The pathways at Fantasy Farms are hard-packed, a mix of gravel and dirt compacted by tractors, feet and hooves.
But they’re also bumpy — maybe unpredictably so for some. It’s not something the average visitor would notice — a pair of good boots or hikers is all that’s needed. But those with some form of visual impairment might have some trouble.
Yet nothing was stopping a group of about 40 members of the Canadian Council for the Blind BC/Yukon Division (CCB), when they set out to explore the agri-tourism business in East Chilliwack earlier this week. They were in town for the CCB’s Triennial Conference, mingling with the Chilliwack Chapter of the CCB.
At the farm, they used canes, walkers, the arms of spouses and friends, and guide dogs to traverse grassy fields and gravel walkways. It was for good reason — owner Lisa Moran had let the goats out to meet and greet the visitors.
The visitors took turns cuddling the baby goats, gleefully listening to them bleat and watching them prance across the field, munching grass.
And while it might have appeared to be a field trip to explore the area, there was another purpose, says Ann McNabb, president of the CCB BC Yukon Division. They call it the Exploring Community Connections field trip, and their goal is to educate people, business owners, restaurant staff and others about how to be accessible for people with disabilities.
“There always could be more done,” McNabb says. “This is to teach people how to make it accessible for us, and to encourage people to make it accessible for us.”
For example, they met with Coun. Jason Lum and spoke about the City of Chilliwack’s plan to install tactile, accessible street lights. They’re an improvement from the current type that rely on audible cues, and can even help those who have hearing problems.
McNabb said the city should consider at expanding the HandiDart services, as many blind people rely on the bus to get to activities and to visit with family and friends. As it stands, HandiDart only runs weekdays, from about 8:30 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m., she adds.
“On weekends, you’re stuck,” she says. “That is a challenge.”
Improving accessibility for the blind is the main goal of the CCB; their motto is “A lack of sight is not a lack of vision.” But at a local level, they’re all about the activities and increasing social interaction. Without an accessible community, the blind are often stuck at home, McNabb says.
Right now, the local chapter has 34 members. But she’s heard there are many more in the city who they haven’t connected with. They meet twice a month, on the first and third Wednesdays. They also bowl once a month at Chillibowl Lanes, and have a group lunch once a month. They have recently teamed up with BC Blind Sports and are offering chair yoga, and they’ve started a new technology-focused get together that’s sponsored by the Canadian Council of the Blind.
Vern Short travelled with his White Cane Club from Kamloops to attend the conference. He’s worked hard as an advocate in his own community, and appreciated coming to Chilliwack to learn more about what obstacles face people here and what solutions have been made.
Curling is a big sport in the community, he said, and Kamloops has just hosted a Western Canadian Conference.
There’s a long way to go, Short adds.
“There are about 604,000 people in B.C. with a disability of some kind,” he says, and four million across the country. “And B.C. is one of the few areas that does not have a Persons with Disabilities Act.”
That creates barriers for the blind and other people with disabilities, he says, in areas such as public transit, education, public parks and playgrounds and even housing. He suggests those who are interested in helping level the playing field for people like him, check out barrierfreebc.org.
The Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) was founded in 1944 by blind war veterans and schools of the blind.
The national office is located in Ottawa with over 75 chapters across Canada.
The CCB is the largest membership based organization for the blind in Canada and is known as the “Voice of the Blind”.
The CCB offers programs to assist those with vision loss, create awareness of vision issues to the public and government.
Recently, the CCB has undertaken proactive programs such as mobile eye health and training for employment.
The CCB is also a member of the World Blind Union, the internationally recognized organization, representing the 285 million blind and partially sighted persons in 190 member countries.
The Canadian Council of the Blind BC-Yukon Division is an organization run by the blind dedicated to providing leadership for the blind and partially sighted to achieve their full potential through guidance, education, resources, and public awareness.
Their objectives are to promote the well-being of the blind through higher education, profitable employment, social association and to create a closer relationship between the blind and sighted friends.
To organize a nation-wide organization of blind persons and groups of blind persons throughout B.C., and to promote measures for the conversation of sight and the prevention of blindness.
To learn more about the local club, call 604-795-3885 or toll free: 1-800-874-4666.