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Jillian Gillis previews Peggy's Cove platform

Jillian Gillis smiles into the camera, holding her arms above her head. The Peggy's Cove lighthouse is in the background.

By Jillian Gillis

If you’ve heard of Nova Scotia, you likely have also heard of the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, as it is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Canada. Peggy’s Cove is a small fishing village located about 40 minutes outside of Halifax, and if you are visiting from away, it’s a place you have to visit. Pre-pandemic, the beautiful sight attracted nearly 700,000 people every year. 

Until recently though, the rocky landscape could make it difficult to navigate if you have a disability. In 2021, the spot underwent renovations to add a safe and accessible way for everyone to enjoy the beautiful view via a new accessible viewing deck. 

I know for me, as a person with low vision, it can be hard to move around safely on the shoreline because of my depth perception and light sensitivity. I’ll admit in the past when I went to Peggy’s Cove, I did feel it was a bit risky when I ventured over the rocks to get to the lighthouse, though I took the chance anyway. But, because of the rugged terrain, the attraction was virtually impossible to explore beyond the parking lot if you use a mobility aid.

Since I don’t drive and there is no public transit that goes all the way to Peggy’s Cove, this was the first time I got to witness the new facelift. I was beyond excited to check out the incredible 14,000-square-foot accessible platform. It was really nice to feel confident that I wouldn’t be skinning my knees on the rocks that day!

I caught up with both Gerry Post, a disability advocate, and Doug Waugh, the Project Manager of Construction from Develop NS, to chat about the new updates. Gerry talks about what something like this means for the disability community and how disability advocates were involved in the development process. Doug tells me about some of the challenges of working with the natural topography of the area, how it was designed to blend in with the natural surroundings and how it was set in gently, having minimal disturbance to the land. 

The Peggy’s Cove black rocks are extremely dangerous and have been known to sweep onlookers into the sea if they are too close and a rouge wave comes along. Even with lots of signage and warnings, people would still venture out too close, but the new observation deck gives the feeling that you are just as close without putting yourself in danger. People enjoy going out to watch the waves when there is a storm, now they have a safer place to see the view.    

I am so pleased with how things turned out and how things are now being designed with accessibility in mind, instead of being an afterthought. These changes not only benefit the disability community but everyone else too. 

Join me as I check out the new accessible viewing deck at Peggy’s Cove lighthouse on AMI This Week, Monday, August 15, at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv or the AMI-tv App. 

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Jillian Gillis previews the ReVision Fitness App

Jillian Gillis stands on a yoga mat, leaning back slightly.

By Jillian Gillis

When I first learned about the new audio-based fitness app, ReVision Fitness, I was very curious to try it out. I normally stick with walking for exercise because, with my partial sight, it can be hard to follow along with a fitness instructor in a class setting or watching a video at home. 

The app was designed by U.S. Paralympian and personal trainer Tyler Merren. As someone who is blind, he created the app with the blind and partially sighted community top of mind. All exercises are offered in both text and audio, each fully described to ensure safe and proper posture. 

I really liked that you get a 14-day free trial so you can really get to test drive it before committing. I tried the app on both Android and iOS devices, and I was able to log in on my phone and iPad. I found the colour scheme pleasant – black, white and red; the white text on black is a good contrast for those with low vision. The font was small on the phone, but the iPad was better; my work around was to use the devices built in magnification accessibility feature. 

Since I don’t use a screen reader I felt, in order to give the best review possible, I would need to ask for some help. I asked my colleague in Vancouver, Grant Hardy, if he would join me. He agreed it would be a great opportunity for a fun collaboration.  

Both of us tried it out for a few weeks. I was most thrilled with the chance to try out yoga. Yoga is said to help improve strength, balance, posture and flexibility. I have never had the best posture or balance, so knowing that yoga could help me enhance those things was exciting. I have always been curious about it and I’m happy I finally got the opportunity to finally try it. And it was kind of cool to be led through the poses by a Paralympian.

I felt that having the in-depth descriptions was helpful for me to feel more confident in my exercises. I really appreciated having both the written and audio instructions available, I think it is beneficial for neurodivergent minds. If I could make a suggestion, it would be to have the text and audio on the same page so I could read along with the audio. 

If you have been wanting to get exercising and haven’t found an accessible workout, you’ll want to check out our full review by tuning into AMI This Week on Monday, July 18, at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv.

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Grant Hardy previews Accessible Payment Terminals

A hand is shown pushing a button on a portable ATM device.

By Grant Hardy

If you’re blind or partially sighted, you know how frustrating it is to pay with a debit or credit card.

Every single payment terminal is different. Since there’s no consistency, you can’t memorize the screens even if you wanted to. This leads to some very interesting dilemmas and baffling philosophical questions. For example, am I about to leave a multi-thousand-dollar tip, or am I actually at the PIN screen entering my four-digit PIN? Do I need to leave a bigger tip because the host or server is helping me with the machine? Conversely, I’m sure every blind person has been in this situation: You’ve had a fantastic experience somewhere and you want to leave a huge tip, but the host automatically skips the tip section for you, trying to be kind, but actually depriving you of the opportunity to tip for good service.

We have a little bit of relief coming up right here on AMI This Week, as we delve into an exciting collaboration between the CNIB, the Government of Canada, and our largest payment processor, Moneris. They’ve set out to create a payment terminal that’s fully accessible and will be provided at no cost to merchants across the country. The menus all speak, so you’ll be able to navigate the system yourself, freely entering whatever PIN, account, and tip amount you want. To get a sense of how this is going to work, tune into our feature where you’ll hear from Moneris as well as the CNIB about how paying is about to get a whole lot easier.

Wait—did I just say paying is about to get easier? Maybe that’s not such a good thing! Now I’m going to need some more restraint. But it’ll be the same restraint anyone else would need. I won’t be impeded by an accessibility quirk with the terminal. 

Tune in to AMI This Week, Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv and the AMI-tv App. Want to read more from Grant? Search his name!

Alex Smyth previews the return of Level Playing Field

Paralympian Mark Arendz lies flat on the ground, aiming at a target.

By Alex Smyth

It’s been a while, but the wait is finally over, as Level Playing Field is back on AMI-tv! Returning Monday, July 11, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, the AMI original sports show explores the athletes, organizations, and people leaving their mark on the para-sports world. Host Greg Westlake returns with four new episodes to explore a range of topics and people. With emerging para-sports at the forefront of this season, audiences will have a chance to discover some of the lesser-known sports making waves. 

Working on Level Playing Field is always such a treat for me as I love sports and as an associate producer, it allows me to craft and share stories from the para sport community that people may not be aware of. For instance, many will be familiar with Paralympian Mark Arendz. He is one of the most decorated Paralympians in Canadian history and has dominated the sports of Para-biathlon and Para-Nordic Skiing. But in telling his story, we can explore his journey to the top of the sport, and how he gives back to those who help him along the way. In my mind, those elements are just as important, if not more so, to understanding and knowing who he is. 

On the flip side, Level Playing Field provides audiences the opportunity to learn about a sport few people may know about, like Para surfing. We meet members of Canada’s Para surf team and learn about the development of the sport and athletes who are riding the wave to success while wearing the maple leaf. We find out about the hopes and development of the sport, with aspirations to have it included in the Paralympics, and the sacrifices the athletes make to chase their dream.

While the athletes at the top of the para-sport world get the headlines, this show also shines a spotlight on the grassroots organizations giving members of the community a chance to be included in a sport or game they enjoy. VOLT Hockey is a great example of this. Originally started in Denmark, it has been growing in popularity in Canada thanks to Variety Village, and now teams are popping up across the country. Providing a twist on Canada’s favourite pastime, VOLT allows members of the disability community access to the game which they may not have been able to before. 

The whole Level Playing Field team is so proud of the work we’ve done this season on the show, and we cannot wait to share it with our audience, so be sure to watch the new season debuting Monday, July 11, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on AMI-tv, and catch previous episodes at or through the AMI-tv App.  

Alex Smyth previews Postcards from The Rockies

Alex Smyth, dressed in a winter coat, relaxes on an Adirondack chair.

By Alex Smyth

Working as a host of a travel show during the pandemic was certainly challenging. We would formulate plans, make predictions of destinations and dates for us to travel, then quickly must readjust due to the ongoing case counts and availability of activities. 

So, you can bet I was excited when we finally had the chance to make it out to the beautiful Alberta Rockies for our latest episode of Postcards From. I had visited the town of Canmore once previously and had never seen Banff or Lake Louise; both lived up to the hype of a spectacular winter wonderland. The snow-capped mountains provided a stunning vista at every turn, and while the weather bounced between snow and sunshine, I was enjoying every minute of it. 

We dove into the active lifestyle of the area, and spent most of the trip either on, near, or inside of a mountain. It was a lot of firsts for me on this trip; my first time ice climbing, my first time rappelling in a cave, first time in over a decade snowboarding, all of which became instant life-long memories. 

When we work on these episodes, we are a small three-person team, so each member must pull their weight and help out, whether that is by transporting gear, setting up or packing up lights, formulating the plan for how the activity will go, and working with the guests to ensure we get what we need from them. This trip was easily the most challenging episode logistically due to all the mountain time I mentioned earlier. From lugging gear up the mountain to trying to capture me attempting (and failing) to stay upright on my snowboard, to ensuring there is enough light to watch me descend into the abyss of Rat’s Nest Cave. 

The team behind the camera, Producer Amit and Videographer Sergio are amazing at what they do and it’s because of them that I look good in front of the camera. When you spend eight days working 12-16 hours, it’s important to enjoy the people that you work with. We definitely do and in my humble opinion, that strong teamwork shows up in the finished product. 

To learn a bit more about what went into making this episode of Postcards From, be sure to tune into ATW on Monday night at 8 p.m. Eastern to see Amit and I discuss the trip and other behind-the-scenes tidbits, and then tune in on Friday, June 24, at 8 p.m. Eastern to catch the full episode Postcards from The Rockies on AMI-tv.