compounded when we’re forced to purchase necessary products, much as we wish we could do without them. It’s encouraging to see how many grassroots attempts to provide affordable adaptive products and services are emerging now. I am immensely proud of open-source screen readers and inexpensive mobile apps. We’ve come a long way. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s wise to ignore the nasty elephant in the room: being disabled is prohibitively expensive, and few people know it.

Guest Article: High Tech Tools for the Visually Impaired

High Tech Tools for the Visually Impaired

Image by Erikawittlieb (via Pixabay)

Assistive technology for those who are visually impaired is a personal topic to me. My sister-in-law has limited vision and recently came to live with my husband and me. We knew had a lot of work to do in order to prepare our old farmhouse for her and her guide dog, but we didn’t know where to start. I’m so glad we did our research, because as it turns out, technology has come a long way in making the home a more accessible place for those who can’t rely on their vision to guide them!

The technology behind things like voice recognition, GPS and speech to text has continued to get more and more advanced. With each advancement comes a wide range of uses for those who are blind or partially-sighted. When preparing your home for a new resident with a visual impairment, it might be useful to explore some of the high tech appliances, applications and gadgets out there to make daily living easier for those with disabilities. Explore these new high-tech products for the blind or visually impaired.

Talking Microwave

Imagine the convenience of a microwave that is just a little bit smarter. This microwave comes equipped with a voice that walks the user through each function and setting for the unit. It comes with the same functionality of a standard microwave including the rotating plate for even cooking as well as the added features for independent use.

Apple Watch and the iPhone

Wearable technology like the Apple Watch can be useful for those with visual impairments when paired with applications for voice recognition, personal GPS, and voice to text. In order for the Apple Watch to work in this manner, it needs to be paired with an iPhone.Personal GPS Apps

Moving to a new area can be challenging for anyone, but for a blind person learning a new apartment building or city block can be especially challenging. Personal GPS applications use the standard GPS technology and customize it for someone with limited vision. An app like Seeing Eye GPS adapts GPS for someone who uses a white cane or a guide dog in the community. LowViz Guide uses GPS technology to assist those with low vision to navigate inside buildings. Nearby Explorer not only provides directions to those who are blind, but also describes surrounding environments in such a way that the user knows what landmarks are in the area. Similarly, Trekker Breeze is a handy GPS device that “speaks” directions, and is a good option for those who don’t have a smartphone and can’t download an assistive app.

Smart Light Bulbs

The average light bulb gets an amazing update in the Smart Light Bulb. These lights can be controlled from a smart application or via programming that includes changing color, brightness, and timers. The bulbs have a variety of features that can be useful for those with visual impairments including being able to adapt light to the user with the best colors of light for the individual, brighter lights as needed and even controlling timed intervals.

Moshi Interactive Voice Response Clock

Instead of using those tiny buttons and hard to control dials to set an alarm clock, Moshi is interactive and voice controlled. The oversized digital read out is great for those with limited vision while the voice activation feature works for the full range of vision abilities.

Recognition Apps

For someone with a visual impairment, something as simple as recognizing color can make dressing independently impossible. While recognition apps started with things like identifying a popular song, they are now being used to turn a smartphone into a tool for identifying color, denominations of money and more. The Color Identifier uses the camera on the smartphone to scan, identify and then verbally share the name of the color scanned.

High tech gadgets are often made in order to make life easier, and this is the case for those with visual impairments. Talking appliances, smartphone apps and even light bulbs with a brain give users a bit more freedom and independence as they navigate through daily life and give them an opportunity to pursue their passions, whatever they may be. Things like recognition software will only continue to expand and open up more possibilities for uses by those with visual impairments.

Submitted by,
Jackie Waters
jackie@hyper-tidy.com

Newsletter: Braille Literacy Canada, January 2017 Newsletter

[Braille Literacy Canada logo]
Newsletter
January 2017 ● Issue #5

Notice to B LC Members: Save the Date

Our next annual General Meeting (AGM) will take place in Toronto on May 6th, 2017. We recognize that not all members will be able to attend in person, so we will offer some options for participating electronically. These will include appointing a proxy or submitting an electronic ballot. A notice with more details will be sent out to members in the next couple of months. We look forward to seeing you there!

New UEB Listserv

If you are learning, teaching or transcribing Unified English Braille (UEB) and are looking for a place to post questions, Braille Literacy Canada (BLC) invites you to join our UEB listserve. Subscribers can post to the list, and all queries will be answered by code and formatting experts. Information and announcements relevant to UEB will also be forwarded to this list.

To subscribe to the discussion list, visit https://lists.blc-lbc.ca/mailman/listinfo/ueb_lists.blc-lbc.ca

Focus Group Announcement

As many of you may be aware, the federal government is currently undertaking a consultation process to inform the development of new legislation aimed at improving accessibility and removing barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society. Public consultation sessions have been held in major cities across the country, but individuals and organizations are also permitted to make written submissions to the process.

The scope of these consultations is wide. Feedback is being sought to help determine the goals of the legislation, the approach it will take to improving accessibility, how standards should be developed, how compliance and enforcement should be handled, and what the government can do to support organizations in becoming accessible. More information on the consultation process generally can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/disability/consultations/accessibility-legislation.html.
For more information on the scope and reach of the federal government’s regulatory power, please see:
https://slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=laws_canada_legal.

Braille Literacy Canada intends to submit a position paper to the government outlining the importance of federal organizations ensuring that information is accessible and available in braille. To facilitate this, we would like to hold a consultation session with our members to gather input on what factors should be considered in this submission. Questions to consider may include:

(1) What arguments (academic, theoretical, practical, or otherwise) would you use to justify the importance of having access to braille from federally-regulated organizations for Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind?
(2) Should braille materials be on hand, available upon request, or, within a “reasonable” timeframe? If the latter, what would seem to be a “reasonable”
timeframe?
(3) In the reverse direction, should Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind have the right to submit documentation in braille to federally-regulated bodies?
(4) To what degree, if at all, should the legislation specify the standards to which braille is to be produced? What ‘standards’ should it adopt, and how?
(5) Should we attempt to solidify, through legislation (or regulation), Braille Literacy Canada’s (internationally recognized) role as the preeminent “authority”
for braille standards in Canada? If so, how?

Anyone interested in contributing to this discussion is invited to join us by telephone for a conference call on January 28th, 2016 between 1 and 3pm Eastern (10-noon Pacific, 11am-1pm Mountain, 12-2pm Central, 2-4pm Atlantic) or, alternatively, to submit written comments and feedback to info@blc-lbc.ca
on or before January 28th, 2016.

If you would like to participate in the conference call, please e-mail secretary@blc-lbc.ca
to register. Information on how to join the call will be sent to you a few days before the event.

We look forward to your participation on January 28th! If you have any questions or require further information in the interim, please feel free to email info@blc-lbc.ca.

BLC Committees

As many of you know, the work of BLC is done by committees. Here is a list of our current committees and their responsibilities. New members are always welcome!

For more information please send an email to info@blc-lbc.ca.

The web committee

* Maintains web site and social media and updates content with current events, resources and other items of interest.
* Works with other committees to update content as appropriate.

The membership committee

* Collaborates with the BLC treasurer and the Corporate Secretary to manage membership data.
* Ensures that email reminders are sent to those members who have not renewed their membership.
* Proposes options for increasing membership.

The communications committee

* Proposes options for increasing communication with BLC members and the general public.
* Prepares and distributes the BLC newsletter.

The braille formats committee

* Determines other guidelines that should be reviewed by BLC for use in Canada. Members of this committee must have a thorough knowledge of braille and must be familiar with issues specific to formatting.

The teaching and learning committee

* Conducts research related to braille instruction of children and adults.
* Seeks funding sources to support this research. Committee members should be employed as an educator of visually impaired students or be studying in the field.

The nominations committee

* Seeks candidates to fill vacant positions on the Board of Directors.
* Presents the slate of nominations to BLC members at the Annual General Meeting.

The braille promotion committee

* Proposes and implements activities to promote braille in Canada. The brailler bounce initiative is a project of this committee.
* Plans teleconferences on various braille-related issues.

The French braille standards committee

* Proposes and implements research and/or other projects pertaining to French braille in Canada.

The bylaws committee

* Drafts text for changes to BLC bylaws as appropriate. Previous experience with bylaw revisions is an asset.

Braille Screen Input on iOS Devices
By Natalie Martiniello

For people who are blind or who have low vision, one could argue that the built-in accessibility of Apple’s iPhone and iPad ranks among the most significant developments for our community since the year 2000. Based on universal design, Apple products led the way by demonstrating that technology could and should be accessible to diverse users from the start. Rather than retrofitting, universal design from inception has not only levelled the playingfield for those of us who are blind, but has also benefited users with perfect sight. After all, doesn’t everyone – sighted or blind – use Siri nowadays? And this is the point. When you make things accessible from the start, everyone wins. And the trend is catching on. Though Apple paved the way, other companies are following in their footsteps – Google’s Android, being one.

As someone who is blind and who has also taught clients who are blind, I have seen multiple examples of how this innovative technology can increase independence and opportunities. I have about 7 pages of apps on my iPhone. The true wonder and joy of all of this, for those of us who are braille users, is that all of these apps that are accessible with VoiceOver (the built-in screenreader on Apple products) can be used with a braille display. Suddenly, we have so much more access to braille – for learning, practicing and using it in our everyday lives. With the launch of the Orbit Braille Reader (sold by CNIB in Canada), the first low-cost braille display, access to braille information in this way is about to increase for many more people. Despite what mainstream news at times inaccurately proclaims, technology hasn’t replaced braille – it’s solidified its place in a truly exciting digital age!

As a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, I’ve harnessed the power of this technology with braille learners – many of whom are adults and seniors, when possible. It allows us to access far more material than ever before, and enables braille learners to practice braille in ways that are so meaningful to them – writing a facebook post, a tweet or an iMessage provides instant satisfaction to many, particularly for those who are losing their vision and who are eager to reconnect with the social world. These are just some creative ways one might use a braille display (connected to an I-device) during lessons.

I’d like to use the remainder of this post, however, to describe the use of the on-screen braille keyboard. Since iOS 8, braille users can activate an on-screen braille keyboard that they can use in place of the regular, on-screen QWERTY keyboard that usually appears for typing. Though many blind users, myself included, can and do use the regular on-screen QWERTY keyboard, it can be somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming to use, since the letters need to be located and selected one at a time. The on-screen braille keyboard, in contrast, allows you to form braille letters directly onto the screen, which greatly increases writing speed.

I use the on-screen braille keyboard exclusively for all my iPhone typing, and can type quicker than most of my sighted friends because of it. It’s also a great way for learners to practice braille. Using the on-screen braille keyboard requires them to think about how braille symbols are formed and what dots are included – It can be a great way to reinforce the learning of braille letters while accomplishing meaningful and relevant tasks on an I-device. Plus, the built-in screen reader on Apple products provides instant audio feedback, which is a great motivator and learning support for students!

To activate the on-screen braille keyboard:
1. Select the Settings Application from the Home Screen.
2. Press the “General “button, found within the Settings main menu.
3. Press the “Accessibility” options button.
4. Press the “VoiceOver” options button.
5. Press the “Rotor” options button.
6. Find the Braille Screen Input function.
7. If Voiceover doesn’t say, “Selected,” double-tap on braille-screen input to add it to your rotor.

Though it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the Rotor and how it works, I recommend this website which provides a very helpful explanation: http://www.voiceover-easy.net/References/RotorFunctions.aspx

Once you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll also want to configure your braille-screen input to best meet your needs before using it for the first time. Visit this link to learn more about how to select uncontracted or contracted input, six or eight key entry, and the braille code you wish to use when typing. By default, the braille code that is used for Braille Screen Input is Unified English Braille:
http://www.voiceover-easy.net/AdvancedOptions/OtherInputMethods.aspx#section0300

Once you’ve added braille screen input to your rotor and configured the settings for the first time, the braille screen input will now be available to you whenever you’re within a text field and need to type. Simply perform the Rotor gesture to select braille screen input.

How to Type using On-Screen Braille Input: Once activated, there are two options for typing using braille screen input. Table-top mode (when your device is laying flat on any surface) allows you to use your index, middle and ring fingers for typing as if it were a Perkins brailler. Screen-away mode, which I prefer and find more reliable, is preferable for smaller devices (such as the iPhone). To use braille screen input in screen-away mode:

• Activate braille screen input in your rotor
• Hold your iPhone in landscape orientation (that is, with the screen facing away from you, and the home button to the right).
• Hold your iPhone using your thumbs on the top edge and your pinky fingers on the bottom edge of your device. Your Index, Middle, and Ring fingers should now form two vertical columns of three dots just like the dots in the braille cell.
• Imagine this braille cell in front of you before typing, with dots 1, 2 and 3 placed vertically on the left and dots 4, 5 and 6 placed vertically on the right. Press down the fingers that correspond to the dots of the symbol you’d like to form. For example, press down your left index finger (which should be located on the top left of your screen in landscape orientation) to form the letter “A”, and press your left index, right index and right middle fingers together to form the letter “D”.

Try doing the entire alphabet for practice!

Other useful gestures when using braille screen input in screen-away mode:
• Swipe with one finger towards the left to delete the previous letter
• Swipe with one finger towards the right to insert a “space”
• Swipe with two fingers towards the right to move to the next line (VoiceOver will say “new line”)
• Swipe with three fingers towards the left to switch to contracted mode (which allows you to type contractions).
Swipe with three fingers towards the right to move back to uncontracted mode.

Now, you can type in braille on your device wherever you are!

Braille: A Story of Personal Life-Long Empowerment
By Leo Bissonnette, Ph.D.

As we celebrate the contribution of Louis Braille and his impact on our individual lives today, this issue features articles that make a strong case for the value of braille. My story adds to this accumulated statement of empowerment and the need to keep braille relevant in the lives of the blind today.

Like so many others in the blind community, I have listened to audio books since I was able to operate the record player that used to store talking books back in my early childhood. Today I enjoy reading books on my iPhone, using my Victor Reader Stream, or sitting at the computer. As important as the digital age is to me, nothing has even come close to empowering me as a blind person the way braille has.

A Little About Me
I was born with low vision and started my education working in large print. Then my mother, who was quite the advocate in making sure that I received a good education and essential rehabilitation services, felt that braille should be a tool added to my toolbox. So I started learning braille in third grade while attending the Montreal Association School for the Blind. I quickly took to using braille right away, and have used it as my first tool, taken from my toolbox, on a daily basis ever since.
Back to the Present
These days, what with the portability and low cost of ebooks, it seems that braille is struggling to keep its place in the lives of the blind. The high cost of braille displays compounds the problem, making it easier to simply abandon braille, or perhaps relegate it to infrequent use. Does it really matter if Braille becomes a medium that exists only in the memories of older blind people? Is it time to move on to more modern and cost-effective ways of communicating the written word, or should we fight to bring braille back to the forefront of our collective consciousness? Why is braille still relevant today?

I believe braille is essential for good writing. I would not be the proficient speller I am today if I had not read hundreds of thousands of braille words over the course of my life. While any decent screen reader provides the ability to spell words and review lines of text character by character, it is virtually impossible to catch all formatting and spelling errors in a document with speech alone. Anyone who uses text-to-speech software at all knows all too well the frustration of deciphering b’s from d’s, and sorting out all of the words that sound alike but are spelled differently such as there and their.

When I really need to digest something I am reading, I will slow my speech rate down or transfer the content to an SD card for later reading on my braille display. I am constantly amazed at the number of errors I find in documents I am reading in braille that I did not catch with speech alone.

Would I want to go back to the days before I had my iPhone and portable book reader? No way. Am I as likely to use a slate and stylus today as I was 50 years ago—although I still carry one in my brief case just in case I need it? Probably not. Can I imagine what my life would be like if I never again read another line of text in braille? I don’t even want to dwell on the thought!

Exploring Braille Settings on iOS
by Kim Kilpatrick

This will be the first in a series of articles exploring the use of braille displays with iDevices.

In this article, I will briefly describe the braille settings and show you how to pair a refreshable braille display with an iDevice. Braille support for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and iPad Mini is built into the screen reader which comes with your iDevice. This screen reader is called VoiceOver. Most braille displays work well with VoiceOver. You must use Bluetooth to pair a braille display with your iDevice. Unlike other Bluetooth devices (keyboards, headphones, speakers) braille displays are not paired in the Bluetooth settings but are paired in the VoiceOver braille settings.

Braille Settings
In Settings on your iDevice go to General, then Accessibility, then VoiceOver. You can also ask Siri to open VoiceOver settings. Double tap on Braille.

The settings are as follows (double tap each setting to explore its options):
1. Braille Display Output (this is what you read on your display). You can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille. Double tap on the one you want.
2. Braille Display Input (what you use when brailling with your display). Again, you can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille.
3. Automatic Braille Translation: When this is turned on, it translates braille contractions as you type. When it is off, it waits until you press space to translate the braille.
4. Braille Screen Input: This is for typing braille on the screen of your iDevice. I will discuss this in a future article.
5. Status Cells: This will also be discussed in a later article.
6. Equations Use Nemeth Code: You can toggle this off or on depending on how you feel about Nemeth code.
7. Show on screen keyboard: I will discuss this in a future article.
8. Turn pages when panning: This is also a toggle and I suggest you leave it on as when reading a book it will just keep going to the next page.
9. Braille Translation: In English braille your options are: English (unified), English (US) and English (United Kingdom)
10. Alert display duration: This will be discussed in a future article.
11. Choose a braille display: Verify that Bluetooth is enabled on your iDevice.

Pairing Your Braille Display
Make sure that your braille display is in Bluetooth or pairing mode. How you achieve this varies depending on your display (consult your braille display manual). Then, find your braille display in the list below the heading titled Choose a braille display and double tap on it.

Some displays pair automatically while others require a PIN to be entered. Check your braille display manual for more information.

Once the display is paired, it should stay paired.

When turning off the braille display and/or iDevice, lock the device first, then turn off the display. When turning them back on, turn on the braille display first then unlock your device. They should pair again without you having to do anything in the braille settings.

If you need help using your braille display with your iPhone, or have questions or topics you wish to be covered, let us know.

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