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What We’ve Done

Access for Sight Impaired Consumers has been advocating for equitable and independent access by persons with sight loss residing in BC since 1998. We’re proud of the progressive path we’ve forged so far, and we’re not yet finished removing barriers that hinder independent living and prevent full participation in their community by persons with sight loss. On this page, we share the universal implications of our efforts so far, from latest to earliest:

Accessible Prescription Medication Information – Completed 2017

Accessing prescription medication information has been a challenge for persons with sight loss since well before the invention of the pill press. Since early 2002 we set out to overcome this significant barrier which has put at risk the health and safe consumption of prescription medications by members of the blind community. We researched a number of different solutions before landing on AccesiMed and Envision America having the most promising solutions. After some concentrated awareness building and a strong sense of “doing it because it’s the right thing to do”, pharmacies operating under the Overwaitea Food Group brand were the first to offer accessible prescription medication information (APMI) using a radio frequency identification (RFID) encoded label. The RFID label is affixed to the bottom of a prescription bottle or the medication itself using a central-fill model. Placing the prescription bottle on Envision America’s ScripTalk ® reader would provide an audio readout of the encoded information programmed by the dispensing pharmacist. The information included:

  • Patient’s name
  • Name of medication
  • Dosage instructions
  • Prescription number
  • Refills remaining
  • Expiry date
  • Prescribing doctor’s name
  • Pharmacy phone number
  • Side effects

We were not particularly pleased with the central-fill model as this would require the customer to return to the pharmacy anywhere up to 48 hours later to obtain their prescription with the encoded label. We made sure that London Drugs was aware of what the Overwaitea Food Group was offering, and they too began to provide APMI on the same central-fill model. Despite our reluctance to accept the central-fill model APMI is available through all of the following:

  • All London Drugs pharmacies in BC and Alberta
  • Peoples Drug Marts in BC
  • Overwaitea Foods pharmacies in BC
  • PriceSmart pharmacies in BC
  • Save-On Foods in BC
  • Urban Fare pharmacies in BC
  • Cooper Food pharmacies in BC

Walmart Canada and Shoppers Drug Mart were more reluctant to discuss the issue until they both received our complaints filed through the BC Human Rights Tribunal in 2014. By February 2017 all parties reached a “best we’re going to get” settlement meaning that all Walmart stores and Shoppers Drug Mart outlets in BC now provide APMI on a central-fill basis.
Effective February 2020 Sobeys Inc. is the first national pharmacy network in Canada to offer ScripTalk ® audible prescription labels in its entire network of more than 420 in-store and stand-alone pharmacy locations across Canada, including:

  • Lawtons Drugs
  • Sobeys
  • Safeway
  • Thrifty Foods
  • Foodland
  • Independent Grocers Association (I.G.A.) (western Canada)
  • FreshCo

All these outlets will be offering prescriptions equipped with APMI on an on-demand basis once their first customer with sight loss requests the service.
Access for Sight Impaired Consumers is actively working to make APMI available through a greater number of pharmacy outlets and to improve the central-fill model to an on-demand service.

CNIB’s National ID card Integrated with TransLink’s Compass Card — Completed December 2014

By collaborating with both CNIB and TransLink, we worked toward combining the CNIB national ID card with TransLink’s Compass card, requiring a mass distribution of this new integrated card to all legally blind transit users residing in the TransLink service arena. Once the integrated card has been distributed to all eligible recipients, the CNIB National ID card will no longer be accepted as valid fare media for Metro Vancouver’s public transit system – specifically, Coast Mountain conventional and shuttle buses, SkyTrain, Canada Line, SeaBus and West Coast Express. It is anticipated that the entire distribution will be completed by the end of 2015. Lost or stolen cards can be deactivated and re-issued by contacting the CNIB Service Center in Vancouver.

Contributed to the content of “Act, Listen & Act” – Completed January 2014

Hosted by then BC Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD), we contributed to the Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA) taxi driver-training course entitled “Ask, Listen & Act” along with other pan-disability organizations. This very focused training module within the overall training course teaches drivers how to assist seniors or passengers with a wide range of disabilities. The module material emphasizes the critical importance of asking how best to assist the passenger and listening to what response will meet the passenger’s needs instead of making assumptions. Our primary contribution to the course focused upon specific requirements for passengers who are deafblind, those with sight loss accompanied by their certified guide dog or travelling alone. Taxi drivers operating under the Black Top, McLure’s, Yellow Taxi and Vancouver Taxi brands will be required by their employer to successfully complete this training module.

Universally-Accessible Bus Stops – Pilot completed 2012 and we’re working to further this one!

Since Rick Hansen completed his Man in Motion World Tour on May22 1987, municipalities have been working toward ensuring accessibility for people with mobility impairments. Wheelchair ramps, curb cuts at intersection crosswalks and automatic or power door-openers are quickly becoming commonplace. Many public transit providers are working with municipalities to ensure bus stops are accessible to people using wheelchairs, scooters and other forms of mobility aids. However, the ability for a person with sight loss to independently and confidently locate a bus stop has always been extremely challenging. Many think it is simple to locate the bus shelter or the bus bench, but not all bus stops are alike and very few are outfitted with these physical landmarks nor are bus stops identical in design. Even the bus pole onto which the bus stop sign is mounted may be very different in design or material at each stop.
In 1998, we introduced BC Transit (and subsequently TransLink) to the concept of a universally accessible bus stop designed to enable persons with sight loss to independently and confidently locate a bus stop. Our determination and collaborative efforts began to bear fruit as of 2012, when TransLink piloted their universally accessible bus stop design at the Joyce/Collingwood Exchange, the Newton Exchange in Surrey and the Carvolth Exchange in Walnut Grove. The proposed design features benefits for everyone, including:

  • installation of large-print transit information panels attached to the bus stop ID pole, which include bus route numbers and related information, in both braille and tactile formats
  • high colour-contrasting tactile walking surface indicators (TWSI) material embedded in the path of travel (sidewalk) surface which could be easily detected through footwear or by a mobility cane indicating the location of the bus stop ID pole
  • multi-level bench Seating with arm rests
  • a bus Shelter – these latter two fall under the jurisdiction of each municipality’s Transportation Department

In a media release dated December 16 2021, TransLink announced the installation of dual format tactile signs on all 8400 bus stops throughout the Metro Vancouver service arena. At a very public media event later that morning  TransLink President/CEO Kevin Quinn, TransLink Board member Andy Ross, Director of Service Planning Sarah Ross and Rob Sleath spoke during the event marking the inaugural installation of the “Braille signage”. While this first installation marks a milestone in our goal to achieve universally accessible bus stops for persons with sight loss, we will continue to lobby all 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver. Our aim will be  to promote the collaboration on a TWSI design and installation at bus stops that spans the pedestrian’s path of travel using a elongated, flat-top bar design which has been evaluated and preferred by many pan-disability communities.

VanCity Savings Credit Union Offering Audio ABMs – Completed September 2011

VanCity members with sight loss can now take advantage of ABM terminals with audio features, at all VanCity branches (except Squamish). This provision is now available because of the result of many years of patient but tenacious effort by ASIC working with the BC Central Credit Union.

Sighted Guide Assistance When Boarding/Disembarking BC Ferries – Completed August 2010

We’re grateful to BC Ferries, whose management responded to our request to provide sighted guide assistance to and from the car deck to the passenger decks, when travelling to Vancouver Island via Greyhound or Pacific Coach Lines. The driver will inform the BC Ferries ticket agent upon arrival at the terminal who, in turn, will notify on-board ferry staff of required sighted guide assistance when the bus boards the ferry.

Way-finding Intersection Identification – Completed August 2010

Until very recently, blind and sight-impaired pedestrians had little choice except to ask for help from other pedestrians if they were uncertain of the intersection they had approached. Travelling along busy streets and keeping track of their exact location was extremely difficult and often required intense concentration. Asking other pedestrians can be helpful, although often the information provided was inaccurate or skewed. Or, more often, there was no one close by to ask. Working with accessible pedestrian signal (APS) manufacturers and local municipalities, Access for Sight Impaired Consumers was consulted on the development of verbal way-finding messaging that corresponded with public intersection signage. As a result, verbal way-finding messages are emitted from the APS device announcing the names of the intersecting streets when the APS push button is pressed. The inclusion of braille/tactile signage enables a blind, deafblind or sight-impaired pedestrian to access public street signage as accurately as that by sighted pedestrians. Over the years we joined forces with other national and regional consumer organizations to develop a collaborative position Statement on accessible pedestrian signals. Follow the link to read about other features that APS manufacturers may offer in their APS devices and our recommendation as to how to standardize their configuration.

Alternate Format Billing Statements – Completed September 2009

Telecom and other service providers have now made billing statements available in alternate formats (i.e. braille or large-print) for many years. Through ASIC’s efforts, alternate format billing statements are also now available through BC Hydro and Power Authority, Fortis BC (formerly Terasen Gas), and Shaw Communications. By contacting Customer Service at each of these service providers, you can request billing statements be provided in the format of your choice.

Independent Voting During Elections – Partially-completed April 2009 and we’re working to further this one!

Voters with sight loss have waited years to be able to independently and confidently mark their ballot without any third-party assistance. Legislation at the federal and provincial levels governing the election processes overseen by Elections Canada and Elections BC allows a designate (or an election official) to assist a person with a disability by marking the ballot as instructed by the voter on their behalf. Having a designate mark the ballot offers some level of convenience, but it leaves persons with sight loss with a degree of uncertainty as to whether their ballot was marked accurately.
In 2009 following several years of cooperative efforts between Access for Sight Impaired Consumers and Elections BC, British Columbia conducted the first-ever general election wherein voters with sight loss including those who were deafblind could privately, independently and confidently mark their election ballots. This was accomplished through the provision of:

  • large-print wall posters identical to the smaller ballot, enabling voters who were partially sighted to review the ballot in advance
  • a list of candidates in braille format
  • a plastic template with braille/tactile numbers beside each marking point enabling the voter to match the points with candidate names, into which the ballot was placed. and if not a braille user, the voter could locate the corresponding marking points as the candidate names were read aloud

In 2011, some BC municipalities provided a more advanced technology solution to accommodate a broader spectrum of voters with disabilities during the municipal election that year. These municipalities made available the newest technology using the AutoMark® accessible voting terminal. While the terminal’s printer did the actual marking, this technology enabled voters with sight loss to review the candidates and political parties via a synthesized speech output, press a button to make a selection and have the terminal read back their choice prior to actually marking the ballot. Voters who were deafblind could use the braille display connected to the terminal, and people who were unable to mark their ballot due to physical disabilities could use a ‘sip and puff’ option to control their choices.
We’ll continue working with election authorities to promote wider use of accessible voting terminal technologies and perhaps a more convenient and fully accessible online voting process.
During the provincial general election of 2017 in BC, voters with sight loss were given the option of voting by telephone by calling a toll-free number that connected the voter with sight loss to a team of election officials. Through a hand-off process, members of this team would verify the voter’s eligibility, pass the call to a second party who would verify the voter’s electoral district and read the name of the candidates in the applicable riding. With the call now passed along to a third party, the voter would advise the official for whom they wanted to support, and a fourth official would confirm how the ballot had been marked before dropping it into the voting box. The confidential process took about 5 – 8 minutes from beginning to end and was so successful that it continues to be offered as a voting option for persons with sight loss. Now it’s on to Election Canada to advocate for the same option during the federal election process.

Automated Bus Stop Announcements – Completed January 2008

For years, transit users with sight loss have had to rely on transit operators to announce stops. The only other option was to inform the operator of their intended destination and hope/trust the operator would inform them when they reached the requested stop. Unfortunately, transit operators rarely announced the stops and they often forgot about the request made of them by their passenger with sight loss.
Following years of educating TransLink and its operators about the necessity and value of announcing stops, we lobbied hard to have all public transit coaches and shuttles equipped with the technology that would provide automated stop announcements which was introduced fleet-wide beginning in January 2008. This automated feature now enables transit users with sight loss to ride public transit with confidence knowing they can determine the appropriate time and location to disembark from the bus. Automated stop announcements have also proven to be a valuable service for many sighted passengers, seniors and tourists when visiting Metro Vancouver.

Dedicated VIP Assistance Line – Completed October 2006

In 2006, SkyTrain introduced the “VIP Assistance Line” – a dedicated phone line for SkyTrain users with sight loss who required sighted guide assistance inside or within close proximity to a station. In 2009, Canada Line also began to provide this service. To request sighted guide assistance, use any of the following methods:

  • emergency phones in the designated waiting areas of each station
  • intercoms on any of the station elevators
  • on-board intercoms located inside the entry/exit doors of each ALRT vehicle
  • calling (604) 520-5518 for SkyTrain assistance
  • calling (604) 247-5703 for Canada Line assistance

ALRT Tactile Platform Edging – Completed 2005

In the wake of an awareness campaign that took place during the mid-nineties coordinated by a group of blind transit users, Access for Sight Impaired Consumers was successful in increasing TransLink’s awareness of the hazardous conditions and risky environments that existed on SkyTrain station platforms on the Expo Line. As a result, TransLink installed high colour-contrasting tactile platform edging providing a safer, detectable environment for transit users with sight loss. And as an added bonus, it serves as a general safety warning for sighted passengers, especially those travelling with small children. This tactile platform edging is now a TransLink standard on all SkyTrain and Canada Line station platforms and will be included in all future expansion plans.

Automatic Directory Assistance Call Completion – Completed September 2003

Through an application to the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission CRTC Access for Sight Impaired Consumers successfully convinced Telus to provide automatic directory assistance call completion (ADACC). This enables a registered “B” customer to call 411 (directory assistance) and then press ‘1’ to automatically connect to the requested number – at no additional charge.

Famous Players Providing Descriptive Video Service/Rear-Window Captioning – Completed November 2002

Famous Players Theatres began offering audio amplification for people with hearing impairments and accessible venues for people using mobility aids. However, the needs of persons with sight loss and that of persons who were deaf were completely overlooked. Over several conversations with the President/CEO of Famous Players’ our advocacy efforts resulted in the installation of both rear-window captioning and descriptive video services (RWC/DVS). These two features have greatly enhanced the entertainment experience for those who are totally deaf and for persons with sight loss. Now a group of blind friends can enjoy a movie together without requiring a sighted person to describe the body language, facial expressions, scenery or other visual elements appearing on-screen. As Cineplex Entertainment is now the primary (but not the only) provider of motion picture entertainment, Access for Sight Impaired Consumers is conducting regular communications with the executive management team at Cineplex Entertainment. They are in the process of upgrading their digitally-equipped theatres preparing to offer RWC/DVS services through the new CaptiView captioning® systems for those with hearing impairments. Fidelio®, the latest in described video technology, was recently made available to persons with sight loss.