Tag Archives: Vision loss

Voting Day Blues

I have been very hyped about this election. Why?  I have chomped at the bit in anticipation of dramatically and meaningfully casting my inaccessible ballot at the polling station. Let me remind you about the core elements of a democratic vote; secret, independent and verifiable. I have gone on and on, to EVERYONE who will listen and to some who won’t, about the importance of these elements, the sanctity of the electoral process, and how I am denied this right by virtue of inaction on the part of Elections Canada. I am blind, as are hundreds of thousands of other voters. We do not have electronic voting in Canada. We do not have telephone voting. We do not have voting machines at the polls. We do not have Braille ballots. I thought that today I would be pumped and ready to let loose my schpeel at the Presbyterian church where I would be voting. I ran through my dialogue, my diatribe, my kvetching complaint, like a Shakespearean actor preparing for Stratford.

Here’s what really happened. I made it to the church, and found myself outside with a woman in a wheelchair attempting to open a monstrously large door (no automatic opener). I opened it for her, but it was not wide enough. A worker from the poll came and helped to open another door. I commented wryly about Elections Canada and their accessible voting sites. She commiserated. By this point, I had, for some reason, already lost my oomph.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or ‘my time of the month’.  Some one came over as Opal and I walked into the large church basement. The usual useless pointing and “over there” was followed by an arm-grab which I yanked away.  Someone else gave sensible directions to the table I needed.  My ID was requested and checked.  I did NOT give a long-winded lecture on the difficulty blind people have in meeting ID requirements, given that we don’t have driver’s license and many of us have no passport. Some of us choose not to have or use a charitable ID (CNIB) for reasons which are too numerous and complicated for this blog.  I provided my stunning photo ID cards which have a photo of Opal and me posing together (CGDB and the Attorney General of Ontario), but my Guide dog ID cards do not have my address on them, so I added a phone bill. I had considered bringing a Braille bill, but I did not want to be turned away. At this point, the DRO asked if I wanted a Braille template. My interest peaked, as I thought I had discussed this ad nauseum with Silvestre from elections Canada and had confirmed there would be no Braille on the ballot, and to expect the usual flaky template. Now I had no idea what they were offering me.  I asked (just to confuse them) if it was contracted or uncontracted Braille. The had no clue, so I let them off the hook and told them that I knew both, so it did’nt matter.  The DRO put the ballot into the ‘Braille template’ and then came the offer to “come into the voting area with you”. I said I would pass, given that I had this allegedly accessible Braille template in my hand.  Opal and I parked ourselves behind the privacy screen at a little table. I started to read the template. Numbers. Just numbers! I called out, “um, there’s no names here, just numbers”.  The old lady who had grabbed me when I came in, offered to read the names to me. I said that would not do. The DRO guy came over and offered to read them “as they appear in sequence. then you pick the braille number”, he said with full expectation that somehow this would be acceptable to me. I had PLANNED to make a big ‘to-do’, maybe proclaim myself the Rosa Parks of the voting blind, given that I am repeatedly told that blind people ‘have found this acceptable for years’. Instead, I told him “no thanks”, and ” if I can’t read it for myself”…( in a country where government material must be provided in alternate formats by law),  “I’ll have to  spoil my ballot”. He apologised (as everyone always does). I scrawled multiple X’s in allthe holes in my template and ballot and handed it to the old lady. She wisely did not attempt to go into the  insufferably patronizing routine of allowing me to put it in the box, but quickly disposed of it, stuffing it into the ballot box herself.   I walked out, declining someone’s eager offer for me to use the elevator, saying, “my legs are fine, we’ll use the stairs”. I left deflated.   I did not call the media, or my party delegate, or the PM (who doesn’t give a flying f…k anyway), or the queen, or Silvestre at Elections Canada (who I’m guessing was pretty busy today). Instead, I went for my routine blood work and called it a day. I wish I was one of those clever musicians, ’cause I’d be writing a tune tonight…’Voting Day Blues’.

STOP PRESS!!! Megan Leslie, newbie NDP canditate and personal acquaiantance declared winner of Halifax riding! Go get em in Ottawa, kid…and remember your roots…and your blind friends…


Sing a Blind Song

Sometimes I get a little bored, so I ‘Google’ stuff. Today, I checked out songs about blindness sung by blind people. It seems there aren’t that many…Phew!!! Thank god we’re not ALL maudlin. I found a few though, mostly from old black Southern men (Sonny Terry, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Gary Davis and Blind Roger Hayes). Frankly, I’d be mortified if I had  to live with a handle like Blind Helen. It’s bad enough that people refer to me as “Helen With the Dog”. Turns out that blind musicians have better stuff to sing about than their angst about being blind…. love,  bad relationships, the world (Mr. Ray Charles does a great job of ‘What a Wonderful World’)  and the city (Little Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’). As for all the SONGS with LYRICS which include the word ‘blind’ or blindness’….sheesh! That’s a whole different kettle of fish. Just as our everyday expressions use the words blind to mean that one is unaware, purposefully oblivious, uncaring etc. (“blind as a bat”, “turn a blind eye”, “love is blind”, “blind rage”, “blind leading the blind”…) song lyrics use them similarly and just as regularly.  I’m not claiming that it’s not PC and we should immediately run around tweaking and rewriting  all these songs. It might be an idea to think about language and how we use words. As a word nerd, I love to learn about the origin and history of words. I wonder how it came to be that a physical condition morphed into use as a negative adjective and verb.

CNIB AGM and ‘Community Meetings’…be there and be heard

The CNIB is having their Annual General Meeting in Toronto on September 27 th, at least that’s what I was told. I could not confirm this on their website…guess they don’t want anyone to know.  The local Nova Scotia/PEI Division is having its ACM (“Annual Community Meeting”) on Wednesday, September 24th. A community meeting is the spin that the local deadheads have put on an AGM which does not present an annual financial report. I can’t seem to get any accurate accounting for what this organization does with its money…er, that would be the money they suck out of innocent people who donate to their financial campaigns…like the horribly tasteless and demeaning e-mail campaign which caused such an uproar recently. No matter.  I have resigned myself to the fact that accountability, consultation  and transparency are not words in the CNIB vocabulary or philosophy. Imagine my delight when the local whiz kid who just won the NDP nomination in Halifax (Megan Leslie) invited me to attend this community meeting with her. I guess she needs an entourage in the guise of a friendly blind friend who can create a potentially good reason to leave (“Opal has a play date in Chicago! Let’s go, Megan!”).  It will be fun, I’m sure to go to this thing and have a sensible ally. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians was calling for a cross-Canada series of protests at the CNIB offices on the day that CNIB has their AGM (September 27th, I think). Why? Let me count the ways CNIB merits a slap on the wrists;

1- They must be publicly accountable for the tasteless and demeaning e-mail campaign which was the icing on the nutty CNIB cupcake for many blind people this year.

2- The CNIB plans to change their constitution to allow for a sighted CEO/president. I guess little Jim Sanders is going to be going quietly into that good night. I think there must be a stipulation about employing a percentage of staff within CNIB who are blind.

3- The CNIB services across the country have taken a gigantic nosedive.

4- The current philosophy  of this merry band is a little skewed for many of us (not client centered, not service centered, not democratic), and

5- The monopolistic status of this organization that purports to speak on behalf of the blind.

So, if you are remotely interested in the rights of the blind, the nasty decline of services that the CNIB has taken, or the REALLY BAD IDEA of having a non-client as president of the CNIB (or at least a quota that ensures blind staff, and if you are tired about the dismal road that CNIB is travelling,  then get to a CNIB near you and voice your thoughts on it. Call the media! Call you friends and family and ask for their support in protesting on September 27th in Toronto, or at the numerous protests across Canada at CNIB offices planned that day…or you might go to a fake AGM, like the one here in Halifax which they are calling an Annual Community Meeting.

Little Jim Sanders Apologises (again)

CNIB President and CEO, Jim Sanders cranked out another e-mail message to me today. Damage Control Central seems to have found  the following words to put into his mouth: ” Dear Helen….the message was not appropriate (What would you sell to save your sight?) …fund-raising campaign discontinued… as signatory of the letter, I take full responsibility and extend my personal apology for any discomfort or offense that this message may have caused you”… signed Jim Sanders

This e-mail had no lovely GUIDE DOGS in the images ( CNIB does NOT train or financially support Guide dog training in any way) ….it had instead, the boring and newish CNIB logo and bush (maybe it’s the tree of Vision Hope? ) …a ‘brand’ they spent an obscene amount of money developing. It seems the braniacs at CNIB  didn’t like the sound of “Canadian National Institute for the Blind” any more. Nah, that’s too, um…’blind’ sounding. So they changed it to CNIB (like RBC or BMO banks) and now they never use the word blind in their name.  Some marketing geeks decided to go with “Vision Hope, Vision Health” as the buzzwords du jour. That was some big  pile of letterhead, pamphlets and building signs to change, guys!  What’d that cost you?…or rather how much of the money that you solicited  from unsuspecting donors (the ones who still  think that you actually “help the blind” in every way and at every turn) did you waste? That dough could have actually gone to client services…gee, why didn’t you just just ask your clients what they thought about the new brand….oops, I forgot.   the CNIB is not into consultation, transparency or accountability.

CNIB Eats Crow

An interesting e-mail arrived in my box today: Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians President, Robin East wrote a searing letter to Jim Sanders (big CNIB cheese) regarding the same distasteful fund raising e-mail that CNIB sent to Canadians, some of them CNIB clients.  It was a paltry plea resplendent with Guide dogs (GUIDE DOG TRAINING IS NOT PART OF THE CNIB “SERVICES”), and an offensive query ,asking people like me and Robin East, what we would sell to save our sight. (see earlier blog I wrote entitled: Why CNIB Leaves Me Flat).  In Robin East’s letter to Jim Sanders, he asked for an apology and that CNIB withdraw this campaign immediately.  Robin forwarded the whole thing to me, therefore, I am delighted to post it here.  Here is Jim Sander’s response to Robin East:

“Dear Robin, I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter and confirm that the e-mail campaign has been discontinued. I can assure you that the content do not reflect the philosophy and service practice of CNIB. I have released the following statement and would welcome any additional comments which you or your members may have.

I do sincerely apologize for the content and also for any negative impact that this letter has had on individuals. Your letter will be brought to the attention of the Board.

Here is the statement:    On behalf of CNIB, I wish to let you know that the fundraising campaign to which you refer has been discontinued. The message it portrayed was inappropriate.

We are reviewing CNIB’s marketing operations and associated creative materials to ensure that future marketing and fundraising efforts better reflect the CNIB philosophy, service, model and the views and experiences of people who are blind and living with vision loss.

Since I am the signatory to the letter, I do take full responsibility and extend my personal apology.


Jim Sanders”

Hmm. Sounds to me that Jim’s eating crow. Did someone say Damage Control? Do I see Jim’s litttle blind butt roasting at the CNIB Board Bar B Q? Do ya think they’ll drop some people (like Robin and me) from the mailing list in the future?

THIS JUST IN!!! Jim Sanders appologizes to angry chief executives of Canadian Guide Dog schools…


I checked some of the search words that people are using to get to my blogs.  My conclusion is that many people are interested in numbers…’number of blind people in Canada’ for example.  Here is some statistical information. I do not guarantee that it is the most current information, but it will provide a sense of proportion about the population.

  • According to Statistics Canada, the last PALS study (Participation Activity Limitation Survey) a total of 4.4 million Canadians (1 in 7) reported having a disability in 2006.
  • In 2001, 12.4% reported having a disability, and in 2006, it had risen to 14.3% of the population.
  • The Eastern provinces reported higher rates of disabled residents. Nova Scotia checked in at 20% compared to Ontario with 15.5%
  • Problems relating to pain, mobility and agility affects almost 3 million adults.
  • 5% of the population reports a hearing disability (1,265,000)
  • 3.2% report a seeing disability (815,000)
  • 1.9% report a speech disability (480,000)
  • In Canada, the average number of days lost per worker due to a disability or illness is 7.6
  • According to the AFB (American Federation for the Blind), 1.3 million Americans are legally blind.
  • AFB reports 5.5 million elderly Americans have vision loss.
  • 109,000 Americans use a white long cane to get around. There are over 7000 people who have dog guides.
  • There are 93,600 visually impaired students in special education programs.  in the United States (AFB) with 10,800 being deaf-blind.
  • There are 55, 200 legally blind children in the USA.
  • Only 32 % of working age blind Americans are employed.
  • 1.5 million Americans with vision loss use computers.
  • CNIB reported 104,184 registered clients in 2002. The important thing to note is that CNIB registration is VOLUNTARY, and reflects only 50% of the actual number of people who live with vision loss.
  • In 2001 it was estimated that the number of people in the world affected by  AMD (all age related macular degeneration)  between the ages of 65 and 75 was 2.2 million.
  • It is projected that the number of people in the world affected by AMD will increase to 4 million by 2021.

Hey Operator!

That’s right, I mean you, the  Bell Aliant operator on duty yesterday afternoon. Watch out lady, ’cause you’re in store for some deep doo dah. Did ya think I’d just ‘let it go’? Not a chance, babe. Sure, it took 30 minutes to go through the complaint process with the customer service department, but at least I have the reassurance that you will be ‘spoken to’. Maybe you will think twice before you say something stupid when a PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER dials and asks you how to go about making a conference call. Maybe you won’t say, “the number for the conference operator is in the phone book” in reply to a PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER who has told you that the Aliant web site is INACCESSIBLE and won’t cough up the information she needs. Maybe when that PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER says, “I can’t read the phone book” , your smart ass sarcastic reply will not be, “You can’t read?”  Maybe you won’t mutter to the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER, who tells you in frustration (even though it is none of your bloody business) that she is blind, “ok, wait a sec”  and follow that up by shouting, “What did you say?” when the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER says “thanks for that”.  Maybe you won’t proceed to grumble and send the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER into her own voicemail system instead of linking her to the conference call operator.  Yep, maybe you will just do your job in the first place and provide the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER with information instead of going down that murky road by asking, “can’t you read?”. Maybe the reprimand will include reading a fact sheet with statistical information about the 6,000,000  or more Canadians who can not read print because of a visual, perceptual or intellectual disability. Maybe your boss will tell you that it doesn’t matter why the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER can’t READ a phone book, or why they don’t HAVE a phone book, or why they don’t WANT to use their phone book…you just do what the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER requests.

STOP PRESS!!! This just in: Aliant Customer Service Management tippy-toeing very carefully all over an apology to Wise advice. It seems that the Aliant operator in question is going to have that informative talk with her supervisor this afternoon….