Blog

Students Say Thanks and Good-Bye, Summer, 2018

What we have learned this summer at BALANCE for Blind Adults has far exceeded our expectations.

As students who aspire to have careers in health care, our experiences have broadened our perspectives and knowledge of working with individuals with vision impairments. With the help of the staff and clients at BALANCE, we have become more cognizant of various barriers and as such, strive for inclusion and accessibility in our future career, as well as personal lives. We feel empowered to become advocates for people with vision impairments by educating others about opportunities to create more inclusive communities.

Prior to working at BALANCE, we had very limited exposure to working with individuals with blindness or low vision. It was a big learning curve and it hadn’t occurred to us that there had been so many advancements in the field of low vision and blindness. We realize that every day we take for granted the tools that many people with visions impairments rely on for independence. Just to name a few; Google Home, Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. As well, one of the main learning takeaways from this experience is that the key to a meaningful life is having connections in the community. We have learned that through partnerships with various organizations we can better support our clients and achieve that goal.

As sighted people, we have become more aware of existing features in our community that promote independence and safe travel for people with vision loss. For example, pedestrian crossing activators and the tactile bumps in subway stations. By being more aware of these necessities, we can play our part in reporting to authorities when these tools are not functioning and/or assist someone, if they wish.

We encourage students to apply for positions at Not- for-Profit Organizations because you will be surrounded by some of the hardest working, dedicated and kind people in existence. It is evident that the staff at BALANCE work as hard as they do because they truly care about making a difference in their clients’ lives. Thank you to the staff  and clients at BALANCE for teaching us all that you have and showing us the importance of working with passion and the impact that you can make on someone else’s life.

 

Sam and Tal

Technology and Persons with Disabilities

My Vision of Driving—yes, you heard me right!

A decade ago, if you had told me I could write, edit and publish an entire document on a touch screen device with braille and a screen reader and a simple piece of glass, and that I could do my grocery shopping with the touch of an app, bank independently, call myself an Uber, or simply start my smart coffee maker from my iPhone, I’d have stared at you in open-mouthed incredulity. Communicators in Star Trek couldn’t do some of those things! Okay, the Enterprise didn’t have Amazon, but whatever. You get my point.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the possibility of smart-driving cars after a recent program on the topic on CBC Radio’s Spark (a show that discusses all kinds of technological innovations.) Anyone who knows me well knows that I really want to be in that driver’s seat—I mean, I have driven, and it’s cool.

So, what if I really could drive with the aid of technology. I mean, imagine voice activating your Alexa and saying “Alexa, order me a driverless car.” Then, she’d reply, “OK, I’ve contacted the database and sent you a driverless car; it will be here in 8 minutes. Please be waiting on the marked part of your driveway so the car can pull up safely. The car will wait until you activate the lock with the facial recognition you provided. Then, please use your fingerprint to unlock and activate the vehicle.”

And, so, what if this really happens? What if one day, I step out of my house, get into the driver’s side of my car (yes, the driver’s side) and stow my white cane safely beside me. Then, I start my car by voice print, or fingerprint. I tell my car to put on CBC Radio one or two and plug in the coordinates using my Apple GPS. My Apple watch uses haptic vibrations to tell me whether we’re turning right or left. A voice of my choice (maybe Apple’s Alex or Amazon’s Alexa) tells me where we are headed and the traffic conditions.

“Heavy traffic ahead, rerouting to Gardener Expressway.”

I have the GPS programmed to point out all coffee shops and stop with the simple voice command, “Coffee shop, need to off-rout.”

I run a couple errands, meet a friend, and as the car is driving, I periodically check the Braille Display touch map to make sure we’re okay, but the driverless car does the work for me. I sit back and read a book, listen to music, write a work report, or check out the latest CBC news on Twitter.

The thing is? That technology is starting to exist. And it’s not just for blind people. Universal inclusion was this thing people talked about over dessert 20 years ago that seemed like such a utopian idea. Now? It’s everywhere. Driverless cars are already on our roads. For some further reading on self-driving cars, check out: Driverless car benefits | Automated Transport | Self-driving Vehicles and Advantages of driverless cars – Business Insider

The days when my disability is the barrier society perceives it to be are ending, but we’re not quite there yet! We just must land this. And technology is light years ahead of the political arena to market the technology. Technology is ahead of society’s ability to let disabled people participate equally without power struggles and fear. Technology is also ahead of our own fears of our bodies, our disabilities, and our ability to say “disabled” and not have it be a bad, negative connotation word. I’m blind. I’m disabled. That does not prevent me from doing things. Those words are just legal labels and associated differences in my rights. But we’re not there yet. But, what excites me is that there is the potential to be there.

So, watch out, because I will be driving that self-driving car! See you on the road!

BALANCE Offers Year-Round Strength and Stability Program!

BALANCE is pleased to announce that we have established a partnership with Davenport-Perth Community Health Centre in order to bring you an excellent Strength and Stability Fitness Program, tailored to meet the needs of blind or partially sighted person who are over 40 years of age.

Description: A great way to improve your physical fitness, this class provides an opportunity to improve cardio, strength, flexibility and balance while sitting down. It includes a brief standing falls prevention component. Taught by Fazia Ackbarali, a fitness instructor certified by Western University’s Canadian Centre for Active Aging, and the BALANCE yoga instructor, this is a pre-beginners level that will progress to beginners/intermediate level.

Day and Time: Tuesdays, (arrive 1:00 p.m. please) class starts at 1:15 ends at 2:00 p.m., ongoing year-round (with breaks).

Location: Four Villages Community Health Centre, Multi-purpose room,

Dress: Please wear comfortable clothing such as track/yoga wear, and sneakers

Sponsor: Davenport-Perth Community Health Centre

Pre-registration:  416-236-1796, ext. 0. Pre-registration is required!

Cost: No Charge.

 

Welcome to Naomi Hazlett, Occupational Therapist

Naomi is smiling and is outside under the trees.
Naomi Hazlett

We are pleased to welcome the newest addition to our staff team, Naomi Hazlett, MSc.OT. Naomi brings a wealth of relevant experience and creative energy to the position.  She is a recent graduate of the occupational therapy program at the University of Toronto, and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and cognitive science, also from U. of T. She has a wide variety of interests and passions including health & wellness, accessibility, education, research, writing, and promoting mental health in all areas of life. Naomi’s strong recreation/leisure background and her deep knowledge of Toronto community and neighbourhoods, will provide BALANCE with added expertise to support, encourage and teach our clients.

BALANCE Request for Proposals

FUND DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANT

Project Purpose

BALANCE for Blind Adults wishes to retain a Fund Development Consultant who will develop a comprehensive and sustainable fund development plan and a donor engagement strategy.

Who we are

BALANCE for Blind Adults is a lively not-for-profit agency with strong roots in the community. We have more than 30 years’ experience training adults who are blind or partially sighted. We offer free instruction one-on-one or in a group setting.

The BALANCE mission is to generate opportunities for those living with vision loss through innovative, inclusive, community-oriented programming and partnerships. Our strong community focus keeps us grounded and our spirit open to change.

Our vision is for people to live a quality, enriched life that is engaged with communities and free of social barriers.

Background

The services provided by BALANCE are free of charge to our clients, because the cost is covered by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (TC-LHIN)

In addition, our generous donors assist BALANCE to improve and expand our service and program offerings and with our daily operations. Grant revenues are also a part of our financial picture as a not-for-profit organization. We also offer training and consultation to those working with persons who are blind or partially sighted, and to our clients’ workplaces, for a fee.

One of our strategic priorities is to grow the organization’s capacity in fund development. Our Board of Directors and executive leadership are ready to take fund development to its next level. To accomplish this, we need a fund development plan that will establish the necessary building blocks to sustainand grow fund development. We also recognize that with the number of individuals who are connected to our brand, we have a wonderful opportunity to invest in a donor engagement strategy that will allow us to acquire and retain donors.

Scope of Work

Establishing the building blocks of a sustainable Fund Development Program:
  • Develop a Strategic Fund Development Plan.
  • Provide guidance and recommendations to set up and sustain a Board Development Committee.
  • Develop a compelling case for support.
  • Implement a database to manage, support, grow and sustain a long-term fund development plan.
Develop a donor engagement strategy
  • Increase the pool of people who make the first gift.
  • Increase the commitment of current donors.

Proposal

The proposal should include a completed questionnaire (Appendix A of this Request for Proposals) covering various aspects of the criteria.

Questions and Submission:

Deborah Gold, Executive Director, d.gold@balancefba.org

Schedule Date
Request for Proposals Posted February 9, 2018
Questions Submitted Deadline April 6, 2018
Responses provided to all RFP respondents April 18, 2018
Proposals due May 10, 2018
Review and Selection Process May 11-18, 2018
Contract signed and project commencement May 25, 2018
Project completion July 27, 2018

Appendix A

Item Rated Criterion Response
Capabilities of the Firm and Team (40%)
1. Describe your firm, including its size, information on the number of each level of professional staff in the firm and any additional information you think relevant to providing the services to BALANCE.
2. Describe your firm’s experience in creating fund development plans for not-for-profit organizations, especially those funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
3. Please provide 3 client references we may contact.
4. Describe the size, composition and organization of the professional team proposed for this assignment. Please provide the CVs of the proposed partner, manager, and auditors
Value Add (20%)
1. Describe what other value add services your firm can provide to BALANCE for Blind Adults.
Cost (40%)
1. Provide the proposed fee to provide a sustainable fund development plan for BALANCE for Blind Adults. Please provide fee as a fixed cost assessment for the proposed scope of work, exclusive of HST.

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!

 

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.