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June 27
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 been an avid seamstress since I was a teenager. I used to enjoy every aspect of garment construction, from cutting out the pattern to adding the finishing touches. Lately, the simplest task, like threading a needle, has become nearly impossible due to my recent sight loss. I often end up in tears. Can you give me some guidance?

Threading a Fine Line

Dear Threading A Fine Line,

There are many commercial needle threaders available to the general public, including self-threading needles, wire-loop threaders, and the Infila needle threader available at Shop CNIB. But, my all-time favourite trick for threading a needle is a good old-fashioned floss threader from the local drugstore!

Floss threaders are used by people who have braces or a bridge in their mouth. It is a nylon loop designed to resemble a needle with a large opening to thread dental floss. A floss threader is basically a large-scale version of the popular wire loop threader.

In order to thread a needle using a floss threader, the user passes the thread through the loop of the floss threader, inserts the stiff point of the floss threader into the needle eye, and finally pulls the floss threader and thread completely through the needle's eye until the floss threader is released by the thread and the needle is successfully threaded.

Follow these simple steps to thread a needle with a floss threader:

1. Cut a length of thread that is preferred for hand sewing.

2. Pass one end of the thread through the large loop at the end of the floss threader. This can be made easier by placing your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand through the loop of the floss threader, pinching one end of the thread between the thumb and index finger, and pulling these pinched fingers back out of the loop. You now have the thread passing through the loop of the floss threader. Ensure that one end of the thread is much longer than the other end. You can now let go of the thread and focus your attention on the stiff end of the floss threader.

3. Pinch the stiff end of the threader between the thumb and index finger of your dominant hand. You want the stiff pointy end of the floss threader to barely stick out from the end of your thumb and index finger. The shorter it is, the easier it will be to thread the needle.

4. Bring the eye of the needle up to the stiff point of the floss threader. Slowly rotate the needle until the point of the floss threader slips through the eye of the needle. When it does, continue pulling the floss threader through the eye. The floss threader will bring the thread with it. Keep pulling the floss threader through the needle eye until the floss threader is released from the thread – Congratulations, you just threaded the needle!

You may prefer to keep the needle in the pin cushion while threading the needle in this manner. In addition, you may like to use scissors to cut the stiff straight point of the floss threader on an angle to help ease it through the eye of the needle.

When I teach clients to thread a needle using this method for the first time, I like to use an embroidery needle for increased likelihood of success. The embroidery needle has an elongated eye, whereas the eye of a sharps needle is circular in shape. It is important to note that floss threaders will work for threading sewing machine needles, but they will not fit through the eye of finer needles used for sewing silk.

If you would like to learn additional adaptive sewing skills, like sewing on a button, contact your local CNIB office.  Good Luck!

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.

May 16
Windows 10: Ease of Access Features for Someone with Partial Sight

A Personal Per​spective by Carrie ​Anton, Assistive Technologist & National Honorary Chairperson of CNIB

There are many functions built into Windows that can improve the visibility, use and effective reading on a computer. Most of us want to be effective and get things done as quickly as possible with the least of frustration possible. I hope that this article will help you through my experience and tips to embrace the technology that you have in your hands to aid in happily completing computer tasks. This is not an exhaustive list but are things that can be very helpful.

Microsoft’s Windows has an Ease of Access Center in the Control Panel. In my professional opinion as an Assistive Technologist and partially sighted user, it has improved to a point of being reliable and functional as far as assistive technology being built into an operating system goes. And to you and me that means good and free solutions for the partially sighted user.

This article started out as a learning experience for myself as I received a new laptop at work that had Windows 10 on it. There seemed to be appetite for a resource to help people learn the features built into Microsoft Windows. This can help people who experience vision loss without investing in expensive magnification software products. So I brought the topic in the form of a face to face presentation to the GTT Edmonton (Getting together to Talk Technology) user group meeting and then an encore presentation was requested at the GTT National teleconference meeting.  I think most attendees took away at least one new nugget of information.

I’ve been working in assistive technology for close to 30 years and have worked with many products for users with vision impairment and other disabilities. I’ve seen many developer’s products, call them the good, bad and the ugly, but all made with good intentions. My goal as an Assistive Technologist is to find technological solutions to daily needs without wasting someone’s time or money. I try to be the most resourceful I can and stay up to date. Even this article is probably half a year too late to help many.

This guide with resources is an important starting point to creating a usable experience in Windows 10 for someone with partial sight, without getting too technical. In most cases people with low vision a) want to use the vision they have, b) use the mouse and a few keyboard shortcuts, and c) have horrible headaches and neck pain from squinting and poor posture leaning so close to the monitor. We also have well-meaning friends and family who have computers who want to help but often times miss the issues we are going through with our vision differences.

I hope there are resources in this guide that propel you further to find out more about the feature you find useful. The commands provided are for Windows 10. The resource links provided take you to the Microsoft webpages where you can choose the version of Windows you are using and find its commands. There are slight differences in some commands between Windows 7 & 8 to Windows 10.

The obvious difference between Windows 8 and Windows 10 is that we now have the desktop view and start menu back. These were consistent landmarks since Windows XP, and those of us who are not real functional at doing puzzles or playing with random Mah-jongg tiles to find our icons, are once again happy with the familiar consistent layout and navigation from Windows products past.

If you have Windows 7 or 8, please do not update yourself to Windows 10 even though it says it’s for free. Please get a professional to do it. There have been glitches. Ensure you back up all your data like pictures, videos, and documents and find your important software serial numbers in case something goes wrong.  

read the full article Windows 10: Ease of Access Features for Someone with Partial Sight​​

April 24
It’s Braille, Not Brain Surgery

Performing brain surgery requires a steady hand and so does reading braille, but that is where the similarity ends.

People often tell me that it would be impossible for them to learn to read braille, "Those dots are so small". You'd think that I was asking them to perform brain surgery without years of education and practice. But, braille doesn't deserve this negative response. After all, Louis Braille wouldn't have spent time creating a communication system composed of raised dots if the intended target, people who are blind or partially sighted, couldn't read it.

For me, braille isn't just about reading books. Braille means increased independence. Using braille, I can identify the numerous spice jars in my spice rack without any assistance or the use of additional aids. I can find the correct elevator button in an unfamiliar medical building. And, most importantly, I can read all the classic children's books to my two adorable three-year-old nieces.

I want you to know that learning to read braille isn't nearly as hard as you might think. I mean, really, how difficult could it be? I learned to read braille over a weekend.

Yes, I admit that it takes lots of practice to be able to read a braille book with a moderate amount of speed, but, as I said earlier, there is more to braille than just reading books. You may like to learn to read braille in order to create a portable phone book, label all those debit and credit cards in your wallet, or simply play a game of bridge, poker, or Scrabble with your family and friends. If you are learning to read braille for any of these reasons, then reading large quantities of braille text with lightning speed isn't that important.

If you would like to increase your independence by learning to read braille, contact your local CNIB office for more information. Who knows, maybe one day you'll be reading braille with the precision hand of a brain surgeon!

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.

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