April 24 is International Guide Dogs Day. The day that has special importance for us here at UCTE, as we’ve been proud supporters of the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind for the last 13 years.

Our annual Mike Wing Charity Golf Tournament helps raise funds for the organization. To date, UCTE has been able to sponsor nine guide dogs. Our original goal in choosing this particular charity was to support a registered Canadian charity that received little to no funding, had a nation-wide impact, and fostered people’s active and full participation in the workforce.

Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind receives no government funding and relies on individuals, corporations, service clubs, foundations and other organizations to accomplish its important work. The charity recently celebrated its 35th year anniversary.

A guide dog can make an important impact on a blind person’s life, providing them with a greater degree of freedom and independence.

Kristen Spring of Kingston, Ontario has trained with and received five guide dogs from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Spring says, “Having a guide dog means the freedom to go anywhere I want, the freedom to do pretty much anything I want.”

“I never have to worry that I am going to walk into something and not be able to figure out how to go the rest of the way. I just have to ask the dog to find the way. I can’t say enough about how good the training is, not just for the dog but for the people.”

Our world may not always be very accommodating to the needs of blind people, but employers have a duty to accommodate persons with disabilities. Sadly, employers are still struggling to properly accommodate blind employees.

Even in the federal public service – what arguably should be the model employer in Canada – blind people experience difficulties in having their accommodation needs met. A qualitative study conducted for the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2017 revealed just how cumbersome it can be for a blind person to get the basics 

“One individual stated that the process for installing software or hardware at someone’s desk used to be quite simple. An individual could easily obtain approval directly from the manager or director and receive help from Information Technology personnel. However, now there is a complex multi-layer process of approval to go through before anything is accomplished.”

The Experiences of Blind Canadians in the Federal Public Service, Kimberly Dhaliwal, MADR candidate

Another individual who took part in that study pointed to the new Phoenix Pay System, as an example of centrally made decisions that don’t take accessibility into consideration.

According to the study, mandatory accessibility requirements would pave the way for a federal public service that is more accessible to blind people. Mandatory training for managers, to raise awareness of the duty to accommodate, would also be helpful.

Unions should also be equipped with the knowledge and tools to better advocate for persons who are legally blind. Unfortunately, when blind people’s accommodation needs aren’t met, their last recourse is often the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal; this can make obtaining redress an especially lengthy process.

If you would like to pledge your support for the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind (and you enjoy golfing!), you can still register for the Mike Wing Charity Golf Tournament happening May 23.