CNIB enhancing lives of visually impaired

New technology helps eliminate loss of sight obstacles

New technology has created life-changing opportunities for the lives of the visually impaired.

But there is both a lack of awareness about these phone app-driven initiatives or a lack of financial means to afford a smartphone that drives access to them for some.

Craig Faris, the CNIB program lead for technology, is doing his part to change the awareness factor.

He was in Kelowna for two workshops last week, attended by about 20 people, and will do more across the province in the months ahead.

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“Our mandate is to bring this new technology to where people live, work and play all over the province,” Faris said.

“There are those with the means who are not aware of these programs, and others who don’t have the means to get a smartphone. It is a bit of a double-edged sword.”

CNIB is stepping up its efforts through fundraising and sponsorship initiatives to help address the financial limitation factor for those who don’t have smartphones.

A recent survey showed that 46 per cent of blind Canadians don’t own a smartphone,

“That means many visually impaired people are living within a means that doesn’t make it affordable for them to own a smartphone and have access to these new phone apps that can mean a such a difference in their lives,” said Marni Adams, who works out of the CNIB office in Kelowna as philanthropy co-ordinator for the CNIB’s western region.

For Faris, he finds great personal satisfaction in sharing his technological knowledge with others that can profoundly improve their lives.

“The degree of independence it gives to a person’s life who is blind is life-changing,” he said.

“Now there are few things a blind person can’t do that someone with normal vision can. It is just learning a different way to do those things.”

Some of the high-tech initiatives offered through phone apps, he said, include reading labels on grocery store items, navigating directions when traveling and voice repeat of written words that otherwise would require braille assistance.

In many cases, the apps provide a verbal message or indicator for what a blind person can’t see.

“You can get to know one product from another time, but if you want to open a can of pears to eat and actually open up a can of mushrooms…that can be disappointing.”

Faris has been blind since birth. His mother was blind and three of the six siblings in the family are blind.

“I remember as a kid when other kids were talking about a book they read, I couldn’t participate because I had to wait two months for the braille version to come out. And when it did, my friends had already moved on to talking about the next book. I was always behind,” he recalled.

He had overcome that adversity to start up several businesses and volunteer for various organizations. He currently lives on a boat in Vancouver.

He said his mother’s blindness was a big advantage because she wouldn’t settle for her son giving up on anything he wanted to do in life because of his sight impairment.

“She wouldn’t let us get away with anything. She believed the blind can do anything a sighted person can do, it just might take a little more work or effort to do. In the long run, that is the parenting style that works,” he said.

“It sounds odd to say, but if you lose your vision today, there has never been a better time for that to happen because there is so much available through technology to help you lead an independent life.”

For more information about how app technology developments can improve the personal freedoms for those who are blind, contact your local CNIB office.

The Kelowna CNIB office is located at 101-1456 St Paul St. Call 250-763-1191.

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