Welcome to the June edition of Equalize. In this issue, we learn about Guide Dog AdvoCamp, a new offering at CNIB Lake Joe, and service dog policies in schools. The Know Your Rights team provides a project update, and we bid farewell to Debbie Gillespie, a valued member of our advocacy team, who's retiring after 31 years. We also hear how the Federal Budget 2019 will impact Canadians with sight loss. Plus, we learn more about BlindSquare, a navigational app that's changing what it is to be blind today.
-CNIB Foundation Ontario Advocacy Team
Guide Dog AdvoCamp
The inaugural Guide Dog AdvoCamp welcomed 30 guide dog handlers from across the country to CNIB Lake Joe. Generously sponsored by Royal Canin, the event brought guide dog handlers together to learn new ways to advocate for important change and to network with their peers.
"What guide dog handlers need the most is an educated public," says Victoria Nolan, Head, Stakeholder Relations & Community Engagement, CNIB Guide Dogs. "People need to understand guide dog handlers' rights for access, and they need to stop distracting their animals."
Cindy Shone agrees, and that's why she signed up to attend.
"Joe Public is the problem," she states matter-of-factly. "One day I was walking in a store, and a woman stepped in front of me, cupped my dog's face in her hands and squealed 'you're so cute'. I asked her not to distract my dog. I really hate having to give my dog a correction because someone has distracted him."
"We want to empower guide dog handlers and strengthen their self-advocacy skills for these types of situations," asserts Victoria. In addition to an intensive advocacy seminar with tips, strategies and resources, attendees heard from Paralympic medalist Paul Rosen and mental health professional Dr. Virginia Duff. Also, there was a guide dog info expo and workshops about canine health, nutrition, strength and conditioning.
"I love the networking piece and talking to other guide dog handlers," exclaims Cindy. "I'm a really keen advocate and a newbie that's anxious for information."
We hope to make the Guide Dog AdvoCamp an annual event. In the meantime, guide dog handlers can participate in monthly teleconferences that focus on advocacy, and additional training opportunities. For more information, contact Victoria Nolan at Victoria.Nolan@cnib.ca or 416-357-1571.
Protecting guide dogs' rights in schools
Recently, the Ontario government passed the "Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act, 2019", which allows the Minister of Education to establish policies and guidelines on service animals in schools, including guide dogs. Under the Act, school boards will need to comply with the government's policies and guidelines and develop their own policies on how they plan to accommodate service animals in their district.
Under the Blind Person's Rights Act, guide dog handlers have been permitted in schools for many years. There have, however, been cases where schools have claimed that they are unable to accommodate guide dogs or have denied guide dog handlers. Currently, only 39 out of 72 school boards in Ontario reported having service animal policies in place, so these changes provide an opportunity to ensure all school boards are clear on their legal duty to accommodate and have processes in place.
CNIB has been working with Guide Dog Users Canada to ensure the final version of the government's policy guidelines don't dilute the rights that guide dog handlers have held for years with the weaker legal protections that other types of service animals have. CNIB submitted a formal response to the government's draft policy – we continue to have discussions with the government to ensure their policies and future school board policies reflect the difference between guide dogs and service animals.
Read more articles from the June 2019 issue of Equalize:
- CNIB Foundation Ontario “Know Your Rights” Project Update
- Debbie Gillespie bids farewell to CNIB
- Commitments to Accessibility and Inclusion in Federal Budget 2019
- Calling all advocates!
- The BlindSquare Experience