A Year in Review

Our Executive Director Writes About her First  Year on the Job

While I am a bit delayed in posting this, I did indeed write it in April, one year after starting my new adventure in this excellent work place and learning space. Thanks for reading!

One year review:

When I started at BALANCE on April 13, 2016, it was a small organization with a strong commitment to clients, and quite frankly, my initial impression was that BALANCE was an organization that placed clients first, and the staff gave me strong messages that they were looking forward to having my leadership, and hopeful for a great deal of positive growth. I had a lot to work with: the offices had just moved to a new location right across from a subway station; the funding oversight had shifted from the Mississauga-Halton LHIN to the Toronto Central; and we had a shiny new strategic plan (finalized in May/June 2016) from which to develop our plans moving forward.

To say the least, it has been a year of growth and learning, both for the organization and for me. We have generated a positive relationship with our new LHIN, a new source of revenue through a first partnership agreement with Accessible Media Inc., and strong relationships with Reconnect Mental Health/Reconnect Shared Services, LAMP IT services, the Toronto Reference Library and the University of Toronto Occupational Therapy Department, as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital departments, OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre, and others. We have also received two federal grants, one to install automatic door openers on our front doors, and one to hire our summer student through Canada Summer Jobs. In addition, we have developed the strength of the staff as a team, adding three creative new staff members to our small but mighty group. Finally, our client numbers have grown by 50%, with a total number seen in 2016-17 of 151 (we had 101 clients in 2015-16). Our group participation also has increased, and BALANCE is now a going concern, with clients coming and going 5-6 days and evenings most weeks, for a variety of group opportunities.  To illustrate, in the spring of 2016 we had 21 group sessions and 11 individual participations and in the winter of 2017 we had 61 group sessions and 235 individual participations in groups!

I remain grateful for the opportunity to lead in such a warm, welcoming and exciting organization. We continue to serve our clients, and I believe our efforts play out in the number of new and returning clients we have seen this year. Each month, the number of clients returning for service after some years away, has remained high, averaging around 7 per month. One cannot ask for more than an enthusiastic participant who has heard about our new programming or our new instructors, and wants to return. We have certainly been busy and we have been able to provide some unique new programming. The challenge for year 2 of the Strategic Plan is to sustain and grow this activity while achieving a great deal more towards the strengthening of our infrastructure, the realizing of efficiencies and the generation of new revenue streams for BALANCE.

I look forward to the challenge!

 

Hey! What is the “PEP”?

The First-Ever BALANCE Summer Pre-Employment Program-only a few spots left!

You might be curious about this newly designed and innovative program offering from BALANCE. A blog post is a perfect opportunity to describe it.

The Pre-Employment Program is intended to provide young adults who are blind or partially sighted with the tools, resources, and insights necessary to help them to be their own job coaches and developers. As such, this program will be a mix of workshops, one to one assessments, and links to existing resources post program.

Our program participants need to be committed to finding a job, open to feedback, have basic orientation and mobility skills, have basic technology skills and a have attained a basic level of education, such as high school, trade school, or post-secondary education. Space permitting, we will accept those who are currently in school but who are seeking to gain part time or summer employment.

The program is divided into 2 weeks, with week 1 focused on improving orientation and mobility, independent living and assistive technology skills; and week 2 directed towards advanced assistive technology skills, including common software programs for job search, social media uses for workers, and adaptive technology for working as an effective team member.

Program 1:

The objectives of this program are:

  • Gain new or improve upon five employment related skills
  • Learn about five new websites
  • Be connected with at least 5 new community resources (including two local)
  • Be provided with 35 hours of instruction in a small group setting which will allow participants to learn from each other as well as the instructor
  • Be provided with a minimum of 2 hours of individual assessment, feedback and instruction

Content themes:

  • Understanding the job market, how to disclose, networking and more
  • Independent Living skills related to employment such as self-care (dressing professionally), staying organized (time management, virtual calendars and agendas)
  • Personalized assessments in orientation and mobility, independent living, technology and important skills linked to transitioning into work.

 

Program 2:

The objectives of this program are:

  • Learn approximately 10 apps
  • Discover 10 websites
  • Deepen your knowledge of 5 programs
  • Learn about 5 resources
  • Be provided with 35 hours of instruction in a small group setting which will allow participants to learn from each other as well as the instructor
  • Be provided with a minimum of 2 hours of individual assessment, feedback and instruction

Content Themes:

  • Useful free resources specifically for the blind and visually impaired; mainstream job search sites and more
  • Social media (creating a social brand, using social media with adaptive tech, using social media)
  • Adaptive technology
  • Time management and organization
  • Microsoft office refresher
  • Problem solving and community access

 

Our skillful and experienced staff will provide the leadership for this exciting new opportunity, and our expert pre-employment team will also include skilled and bright guest speakers who will provide us with interesting sessions dealing with: everyday coping with challenges, mindfulness training for stress reduction, how to network, and reproducing workplace requirements in order to best prepare for the demands.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in participating in this program, please call Chelsea Mohler at 416-236-1796, ext. 225, or email her at c.mohler@balancefba.org

Wonders of the Apple Watch: Part 2

by Chelsea Mohler, AT Instructor, BALANCE

Who is Siri anyway?

OK, now, I confess, onto my favourite topic—Siri!  Who doesn’t love that personal assistant in your ear giving you reminders, directions, or life advice, ok, maybe not the advice.  I know for me, Siri was one of the major reasons I bothered to purchase any Apple product. Although sometimes Siri can frustrate us to no end, it also comes in really handy—especially when trying to send lengthy texts or call someone from our contacts.  Let’s face it, Siri makes our lives a lot easier!

So, why all this talk about Siri? Well, the Apple Watch incorporates the Siri feature, and as a result, many of the things we are familiar with on our other devices. There are some differences to be aware of, though, so let’s take a look at those.

Siri on the Apple Watch

The most noticeable difference is that Siri doesn’t speak as he/she does on iOS devices. Instead the response appears on the screen of the watch and the wearer either drags their finger around to have the VoiceOver voice read the content or uses Digital Crown Navigation to do so. This may at first seem a bit odd, but in actual fact you don’t even notice once you’ve got used to it. As the wearer is going to have raised their wrist to use Siri in the first place it’s not a great stretch to using your finger or the Digital Crown to read the screen once Siri responds. As with most new things it’s worth spending some time getting used to the slightly different functionality of the Apple Watch, you will certainly find that it is well worth it.

How to use Siri on the Apple Watch

Now, you might be wondering how to use Siri on the Apple watch.  Well, there are a couple of ways to use Siri on the Apple Watch. The first is to tap the screen once to wake the watch up, raise your wrist and say “Hey Siri.” Time for another confession—that’s my all time favourite approach, unless, of course, you are in a loud space where the watch may not pick up your voice. The second way to activate Siri is to press and hold the Digital Crown before giving Siri an instruction or asking it a question. In both cases and assuming that you have haptic feedback enabled on your Apple Watch, you will feel two taps in quick succession on your wrist when Siri is awake and ready to receive instructions/questions. Then, go on ahead and speak your command to Siri!

Wonders of the Apple Watch, Part 1

by Chelsea Mohler, AT Instructor, BALANCE

Apple Watch-What’s not to love?

In addition to the iPhone, iPad, and Macbook, Apple has an Apple watch, and I have just recently purchased one because I was curious what all the fuss was about!  So, I should start by saying I have the Apple Watch Gen one, which is most certainly  not water-proof, but if I like it, I’ll upgrade to the Gen two.  There are way too many cool features to discuss in one blog, so I’ll start by covering the basics and leave the rest for another entry!

I love tools and gadgets, and I love accessible gadgets the most. Since I have a visual impairment, I’m used to having to wait around for the “special” stuff. So, the things I love the most are mainstream gadgets that come out of the box being accessible.

Now that I’ve had my Apple Watch, the Gen One, for a couple of days, I hope I can clear up some of your first-day questions.  First thing’s first, if you have just purchased the watch, you will need to pair it with your iPhone.  This means getting the phone and the watch to talk to one another and play nicey!  It seems difficult, yes, but this process actually can be done completely without vision.  I won’t rewrite how to pair the watch because the

How to Set up Your New Apple Watch – A Comprehensive Guide

is first rate and does a very thorough job.

before we can go too much further, we need to ensure VoiceOver is turned on on the watch.  If it is already on from when you paired the watch, this is still a good review for future.  Turn on Voiceover.  On Apple Watch, open the Settings app , then turn on General > Accessibility > VoiceOver. You can also use iPhone to turn on VoiceOver for Apple Watch—open the Apple Watch app on iPhone, tap My Watch, then tap the VoiceOver option in General > Accessibility. Or, use the Accessibility Shortcut. See The Accessibility Shortcut. And there’s always Siri:

Ask Siri. “Turn VoiceOver on.”

OK, once the watch is paired and Voiceovr is set up, it is time to explore the screen. Move your finger around on the display and listen as the name of each item you touch is spoken. You can also tap with one finger to select an item, or swipe left or right with one finger to select an adjacent item.

Gone down a path you didn’t expect? Do a two-finger scrub: use two fingers to trace a “z” shape on the display.

Act on an item. With VoiceOver on, use a double tap instead of a single tap to open an app, switch an option, or perform any action that would normally be done with a tap. Select an app icon or option switch by tapping it or swiping to it, then double-tap to perform its action. For example, to turn VoiceOver off, select the VoiceOver button, then double-tap anywhere on the display.

Pausing Voiceover

Let’s say you are in the middle of a e-mail or text and you want to pause Voiceover from reading. To have VoiceOver stop reading, tap the display with two fingers. Tap again with two fingers to resume.

Adjust VoiceOver volume. Double-tap and hold with two fingers, then slide up or down. Or, open the Apple Watch app on iPhone, tap My Watch, then go to General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and drag the slider.

Adjust reading rate. Open the Apple Watch app on iPhone, tap My Watch, then go to General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and drag the slider.

Want to save battery and have the information on your watch kept private?  Well, you can turn on the screen curtain by opening the Settings app on Apple Watch, then turn on General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and turn on Screen Curtain.

Want your watch to be able to be used by a sighted peer?  Simply turn off Voiceover by opening the settings Settings app , go to General > Accessibility > VoiceOver, then tap the VoiceOver button.

Ask Siri. “Turn VoiceOver off.”

New Assistive Tech Instructor at BALANCE!

BALANCE Welcomes Rosie Arcuri to Our Staff Team

With a degree in Psychology and five + years working in the community sector with people with disabilities, Rosie is passionate about helping the visually  impaired achieve their goals.  After working as a Program Coordinator for Independent Living – Montreal (IL-M), she is excited to bring her Vast teaching experience to Balance. Rosie has experience with adaptive technology in both her personal and professional life. As someone with a visual impairment, she has firsthand knowledge of both the helps and hindrances of assistive technology. Furthermore, she has been able to pass on her insights to clients through her work with the Adaptech Research Network at Dawson College and IL-M.  Rosie has also been involved with the Blindness community for years as a member of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), Montreal chapter’s executive board, and she has been a support group animator for the CNIB. She has also worked with people who have other disabilities, such as students, seniors, immigrants, and job seekers. Rosie is bilingual in French and English, and can speak Italian.

BALANCE adds an essential ingredient to our offerings!

Sharing Space Support Group-[NOTE: This group is now full. Please check back in May for notification of another opportunity.]

Come together with other people to share your experiences of living with vision loss. This is a safe space where you can explore your feelings and thoughts, from your greatest frustrations and challenges to your proudest successes. The group will be based on what you want to talk about. Discussions could include: understanding ableism, effects on your self-esteem, dealing with negative emotions, and building strength and resiliency.

The group will be facilitated by a registered Social Worker, Lisa Derencinovic. Lisa runs her own counselling practice specializing in working with people with disabilities. She has also facilitated many groups throughout her career. Lisa knows first-hand the experience of living with vision loss, having been diagnosed at age 4 with a genetic eye disease.

The group will meet once a week for 2 hours at the BALANCE offices. We will spend 12 weeks getting to know each other, sharing our experiences and learning from each other. Please come join us in this exciting new group at BALANCE.

Dates: Thursdays, 10 a.m.-Noon, February 16-May 4, 2017

Pre-registration required: Call Laura Monday through Thursday at 416-236-1796, extension 0. Group minimum-5, group maximum-10. First come, first served. This group is offered first to BALANCE clients. If there is space after January 31, it will be opened up to non-clients of BALANCE.