Fredericton – The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) in Fredericton held their annual Dining in the Dark event on March 28th, 2014 at the Kingswood Lodge. This event is “an evening of exceptional food, conversation and blindfolds” to raise awareness for those living with vision loss. All the proceeds from this event help CNIB offer programs and services to New Brunswickers.
CNIB is a charity that operates all over Canada assisting and serving those who live with vision loss. Their main service for people is “providing the personalized rehabilitation support they need to see beyond vision loss, build their independence and lead the lives they want.”
It is important for the general public to understand the daily lives of those who live with vision loss through the Dining in the Dark event. “Participants who eat their meal blindfolded have the opportunity to have questions raised in their minds on what it’s like to live their life like that on a daily basis,” explains Derek Ness, a UNB graduate and CNIB volunteer.
Ysabelle Vautour, a CNIB employee, says that the fundraiser allows for all participants to share a meal and conversation about disabilities in New Brunswick. “A lot of the problems persons with disabilities face are communicating problems that are visible to them alone,” says Vautour. Dining the Dark allows for people from Fredericton to meet, share a meal, and discuss living with a disability in New Brunswick.
The major challenge for people who live with disabilities is accessibility. Accessibility includes equal access to services, opportunities and experiences allowing all people to be active and engaged citizens.
People with disabilities often face challenges that many people are unaware. Ness explained that tasks that many people would consider simple are extremely difficult for people who live with vision loss. For example, going to the grocery store for items that are not bought on a regular basis, like toothpaste, is difficult. “It takes techniques to find a way to find these things easily and independently,” says Ness.
Accessibility to services requires modification for people with disabilities to access them with autonomy and ease. “So much time is spent on marketing, getting the room a certain color, for example, to attract sales and make the experience more comfortable for people if only companies would use the same amount of time and effort considering the needs of persons who experience disabilities,” suggests Vautour.
In 2007, Statistics Canada reported that 17.2% of the New Brunswick population lived with a disability compared to the Canadian average of 14.3%.
The ability to participate in society requires the equal opportunity to secure employment regardless of any disability. Jim Noseworthy, a specialist in assistive technology with CNIB, believes that the already dire job situation in New Brunswick increases the challenges for those who live with disabilities and are already challenged in the job market. “Jobs are scarce, and competition for jobs that are available is great. In such cases, persons with a disability are very often overlooked.”
The government and the community have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity to all New Brunswickers. “The government, whether it’s city, provincial or federal, need to put an awareness out there about creating more opportunities for people with disabilities, if it’s vision loss or not, to find equitable work opportunities,” says Ness.
On March 27, 2014, Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, Jody Carr, announced that the province would invest $48 million to introduce new labour market agreements for people with disabilities. “This memorandum of understanding will help us deliver targeted employment and training programs for persons with disabilities that will better lead to real jobs for real pay,” explains Carr. “We are building an inclusive province where all persons have the opportunity to succeed in the labour market.”
This initiative has possibilities for people who live with disabilities and find it difficult to secure employment. However, the initiative is vague in its course of action and suggests that not all the money will be used to fund jobs for people with disabilities. Minister Carr suggests that the money will be used to provide training programs that will lead to jobs, but his statement does not include the amount of money that will be directly funded to employers to hire people with disabilities.
In the mean time, people with disabilities must rely on the services offered by community groups, like CNIB, to function in society and access opportunities. These organizations require funding and support to continue improving society for all its members.