Jan. 13, 2022

Ashley Nemeth: Totally Blind, Entrepreneur,Mother of Three, Wrestling Champion

Ashley Nemeth: Totally Blind, Entrepreneur,Mother of Three, Wrestling Champion

Ashley Nemeth is totally blind. She is a proud mother of three grown children, an entrepreneur, a manager of CNIB programs for Manitoba but it was during her high school years that Ashley discovered that despite her vision loss, she was very good at wrestling.


Ashley Nemeth has worked at CNIB (www.cnib.ca) for 5 years. She has seen some technical advancements that have assisted people who are blind or partially sighted but in this episode we talk about the continued education required to bring all people with disabilities into a life without barriers. Ashley reminds us that during COVID it is a challenge for blind people and blind people with guide dogs to respect a 6 foot social distance barrier. Her ultimate goal is to be part of a team CNIB that puts her out of a job because the world around us is completely accessible and individuals have access to everything they need. Definitely an uplifting message of hope to start 2022!

Transcript

This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnawbe, Cree, Oji Cree, Dakota, and the Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

This is Humans, On Rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights.

Here's your host Stuart Murray.

My guest today is Ashley Nemeth.

Ashley works with the CNIB and she is the manager of programs for Manitoba.

When I asked Ashley to give me a bit of her bio in her email, she said that she is totally blind, uses a guide dog and has worked for CNIB for five years.

We've also talked about the fact that you're juggling in getting kids to school, Ashley.

And so we're going to talk about that also.

But Ashley Nemeth, welcome to Humans On Rights.

Thanks for having me.

Actually.

Let's talk a little bit about before we get into your advocacy work.

And the great work you're doing is the manager for programs for C N I B in Manitoba.

Were you born blind?

Tell me how you discovered yourself as a young person and what you're doing in your education and how it is that you got to become the manager programs in Manitoba for C N i B.

Yeah, So I was born legally blind and to albinism.

And then so I had some vision I could read large print, see colour shape and a lot of detail.

I've always had very low vision.

So I was a Braille user in school and you have used a cane since an early age.

And those types of things I lost my vision, all of it, quite suddenly in my early twenties due to a secondary condition.

And so since then have been totally blind.

So around 10, 12 years now that's been the case.

And so I've always had some experience, are always lived my life with some form of blindness.

Obviously, you know, blindness is a spectrum.

So, you know, I'm kind of being on that spectrum somewhere from birth.

What was it like growing up in that environment?

Ashley, you know, the one issue always is, and and it's a term that I think sometimes people and they talk about sort of a normal life, you would have had some challenges clearly, you know, and a younger time, you would have maybe not seen some of the advancements that we've had with technology today.

Just tell us about some of your experiences and how you navigated and how you successfully navigated to become who you are today.

Yeah, I was really lucky in the fact that I had parents who didn't hold me back in any way, shape or form.

So I have a twin brother, and whatever my twin brother was doing, I obviously wanted to do, and my parents were completely okay with that.

And they supported that.

Whether it was playing hockey or soccer or riding bikes or playing outside and getting dirty, they never said no, even though they probably knew it wasn't gonna be overly successful.

And some of those in some of those aspects that I was going to get hurt and, you know, fall and run into things on a bike, But they always let me do it.

Anyway, when it came to education, I would say very early on, I knew that I was different than everyone else.

I needed, you know, some accommodations all the way through school from kindergarten, right through.

So and there was a combinations change and, you know, increased as I got older and being that it was quite a few years ago.

Now that I was in school, the technology wasn't there.

And so I never began using a computer until I was created, like seven or eight, you know, whereas kids now have access to those things, you know, from kindergarten on.

So as technology has increased, I think what an amazing thing it would be to be an education as a as a student today to be able to have access to some of those things.

But school was definitely a struggle for me.

I lived in rural Saskatchewan.

It was the only disabled student, the only blind student.

And so, you know, with that comes some some challenges, a lot of challenges that you know, a lot of individuals with disabilities face, you know, a lot of bullying, a lot of ostracise ation, you know, stigma.

A lot of those things I faced.

So although this has always been my normal, there's definitely always been challenges.

Thank you for sharing.

I think one of the challenges for those of us that are trying to learn and trying to understand, and we're going to get talking about sort of what you're advocating for today on behalf of C N I B.

But when you look at those early stages in those early ages, when you realise that there are not other people with the disabilities that you have when you're that young and yet clearly your parents were very adventuresome in wanting to make sure that you have the same experience as your brother and growing up in a small town, which I also grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan there can be great support systems there.

But sometimes when you know if you're trying to put together a baseball team or a soccer team or some sort of sporting team, you know there's not a lot of people to draw from.

How did you deal with those issues when sports was being presented or there's an opportunity and you were in an arena that you could participate or not participate in sport?

How did you deal with that?

I think from a young age when it came to sports.

My brother was heavily involved in hockey and my parents were also and I was really into sports as a kid and I wanted to participate as well.

And I think my parents received some pushback from other people saying, You know, is it safe?

Should she really be participating?

You know all those types of things, But my parents were great advocates for me when I was too young to advocate for myself.

And, you know, in saying that, well, let her figure it out and, you know, let her try.

And then as I got older, I definitely faced more of it towards myself that I shouldn't be participating or it's not safe for all of these things.

So I learned really early on that I needed to stand up for myself and to kind of prove that I could do it.

And so I think I spent a lot of my younger years trying out every single sport that was available.

Just prove that I could or could not do it usually that I could in some capacity.

Obviously there's some limitations on you know what I was able to do just because of what I could see.

But they definitely helped me to kind of get the confidence and the ability to you know, stand my ground and let me be the decision maker in what I was going to be able to do or what I wanted to do, you know, and how I wanted to live my life and was very successful in that as a youth, I found sports like wrestling and karate and snowboarding that I was great at and that I succeeded at and I, you know, tried baseball and basketball and hockey, and someone was successful at others.

Not so much, you know, balls and pucks.

And all of those things generally weren't my forte.

But I had fun along the way, and I learned a lot.

And I know about myself and, you know, being part of a team.

And I'm glad that I had the opportunity to try those things.

I think we often hear about kids and youth who have been told no kind of protected, and I think in some instances it would have been nice to be protected from some of that.

But it definitely has made me who I am today, and it's definitely helped me to get to where I am today and to kind of build that self confidence and self esteem and the advocacy skills that I'm going to need the rest of my life.

I'm fascinated that you would look after all those sorts of things, you know, look at those kinds of sports Ashley to try everything.

I think it shows a tremendous amount of courage and leadership and on your part at a young age, which sometimes the easy thing and the difficult and challenging thing is is that you're not given that opportunity.

But you clearly charted a path, and that's that's amazing.

Did you have a moment whether it was someone of the sports that you were involved in, where you sort of thought, This is like, I'm good?

You know?

I am very good at who I am and what I'm going to be and kind of maybe was a game changer or a time change or something that happened where all of a sudden, you know, your life became very clear as to where you want it to go.

Yeah, I would say, for me it was two sports in particular, one when I was very young, which was my parents.

Let me join karate when I was in my first grade, and I very quickly was something I took naturally to.

And it was great because I didn't have to rely on other people to, you know, throw the ball to me or, you know, let me be involved.

It was all about me and you know what I could do And I had to push myself and, you know, I could go as far as I would push.

And so it was, I think, in karate that I really learned that, like those types of sports that really challenged me physically, we're going to be my kind of strong suits, and they were going to help me to kind of get to where I wanted.

And then when I got into high school and great seven, I joined the wrestling team and again, very naturally to it.

And one, you know, provincial championships and, you know, travelled the province with the team and, you know, wrestle with the University of Regina for a little while when I was in high school.

And so those experiences really taught me to really rely on myself and to, you know, take support from those around me, but to really be a leader and do what I needed to do to kind of get to where I wanted to go and that it was up to me to chart that passed and, you know, to say where I was going to go.

And so I would say, Those are the sports that really shaped who I was and, you know, help me kind of find my way as it may be, Yeah, no, I think that's a great explanation.

And to become a champion, you know, in your own right provincially.

That's quite extraordinary at any level.

I mean, it just that's really quite extraordinary to be able to do something like that.

Actually, were you ever interested in music or kind of the academic side of things that have a level interest, or did you really kind of focus on sports?

Yeah, I academically was really into English and reading and writing, and that's something that's always been a passion of mine again from a young age.

And so that was something that I really, you know, fostered in school.

I would say definitely one of those people were math isn't my strong suit and still isn't today.

Always need a calculator by my side.

That's why they invented calculators.

That's why they made them right.

It has nothing to do with my blindness whatsoever at all, but musically.

Actually, it's funny, because everybody, I think, tried to push me towards music, I think thinking that that was going to be something that I would maybe excel at or take to naturally, given my blindness.

However, I can't hold a tune if I tried.

I took banned in grade six and quickly realised that I was awful.

And I was not going to bring anything to this that's going forward.

So I did not pursue that.

I did sing in a choir, all of my youth and a church choir.

Baltar School up until about grade 10.

I believe so.

You know, I participated in musically a little bit, but it's definitely not.

I wasn't winning awards with my musical challenge.

Not the way we're on the sporting side, right?

Yeah, I was in sports were definitely where I accept.

Yeah, for sure.

So actually, you grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan.

Do you mind telling me what town was it?

Europe in Indian head, Indian head.

Okay, so I grew up in punishes Saskatchewan so very familiar with Indian head driving between Winnipeg and Regina.

Of course, it's right on the number one highway there.

So then you went to university.

What did you study in university?

Actually, I went to the University of Vagina.

I originally studied journalism.

Did you use that as a as a profession?

I did not.

Well, I guess in some ass's, I guess I did.

I didn't get a degree in journalism at the end of the day.

I faced a lot of barriers when it came to employment after university when it came to journalism, and I figured that out very quickly.

So I, you know, did a couple of internships with some local newspapers and things like that.

And there was gonna be a lot of bears, and I was really going to have to fight a battle if that was something that I wanted to pursue.

And as I went through, I wasn't sure that that was what I passionate enough about it, that I wanted to fight that battle.

And so my parents owned a small business in Indian head for 26 years, and I really took to helping them run that business.

And so I currently ended up.

I have a business degree, so I really took to leading managing running businesses.

So I owned my own business for a while and then help my parents run their business.

And so as I've progressed, you know, in my career, that's kind of the path that I've taken.

Um And then one of the things we started off in our conversation before we went live to record this actually was the fact that you, As you say now, you're totally bind.

You use a guide dog and you've been at C N I.

B for five years.

What got you involved in the C N i b.

How did you get engaged in that great institution?

I've always been involved with the Navy from a young age as a client in the time frame where I went from being legally blind to totally blind, I faced some discrimination in a career that I was in.

Previously, I was an insurance broker before and when I very suddenly lost all of my vision, there was really a lack of willingness to accommodate and so kind of everything was turned upside down.

I had three young kids and I really had to think.

Okay, now what?

You know, What do I do now?

And so I began running a programme for seniors through C N.

I.

B in Regina and really, really enjoyed helping seniors, working with seniors, helping them kind of on that path, that journey of vision loss.

It's, you know, something that a lot of people struggle with and it's a journey and I really took to liking that.

So I did that as a volunteer for both three years and then was luckily lucky enough to get hired on as a programme lead in Saskatchewan.

Running programmes for all ages, of individuals across the province in southern Saskatchewan and then from there have really, you know, moved in my career and wanted to be in the management side of the organisation.

And so so I've been in management now for a couple of years and kind of worked my way through that.

So you mentioned you have three Children.

I do.

What ages would they be?

So I have a 14 year old, a 15 year old and an 18 year old, and so I assume that the is the 18 year old still in school or graduated out of, So she's graduated high school and she's currently in postsecondary.

Let me just ask, what's the experience?

Like the conversations of introducing the fact that you're bringing Children into the world, your mothering them, obviously very successfully, Ashley.

But conversations around the fact that you know you're partially blind or completely or totally blind.

What kind of conversations do you have with your Children to let them understand that this is who you are and that this has no impact on you being an amazing mother or amazing partner?

What kind of conversations would you have with them at a younger age?

I don't know that we were really happy conversation.

To be honest, it's always been the normal.

That's all they've known.

They definitely I think, have learned through seeing some of the struggles that I've faced and some of the discrimination that I've faced, they've been with me, you know, in some instances, and I think, if anything, me being blind has really helped them to understand how to treat others, what it means to really have your rights infringed upon.

And so my kids are very compassionate, very kind individuals, and they are always the first to help or to offer to the kids standing on the side or who might be different or have a disability or any of those things are always the first ones to kind of take them and, you know, say hello and introduce themselves and they're not scared of those types of things.

And so I think it's really helped them to be empathetic individuals.

It's also really helped them to understand what it means to have rights, have them infringed upon, and the steps that need to be taken for individuals to kind of get what they deserve and what you know is equal or equitable.

So it's been amazing to kind of see them grow up and and sometimes you kind of want to shelter them from some of those experiences and some of the challenges that I faced.

But I think having them involved and having them see those things and be open with them and and see how it affects my day to day life, I think has really helped them and will continue to help them as they grow.

Thank you for that answer, Ashley, You know the notion of education.

I mean, education comes in a lot of different forms in a lot of different levels.

And, you know, obviously what you're doing is great, you know, to be able to sort of do that and have your Children understand and be that sort of empathetic.

I think we need more of that in the world today, for sure.

Actually, you mentioned something that I want to touch on.

This podcast is about humans on rights and want to talk about human rights.

So what are what human rights of people who are blind or partially sighted or deaf, blind or sort of in that category, When you talk about those rights being either barriers to those rights or something, what are those rights that you feel are so important that people need to understand For people with a disability, the biggest one is just that individuals who have disabilities are seeking and fighting every day.

Still, you know, in 2022 here to have equitable access, so we always hear equal access was a really equal access, right.

If we have individuals in a room and I hand everybody a piece of paper with print on it that gave everybody the same thing that's equal.

But if I, you know, gave a large print copy to an individual who is low vision and a Braille copy to someone who's blind, you know, and then a print copy to someone who doesn't have any vision challenges or reading challenges that's equitable.

And so we really, you know, have the right to have equal access to things like literature, employment, housing, education, access.

When it comes to, you know, guide dogs, you know so many things and and a lot of those things today are still being denied.

Aren't available.

It's something that I'm very passionate about, and it's really helping individuals to know where to go and how to advocate for their rights and, for, you know, their equitable access to the world around them.

So actually, over your time in being a person who now is, you know, totally blind.

I want to talk about what You know what you would hope and some of the things that we can advocate for in the future.

But if you were to sort of go back to look at what it was like when you were born as a as a child and as a young adult, and then now is a professional person, as you are today.

What would you say that that you've seen some incremental changes and if you have, what areas might those have been?

I've definitely seen changes in technology and how technology has really enhanced people's ability to access information, especially when it comes to, you know, like educational materials textbooks.

You know, library books, you know, literature, access to literacy.

A lot of those who have definitely seen strides in the right direction.

For those things, I would say that's the one that stands out the most to me.

We've seen strides in employment, access to employment.

We've seen some strides in access for individuals who might choose to use a guide dog.

There's been strides in, and I think you know all of those areas, some more than others, but we've definitely seen some strides.

I think, as you said, I read somewhere that this is not a sprint, it's a marathon.

When you're an advocate for something and as you say now we've turned the page to 2022 and there's still issues.

Let's talk about some of those issues, actually, that you may be either advocating for in your capacity as the manager programmes for C N.

I.

B in Manitoba, or some of the things that you would hope that governments would start to understand in terms of legislation that they can start to bring in on behalf of people with disabilities.

I think some of the things that were, you know, advocating for are the built environment.

So, you know, really, it's It's more than putting in a wheelchair ramp right there's more to disability than a wheelchair ramp.

Just because of the organisation or business as a wheelchair ramp does not make it really accessible to everyone.

So it's really about how do we make those faces accessible?

Is there, you know, high contrast signage?

Is there Braille signage?

Is this you know, easily?

Navigate, able.

You know what's the ease of access for everyone?

Same thing comes for access to information, and so if we take covid for is that if you go for an example, there's been a lot of signage has been posted a lot of things that are arrows on floors and grocery stores and all sorts of things.

But a lot of individuals who are blind or partially sighted aren't able to use those types of things.

So how do we keep individuals who are blind or partially sighted safe?

But, you know, also follow, you know, guidelines and and things that need to be in place to also keep them safe.

So, you know, advocating really around, you know how we implement these things and, you know, some standards around.

You know, those types of things we're always advocating for access for individuals who have guide dogs.

You know, there's still a denial of access when it comes to restaurants, housing, transportation, a lot of those, a lot of those issues and access to health care.

In some instances, can someone get to a covid testing site?

Covid Vaccination site?

Are they accessible?

Is the process accessible?

Is the website accessible?

There's so many pieces to it that can really make it sometimes impossible for someone who is blind and partially sighted to get to, and even more so for individuals who are rural.

So I was really looking at, you know, how are we advocating for everyone involved to have the access that they need to live the life that they choose to live.

Yeah, obviously, uh, lots of work there for sure.

Ashleigh, would you say that this is something that is the C N I B.

I know you do a lot of advocacy work in the community.

You get a lot of champions in the community.

But is this something that ultimately in your in your opinion falls upon the shoulders of the federal government to sort of implement these things?

Or is there partnerships that you could advocate for?

From your perspective, I don't think it all falls on the federal government.

I think that it falls on federal, provincial, municipal and individuals.

I think that everybody plays a part when it comes to accessibility for all.

And I think if we all think about other people and not just our experience, but you know how others may experience their day to day life.

We're more open to learning and educating ourselves about how we break down some of those barriers.

And a lot of it really stands from stigma, right?

There's still a lot of stigma around individuals who are blind or partially sighted in their abilities even when it comes to employment, education, living a day to day life, being a parent, travelling independently, all of those things.

So I think the more individuals educate themselves, more businesses and organisations can be open to having those tough conversations and learning how, where they're lacking.

Where are those barriers?

Are they creating any barriers and how can they break down those barriers?

I think that's super important.

I think it's on all three levels of government to implement and to really take it seriously.

When it comes to accessibility, it should never be an afterthought.

It shouldn't be what we're going to implement this, and then we'll fix the accessibility afterwards.

It needs to be in the planning process, and it needs to be on the shoulders of all three levels of government.

Yeah, no, well said.

Actually, just one of the kind of ongoing I think battles that happens with anybody with a disability you talk about trying to take those barriers down is when there's cuts to a budget on a project you know, without sort of you don't have to make this up, but typically where a lot of those cuts go are for those elements that would be for the disability community.

You know, I was involved with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and interesting that the building code allowed for a number of accessible washrooms, but they didn't all have to be accessible.

And those of us that were working there said that just doesn't make any sense.

Like if you require a washroom, you require washroom.

You don't have to then be directed passed a washroom to an accessible washroom.

But you know, that's part of the building code.

And so you sit there kind of scratching your head, saying Somebody's not paying attention.

Yeah, it's so true, right when we we all try to go to the standards right, like building code and all of these things.

And the standards are so minimal, so minimal that it really doesn't make a space accessible for very many individuals.

It's really lacking, and I think that is definitely one of the areas that we are hoping to someday get to a point where the standard is much higher, then what it needs to and because it comes down to dollars and cents a lot at the time and so people are only doing the minimum.

So if it says I need to have a wheelchair, ramp Braille in an elevator in one accessible washroom, that's all the budget allows, then that's what they're going to do.

But if the code says that building needs to be fully accessible for all individuals, you know all washrooms need to be accessible.

All entrances need to be accessible.

Everything.

Then what a change that would be.

So it's really educating government change makers.

You know, individuals who are in charge of these standards and also the general public to really open their mind to see some of these barriers.

Because if you're not an individual who knows someone who works in the disability field or experience the disability yourself at this point in your life, then it's hard for you to see those barriers because you're not aware of what they are.

And until you're an individual who experiences disability or know someone personally who experiences disability, it's hard for you to really understand and wrap your head around.

You know what those barriers are and how to remove them and when you in your capacity, Ashley at c N I.

B working as the manager programmes for Manitoba.

Are you seeing that there is again, maybe just baby steps and it's slow, But are you seeing that there is an openness to have not only the dialogue because I think the dialogue is obviously critical, But what really, really makes the difference is the action that something is being done about it.

The words are great and you can sort of I mean, I just looked at one of the things that I know.

You know, When I was doing a bit of research, I looked at Bill C 76 which was to make voting easier for persons with disabilities.

And I remember a friend of mine here in in Winnipeg, a very dear friend.

His name is James Dirkson, and you know, he is in a chair and he just was absolutely floored when he was encouraged to go out and vote, you know, it was so important for him to vote Well, he's in a chair, so he goes to the voting station, has every intention of voting, and there is no rap.

It's simply a set of stairs to get into the voting booth.

So here's somebody saying We really need your vote and he's prepared, but he can't do it.

And so you know, you look at some of those things and and the irony of this really Ashleigh, is that the people that really want your vote are the people that can help you make sure that these things, the disability barriers, do come down.

But yet they're not there to understand that.

It's almost sort of cart before the horse.

We want your vote.

But you know, we don't know how to get there, right?

Oh yeah, voting is, uh, it's a barrier for sure.

For individuals who are blind or partially sighted as well every time there's an election.

Municipal, provincial federal, we spend so much time talking to those people who have the ability to, you know, make those changes and it falls on deaf ears, unfortunately, and it's more than just checking a box, it's more about taking steps to change those things.

And so we really, in our conversations and inter education, want people to and encourage people to take those steps.

Can it happen overnight?

Absolutely not.

Will it happen in the next five years?

No, probably not.

Can we make strides in that direction in the next five years, though, absolutely.

And some of those things are really small steps.

Some of them are sole minor, you know, like, for example, making it a standard that all signage has Braille seem all that difficult, you know?

But that would make such a huge difference or making an absolute requirement that voting locations are fully accessible, making a requirement that there is Braille voting templates available, making, you know the voting process is accessible.

And you know, people can get there and get out and vote.

And unfortunately, the individuals who need to or they want to vote who are people with, You know, of minority groups, like disability groups.

A lot of the times they're completely left out of the equation because they just physically can't get there or there's so many barriers that they just don't.

Yeah, So, actually, let me ask you about voting.

You know, when you have voted in a provincial, federal or civic election, how do you cast your ballot?

I'm not asking who you vote for.

I should be very careful.

That's not my question.

I'm simply saying is somebody who goes in with the idea of voting.

Now I want to cast a ballot.

I mean, if you're totally blind, how do you cast your ballot?

How do you vote?

Yeah, so there is a process for that to happen.

It's not ideal.

It's not execrable, sometimes not even secret, because right now the process is that you would go to a polling station.

They hopefully have had the training and education, and I've listened to that part of the training around how the process should go nine times out of 10.

It's up to the individual to let them know how that process should go and the things that they should have in their toolkit to help.

So there's typically a Braille template available, And so the people assisting you through the process would put the ballot into the template.

And then they would read off.

You know, the candidates in the order, and then they would be up to you.

Remember which slot has which candidate and then, ideally, you go behind the screen.

This happens behind the screen, and that person goes away.

You mark your ballot, take it out, fold it up, and then are able to put it in the ballot box.

That isn't how it always happens.

And so people generally like I don't know if that person has left.

Have they seen who I voted for?

Is it a secret ballot?

I don't know.

A lot of times they take the ballot from your hand and then go to put it in the box.

But then that leaves you thinking, well, Did it go in the box?

Was it folded correctly to go in the box to be counted, as you know, as a vote?

And so there's a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of times it's not secret, and people know who you vote for.

Everybody should have the right to vote in the same in the same way.

And so we really have a long way to go when it comes to voting a long we're really behind in that Ashley.

Is there any sort of jurisdiction country, county someplace that you may be aware of in any researchers, study or conversations you've had with people that have advanced some of these elements for people who are blind, partially sighted or disabilities?

Is there something that we as a country, a province a city can learn from.

Yeah, I think there's been some strides in telephone.

Voting was used in BC recently, which I think is great, Right.

Transportation is one of the biggest barriers that individuals with disability phase and so having the ability to vote from home without a paper ballot is a stride in the right direction.

Right?

We We've seen a stride in remote voting like voting from home, you know, over this last for a while and which is great.

But that processes 100% not accessible for someone who is blind or partially sighted.

It would require you to have someone there to help you, and so that's put up another barrier.

We have seen some strides around electronic voting machines and where an individual can plug in a headset and there's a green that kind of read through the steps, you know, almost like an A T m.

You know, with the headphone jack.

So it kind of walks you through those steps to be able to vote completely in secret and completely independently.

And at the end of the day, that is.

The goal is for an individual to be able to walk into a polling station on any level of government election and be able to go through the process completely, independently and to cast that ballot on their own, if that's the way that they choose to vote.

And so ideally, that's where we get to.

I think there's been some strides in some in some areas around around that, like with the telephone voting and the voting machines and stuff.

But we have a long, long way to go.

That's, I guess, one of the roles of the C N I.

B.

And what you're doing is you're looking for a community advocates community engagement opportunities to sort of talk about your message.

You know, I was on your website Ashley, and it's amazing the amount of things that are taking place.

I mean, the organisation is incredibly engaged, very robust, And one of the things I just happened to see was Ben Mulroney is out advocating now for the issue around dogs, for for blind people seeing eye dogs.

And again, that is something that you told me that you use.

How has that changed your life?

Having a guide dog, I am currently using my second guy junk and I always say that I hesitated whether I should get a guide dog.

Should I should I for years and had I known the difference in the level of independence it would allow me, I would have done it the day I was eligible.

My dogs have allowed me to really live the life that I want at the pace that I want.

And so they've allowed me to be able to travel independently between Saskatchewan and Manitoba and to have the career that I have because I can more easily get from point A to point B.

You know, winter is always a struggle when the snow comes and it covers everything that we use as individuals who are blind or navigating sidewalks, curbs.

Everything is just completely gone.

And so I really had to rely on other people in the winter, and now I'm able to get out more easily.

I can, you know, go where I want when I want, and that's the biggest thing for me is just the level of independence and freedom that it's allowed me as well as the confidence.

I think I'm more confident with a guide dog.

I think you know there's individuals who choose to use a cane versus a guide dog because it brings a lot more attention.

There's, you know, there's other factors that come in there, but for me, it's definitely definitely a lifestyle choice, definitely something that allows me to have the life that I that I really want to live.

And so he's been a huge, huge boost, my independence and freedom and my ability to live that life.

So you said you made the comment about you know when you were able or when you qualified to have a guide dog.

What level do you have to be to qualify to get a guide dog?

So you just have to be legally blind.

So, like I technically like vision wise would have qualified from day one.

Generally, it's about 16 to 18 years old, but more than a judge, you have to have the ability to travel independently really well with a cane with a white cane.

So you need to be able to get from point A to point B independently and kind of do some of those problem solving and really have really good.

We call orientation and mobility training which is, you know, just independent travel.

And so there's a lot of training that needs to go in and skills that need to be there in order for an individual to qualify, to get a guide dog into and to work with a guide dog.

I mean, obviously being a tremendous companion, you know, it must be also work on your part.

I mean, you also have to.

There's a relationship there, right between you and your guide dog.

It's not a one way relationship.

It's a two way relationship.

What's that like?

Yeah, it's definitely a two way relationship.

It's definitely a lot of work guide.

Dogs come highly trained, but if you don't use it, you lose it.

Same goes for dogs.

And so you know the training is always happening, and you know you need to be able to deal with the access, denial or, you know, dogs or dogs.

And they still, at the end of the day, you know we'll do things that maybe they shouldn't be doing as guide dogs, and so you need to be able to deal with those things and manage those things.

And it's not as easy as folding up the cane putting in your bag.

When you sit down at a restaurant, there's a little bit more to it.

So it's a lot of work, and there's a lot of work that has to go into maintaining that relationship, that training, you know, all of those types of things.

One of the most challenging things Ashleigh is.

Then you know these dogs.

I mean, I mean, not only their super intelligent as guide dogs, but they're gorgeous.

I mean, they're beautiful, beautiful dogs.

And so the sense, the intuition of people to want to come over to pat the dog or have a, you know, kind of say whatever get up close to the dog.

And I think you see now that a lot of dogs wear a vest that says, you know, in a nice way, but saying Please don't This is not a pet.

This is a working animal.

This is a partner.

This is a partnership between the person that's with and the guide dog.

They are.

They're gorgeous dogs.

They're cute.

They attract a lot of you know, people love dogs, you know, and rightly so right there are, you know, a lot of their companions for so many people, and they are a huge part of life.

So then, with that, you run into individuals who aren't.

You may be aware of the etiquette around guide dogs and working dogs, and you know, not letting them not talking to them, not distracting them.

And I think it's really just about educating people on the why it's not enough to say, Don't touch the dog.

But why?

Right?

And I think people need to understand that why and, you know, understand that the why is because it puts the individual's safety at a huge risk.

You know, if the dog is focused on you petting the dog and then I asked, dogs go forward and he misses that.

There's a curb there or there was a car coming.

There is an obstacle, and, you know, that could really put my safety and his huge risk.

And so it's really educating the public about the why and helping them to understand what these dogs are doing for the individual.

I don't know how Ben Mulroney got chosen, but, you know, I saw the commercial and it's, you know, it's really well done.

I mean, it's a the little puppies that are all over him.

You know, you just kind of melts your heart, Ashley.

One of things I wanted to just ask you is, as we, you know, we're all dealing with this thing called Covid.

There's variance.

There's all sorts of issues that have come forward.

How has that had an impact on you personally in terms of your day today, dealing with covid the variant now omicron?

What's that been like for you and or can you share how C.

N I.

B is dealing with that issue on a broader scale?

Yeah, I think personally, it's made day to day life a little bit harder, just like everyone else.

You know, as an individual who is totally blind, I rely on touch for a lot of day to day things like grocery shopping or, you know, which is anything.

And so maintaining a six ft distance can be really hard for a candidate who is totally blind.

Dogs don't understand six ft distance.

I can't tell a six ft distance, so there's a lot of barriers that have kind of occurred because of covid for all individuals and for individuals who have disabilities.

It's increased a lot of stress and isolation for people that made it harder to kind of get out.

There's been a lack of transportation in some instances when we look at shutdowns and lockdowns and different barriers to getting assistance.

And so there's been some challenges there for myself and for other people.

CVS really tried to make sure that we are being mindful of some of those barriers and helping to break down them where we can.

So we transitioned all of our programmes to virtual so all of our programming is currently being run through zoom or teleconference, those types of things, because isolation is a huge factor for a lot of individuals before covid who are blind or partially sighted.

And Covid has definitely exasperated that And so we want to make sure that we are having opportunities for individuals to connect and to not feel so isolated and to support them through that.

We've also introduced some programming like a vision mate programme where individuals can have some help obtaining some of those essential items, so they've ordered their groceries online and have someone pick them up and drop them off at their door.

you know those types of things so that people are able to get the things that they need to get their day to day life.

So it's ever changing for us.

We tried to transition to some in person programming when things settled down and had to transition back.

Now, to all virtual programming, our staff and volunteers, safety is the utmost importance for us.

So currently all of our staff are working from home after this Christmas break, You know, until we see where things go.

And I know we're kind of always every week, every day.

Sometimes, you know, we're evaluating and changing how we how we approach things and, you know, keeping the safety of our participants.

Our staff are volunteers at the top of our minds.

Yeah, that's as you said, we've all had to deal with something with respect to covid.

Actually, I want to thank you for your time.

But before I let you go, I want to just ask from all the things that you've been involved in as a youth professionally from a business perspective for now being you know, the manager programmes for C N I B in Manitoba, you've had an amazing career to date.

There's been a lot of challenges for sure, but I'd like to talk about hope.

You know what sorts of If you had some hope for people that were blind, partially sighted in the future, what would that be?

I think big picture hope is that I work myself out of a job, and the world around us is completely accessible, equitable, and individuals have access to everything that they need.

Will that ever happen?

I don't know.

But, you know, ideally, you know, that's the end goals, that I work myself out of a job.

And so, you know, big picture, I think.

Smaller picture, I think I just want individuals to know who are entering that journey of vision loss or have a loved one with vision loss if there's light at the end of the tunnel and to help them to be able to live the life that they want, I know that their support there there's services that are available so that they are able to live the life that they want and that they can lead a very full and exciting life.

Even, you know, as an individual with vision loss.

And sometimes, you know that can be hard to see for some people.

Hard to imagine.

But it's definitely true.

And I hope that anybody who comes through the doors of the C N i B feels that support and knows that that there is light at the end of the time.

Well, I would say that for this being my first podcast of year to Ashley, as we've turned into you know, 2022 turned the calendar.

I can't think of a better message of hope to start 2022 than you just delivered.

So thank you very much for your time.

Thank you for what you do.

I really appreciate.

And I wish you all the very, very best for the year 2022.

Thank you so much.

And thank you for allowing me to come and chat with you today.

And all the best in 2022 humans on Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray Social Media Marketing by the Creative team at full current and Winnipeg Thanks also to trick Seem a bit you in music by Doug Edmund.

For more go to human rights hub dot c a produced and distributed by the Sound Off Media Company Hi, I'm Matt Kendall, host of The Sound Off Podcast.

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