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March 15
Izzy's Tips For Independent Living

Dear Izzy is an anonymous advice column that offers solutions to everyday challenges for people who are blind or partially sighted.

Dear Izzy,

I have macular degeneration and I am finding it increasingly difficult to enter my PIN (personal identification number ) on payment terminal keypads when purchasing items with a debit card or credit card. For security reasons, I do not want to give the cashier my PIN so she can enter it. I prefer not to carry cash for fear of theft. Do you have any suggestions to make these types of transactions easier?

PIN Chagrin

Dear PIN Chagrin,

Entering a PIN using a payment terminal keypad (or point of sales terminal) can be made easier by following these simple steps:

Explore the payment terminal keypad to determine if the number 5 key has a raised bump on it, like the number 5 on a telephone keypad. This bump is used as a landmark to help you locate the other numbers. If you are unable to locate the number 5 key, you can ask the cashier to place her finger on the number 5 key and you can look or feel for her fingertip or, likewise, you can make a pointer with your index-finger and ask the cashier to place your fingertip on the number 5 key.

If you find it difficult to remember your PIN, you can change the number to something you would find easier to remember. For example, the pin can spell out a word on the numeric keypad, perhaps a name like JACK. Another option, is to choose a PIN that creates an imaginary pattern on the PIN pad. Remember that your PIN is your protection against fraud! Do not make the PIN so simple that it could easily be duplicated by a criminal (e.g. 5555). Never disclose your PIN to another person!

People tend to shop at the same locations so they will learn what to expect with each payment terminal keypad. If you would like to avoid entering your PIN altogether, you can request a "chip and signature" card from your credit card company. This card does not require a PIN at payment. Instead, you will sign the receipt to confirm the transaction, like you used to prior to the introduction of "chip and PIN" credit cards. Please note that some retailers may request a piece of picture identification with your signature on it at the time of purchase in order to verify the credit card's owner.

If you would like to learn about additional money management tools (e.g. audio automated teller machines), please contact your local CNIB office. Happy spending!

If you would like to submit an independent living skills question to Izzy, please send an email to Your question may be answered in a future CNIB blog.

February 20
Get Your Weather Forecast With A Phone Call

Umbrella or sunscreen? – that is one of the many questions that I ponder every morning as I am about to step out the front door of my house for the day.

Adequately preparing for the weather is very important to me as I spend over 3-hours commuting to and from work each day with my guide dog via public transit. As you can imagine, a big part of that time is spent outdoors in the elements. Choosing appropriate clothing every morning requires an accurate weather forecast and I get mine from Environment Canada's Weather Phone.

Environment Canada's Weather Phone offers the current weather and a 7-day weather forecast. The forecast is updated frequently to reflect changing weather conditions.

Environment Canada's weather information is available at (604) 664-9010 for those living in Vancouver or you can search the phone number for your Canadian city at the following link:

Alternately, Environment Canada's weather information is available using the app called, Weather Office", for your smartphone.

Environment Canada is a great source for a reliable weather forecast. Check it out before you leave for the day so you'll never get caught wearing flip-flops when you should have been donning rubber boots.​

January 31
Lost While Using Voice Over? Now What?

iPad with Voice Over Cursor 

Figure 1 Close up of an iPad home screen with the black Voice Over cursor focused on the maps icon.

Whether you're a seasoned pro or just getting started at using iOS VoiceOver, you have at some point undoubtedly found your self lost on your screen and asking, "Where am I?"; "What is happening on my screen?". It might be fair to say that becoming good at getting found when you're lost is half the battle in using any screen reader, iOS VoiceOver included.

Below is a collection of strategies and tips that might help you to find your way should you become lost somewhere deep inside the land of iOS. No one option will work consistently but having them in your back pocket might just get you out of a jam. I've attempted to roughly order these starting with tips that will allow you to keep VoiceOver focus at or near the item at hand. The tips progress towards ones that involve restarts or applying different approaches to navigating troublesome areas.

Flick once right (or left) and then the reverse direction to hear the current item spoken again. Listen carefully. Is the item a link, a heading, a switch, static text? Does a button say "dimmed"? Is there a VoiceOver hint available for the item? Outside of the content of the item, information in the announcement might provide useful context for orientation.

Listen closely for general iOS and VoiceOver specific sound effects and learn to understand what they all mean. iOS and VoiceOver includes many different sound effects that provide context as to what is happening on screen.

Flick once or twice left and/or once or twice right to find out what is nearby the item currently in focus. The items neighboring the one currently in focus might give clues to what is happening on screen.

Perform a 3 Fingers single tap to have VoiceOver speak the focus orientation or page number. If focus happens to be on a status bar item at the very top of the screen, a three-finger single tap will tell you this as well.

Pop up messages sometimes hijack your screen. Flick left or right, explore whole screen or flick up with two fingers to trigger reading from top of screen. If a pop up message takes over the screen, the amount of information available to you will suddenly become quite limited. You may hear just a few related items or, depending on the type of popup, a few items plus the iOS keyboard at the bottom of the screen.

If the VoiceOver announcement includes the term "status bar item", know that voice over focus will stay in the status bar area unless you refocus it by touching outside the status bar area or by using a two finger scrub gesture.

4 Finger single tap near top: move to first element on the screen (usually top-left corner element).

4 Finger single tap near bottom: move to last element on the screen (usually bottom-right corner element).

Close and restart voice over. Sometimes VoiceOver will get a bit dopy and drop some or all of its expected behaviors and this can be quite disorientating. Restarting VoiceOver usually restores full functionality.

Tap the clock at top and single finger double tap to scroll a long document or list to the top.

If you are well and truly lost, refocus all the way to the top of screen and flick all the way right until you've heard every item and option on screen then return to your most likely candidate.

Use the Item chooser by performing a 2 finger triple tap and type in the name of what you are hoping to find on your screen.

Look for a back button at the top right of the screen or active panel.

Activate app switcher to find out which app is active.

Use app switcher to close an app that might have become troublesome and then restart the app.

Reboot the device.

If an orientation problem persists after multiple attempts at the same task, slow down and flick all the way through each screen involved in the task before committing with a double tap on any item. Although time consuming, this can be a particularly useful approach if the task is one you anticipate doing frequently.

Either in the rotor or in settings, turn on tips if they are turned off, then attempt your task again, listening closely for tips you may not know or have forgotten.

Ask a sighted person what is on screen or use another device with OCR to try and read the screen. This may be a last resort option for some but, particularly if VoiceOver is non-responsive, this might be the only option left.

January 25
Who’s Izzy?

“Izzy’s Tips For Independent Living” has been an anonymous, independent living skills, advice column for over five years. But who’s Izzy?

Izzy is the pseudonym for Vision Loss Rehabilitation BC’s (VLRBC’s) Lynn Jensen. Lynn has worked at CNIB/VLRBC for over 16 years as a vision rehabilitation therapist. In this role, she teaches adaptive skills for independent living, including meal preparation skills, basic sewing skills, make-up application, and braille.

The idea for writing an anonymous advice column was born on a commute to work via Vancouver’s commuter train, West Coast Express (WCE). Lynn says that she does her best creative thinking on the WCE. She thought there should be an additional avenue for people with sight loss to gain life-changing information to assist with challenges of daily living.

Lynn lost all of her vision suddenly and unexpectedly eight months after graduating from the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing in 1996. She was determined to continue practicing in the field of nursing and do so as a rehabilitation professional. Lynn explains that she wants to share her experiences with clients and families. She attributes her success to being stubborn, thanks to her father. She holds firmly to the adage, “If you want to believe in somebody, believe in yourself”.

Lynn enjoys writing. She blogs under her own name as well as Izzy. In addition, she has published articles in Canadian Nurse (“Focusing Your Care: Working With ClientsWith Vision Loss​” (March 2012), Canadian Nursing Home, and a blog in BC Medical Journal.

Why did she choose to blog under the pseudonym, “Izzy”. Lynn explains that she wanted the name to begin with the letter, “I”, for “Independence”. She wanted a name with two syllables like the renowned newspaper advice columnist, “Dear Abby”. In addition, Lynn says that she wanted a name that meant independence to her. To Lynn, independence meant getting behind the wheel of her beloved ‘84 Pontiac Firebird, which she had named “Izzy.”

If you are a person who is blind or partially sighted or a family member or care provider for people with sight loss, Lynn has some fabulous advice to share with you. You can view, “Izzy’s Tips For Independent Living at

December 01
Izzy’s Tips For Independent Living

Dear Izzy is an anonymous advice column that offers solutions to everyday challenges for people with sight loss.

Dear Izzy,

In preparation for the holidays, I spend most of my weekends baking delectable treats. I enjoy sharing my Christmas baking with family and friends. As my vision slowly deteriorates, I find it more and more difficult to measure liquid ingredients like oils, milk and water, using a glass measuring cup. I am no longer able to see the measurements on the cup unless I use a magnification aid. Do you have any ideas that will make this task easier?

Mismeasures In Mississauga

Dear Mismeasures In Mississauga,

In the past you probably used a glass Pyrex measuring cup when measuring liquid ingredients. In fact, your home economics teacher most likely told you that this was essential when measuring liquid ingredients. The problem is that It is virtually impossible to use glass measuring cups if you are unable to see the level of the liquid in the measuring cup or the markings on the glass.

Nested measuring cups can be used for both liquid and dry ingredients. With nested measuring cups, the cups stack on top of each other making it easy to identify the different sizes.

When using nested measuring cups to measure liquids, place the appropriate measuring cup in a bowl. Rest your finger at the top of the cup when pouring the liquid. When the liquid touches your finger, stop pouring. The bowl will catch any overflow.

If the bowl is a contrasting colour to the measuring cup (e.g. white bowl and black measuring cup), it will be easier to see the cup in the bowl. You may like to refrigerate your cooking oils so you can feel the liquid more easily when pouring.

If you would like to learn additional adaptive kitchen skills, contact your local CNIB office. Happy baking!

If you would like to submit an independent living skills question to Izzy, please send an email to Your question may be answered in a future CNIB blog.

November 28
Overview of the Doro 824C accessible phone from Bell


I have recently had the opportunity to test the Doro 824C phone from Bell. The phone has many features that make it fully accessible for someone with vision loss. This phone is ideal for seniors and for anyone not wanting the complexity and learning curve that comes with using a standard Android or Apple device. That being said, the phone contains many of the features that one would associate with an Android or Apple phone.

The phone runs Android 5.1 (KitKat). As is standard on most mobile phones today, the phone uses a touch screen. However, the included tactile overlay makes it easy to perform all the various functions of the phone.

The accessibility on the phone is provided by software from Claria.

All of the functions on the phone are presented in a standard menu structure. Once a person learns the basic interface, they are able to use all of the apps on the phone.


The Doro 824C is sold exclusively by Bell Mobility. The phone can be ordered in any Bell store or over the phone. For more information, please contact the Bell Accessibility Services Centre.

Standard phone functions

The Doro contains all the functions you would expect from a mobile phone. This includes making and receiving calls with talking Caller ID as well as sending and receiving text messages. Typing a text message is accomplished via the keypad section of the overlay. You need to press a number key up to three times to enter a particular letter. For example, to enter the letter C, you would press the number two, three times. This method of text entry was very common on phones prior to touch screens.
Additionally, the phone includes a fully accessible web browser and email client.

Safety feature

The Doro 824C includes a dedicated button on the back of the phone that can be used to request assistance. Through the settings on the phone, you are able to set up a phone number to call and a text message recipient. When you press the assistance button twice, call is placed, and a text message is sent.

Built-in applications

In addition to the standard phone functions, the Doro contains several additional applications that are of particular use to someone with vision loss. These include:

  • Fully accessible GPS navigation
  • DAISY book reader
  • Colour identifier
  • OCR (optical character recognition) app for reading printed text
  • Light detector

In addition to these applications, the phone contains a podcast and Internet radio player.

Android apps from the Google Play Store

In addition to the many apps that the Claria software provides, you are able to exit out of the Claria interface and use the phone as a standard Android device. When you do this, the standard Android screen reader called Talkback will take over. You are then able to install any accessible app from the Google Play store. These apps will not have the standardized interface that is provided by the Claria software. It is generally advisable to remove the tactile overlay when using the phone with apps from the Play Store.


The Doro 824C is ideal for seniors, children, or anyone who cannot or does not wish the complexity of a standard touch screen phone. The tactile overlay and standardized menu structure makes the phone extremely easy to use.

Please note

It has come to our attention that the Claria software that provides the accessibility on this phone is no longer being developed. The company is no longer in business. Everything on the phone works as expected. However, there will not be any further updates to the Claria software.

Bell is continuing to sell the phone and has assured us that they will continue to provide support. The phone is fully covered under warranty.

October 27
Izzy's Tips For Independent Living

Dear Izzy is an anonymous advice column that offers solutions to everyday challenges for people with vision loss.

Dear Izzy,

I recently moved into a new home with a digital thermostat. It is programmed to automatically lower the temperature each evening and increase the temperature in the morning. Unfortunately, I am unable to make changes to the program because I cannot see the print display. In addition, I would like to be able to identify the current temperature in the room. Can you help me?

The Heat Is On

Dear Heat Is On,

It can be very frustrating to operate a digital thermostat if you are unable to see the print display. One of my favourite gadgets is my Kelvin talking thermostat. You can operate the thermostat in two ways, by push-buttons or by voice. The buttons are marked with raised arrows that are easy to feel. When you push the up-arrow or down-arrow once, the thermostat will identify the current time, the current room temperature, and the current temperature-setting. For example, "11:36 a.m., the temperature is 20, the temperature-setting is 20". You can adjust the temperature-setting by pressing the up or down arrows, as desired.

To operate the thermostat using voice, I simply click my tongue twice (or clap my hands twice) and say the word, "thermostat". This verbal command will activate the voice output. If I want to increase the temperature, I say the word "raise" for each degree that I want to increase the temperature. If I want to lower the temperature, I say the word "lower" for each degree change.

This thermostat is easily programmed with voice output to guide you through the process. You can purchase the Kelvin thermostat on-line. Another option is the VIP series of talking thermostats that are also available on-line. I hope this helps! If you would like to learn additional home management skills, contact your local CNIB office. Keep warm!

If you would like to submit an independent living skills question to Izzy, please send an email to Your question may be answered in a future CNIB blog.

September 25
Being A Puppy Raiser

I heard about the CNIB Guide Dog program through my husband, Scott. CNIB is one of his clients. His contact there had known him for years and knew that dogs had always been a part of our lives. She encouraged us to apply to raise a puppy. I've always loved dogs, so it wasn't a hard decision to make. And what a pleasure it has been!

Our puppy Ulysses, or "Uly" for short, is the easiest pup we've ever had. He's our fifth dog. He's intelligent, quick to learn, gentle in nature, and calm enough for people to notice. He has integrated easily into our home among two other dogs. They have taught him lessons that I can't teach about appropriate dog behaviour, correcting him as necessary.

As a puppy raiser, it is our job to socialize the dog, and to teach him basic commands such as come, sit, down, stand, stay, off, and to walk nicely at our left side. We are encouraged to expose him to all sorts of social experiences. So far he has been to work, to bible study, shopping, fine dining, fast food, a train station, a fishing lodge, in a canoe, and in a kayak.

I had forgotten what a people magnet puppies are. When he has his 'Future Guide Dog' vest on, everyone wants to talk to you. What a great way to advertise the Guide Dog program!

Now before everyone rushes to sign up, I should mention the other side of the story. To be a puppy raiser is a huge time commitment. You basically need to be able to have your pup with you all day. Other than a few hours here or there, if you go somewhere, he goes with you. And it takes lots of intentional time to train a dog to respond to commands.

When I speak to people about being a puppy raiser, one question always comes up. "How are you going to give him up?" It's a great question. I tell them that I'm willing to donate a few tears for a great cause. As much as I love Uly, he doesn't belong to me. He has a very special future purpose. Someday he is going to completely change someone's life for the better, and I just thank God that I've been able to play a small part.

By, Sharon MacMurchy

Puppy Raiser

September 19
Training Guide Dogs in Canada

Before I began to work with guide dogs back in 1988, I, like most people, never really put much thought into what is involved in preparing a dog for a career as a guide dog. I had seen them working on occasion, but never knew how a dog learned the skills they need​ to take on the job of safely guiding a person with sight loss as they walk from place to place. How doe​s a dog know when to cross a road? How do they learn to walk around obstacles and locate places? What else do they need to know before they can become a guide dog? Now, having worked with guide dogs for many years, I have the answers.

After spending their first year with a volunteer CNIB Guide Dogs Puppy Raiser, the young dog is ready to begin their formal guide dog training which usually takes 4-6 months, depending on how quickly the dog learns. Like children, they all learn at different rates, so this is taken i​nto account as they progress through their training.

Each day, the dog will head off to work with their Guide Dog Trainer or Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. They will have two training sessions in a variety of environments, before being returned to their volunteer boarder's home for the night. Only positive training methods are used, with patient, consistent handling to ensure the dog develops into a happy, confident guide for their future owner. Tasks are repeated often until the dog understands what is expected in each situation.

We start with the basics: walking down the centre of the sidewalk, on the left side and slightly ahead of the handler, a position that is ideal for guiding. Once they have that, they can be introduced to the harness and handle, the physical link between the dog and the handler. Over the 4-6 months that they are in training, they will learn how to walk around obstacles on the sidewalk, leaving enough room for the handler to get past without bumping into them. They learn to stop at curbs so that the person they are guiding knows that they are at a road and that they must take the time to assess the traffic so they can cross over safely. The responsibility for deciding when to cross lies with the Guide Dog User, not the dog.

Using their initiative, memory and sight, the dogs learn how to find locations for their handler. They will stop for steps, doors and wait patiently for clear gaps along crowded sidewalks. Although guide dogs are taught to be obedient and respectful of their owners, they sometimes must override what they are being asked to do if the handler hasn't detected a potential hazard such as a car crossing their path. That takes a lot of concentration and confidence.  Unlike most other types of working dogs, they must learn to ignore some very strong instincts such as sniffing and other potential distractions like birds and cats.

Once they have reached their destination, it's break time for the dog. They've done their job and now they can play, rest and just be a normal dog. They certainly deserve that!

Nearing the end of their training, they are matched with a blind or partially sighted person and their career as a qualified guide dog begins.

Karen Hanlon

Manager, Canine Development and Training

September 12
Blindness Isn’t All Black & White

I never really put much thought into it, but when I was young I thought you either had perfect vision or no vision at all. I didn't realize there was a huge grey area.

Did you know that most people with vision loss have some useable sight? Imagine vision on a continuum in which you have perfect vision at one extreme and absolutely no vision or "no light perception (NLP)" at the other end. Most people lie somewhere between these two extremes. In fact, 90% of clients at CNIB have some sight. This can range from being able to read large print to being able to detect only whether a light is on or off.

There are two measurements that are used to evaluate a person's vision: visual acuity and visual field. Let's take a closer look at these two measurements:

1. Visual Acuity. This measurement refers to your central vision or reading vision. A person with perfect vision has 20/20 vision. In the visual acuity measurement, as the number in the denominator increases (e.g., 20/200, 20/400, 20/800), vision decreases. What does this mean? Someone with 20/200 vision needs to be 20 feet away from an object to identify it. A person with perfect vision would be able to identify this same object from 200 feet away.

2. Visual Field. This measurement of the degrees of vision refers to peripheral vision. A person with perfect vision has 180 degrees of vision in the horizontal plane.

It is important to note that these two measurements (visual acuity and visual field) are determined with the best possible correction (i.e. prescription lenses) in the better seeing eye.

What a person is able to see will depend on whether the sight loss is a central vision loss, a peripheral vision loss or both.

Central vision is your detailed vision and colour vision. People with central vision loss will have trouble reading fine print or identifying details like faces, stairs, curbs or uneven pavement. Macular degeneration is an example of a central vision loss. A central vision loss can be simulated by smearing Vaseline on your eye-glasses.

Peripheral vision is your travelling vision. People with a peripheral vision loss may have problems navigating their environment (e.g. bumping into door frames, people, or other obstacles). Glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa are examples of peripheral vision loss.

A visual field loss can be replicated by holding two toilet paper rolls up to your eyes.

Blindness is often misunderstood by the general public, but it makes more sense if you take into account the type of vision loss that the person is experiencing. For example, people with central vision loss may not be able to see a pin on the floor if they stare straight at it. But they may be able to see the same pin on the ground in their peripheral vision if the pin reflects sunlight. Similarly, people with peripheral vision loss may require a white mobility cane or guide dog to get around but the same people may be able to read the newspaper if they have good central vision.

If you would like to get an idea of what it would be like to look through the eyes of someone with a central or peripheral vision loss, you can download the app called, "iSimulator", for free on iTunes.

Do you know what legally blind means? Legally blind is a term that is often misunderstood. It is simply a point on the vision continuum described earlier. It is denoted by a visual acuity of 20/200 or a visual field of 20 degrees. A person who is legally blind has vision of 20/200 or worse or less than 20 degrees of vision. If you can see only the E at the top of the Snellen eye chart, you have 20/200 vision and you are considered legally blind.

I hope this has brought some clarity to blindness. After all, it's not all black and white!

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