- November 2018
- May 20, 2022
The purpose of this plan is to ensure that all prospective and enrolled students of the Blind People in Charge (BPIC) program receive the information they need to understand and take full advantage of the services provided by the program.
One of the biggest barriers for people who are Blind and DeafBlind is the inability to access the information needed to function independently. The very nature of vision loss, Blindness, and DeafBlindness renders traditional methods of print-based communication irrelevant in many cases. Alternate means of communication such as Braille and electronic text are available to Blind and DeafBlind individuals but many current and prospective Blind People in Charge students, especially those who have lost vision later in life, do not initially have the Blindness/DeafBlindness skills to take advantage of these alternate communication methods. These skills are the Blindness/DeafBlindness skills they are hoping to learn as a Blind People in Charge student but until they become proficient Braille readers or assistive technology users, the only method of communication which the student can access independently is verbal communication or, in the case of some DeafBlind students, large print or tactile sign language through an intervener.
AUDIT OF CURRENT STUDENT COMMUNICATION PRACTICES
- Becoming Aware of COBD, PTC, and BPIC
COBD and PTC often rely on prospective students becoming aware of their programs and services by “word of mouth”. Although individuals who are Blind, DeafBlind, or experiencing vision loss may not be able to read the organization’s print brochures, access its website or connect through the organization’s social media channels, it is anticipated that friends, family, and professionals involved in the lives of people who are Blind or DeafBlind will share these resources with them. COBD and PTCB, therefore, endeavour to keep these communication tools relevant and up to date.
For those prospective students who are able to use assistive technology, it is critical that the COBD and PTC website is accessible to individuals using screen magnification or a screen reader. Contact information is prominent on the website and forms are easy to complete and submit. All information is provided in a text format and all images are described using “alt text”.
Many prospective students hear about COBD and PTC from former and current students or from staff who are encouraged to promote the organization’s programs and services outside of work hours.
Blindness-related groups such as the Canadian Federation of the Blind, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, and the Canadian Council of the Blind Get Together with Technology program also promote COBD and PTC and their programs and services, as do cross disability organizations such as the Victoria Disability Resource Centre and the Disability Alliance of British Columbia.
- Connecting with COBD and PTC
Interested individuals can connect with COBD and PTC by phone, by email, through social media or in-person.
Walk-ins are seen immediately if staff are available. Emails and phone calls are returned by the Program and Student Affairs Coordinator or their designate within a week or sooner if possible. Specific questions are answered and a general description of the Blind People in Charge program is outlined.
A formal in-person or virtual interview is then scheduled with those wishing a more in-depth orientation. Individuals are offered a reminder phone call as many do not have any way of noting the appointment date and time. At the orientation interview with the Program and Student Affairs Coordinator, the Blind People in Charge program is explained in more detail. Information is offered in alternate format (large print, Braille, electronic) to those who are able to access it.
Those who wish to pursue training may then be invited to participate in an orientation weekend before being asked to formally enrol in the program. This gives them the opportunity to meet training staff and current students, ask questions and determine if the program is right for them before making a commitment. Participation in the orientation weekend is not required. Upon enrolment, the prospective student is placed on a waitlist. They are contacted by phone, and email if appropriate, at a prearranged date to let them know the status of the program intake and when they can either start attending classes or will be contacted next.
- Becoming a Student
After a prospective student has decided to enrol in the program, they meet with the Program and Student Affairs Coordinator or their designate to complete the registration forms. Each form is read out loud to the student, thoroughly explained and questions are answered before the student is asked to sign the forms. The student is provided with copies of the forms in print or alternate format upon request.
An appointment is then scheduled to complete an assessment. The assessment and subsequent list of goals is shared verbally with the student.
- Communication During Training
Regular announcements are scheduled at the beginning of each training day. At this time, students are informed and reminded about upcoming COBD and PTC activities and general community events which they may not be aware of. Students are given dates, phone numbers etc. in alternate formats or a reminder phone call if they do not have alternate note taking skills. Immediately upon enrolment, however, students start to learn these skills, often starting with how to use a digital recorder (a relatively quick to learn, simple to use, inexpensive means of note taking) so they can manage their schedules more independently.
Braille is taught to all students enrolled in the Blind People in Charge program but this is a much slower process and the student may not gain the required Braille skills for several months. The goal is for the student to gain sufficient Braille reading and writing skills to be able to use Braille as an alternate means of note taking by the time they graduate from the program.
Training notes are provided in whatever alternate format is accessible to the student. This will take the form of one of the following:
- large print notes taken by the student themselves
- large print notes produced by the trainer on the computer and printed off in the required font type and size
- email notes
Braille notes in either uncontracted or contracted Braille
- Verbal notes on a digital recorder
- A verbal message left on the student’s telephone answering machine
Students with additional communication challenges such as those who experience severe hearing loss or those who are unable to concentrate in a group training session, receive one-on-one training in a quiet environment. The trainer will work with the student to ensure that they understand what is being communicated and that they are getting maximum benefit from the training sessions. For example, one Blind People in Charge trainer teaching Braille to a student with partial vision and severe hearing loss, has devised a method of communication which entails writing her message (which she can access with her screen reader) in the determined size and font on her computer screen (which the student can read). Given that the student is unable to see well enough to lip read or see sign language, they have also devised specific large-movement gestures and body language which they both understand. The trainer also has the student repeat back instructions (he is able to speak) to ensure he has understood.
Students who are able to access email are sent the BlindHub Bulletin, a COBD newsletter distributed every one or two weeks. The newsletter provides PTC, COBD, and community announcements regarding events and activities of particular and potential interest to people who are Blind and DeafBlind.
- Informal Feedback
COBD and PTC continually update their policies and best practices based on informal feedback from participants. When participants present with communication challenges which PTC staff have not previously encountered, the staff member will work with the participant and if required, with other staff or outside professionals, to find a communication solution. Meeting individualized training needs is a fundamental COBD and PTC principle and additional communication methods will be added to the communication plan as indicated.
- Formal Feedback
At the end of each Blind People in Charge program term (beginning of February and end of June), students complete a student survey. They are asked to comment on the way information is communicated to them. Policies and best practices will be updated based on this feedback.
REVIEW AND UPDATING OF THE PLAN
This plan will be reviewed and updated before the beginning of each Blind People in Charge program term (beginning of February and end of June). The current communication audit is updated based on changes adopted during the last term, those identified by the student surveys, and other information gathered from other programs and services within COBD.