Beth Deer meets Ben Perrin, Bitcoin Educator
By Beth Deer
Our team left at nine in the morning for our shoot in Calgary. We realized when we reached the snowy roads halfway into our drive we had been living the good life in Edmonton, where there was no snow and it was above one degree Celcius.
We reached the Ford Tower at 12:30 p.m., where our shoot was planning to take place. I was positive that we had to go up to the 24th floor. There was no 24th floor.
Once we reached the 20th floor, we met with Ben Perrin. Ben works for Bull Bitcoin and also has a YouTube channel called BTC Sessions. I was in Calgary to chat with Ben and learn more about Bitcoin. It's safe to say I learned a lot about Bitcoin and its mind boggling concepts. He also told me the story of how he scammed a scammer, it was one heck of a story and he definitely taught those crooks a lesson.
As our day came to an end with Ben we still had a three-hour drive back to Edmonton, we decided to stop somewhere to grab food before we hit the open road. Hilarious. The place we decided to stop was probably the emptiest mall in North America. It had a now open sign but opened a year ago. I’m going to leave you with that.
Watch Beth's interview with Ben and learn more about Bitcoin in upcoming episodes of AMI This Week.
AMI This Week airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv. Watch full episodes and seasons of AMI This Week on demand at AMI.ca or on the AMI-tv App.
Grant Hardy gives Blind Curling a whirl
By Grant Hardy
It’s often called chess on ice—curling, that mysterious Scottish sport where players slide heavy, granite stones across a sheet of ice towards a circular target drawn on the ice called the house. Two teams of four players take turns serving these stones, with a director—called the skip—who requests a certain type of shot. Like the name implies, curling involves serving rocks using a curved motion, either slightly outwards or inwards, and sweepers use brooms to reduce friction on the ice and help the stone travel in a straighter line. You’re allowed to knock your opponents’ stones to send them off course, and the winning team is the one with the most stones closest to the centre of the house.
This fall for AMI This Week, I attended a meetup of the Vancouver Blind Curling League to learn more about the team, serve some stones of my own, and find out what makes curling special. I chatted with some of the players and worked with one of the coaches who adapts the game—and I discovered a few things.
First, curling is a very accessible sport with only minor adaptations needed. Depending on your level of vision, this could mean a guiding light placed near the target, or verbal guidance about how to line up your shot. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to compete in mainstream curling with the right accommodations.
Second, curling is a fun and social sport. Multiple teams can play on a single sheet of ice, so there are lots of people around. It’s said that curling tradition is for the winning team to buy the other team drinks at the end of a game. Either way, you can be sure there are lots of laughs and socializing throughout the game and afterwards. In fact, like many accessible sports, the league has a huge impact on many of the players’ lives.
And third, I’ve found my new favourite kind of footwear. They’re called grippers, which are rubber pieces that attach to the bottoms of your shoes. They make a night-and-day difference about how stable I felt on the ice, and I’m going to pick some up to wear on icy days this winter!
Despite my stability on the ice, there were one or two hiccups with my curling prowess, namely almost knocking over the AMI camera, and serving a stone so far off course that it landed on an adjacent sheet. But it was still a ton of fun, and with a little extra practice, and a dash of luck, I’m sure I could improve!
Check out Grant's blind curling segment.
AMI This Week airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv. Watch full episodes and seasons of AMI This Week on demand at AMI.ca or on the AMI-tv App.
Grant Hardy reviews iOS
By Grant Hardy
I’m a summer person, no doubt about that. So every year, fall hits me hard when I realize it’s an end to patio season, summer barbecues and fun in the sun.
But there’s a silver lining. For a tech guy like me, the fall is when some major software updates come out for the technology I rely on—among them, iOS and iPad OS, the software that powers our accessible iDevices. This year, the first big update dropped near the end of September, but it didn’t tell the whole story. Four updates have been released since then, expanding on the functionality of the initial release of iOS 13, and I’ve had time to play with the new features and discover which fit best into my life.
What follows is a brief overview of the things I’ve found to be the most useful as a totally blind iPhone user.
Over 100,000 radio stations available from Siri and the music app
I love radio—always have. And with Internet radio, one can listen to thousands of stations from all around the world. iOS 13 brings native support for radio stations from iHeart Radio and the TuneIn Radio directories, and you can ask Siri to play the station of your choice or search for it in the Music app. No more third-party apps required. And yes, AMI-Audio is available.
The Shortcuts app, something which has been around since last year, has become my favourite feature on iOS. It lets you create multi-step tasks to quickly get information and get things done across your apps. It’s as cool as writing your own little app—except you don’t need any programming experience. Its drag-and-drop interface is as simple as putting together building blocks.
For example, a typical “morning routine” shortcut might look like this:
• Greet you.
• Read out your calendar events for the day.
• Get the ETA from your current location to where you need to be, and read it to you.
• If you’ll be on time, bring up transit directions in your favourite transit app.
• If you’re going to be late, offer to call a cab and text someone your ETA.
A morning routine has almost become a cliché example since there’s a ton more you can do with this app, with hundreds of actions across Apple’s apps and third-party apps. This year, Shortcuts gets some big updates, including one that I think will greatly benefit the blind and partially-sighted community.
In addition to the other ways you can launch Shortcuts (like by asking Siri or tapping an icon on the home screen), you can be offered up shortcuts based on conditions like time of day, before you’re predicted to commute, when you connect Bluetooth headphones to your phone, and when you shut off your alarm. You can also tap small tags called NFC tags against some of the latest iPhones to run shortcuts automatically. I’ve already set up prompts that pop up offering real time transit directions to work before my daily commute, which means they’re available without having to dig through menus and find them. But other options abound. For example, imagine attaching a tag to each one of your pill containers. When you tap your phone against one of those tags, it could pop up details about your medication to confirm you’ve picked up the right one, then make a note recording when you took your medication. The same applies to food containers and clothing for which you want an accessible label. There are lots of cool ideas.
Covering how to use the Shortcuts app is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but there are lots of great resources available. For example, check out the MacStories website and blog for many thorough guides on building shortcuts.
Maps: Real-time transit
Apple Maps now offers real-time reports for transit departures rather than relying on bus schedules. In my experience around metro Vancouver, these are extremely accurate—often down to the minute. I was also very impressed that when I reported an accessibility issue where bus stops weren’t including the side of the street where you needed to board, Apple fixed my issue and sent a response confirming that it was addressed.
VoiceOver: Making Photos More Accessible
If you’re blind or partially sighted, you know it’s just as important for you to have a collection of photos as it is for anyone else. Friends and colleagues love to see them, and with the right organization and captioning, they can bring back memories for everyone.
This year, if you’ve trained your Photos app to recognize specific faces, VoiceOver can announce the names of those people when navigating through photos, or even when taking pictures. It’s a brilliant addition that should help when sorting and sharing photos. VoiceOver can also give you additional guidance when lining up to take a photo. As well as announcing the number of faces in the frame, it can guide you if the camera needs to be tilted to get a better shot.
VoiceOver: Change what the touch screen gestures do
If you’re a VoiceOver user, you may have always wanted to customize what the various taps, swipes, and double-taps do when you use the touch screen. Now you can, by heading into Settings, Accessibility, VoiceOver, and choosing the Commands section.
There are some interesting possibilities, and I’m sure people will come out with lots of brilliant new command layouts. For now, I’ve done the following to customize how my phone works with VoiceOver:
• A two-finger swipe left and right moves between headings.
• A four-finger swipe up and down moves through controls on the web, like text boxes and buttons.
• A four-finger double-tap pastes text from the clipboard at my current location.
iOS 13 and later brings lots of worthwhile enhancements to your phone—many more than I can cover here. If your device supports it, it’s worth grabbing the update from Settings, General, Software Update when you have some time to play around.
Ringette for All
By Shelby Travers
It’s always a pleasure to be able to meet people doing amazing things when filming for AMI This Week. The people from Ringette for All were no different!
Meeting a mother-daughter duo that were so inspired to share their love for ringette that they made an organization that opened the sport up to anyone–no matter age, disability, race or gender! This is something not often found.
I love athletics and being able to participate in sports. But after becoming disabled, I struggled with only being allowed to be involved in “blind sports.” I found myself feeling that by being included, I was also being segregated. It meant that my only friends were a part of the blind community. Don’t get me wrong, I love my blind friends, but I love being surrounded by a diverse group of people.
I am hoping one day more sports will open their door to everyone and we can all use Ringette for All as an example!
Watch Shelby's segment of Ringette for All.
All Hail Ride Hailing: Grant’s thoughts on third-party ride hailing companies coming to B.C.
By Grant Hardy
On a recent vacation to Seattle, I marveled at the ease and efficiency of navigating the city through ride hailing services. Service was prompt and friendly, and we could travel individually or as a pool with other customers. Prices were dirt cheap, too. Really, it just made sense.
Of course, this was with my tourist hat on. There’s no doubt that experiencing ride hailing during a personal vacation is much different than taking it regularly. And there are genuine issues to be worked out, such as making sure drivers are paid appropriately, meeting the needs of passengers with special needs, and balancing available cars with traffic congestion in cities. I know ride hailing is definitely not perfect, and I can understand there may be legitimate concerns. However, as a blind traveler, I’d like to talk about the one thing that makes me the most excited about getting access to ride hailing—something which I seldom see mentioned in any debates about it.
When you book a ride through a ride hailing company, you’re generally paired with a specific driver and the entire journey is tracked, including the route your driver takes. In fact, Aira—the service where trained agents describe the environment around you using your phone’s camera—has partnered with Uber and Lyft. Aira agents can access your booking details to help direct you to your pickup spot, and ensure you can locate your car.
This is a far cry from calling a cab, where often times my name isn’t even asked for unless I volunteer it, which I usually do if it’s a busy area or time of day. By the time I get a call or text saying my taxi is on the way, it’s usually minutes or even seconds from me. By the time I get outside and start walking towards where I think my cab may be waiting, perhaps two minutes later, the cab has often left with somebody else. This is perfectly possible because again, myself and that cab are not paired in the same way as with ride hailing services. I find there’s little point in complaining to the dispatchers—since realistically, there’s nothing they can do. But I have to think that there’s a better, more efficient way.
That’s why I’m hoping to give ride hailing a chance. I understand policy makers are being cautious in British Columbia, such as requiring that drivers carry a commercial license. But I hope they won’t water down ride hailing regulations too much. It’s not perfect, but it deserves a chance.
AMI This Week airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv. Watch full episodes and seasons of AMI This Week on demand at AMI.ca or on the AMI-tv App.
The Creation of Tell Tails
By Shelby Travers
I always say that being a guide dog handler is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. It truly is the best part about being blind, in my opinion. Not only can I always have my sidekick with me, but I can experience a bond that is so unique. I’ve always grown up with dogs; I even got my first dog when I was only 10 years old. But when I got Frances, it didn’t take a long time to understand the bond is extremely different from a pet.
I have expectations of Frances. I rely on her. It’s not just a sentimentality when I say, “I need her.” It’s a raw and vulnerable testament of my dependence of her and the independence she truly gifts me.
With knowing firsthand what this bond is, I was curious to learn about other working dogs and the relationship the handler has with them. This is when the idea for Tell Tails came up. With a play on telling tales, it will take a deep dive into these unique bonds of handler and working dog to learn the similarities and differences from one working dog to the next.
Tell Tails will be a recurring segment on AMI This Week soon.
My Pole Journey
By Shelby Travers
Anyone who meets me knows how much I love to try new things, especially when that new thing involves physical activity in some sort of way. Not only do I just generally love physical activity, but I’ve struggled with my weight and body confidence. So, for the past year, I’ve started to do my research on pole fitness, thinking it would give me everything I’ve been looking for.
So, just over a month ago I signed up for my first “Intro to Pole” series at Iron X Fitness and I was in love from the very beginning.
You may be wondering, “what is pole fitness?” Well, it’s essentially pole dancing. With that title, comes a lot of—unnecessary—stigma. But, maybe that’s why I fell in love with it … along with many other reasons. We all know how much I love to break stigmas.
Pole is one of the most blind-friendly exercises I have ever tried simply because it is so tactile. You are generally always in contact with the pole, so you always have a point of reference for where you are. Then, the rest of it is just movement, and knowing how to position your body and transition in your choreography.
It is also a wonderful space that encourages body positivity, loving yourself, owning your sexuality, and giving you an amazing workout! Trust me, my arms, core, back, and glutes are always sore for about two days after—in the most wonderful way, of course.
Where I’ve been...
By Shelby Travers
Over the past few months, you may have noticed a little less Shelby and a little less Frances appearing on AMI. That’s because since March 2019, I have been on medical leave due to a concussion.
If you’ve seen the story, we did on the Ottawa Ski Hawks before, you know just how much I love skiing. However, taking part in the sport shouldn’t be taken lightly. It has risks for everyone, and when your blind, the chances of an accident are even higher. Even with one caller guide and one blocker guide, accidents can happen. And one did.
I was headed down the hill for one of my last runs of the night. I knew I was approaching the lift line-up, so as usual, I did a quick hard “hockey-style” stop. Only this time, there was a big thud and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. From here, it goes foggy.
I recall crying. Even though my leg, hip, and head hurt, the tears mostly came from shock. I have never gotten into a collision before – let alone with another person, which I later found out was what I hit. I recall my guides helping me stand and bringing me to the lodge but past that, I don’t remember the night.
The next morning, I woke up with a headache, nauseous and after calling my parents, we decided that it was the best decision for me to call 911. At the hospital, I was once again diagnosed with a concussion. The fourth concussion I have gotten in my lifetime. Add that onto my preexisting brain injury, and I knew the recovery would take a long time.
I’m still on the mend, and as I have learned from all my encounters during the filming of My 10-Year-Old Brain, I know that not everything will be back to how it used to be. Everything from fatigue, to word-finding, to light sensitivity can have an impact on the day-to-day for me.
Thankfully, this is not my first rodeo, so I know I need to be gentle on myself during this long recovery process. But, as I now transition back into my regular workflow with life, and at AMI, I am looking forward to what’s next.
And of course, I will still be back on my skis once the snow hits.
Maple Smoked Pork Tenderloin and Beans Recipe
By Alex Smyth
In the coming weeks, Alex Smyth shows you how to make a mouthwatering smoked pork tenderloin. We were so excited, we're sharing the recipe now. Stay tuned for cooking segment on AMI This Week.
Maple Smoked Pork Tenderloin and Beans
1 pork tenderloin
½ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and Pepper to season
1 can baked beans
1. In a mixing bowl, combine maple syrup, Dijon mustard, chopped garlic and olive oil, along with the salt and pepper, to make the marinade.
2. Place the pork tenderloin in a resealable plastic bag and add the marinade.
3. Place the marinating pork in the fridge for at least four hours, overnight if possible.
4. Prep the smoker by setting the temperature at 225 degrees Fahrenheit and setting the timer for three hours.
5. Place the pork tenderloin in the smoker and let smoke for three hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. After two hours of smoking the pork, open the can of baked beans, pour into a tin foil cake tray and place in the smoker.
7. After three hours, or the pork reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, take out the beans and pork, wrapping the meat in foil for 5-10 minutes to seal the juices in.
8. Slice up the pork and serve!
Blonde hair, do care
By Shelby Travers
The things no one talks about as a non-natural blonde…
The saying goes “Blondes have more fun.” So, after trying every hair colour known to humankind I figured that as of January 2019 I was ready to fully plunge into full platinum blonde territory.
Before doing so, I did my research. I knew it would take stages to get to the level of lightness I wanted. I spent days scrolling through Google and Instagram to find the right hair stylist. But none of that time spent prepared me for the true commitment being a non-natural blonde.
For example, I now spend around three hours every five weeks sitting in a salon chair as my stylist strategically bleaches grown-in roots section by section. Every five weeks probably seems crazy, right? Well, this is the only way in keeping a streamline colour and not getting banding. Banding is when you have a band around your head of a different colour which is caused due to hair closest to your head lightening faster than the rest of your hair because of heat.
You also have to think about what you’re putting your hair into and how the tones could change. Sun exposure? That blonde could turn brassy and yellow. Swimming in a chlorine pool? You might get the greeny blues. Dunking your locks in a lake with clay grounds? Peach may be headed your way.
So, you could say that blondes have more fun but for us “bleach blondes,” we work for the fun.
By Shelby Travers
As many of you know, I have a guide dog named Frances. She’s a black Labrador retriever, weighing in at 62 pounds and born on January 14th, 2013. September 8th, 2019 marks my five-year Franniversary.
I will never forget the day that Frances came into my life. All guide dog owners know the anxiety of sitting in your room at the training facility as you await meeting your new guide dog. You hear the trainers walk through the hallways with dogs full of excitement. You hear them walk past your room and the tension builds until finally…*knock knock*. “Shelby, we have someone we want you to meet” and the trainer walks in with an overly-excited dog.
The trainer Lucy said, “Now, we know you wanted a male dog, but this is Frances and she is a black lab.” I didn’t need her to say any more. I was in love and I knew my life had instantly changed. Frances isn’t the most “traditional” dog name, but it does happen to be my middle name. So, you could say when I heard this happy little girls’ name, I knew it was meant to be.
I won’t lie and say that these past five years have all been easy. They haven’t been. Frances and I have had hard times. She has failed me, and I have failed her. I have had moments of tears and doubt and I know she has too. I have had to understand her needs, and she has had to evaluate mine. But even though we have experienced the hard times, she has changed my life for the better.
I reflect every year since she has come into my life on the things I have done. I’ve moved across the country twice on my own. I have gotten my heart broken more than once. I have graduated from college. I have built my career. I have lost my pet dog Track. And through it all, she was there for me and I was there for her. It’s an amazing bond that a handler shares with a guide dog built with trust, love, and understanding.
As the time goes on, it is a bittersweet feeling. I know that I am now in the latter half of my working years with Frances, and it’s terrifying. I wish that in 10 years from now we will be celebrating our 15-year Franniversary. But I know that won’t be the case.
So, for now, I will build her a banana and bone cake (her favourite), let her lick my face (even though I hate it), squeeze her tight (even though she hates it) and say, "thank You for changing my life."
By Grant Hardy
If you’re blind or partially sighted, you know that you have a much narrower selection of accessible games than the mainstream market provides. An under-hyped type of computer game that happens to be accessible is called interactive fiction, also known as text adventure games. If you’ve ever read an adventure book where you’re told to flip to a certain page depending on what choice you make, then you’ll find interactive fiction to be very similar. You use text-based commands to move around from room to room, talk to—and interact with—characters, solve puzzles, and (hopefully) get through the story. And just like with books, every genre imaginable is available—from science fiction to crime-fighting to comedy.
These games have been around since the beginning of mainstream computers, but modern apps and websites open them up to everyone. In these text-based games, you’re a character in a story and the progression of the story is influenced by your actions.
One easy way to get started is to download a compatible gaming app for your device. For example, on an iPhone, the Frotz app comes with many free games and you can always add more. The annual Interactive Fiction Competition is another great resource for downloading free, text-based stories that can be played in apps like Frotz or online.
Everyone’s game preferences will be different, and there’s no point just playing the top reviewed games since you’re bound to find a personal favourite. Personally, I loved playing Gourmet, a comedy by Chad Barb and Aaron Reed where you’re the owner of a restaurant anticipating a visit from a famous restaurant critic, on a night where everything seems to be going comedically wrong. Another favourite is The Edifice by Lucian Smith, a game that takes you back to prehistoric times and presents three puzzles related to human evolution, including a really interesting language puzzle.
Whatever length, storyline or genre you prefer, you’re bound to stumble upon a game that keeps you playing until the very end.
Introducing Beth Deer, Part 2
By Beth Deer
My mind was racing. We were going to England for three weeks and returning with exactly two weeks to find a place that was pet friendly. We had to sell a lot of our junk in Lethbridge as I knew moving to a bigger city we were going to have to downsize massively. We still needed to pack our entire house. On top of that, my first day was on June 3 in Toronto. We would be moving into a new place on June 1. I started packing up rooms and rarely used items in my house that evening. I made a few phone calls to rental properties while sitting at the airport the next day. No luck.
We arrived back from the UK on May 17th and drove straight to Lethbridge, picking up our pet dog and cat on the way. Patronus had come to England and the poor guy was suffering a little from doggy jet lag. Seriously, it’s a thing. We took that evening to unwind and make a packing up the house plan.
We had officially arrived in Edmonton around noon and signed our lease. We were waiting for some family and friends to arrive to help us unload. I thought it would be a good idea to grab the first couple of things that we had crammed in the back of the truck in Lethbridge. We did this and placed most of it on the grass in front of our house. My boyfriend was moving his car and I was inside when some guy walked up the path to the house. “Excuse me, some lady just let her dog pee all over your stuff.” We hadn’t even been here 15 minutes. Welcome to Edmonton! Don’t worry though, it’s been all uphill from then on. But talk about a welcome gift from the neighbours.
That weekend flew by and before I knew it I was sat at a restaurant in the Edmonton airport awaiting my flight to Toronto. And of course, my flight was delayed by two hours. I would usually be frustrated by that but it was nice. It was the first two hours I’d had to collect my thoughts in what seemed like two months.
The next day I got a taxi from my hotel to the AMI office in Toronto. It was so refreshing meeting everyone in person after emailing back and forth since finding out I got the job. I had a packed schedule for the week with a lot of fun but useful stuff planned and I couldn’t wait. Integrated Described Video training, meetings with different people, learning my job and lots of really interesting things.
After a fun but exhausting week I arrived back to Edmonton late Friday night. The Edmonton team were in the middle of filming a documentary with Mary Mammoliti. I went to one of their shoots Sunday and another that week too but you’ll have to check out My Taste of the Prairies blog post to hear about that.
All in all, I have been loving my time with AMI. I never knew there was so much that went on behind the scenes of, well I guess, a scene. If you catch my drift. I’ve been learning a lot about production, script writing but most of all myself. My entire life I have had no clue of what interested me for a career. That was until my dream job came along without me even knowing it. I’ve always known I wanted to reach out, speak to and connect with people. I now get to do all of those things in a community that I love. How lucky AMI?!
Watch Beth on AMI This Week, Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv. Watch full episodes and seasons of AMI This Week on demand at AMI.ca or on the AMI-tv App.
Introducing Beth Deer, Part 1
By Beth Deer
Hi! I’m Beth Deer, the new Bureau Reporter for AMI’s Edmonton team. You will be seeing me soon on AMI This Week. Now that I have introduced myself, let me tell you a little bit about me.
I am 21, 5-foot-2, with dark blue eyes, an English accent and I have the cutest black Labrador for a guide dog named Patronus. If you’re listening to this with a screen reader, it’s pronounced “pah-trone-us.” Harry Potter fans will know. It also means "protector" in Latin. I moved to Canada in March of 2017 to live with my boyfriend. We had met the summer before in Mexico as we were both on family holidays. I was there with my mum, dad and younger sister, Molly.
My family comes from a small town in England called Crowborough. Barely anyone in England has heard of Crowborough, but nearly everyone has heard of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and my favourite, Winnie the Pooh. I grew up in the town where the writer of Sherlock Holmes lived and is Winnie the Pooh’s home, 100 Acre Woods. This is a real place called Ashdown Forest. Or as I call it, home.
If you hadn’t already guessed from me having a guide dog, I’m blind. I have always been visually impaired, but I lost my sight after a surgery at the age of 15. It’s still undetermined as to whether it was the surgery that caused it or if this would have happened to me anyway. Not much is known about the several conditions I have when they are combined. I like to think it would have happened anyway, so I try not to blame anyone. I’m a big believer in this happened to me because I’m strong enough to deal with it. Six months after losing my sight, I ended up going to a specialist school for the blind. This meant moving away from my family and friends. As much as it was hard, it was the best thing I could have done for my sight loss. I was surrounded with people who understood and didn’t make me feel different. We like to call it “The Braille Jail.” It wasn’t a jail; it was just a school for blind kids but that always makes me laugh. Circumstances are made a lot harder if you can’t add humour to them.
Fast forward three years, and at 18 years old I moved to Canada. Lethbridge, Alberta, to be exact. We lived there for just over two years. During those years I was unable to work since I was on a visitor visa. I had to apply for permanent residency (PR) and wait for it to be approved. I was in Canada for 23 months and five days before I finally had the same rights as a Canadian, except for voting. So, when I got my PR on March 5th, 2019, I went straight to the CNIB’s website. I wanted to find information on what blind people were entitled to in Canada. There, I came across an Employment Skills Bootcamp they were going to be running at the end of March in Calgary. I jumped at the chance and signed up.
Before I knew it, Patronus and I were off to Calgary on the Red Arrow coach. I was not too sure what to expect but was excited to meet some new people. That night, we were picked up from the bus station and settled into our hotel rooms. The next day, we met everyone and had a chat about what the week ahead would have to offer. Everyone kept talking about a TV channel called AMI. They filmed some of our sessions as well as an evening event where we all went bowling. Some of the participants and staff at the CNIB did interviews with AMI. After my interview, I ended up chatting with Rebecca who is one of the producers at AMI. She told me about a job posting for a new Bureau Reporter they had going at the Edmonton office. Even though I lived in Lethbridge (a five-hour drive from Edmonton) she said I should think about applying. So that was that — I applied before I left the bootcamp in Calgary. CNIB helped me put my resumé together as I had only ever had an English one from back home. They are done very differently, which was surprising to me.
I heard from AMI’s human resources team later that day and started the interview process the next week. I was so excited because when I had applied for my PR I didn’t even think I would have it by this time let alone be applying for a job. I had my interview within a week or two of the conversation I had with Rebecca. I felt like it went well, but I was eager to find out more as I was leaving for England to see my family at the end of April. Thankfully, I heard from AMI the day before my trip telling me I had the job! Woohoo! I was so excited. We agreed that I would start at the beginning of June.
I found my boyfriend and told him we would be moving to Edmonton. About an hour later we were outside on our deck having a celebratory drink. I looked at him and said, “What have I done?”
Grant’s Postcards from the Okanagan
By Grant Hardy
AMI’s Postcards specials are unique and interesting depictions of a region—whether it be Newfoundland, Quebec or the Yukon. While it’s an ongoing series, I haven’t had the opportunity to work on one since joining the Vancouver team full-time. So when I had the chance to travel to the Okanagan to host a one-hour Postcards special with Marco Pasqua, I was excited.
The Okanagan, located in B.C.’s interior, holds many great memories for me as I’ve visited there for pleasure. It’s also a highly unique place to travel to, known for friendly people, good local fruits and wines, and plenty to do. And there’s no better travel companion and co-host than accessibility advocate Marco Pasqua, whose openness and enthusiasm was contagious.
Postcards from the Okanagan debuts Friday, August 23, at 7 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv, but if you can’t wait to learn why you should book your own trip to the Okanagan ASAP, stay tuned for some highlights below.
Our schedule, and hence our special, was jam-packed with interesting activities. Our first morning was spent riding a duet bike on the Myra Canyon Trail, a decommissioned railroad turned into a hiking and biking trail complete with tunnels and trestle railroad bridges. The object was to learn about People In Motion, an organization that, among other things, provides adaptive recreational opportunities for people in the disability community. Said duet bike has a similar concept to a tandem bike, except that only one person pedals and steers. In our case, Marco sat up front and gave me turn-by-turn directions while I provided the pedaling and steering power. Despite some initial bumpiness getting going, it was an exhilarating experience. I love biking and don’t get the opportunity to do it often, especially being actively involved in the steering and breaking. The trail itself was neat—I’m told the view was beautiful, but the trestles and tunnels were also interesting acoustically. I’m also impressed with People In Motion and the opportunities they provide. The stability of the duet bike makes it feasible for biking newbies or those with balancing issues. And the fact that individuals who can’t pedal can still enjoy the experience of riding a bike is spectacular.
Diving in the opposite direction entirely, another highlight was Frequency Winery in Kelowna, which combines wine with music. Their facility offers a free studio complete with drum kit and mixing board, where artists can jam and record music, podcasts and shows. The studio is filled with bottles of wine, and in return for getting free access to the studio, it is said that the vibrations from the audio enrich the wines with good vibes. For example, a certain variety of wine is only infused with the sounds of love songs. I can’t say I played any of those. But I will say I rocked out on the drum kit, while Marco jammed along with a musical synthesizer app. We had a blast, learned a lot, and who knows—maybe Marco and I left our musical mark on the wine.
The Kangaroo Creek Farm is another unique destination we visited. Located in Lake Country, I first learned about the farm last summer on vacation, and was happy to return there to share the story with our audience. It’s not a zoo; animals on the farm don’t perform tricks for guests, and aren’t caged. However, there is opportunity for guests to interact with animals on everyone’s terms. Animals included kangaroos, wallabies, birds, capybaras (a kind of large rodent) and more. The owners’ passion for the animals was great. I was also impressed with their efforts to make the farm accessible. For example, they are willing to arrange an encounter between a blind/partially sighted guest and a baby kangaroo whereby you get to hold the joey as I did. This was an incredible experience that is hard to describe.
Lots of other highlights stand out. We learned about the mysterious Ogopogo—a mythical lake monster that’s said to inhabit Okanagan Lake—and an accessible tour company that named their business after it: Ogopogo Tours. They provide a wheelchair-accessible tour bus, a neat motorbike with sidecar in which one can go for a tour, and accessible scenic and wine tours. We learned about the art and science behind making delicious cider at Creek & Gully Cider in Penticton—and the story of how this family-owned business got started. We explored the history of the Osoyoos indigenous people by visiting the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre where we experienced, among other things, an underground Pit-House: a sustainable structure that provides warmth and shelter in the winter.
I’ve only scratched the surface here. If you go to the Okanagan and do only one-tenth of what you planned to do, you’ll still have a blast—just like Marco and I did. I can’t wait for you to watch our special.
Postcards from the Okanagan debuts Friday, August 23, at 7 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv.
My Taste of the Prairies
By Bethany Deer
Recently, I arrived back in Edmonton on a Friday from my training in Toronto after an exhausting but all the same exciting first week in my new position with AMI. I was aware that my new team was in the middle of shooting a documentary named A Taste of the Prairies, with the partially-sighted Toronto chef Mary Mammoliti.
On the Sunday of that weekend, I was headed to my first-ever film shoot. I arrived at the beautiful Stonepost Farms with our producer, videographer and my guide dog, Patronus. We were initially greeted by two very friendly dogs. One was a Great Pyrenees and the other was the same as Patronus, a black Labrador. We then met the owners of the farm, John and Becky, while also meeting Mary and her husband Frank for the first time. John and Becky were both amazing throughout the day, so hospitable and bending over backwards to help out the crew in any way they could.
Once all the introductions were out of the way, us ladies freshened up before we got into the swing of things. Farmer Becky’s sweet daughter, Cadence, stood in their kitchen waiting for the last of us to finish up. I asked if she had any questions about my dog. Her immediate response was, “Why is your dog allowed in the house?” I explained that he was a guide dog and made sure I didn’t walk into things. Then I realized it wasn’t the fact he was a guide dog she was interested in, she was just intrigued to see a dog in the house in the first place. This was so interesting to me. Just a quick disclaimer, I’m from England where we don’t really have farm dogs, so a dog not being allowed in the house was strange to me. This really was my first taste of the prairies and the closest I have ever come to being on a farm. I was ready to start shooting and learning more about Stonepost.
We had lots of exciting things planned for Mary to try that day. Collecting honey from bees, eggs from chickens and, of course, making Stonepost’s amazing sausage. We headed off to Mary’s first farming duty of the day, planting some kohlrabi. John and Becky explained to us how they grow most of their vegetables. They also shared a little of what they do differently to make their harvest extra tasty. After that, we moved along to the bee hives, which were nestled away behind some trees. Mary and the crew got dressed in bee suits and dove right into the swarm, collecting fresh honey and some honey comb. The honey was incredible, but the comb wasn’t like anything you would be given as part of a dessert, very chewy and almost flavourless.
Next, we moved on to some egg picking, where Mary was brave enough to hold a chicken. Some of the chickens were inside the barn and others out. Patronus was terrified of them but that was nothing compared to when he saw the massive bull that roamed around outside the chicken barn.
Mary was such a trouper and did everything she was asked to do no matter how uncomfortable. Once she had picked some eggs Mary got started with scooping some cow dung. I have to say I was very impressed with her poop scooping skills.
Mary's last task was to fill some sausage casings with Stonepost ground meat. To begin, Becky had all of the spices in little pots ready for Mary to mix with the meat. Once combined, Mary was able to squish the mixture into the sausage maker which filled the casing to make the sausage.
After a long day of shooting at Stonepost, everyone was ready to go home to leave the farm and farmers in peace. This was my first shoot, and I could not have asked for a better one. The crew and the farmers were so lovely and I learned so much about what goes on behind the scenes when filming a documentary.
The fun wasn’t over yet though. I was lucky enough to accompany the crew to Gruger Family Fungi and Rig Hand Craft Distillery. Both were in the town of Nisku, just outside of Edmonton. Gruger Family Fungi is a mushroom farm that supplies organic fungi to Albertans who are looking for a tasty vegan or vegetarian option. Rig Hand Craft Distillery is just down the street, making wonderful cream liquor, their very own brum and a variety of vodka and gin.
Gruger Family Fungi welcomed us at 8 a.m. and gave us a little tour so our cameramen could decide on the best spots to shoot. One of the owners, Rachel, introduced me to some mushroom creams. I know, mushroom creams? It's a real thing and some people swear by them! Lion’s Mane is one of their best sellers and it is meant to be brain food. I couldn’t get my head around all of the amazing things mushrooms are capable of doing. Seeing as there wasn’t "mushroom" left in my brain for any more mushroom knowledge, I took a step back while the team started shooting. Rachel showed us what they use to grow the mushrooms and then took us to the growing room. It was filled with bags of mulch hanging from the ceiling that the mushrooms grew out of. Mary was allowed to pick some, which I think everyone was very excited about because these aren’t normal mushrooms. These were red and yellow, so cool! I can’t wait for all of you to hear more about the process because, I’ll be honest, I never knew fungi could be so fun.
Next, we moved on to Rig Hand Craft Distillery where Mary did some bottling. When we first got there, we went to the tasting room. It is a bar inside the building where people can take a tour and sample different inventory. Here we met Mike, the general manager at Rig Hand. Mary got to taste some of their own gin, cream liquor and brum. Once taste testing was over, we watched the bottling process. After each bottle is sterilized and filled, they dip the top in a slow cooker of hot wax to give it a very creative look. This brought us to the end of another long day of filming.
I had a great time learning from Mary, the crew and our business participants. My first two shoot days were a massive success and I cannot wait to continue my adventure as AMI’s new Edmonton Bureau Reporter.
Watch A Taste of the Prairies on Friday, August 2, at 7 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv.
AMI This Week: Upcoming On The Road trips
By Grant Hardy
One of my favourite parts of AMI This Week is when we have the opportunity to take our show on the road, exploring all that this wonderful country has to offer beyond metro Vancouver.
Earlier this spring, we visited beautiful Tofino, B.C., a picturesque destination with friendly people, beautiful beaches and plenty of Canadian culture. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out the July 8 episode of AMI This Week, I hope you’ll join Victoria and I as we explore the region together. Highlights include co-host Victoria Nolan’s accessible surfing lesson, where she does an incredible job picking up the nuts and bolts of surfing while I wait wistfully ashore with her lovely dog, Alan. They also include a tour of the fascinating Kwisitis Visitor Centre, where I learn how to distinguish subtle differences between animal tracks from dogs, wolves and cougars; and the Shorepine Bog Trail, an accessible hike on a level boardwalk that rests on the surface of a bog, where we learn more about this fascinating and delicate ecosystem. It was truly a treat exploring the region with Victoria and spending time with her. She is both a wonderful advocate for accessibility, and a heck of a lot of fun to co-host AMI This Week with. And the incredibly even-tempered Alan was the best production assistant ever.
Later this summer, you’ll be able to catch a couple of other pieces we filmed for AMI This Week while on the road. The first is an accessible rowboat invented by prolific inventor John Pimlott, based out of Nanaimo, B.C. I’ve met John in person more than once and he’s an absolutely incredible guy. His appetite for making water sports accessible for people with disabilities is insatiable. John’s latest invention is a rowboat that is incredibly stable for everyone but includes an attachable electric assist motor that can assist rowers with disabilities. For example, if you’re only able to row with the use of one arm, the electric assist motor can compensate by providing power on the other side of the boat. We interviewed a gentleman with multiple sclerosis who benefits from John’s boat, including, occasionally, the electric assist feature. I also got the opportunity to give the boat a try myself. Although I didn’t use the electric assist feature, I took directions from John via cell phone on the beautiful, calm lake near his home. The experience was very freeing, and I’d definitely love to try my hands at rowing again—literally.
Our other story, Soldier On, is an accessible recreation program for veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces who have PTSD or other disabilities. We joined them for interviews as well as an accessible yoga session followed by an intense afternoon of kayaking and hiking. What this group has accomplished is amazing, and I can’t wait to see how this story molds into an upcoming AMI This Week segment.
Every story we do on AMI This Week is both interesting unique. But I think our latest on the road segments are especially interesting. Be sure to tune in.
Touch Tour at the Art Gallery of Hamilton
By Andrea Hodgins
Tour guide/docent Marilyn Hollick describes the tour as "... a visual intimacy with art. By adding one more thing, touch, it’s one more way of describing art.” Marilyn says that by using the five elements of design—colour, line, texture, shape, form and touch—every guest can describe the art pieces in detail by the end of the tour.
Currently, only a few pieces are on the Touch Tour, and all are by Canadian artists. The bronze statue called “Woman Holding Skein,” by Elizabeth Wyn Wood, is a permanent piece at the gallery. The other exhibit on the tour is from the gallery’s first artist in residence, Reinhard Reitzenstein, who will be working at the gallery until early 2020.
Alex donned white touch tour gloves and went through each of the five elements of design with Marilyn on “Woman Holding Skein.” Marilyn has added touch when discussing texture, inviting visitors to compare skeins of real yarn to the yarn featured on the bronze bust. For a limited time, guests may take home a bookmark, created by Marilyn, with the five elements of design printed on it.
One of Reitzenstein's works in progress is a cut-up tree, which will eventually hang in the air and, with the touch tour in mind, will have felt added. Four bronze sculptures are presently part of the touch tour in the Reitzenstein exhibit, entitled “The Allegorical Minimalist.” At first, the pieces look like bare branches from a tree, but upon further inspection are actually sculptures made from bronze.
Visitors can learn more about Reitzenstein and his theme on one of the gallery's pillars. In black writing on a white background, allegorical minimalism is defined as “a paradoxical synthesis of the material and natural world, challenging the perceptions of the spectator (as critic) while denying not only a fixed interpretation, but the very possibility of interpretation itself.” If that definition is hard to interpret, so are his pieces. The description continues: “As an allegorical minimalist, Reitzenstein distills and combines forms to create works of art containing contradictory elements that unsettle the perceptions of the viewer. This process-oriented viewing experience frustrates reason and instead encourages the use of one’s intuition in the productions of meaning.”
The Touch Tours are located on the second floor of the gallery, surrounded by Hamilton designer Milli Gould’s fashion exhibit and the famous Kim Adams: Bruegel-Bosch Bus. Touch Tours can be booked from Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information about booking tours call 1 (905) 527-6610 extension 272.
Grant’s Sea School Experience (Part 2)
By Grant Hardy
If you read Part 1 of my Sea School: Marine Science Camp experience, then you’ll know that the Vancouver team produced a half-hour documentary on a unique marine science camp held for blind and partially-sighted high school students on Vancouver Island.
With a camp as packed as this was with activities, I think everybody’s takeaway was different. For some, it was seeing grey whales up close for the first time. For others, it was being away from their homes and families in a new environment.
As someone who is passionate about the environment, my biggest takeaway was how delicate the ocean ecosystem is, and how much damage we as humans are causing to that ecosystem and, in turn, to ourselves. Whenever we visited a beach, we were instructed to leave it the way we found it—touch things carefully, but put everything back undisturbed, including rocks. Tempting as it is to find a nice smooth stone and hang onto it, it could be the shelter for a small animal.
But a lot of damage has already been done to the ocean ecosystem, primarily due to our insatiable appetite for plastics. Of course, plastic is a very versatile material and has many legitimate uses for health, safety, education and more. But as more than one Bamfield interpreter explained, the problem is our reckless use of single-use plastics, which make their way into our oceans and cause damage in a number of ways. Sea creatures can sometimes get entangled in them; but most worryingly, microplastics are often mistaken as food. These tiny plastics, and the toxic chemicals they contain, are devoured by small animals which causes the toxicity to work its way up through the food chain, through larger and larger predators, and eventually to us. I recall hearing that studies of sea birds have often found a significant portion of their body mass to be composed of plastic. On the news recently, I heard a tragic story of a sperm whale who washed up on a beach, with a stomach full of plastic.
This situation is terrible for the health of our ocean ecosystem, as well as our own health. I think many of us are aware that plastic isn’t great for the environment, but we figure that as long as we recycle our plastic, things will be fine. In reality, recycling alone won’t solve the problem, due largely to the energy inefficiency of recycling and the fact that many items never get recycled.
I, of course, can’t say I’ve given up all plastic, but I try to avoid single-use plastics like straws and plastic bags. Only by cutting back on our plastic appetite, and cleaning up the mess we’ve already made, can prevent the end of our ocean ecosystem as we know it.
Of course, raising awareness about these issues is why programs like the Bamfield Marine Science Camp are important to extend the reach of science to everyone. Along those lines, check out Sea School: Marine Science Camp on AMI.ca and the AMI-tv App to learn more about this fascinating camp.
Grant’s Sea School Experience (Part 1)
By Grant Hardy
Our Vancouver team is currently busy working on a special called Sea School: Marine Science Camp, about a unique week-long camp at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island where eight blind and partially-sighted high school students were immersed in the world of marine biology. This included whale watching, hands-on explorations on beaches and in wet labs, a beach cleanup, a rain forest walk and lectures from experts.
You can watch the special on May 24, but if you can’t wait to dive in (sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ll be sharing some behind-the-scenes perspective before it airs.
For me personally, this was a neat experience. I’ve always been passionate about the environment and am definitely interested in the ocean and how important—and fragile—it is. So having the opportunity to explore lovely, sandy beaches, interact with some of the sea creatures who call the ocean home, and learn about the perils they face, was great. It’s one thing to stick your hand into a tank at an aquarium and feel a sea cucumber, one who is used to being handled. It’s another thing to touch a sea cucumber on a sandy beach, have it curl up and start shooting water out of its end as a defence mechanism; or to find myself with a crab attached lovingly to my finger with its tiny pincers. All the while, knowledgeable staff are there to provide info about the beaches and the animals. And the beaches were less busy than the touristy ones found in metro Vancouver, so they were easier to explore independently.
As mentioned, we also did some whale watching. I loved being out on the boat, and it was great to see everyone’s excitement upon seeing the whales. But as one of only two totally blind participants, I would have loved for a more sensory whale watching experience. The organizers mentioned going on whale watching tours in Mexico where they were allowed to physically reach out and touch the whales. Realistically, I could only hear the small sound of water shooting out of the whales’ blowholes, which sounded like distant waves. But the description from others at least gave me an idea of what was happening.
Meeting the students, learning about their motivations for attending, and seeing them grow throughout the week, was really interesting as well. One blind student was used to having most things done for her by the adults around her but began to gain confidence and independence throughout the week. Another student plans on becoming a marine biologist herself, and totally immersed herself into the academics. While there were a couple “big city” folks like me, I found that most of the students came from smaller communities in B.C. In many cases, services for these students are much scarcer, so experiences like Marine Science Camp are more critical than ever. Even in the big cities, visual and attitudinal barriers make science in school less accessible than it should be. Yet access to science is critical in this time of increased environmental sensitivity. It’s also needed for almost all of the jobs these students will be applying to.
Speaking of the environment, stay tuned to the AMI This Week Blog for Part 2 of this reflection, where I’ll talk about the environmental lessons I took away from Marine Science Week.
Sea School: Marine Science Camp airs Friday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m. ET on AMI-tv.
March of Progress: Assistive technology updates for March 2019
By Grant Hardy
A Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures
The last couple of years have seen the proliferation of apps and services that want to describe the world to us. Microsoft’s excellent Seeing AI app for iOS, for example, uses artificial intelligence to describe faces and facial expressions, objects, text, and even handwriting that it sees in photos. This app has recently gained support for the iPad. It has also been enhanced with support for photo exploration by touch. Selecting the “explore photo” button wherever it’s available, such as the scene channel, enters a mode where you can slide your finger around the touch screen to examine the relationships of objects to one another in the photo. You’ll hear soft music when you’re touching a place on the screen where Seeing AI doesn’t detect anything. But when you put your finger over a person, object or text, you’ll hear a “ding” sound followed by a description of the object you’re touching. For example, you might hear “30-year-old woman with brown hair looking neutral.”
In this way, you can gain some sense of where objects are positioned, such as whether everyone is standing side-by-side or if two people are standing in front of a car. Truth be told, it still doesn’t replace a human describer, and if you have an organized photo library with clear descriptions of each photo, you’ll greatly enhance your experience maintaining your photo collection. But this is still a neat application of artificial intelligence, and an evolution of a great app that can describe a surprising amount of content with no sighted assistance required.
This month, another player has entered this space: JAWS, the popular screen reader for Windows. With their latest Picture Smart feature included with the March 2019 update for JAWS, customers can submit photos that they’d like described. JAWS will submit these to many of the major third-party players, like Microsoft and Google, to give you the best description possible. It can also recognize objects, text, landmarks, landscape details and text.
While this feature isn’t unique, it will be great because of its availability. Its integration with JAWS means you’ll be able to recognize just about anything—controls in inaccessible apps, images you find on web pages, and even the contents of the clipboard. In fact, JAWS creates a special Picture Smart folder within your Pictures folder. Copy any photo to this folder, and it’s automatically submitted for analysis.
The following hotkeys are available when using this feature. They all begin with the JAWSKey+SPACEBAR followed by P, for “picture”:
• A: acquire an image from a scanner
• C: describe the image associated with the current control, like an image on a webpage or in an Email message.
• F: describe the photo you’re focussed on in File Explorer.
• B: describe the image on the clipboard.
• Question mark: get help with these keystrokes.
Results are shown in the JAWS Results Viewer, which you can navigate using standard navigation commands including arrow keys. When you’re done reviewing the description, press ESCAPE to close the window.
We’re probably years away from our computers behaving like little humans, dutifully describing every detail of our photos with the accuracy of a sighted assistant. But you can still get some pretty accurate photo descriptions using these services. If nothing else, you should be able to tell whether you’re posting the cute nature shot you took to social media, or the scanned copy of your ID card. That’s a big deal!
Grant Hardy gives Powerchair Soccer a try
By Grant Hardy
Recently, I took part in a story for AMI This Week about the Vancouver Power Soccer team. Power soccer is a bit like mainstream soccer, only you kick, block, and otherwise interact with the ball using a special power wheelchair.
I was struck by how dedicated, diverse and talented this team is. And, with a leap of faith, the coach and the organizers let me try something I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do: drive the powerchair. Normally, my experience with sports involves sitting on the sidelines and cheering from afar, so it was really interesting to get a hands-on experience that I don’t normally have.
A powerchair operates a little like a videogame. You have a joystick that can go in all directions, and by applying whatever amount of pressure you want to the joystick, you can opt to barely move at all or to zoom down the court at a breakneck pace. This was a lesson I quickly learned, as I covered the gymnasium in seconds, heading towards our videographer at an alarming pace. Slow and subtle movements with the chair are perfect for sending the ball in the exact direction you want it to go. Zooming down the court as fast as you can go is an incredibly exhilarating feeling. Hitting the ball with the chair is also fun. In my case, the coach lined me up, so I did it in a very controlled manner, but professional powerchair soccer players have to use that same joystick to operate their chair and mobilize around the court, plus send the ball where they want it to go.
I was left with a sense of gratitude for the coach and organizers, who let me try something unique and interesting that I wouldn’t normally get to do. And I’m intrigued by the sport of Powerchair Soccer, which is fast-paced and interesting.
If you’re keen to learn more, keep an eye—or an ear—on AMI This Week for our upcoming piece on Powerchair Soccer.
Alex Smyth encourages an AMI adventure in Edmonton
By Alex Smyth
Twenty months ago, I began my journey with AMI and accepted the position of Bureau Reporter (then called Broadcast Presenter) with the Edmonton team. It was a big leap for me as I had always lived in Ontario and hadn’t even visited Alberta before my move.
I can easily say that it was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I was able to step into a position that opened a world of opportunities for me, and I joined an amazing team that offered lasting support during my entire stay in Edmonton.
Not only is the team fantastic, but in the role of reporter, I was able to try some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I panned for gold in the North Saskatchewan River, interviewed hockey legend Lanny MacDonald at centre ice in the Saddledome, interviewed Grammy-winning musicians, met gold-winning Canadian Paralympians, drove an autonomous vehicle, covered the Canada Deaf Games, and so much more. There is the freedom to travel outside the city to film segments for both AMI This Week and original documentaries. I was also fortunate to visit Northern Alberta, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ontario, Quebec and many more places covering stories for AMI.
However, the best part of the job is being able to share the stories of the community we serve and learn about the amazing work people are doing to improve the lives of others. These have been the stories that leave the biggest impact. I still vividly remember meeting young Zach Abdalla, Calgary’s Honorary Sight Night Chair. There was Super Fly, a clothing line designed for people with mobility issues, which started because the founder saw her husband struggle to dress himself and wanted to do something about it. I visited The Lending Cupboard, a non-profit organization that rents medical equipment for people who needed it, because medical costs can be so high.
These are only a small sample size of the stories I covered in my role, and you could have the opportunity to do the same.
I recently accepted the open position in Toronto and have taken the opportunity to continue to share amazing stories back in my home town. It was bittersweet to accept the position as I was excited for the chance to work in Toronto, but sad to say goodbye to my amazing team in Edmonton.
I am so happy, however, to share the opportunity to work in Edmonton for another lucky person because the city is fantastic, with so many kind and friendly people, as well as an amazing group that feels more like a family than work colleagues.
As a Bureau Reporter, you play a major role in the production of television segments for AMI by participating in research, conducting interviews, hosting documentaries, and being the face of the bureau. The job is a truly rewarding experience as you share stories from the disability community that will help inform, inspire and entertain audiences.
Working in Edmonton, you become part of a small but amazing group of people. The four-member team works closely together, and you couldn’t ask for better people to spend your time with.
If you want a career that allows you to travel throughout the country and beyond, participate in amazing experiences, meet interesting people and share their stories, the Bureau Reporter position in Edmonton may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Jobs in television are extremely competitive, so the chance to join a fantastic team in a rewarding career is an opportunity you can’t miss.
To learn more about the Edmonton Bureau position, go to the Careers page and follow the instructions to apply.
Grant Hardy: Blindfolds
By Grant Hardy
Recently my colleague Dave Brown wrote a post on the Bird Box Challenge, discussing the bizarre series of videos where sighted people try to carry out activities blindfolded. I’d like to offer my own perspective on the issue, since blindfolds are routinely used in education, fundraising and for entertainment.
In the midst of learning about the eye in my Grade 8 science class, our teacher asked to borrow my cane so she could blindfold the class and give them a taste of what walking around without sight was like. Happy to be in the spotlight, I handed it over and the kids spent the next half hour contentedly bumping into the furniture, laughing at themselves and each other, and generally enjoying a rare opportunity away from their desks.
Though, at the time, the activity seemed harmless, looking back on it now, years later, I wish I had questioned it. I have to wonder what message my class gained from this activity. While I’m not personally offended by sighted people blindfolding themselves, my concern is that it perpetuates harmful stereotypes about blindness.
Many people who have had similar experiences talk about how panicked, disoriented, and even sad they felt losing their sight for a few moments, and how relieved they were to get it back. Yet this is not at all the experience that a normal blind person has on a daily basis. The reasons are simple: skills and familiarity. Sighted people who blindfold themselves lack the skills to travel with a cane, recognize people by their voices, use technology without seeing it, and carry out other everyday activities. But someone who has been blind all of his or her life knows how to do all these things. And because they’ve been practicing for years and years, they have experience that blindfold-wearers don’t. More importantly, a blind person with the right skills and opportunity can live a normal, happy life. While blindness presents some inconveniences, it doesn’t define who you are. It’s not all-consuming, and a “professional” blind person doesn’t have the same panic, sadness, or cluelessness that a blindfolded sighted person does.
I think there are legitimate reasons to wear blindfolds and practice non-visual techniques, mainly for people working in the field. Instructors who teach cane and guide dog skills need to do this to become familiar with the techniques they teach. But in most cases, a better way is simply to get to know folks who can’t see. Instead of blindfolding the class, invite a blind student to speak to the class and answer questions. I have done this through opportunities such as the Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador Program, and I believe it’s a worthwhile experience for everyone. Kids usually ask lots of great questions, and are really engaged in the conversation. They learn that there are challenges, but that I’m still a normal person and can still lead a happy life. At the end of the day, I think that’s a more worthwhile message than letting a class of eighth graders loose with a cane for a half-hour.
Grant Hardy on No Vacancy: Vancouver’s Housing Crisis
By Grant Hardy
If you’ve ever experienced an essential appliance failure, a water leak, a power outage, or any other temporary inconvenience at home, then you know how awful it feels when your sanctuary doesn’t work or feel as it should.
Now multiply that feeling by imagining your home isn’t accessible, you know your home is temporary, or you lack a home at all. No Vacancy: Vancouver’s Housing Crisis explores the housing crisis in our beautiful city from the perspective of some of the most vulnerable people in the region.
While working on this documentary, one thing that has become fascinating is the precarious position tenants have in the rental market. For starters, there’s the fact that we don’t, in fact, have the right to a home. Of course, most people do have homes—but despite the rights we do have in today’s society, housing isn’t one of them. Ironically, our laws surrounding rental control can be just as detrimental to tenants. Since landlords can charge new tenants exponentially more rent than existing tenants, it means there is an economic advantage to evict loyal, existing tenants. While they cannot do this directly without cause, many landlords try to do so with the pretext of needing to renovate the suite. This practice, known as renoviction, sometimes results in small, cosmetic changes to the suite. Meanwhile, the landlord can prepare to rent to a new tenant—at a higher rate. Luckily, there are advocates out there, and we hear from an incredible lawyer who has spent her career dedicated to poverty law, including helping tenants facing eviction.
It was humbling to see how many people were willing to open up to us about their most private struggles. In one case, Ria, a single mom struggling to find an accessible unit for herself and her daughter who uses a wheelchair, agreed to open up to us despite her discomfort because she knew it was such an important topic. Johnny, a vulnerable tenant living in a poorly maintained suite in Richmond, B.C., revealed the deficiencies in his home to demonstrate how powerless many renters feel. Heather, a senior who traded pet sitting for shelter after losing her home to a fire, relived her story for us with the dog she was looking after close by for emotional support. Her story proves how vulnerable we all are to sudden changes in our living situations. In every case, our interviewees’ openness and earnestness are the foundation of our documentary.
Despite blaming the housing crisis on popular scapegoats like foreign ownership, it’s often our own attitudes and resistance to inevitable change which lead to a lack of affordable housing. Change is tough, especially when building accessible, affordable housing means months of construction, or re-zoning and restructuring one’s neighbourhood. Yet the alternative is abandoning the diverse city that Vancouver is, which would be very unfortunate.
There’s something in No Vacancy: Vancouver's Housing Crisis for everyone, and no matter what your housing requirements or current housing situation is, you’ll learn something from this one-hour special.
Stream No Vacancy: Vancouver's Housing Crisis on AMI.ca or the free AMI-tv App.
Grant Hardy's Dot Watch Review
The Dot Watch is an impressive Braille smart watch designed for blind users and features four Braille cells on its face. These offer privacy as you check the time down to the second, review notifications from your smartphone and access other watch functions like timers, alarms and a stopwatch. You can use the watch on its own as a basic Braille timepiece, but you’ll get the most out of the Dot Watch if you pair it with your smartphone. You can do so using the free Dot Watch smartphone app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play store.
Look, feel and usage
I wouldn’t normally delve into packaging, but in the case of the Dot Watch I was particularly impressed. Firstly, the box is compact and durable, so you can save it in case you need to store or service the watch. Markings such as the product name and logos were included in Braille on the packaging. And Braille materials in the packaging include tactile diagrams of the Dot Watch and even a primer on the Braille symbols, if you want to study up. The smartphone app also includes a guided tutorial, and the company provides an online manual and FAQ pages to help get you up to speed with the Dot Watch.
The watch comes with a metallic band that’s easy to attach with a magnet. On its face, the four Braille cells are in the centre and there’s a raised lip around the perimeter. I’d want to treat this watch fairly carefully, but I imagine the lip could save the Braille cells in the event of a fall or hard bump.
It’s surprising how much information can be crammed into just four cells of Braille. For example, the time is displayed using two digits for the hour and two for the minute. A second view shows two digits for the seconds, plus A.M. or P.M.
Below the second and third Braille cells there are tiny touch sensors. When tapped with your finger, these advance the Braille display forwards or backwards through content. Once you become used to reading on the Dot Watch, you can enter a mode where the display scrolls automatically at your preferred reading speed so you don’t have to use the touch sensors at all.
There are three controls on the right side of the watch. The select button, located towards the back of the watch, toggles between displaying the time in hours and minutes, seconds, and the current date. And when using a menu or function, it acts like an enter key. The digital crown is a wheel that’s used for scrolling through menus and, where appropriate, setting hours and minutes.
To set a timer, for example, you’d first press the select button to wake up the watch. Then you’d use the crown to scroll to the timer function in the main menu—abbreviated as “timr”—and press select. Finally, you’d use the crown to set how long you want the timer to run in minutes and seconds, pressing the select button after each. This interface is surprisingly simple and should be very easy to learn.
Likewise, to review recent notifications from your smartphone, you’d wake the watch up and scroll to the notifications section, abbreviated as “noti.” Press select to enter the list of notifications. Each is labelled with a number—1, 2, 3 and so on. Scroll through the list and “select” the alert you want to read. You’ll be able to use the Braille display and touch sensors to read the notification.
The final button, called home, puts the braille cells to sleep when you’re done reading to save battery power. The watch will also vibrate to acknowledge alarms and timers, plus an optional hourly alert.
The watch charges through USB and should be able to last for several days.
Advanced Features and Conclusion
The Dot Watch app includes many more features to play with. A Braille study mode lets you send whatever text you want to the Braille display, so if you’re trying to learn Braille, you have a great way of testing your knowledge. A memos function lets you save short snippets of text to the watch’s memory, possibly an account number that you’re trying to give someone over the phone and want a quick way of retrieving. Pressing the home and select buttons at the same time causes an alert to play on your smartphone, so you can locate it by listening. And there are many settings you can adjust to customize how the watch behaves.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the Dot Watch. I’ve wanted to review this product for a long time, and it’s clear the team has really pushed it to the limit. There are obvious constraints with only having four cells of Braille, but the advantage is you can literally take Braille anywhere. Whether you want to check the time under the table at a gathering so you don’t draw attention to yourself, or glance at notifications in a noisy restaurant, the Dot Watch is an interesting product that’s worth a look, or feel.
For more info about the Dot Watch, visit the website.
My Big Alone New York Adventure
By Laura Bain
I had always wanted to go to New York City. Perhaps an odd desire since I don’t care about shopping and am easily overwhelmed by crowds. Still, something about the city called to me. So, when I heard about the 2018 No Barriers Summit New York City it seemed like the perfect reason to go.
I’d learned about No Barriers a few years earlier while randomly Googling “blind adventurer.” I was looking for a role model. I was looking for someone with sight loss who had done the things I wanted to do like travel and have outdoor adventures. One of the first people to come up in my search was Erik Weihenmayer, a blind adventurer who had climbed the highest peak on every continent, written several books, and helped co-found No Barriers, an organization which describes its mission as “to unleash the potential of the human spirit.” Lacking a totally clear picture of what the organization actually does, I felt drawn to it in a similar way I was drawn to the Big Apple.
Attending the two-day summit this past October was the scariest thing I have done in my entire life. Way scarier than my recent skydive. Jumping out of a plane strapped to an instructor, there was no way I could get lost. Not the case in New York City. I had no fears about the city itself. Perhaps only another blind person will understand, but my biggest anxiety was that I would be standing on the sidewalk in front of my hotel, and not be able to find my way inside.
I knew that my fears were somewhat irrational. If I ended up unable to find a building, or an entrance, I could ask one of the hundreds of people on the sidewalk around me for help. After all, this was New York City! Knowing that the regret of missing out is generally worse than the regret of a bad experience, I booked my flight and hotels. I tacked three extra days onto my stay so I could explore the city after the summit.
Feeling like I was exploding with excitement and anxiety, I flew into Newark, New Jersey, where I had arranged to travel in a shuttle van to my hotel in midtown Manhattan. With three New York area airports, thousands of people, and hundreds of shuttles, I couldn’t believe my luck that one of the other shuttle passengers was also attending the No Barriers Summit and staying at my hotel. It was dark and rainy by the time we were dropped off, and I would have likely hidden in my room for the night, but with my new friend (and sighted guide) Krissy from Virginia by my side I was able to venture out.
The first day of the summit consisted of dozens of workshops that participants could choose from. The first workshop I had chosen was called “Dancing for Everybody No BS.” I’ve always found dancing awkward, partly because I can’t see what others around me are doing to follow along, so I thought it would be a good way to step out of my comfort zone. However, standing with the other participants while the instructor demonstrated moves and gave directions like “move your arms like this,” I felt my face burning with embarrassment. I had no idea what “like this” meant. After a few minutes, and in what I felt to be the spirit of the summit, I put my hand up and yelled out, “Excuse me, my name is Laura and I’m visually impaired and I don’t know what you’re doing!” Across the crowd a voice yelled back, “Hey Laura, it’s Erik and the team. Come join us!” That’s right, it was the very man who had inspired this whole trip for me! Together with Erik, and two sighted No Barriers staff, we laughed, struggled to learn the moves, and danced totally out of step with the group.
The remainder of the summit, and my time in New York, unfolded in a similarly serendipitous fashion. The city-wide scavenger hunt on the second day of the summit took me and my five other teammates from Wall Street, to Brooklyn, and to the base of the Empire State Building where our task was to hug the building and take a photo! That day ended with a huge celebration in Central Park, with all of us dancing and wearing our No Barriers T-shirts which were printed with the phrase, “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”
New York City has many options for accessible visitor experiences. I would highly recommend Big Apple Greeter, a non-profit organization that pairs visitors with a “real New Yorker” to show them around the city. There was a space on the visit request form where I could indicate that I am partially sighted and wanted sighted guide from my greeter. My greeter Jo was amazing. She met me at my hotel and together we explored Central Park, Chinatown, Greenwich Village and more. She was an excellent guide and made a point of describing our surroundings and bringing me over to anything I might want to touch, like the iconic concrete steps of a brownstone or the highly-photographed “LOVE” sculpture at the corner of 6th Avenue and W 55th Street.
Speaking of art and touching, I would also recommend booking a “Touch Tour” at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). An experience which is only available to us blind and partially-sighted folks, I was given latex gloves and allowed to touch many of the sculptures. My MOMA guide also described in detail any paintings I was interested in.
My excitement around this trip was so big that I tried to keep my expectations reasonable. I hoped only to walk around a bit, eat something classically New York and feel the energy of the city. By the end of my six-day trip I had walked over 76 kilometres, used up a $20 transit pass, filled up on hot dogs, pizza and overpriced martinis, seen live music, and lazed around Central Park. I’d also made countless friends and met one of my personal heroes.
My take away from this trip, aside from the cheap I “heart” NY tee I bought in Times Square, is to lean into anything that makes me feel like I’m exploding with excitement and anxiety; to not limit myself. My big “alone” trip to New York turned out to be nothing but. It was filled with all the right people at the right times … and maybe a little New York magic?
Grant’s Smart Home Diary: Even Easier with Eve
By Grant Hardy
Setting up a smart home is both empowering and intimidating. It’s empowering because you can automate tasks which are tedious or simply hard to remember, like shutting off your lights when you leave the house. For people with certain disabilities, this could provide increased independence like giving someone without the use of their hands a means of switching on the lights via voice. But it can be intimidating because, just like picking out blinds, furniture, or china, there’s a vast array of devices and platforms to pick from, all of which operate differently.
Of course, there’s also a financial investment, but you can start with a smart gadget or two and grow your smart home as resources permit. Since I have an iPhone, I’ve gone with Apple’s smart home platform called HomeKit, which I think offers a great user experience. Keep in mind that in order for automations to work properly, you need a compatible iPad, HomePod or Apple TV that’s always at home.
I’m going to take a look at two smart home products: the Eve Motion and Eve Energy. Eve Motion is a motion sensor that can control your accessories, or simply notify you, based on whether there’s motion in a room. Eve Energy, on the other hand, is a smart plug that turns appliances you already own—like lamps, kettles and radios—into smart appliances. Plug your appliance into Eve Energy; plug Eve Energy into the wall; and keep your appliance switched on. Eve Energy will decide when it should get power or not based on rules you set.
Both devices are small enough to fit in one hand, and require no hard wiring or special installation beyond simply pairing them with one of your iOS devices through the Home App.
I’ll focus on the very basics, with three cool automations you can use to tech out your home using one or both of these devices. These are configured in the Home App on an iOS device.
Get notified when there’s movement
When no one’s home, there obviously shouldn’t be any motion activity. So if Eve Motion detects movement, it can notify you right away. At that point you could, for instance, contact one of your neighbours to ask if there’s something strange going on.
To set this up, do the following on your iPhone:
1. In the Home app, tap (double-tap for VoiceOver users) the “add/edit homes” button in the top-left.
2. Tap on “sensors” under the “notifications” section.
3. Tap on “Eve Motion.”
4. Set the “notifications “switch to on, tap “people”, then tap “when I am not home.”
5. Tap “back” twice, then tap “done” to back out to the main screen.
From now on, if there’s motion in the room with Eve Motion when you aren’t home, you’ll be notified on your phone. When you’re at home, you won’t be bothered with constant alerts as you move around.
Turn the kettle or coffee maker on in the morning
If you get up at a consistent time in the morning and want your favourite hot drink right away, set up an automation so Eve Energy turns your kettle or coffee maker on at the right time. Here’s how:
1. In the Home app, select the “automation” tab in the bottom-right, then the “add” button in the top-right.
2. Choose “a time of day occurs.”
3. You’ll land on a screen where you can pick the time you want your automation to occur, and on what days. Use standard gestures to adjust these settings, then tap next.
4. The next screen asks what exactly you want to automate. Tap your Eve Energy that’s connected to the kettle or coffee maker, then tap “next.”
5. Tap on your Eve Energy to toggle it on, then tap “done.”
Now you can wake up to the soothing sound—or smell—of your favourite hot drink.
Making Eve Energy and Eve Motion work together
For a final example, let’s say you want to have your lamp automatically turn off when you leave the room. For example, I own an extremely bright light which I use to help regulate my sleep cycle. But since it takes up a lot of energy, I might want to use Eve Motion to turn the light off when I’m no longer nearby. Here’s how to do it:
1. Connect the light to Eve Energy.
2. In the Home App, tap on “automations,” then tap “add.”
3. On the next screen, tap on “a sensor detects something.”
4. Tap your Eve Motion, then tap “next.”
5. On the next screen, tap on “stops detecting motion,” and then tap “next.”
6. The next screen asks what should happen when no motion is detected. Tap on the Eve Energy connected to your light, and then tap “next.”
7. On the next screen, make sure Eve Energy is set to off, and then tap “done.”
Now you’ll have peace of mind knowing your lamp won’t waste energy when you’ve left the room—even if you forgot to switch it off.
I’ve only scratched the surface here, but it’s clear smart home devices like the Eve Motion and Eve Energy have the potential to make your home more efficient, accessible, and maybe even fun.
A special effects transformation in Ottawa
By Shelby Travers
Makeup has been a passion of mine for a decade now. It’s not because I find it makes things pretty, but more due to the transformation abilities it possesses. For example, every day I wear makeup I contour my nose to transform the appearance to make it less bulbous-looking. Since a Halloween story was needed, I figured a different type of nose makeup transformation was required.
There were so many steps involved in transforming me into the gross, old, witch that you experience on AMI This Week. With our stories only being so long we weren’t able to fit everything in, so this is the behind-the-scenes scoop.
We had talked about the life cast process but let me tell you that was an experience all in its own. It could probably even be a full story. I was nervous going into it. I knew a little bit about the process before it happened so knew I would be completely covered in a silicone substance, and then have plaster put overtop, making me completely restricted from sight and speech. I think this would make most people a little nervous – and I was no exception.
It wasn’t that I was nervous or afraid of not being able to see or talk, but about how breathing would be and for how long I would truly be restricted. The special effects artist, Michel, made me comfortable and assured me the whole time. While he was putting on the first layer of silicone, he paid close attention to my nose to make sure my only source of breath was still exposed. Every once in a while, my nostrils would get covered and I would go into a quick state of panic, but Michel would quickly clear the airway.
The whole process took about 20 minutes of being completely covered; 10 minutes for the silicone and 10 for the plaster. This is where the blind perks come in handy. Being able to use my phone without sight is something that I’ve gotten used to over my decade of limited vision. So, naturally, I was still able to do all my texting and selfie-taking during the whole process, making it actually quite relaxing.
Once the plaster had completely hardened, it was time to take the mould of my face off. I could touch the inside of it, but it didn’t really feel like much. Only once I came back to the On Scene FX studio one week later was I truly able to experience my face from a whole new perspective. Full disclosure, I did do one of the biggest blind misconceptions – I touched a face. I think we all know that – as much as movies like to think that blind people touch faces to see what they look like – we don’t. Unless it’s a life cast, apparently.
Touching your own face doesn’t really feel weird because it’s attached to your body. So, your brain makes the connection and its no big deal. However, when you’re touching your face and it isn’t attached to you – well, it was weird.
The whole experience was amazing, and I learned so much about a field of makeup I always wanted to. I’ve now developed that relationship with Michel and he has invited me back anytime I want to learn more. And if you are to know anything about me, it’s that I love trying new things, so I’ll definitely be taking him up on that offer.
Keywords: AMI This Week, ATW, Shelby Travers, Grant Hardy, Alex Smyth, Laura Bain, Victoria Nolan, Beth Deer