Jan. 5, 2023

Yvonne Peters: Sight impaired, Braille Advocate , Human Rights Lawyer

Yvonne Peters: Sight impaired, Braille Advocate , Human Rights Lawyer

"I wanted to be more than just a screamer!" - Yvonne Peters.

To acknowledge World Braille Day, Humans On Rights spoke with Yvonne Peters. Yvonne practiced as a human rights lawyer in Winnipeg for over 30 years. During this time she served as legal counsel and advisor on a number of equality test cases involving disability rights and women’s rights. Her work also included serving as a legislative consultant on the implementation of regulated midwifery in Manitoba and acting as project manager for the development of a free-standing birth centre in Winnipeg, the first of its kind in western Canada. Yvonne has served on numerous boards and committees at the local, national and international level.

Most notably, she was the Chairperson of the Manitoba Accessibility Advisory Council and the Chairperson of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. A highlight of Yvonne’s community work occurred in 1980 when she chaired the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. A key goal of this Committee was to secure recognition for disability rights in the then proposed Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Committee’s efforts paid off and in 1981 Canada became one of the few countries to grant Constitutional protection to the rights of Persons with physical and mental disabilities. Yvonne is no longer a practicing lawyer but continues her community work in the area of human rights. In the fall of 2018 she was appointed by the federal government to the Court Challenges Program of Canada Human Rights Expert Panel. In the spring of 2021 she was invited to join the Inclusive Design Advisory Committee with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. For the past few years she has served as a proud member of the Board of Directors for the Winnipeg theatre group Sick + Twisted.


"I wanted to be more than just a screamer!" - Yvonne Peters.

To acknowledge World Braille Day, Humans On Rights spoke with Yvonne Peters. Yvonne practiced as a human rights lawyer in Winnipeg for over 30 years. During this time she served as legal counsel and advisor on a number of equality test cases involving disability rights and women’s rights. Her work also included serving as a legislative consultant on the implementation of regulated midwifery in Manitoba and acting as project manager for the development of a free-standing birth centre in Winnipeg, the first of its kind in western Canada. Yvonne has served on numerous boards and committees at the local, national and international level.

Most notably, she was the Chairperson of the Manitoba Accessibility Advisory Council and the Chairperson of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. A highlight of Yvonne’s community work occurred in 1980 when she chaired the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. A key goal of this Committee was to secure recognition for disability rights in the then proposed Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Committee’s efforts paid off and in 1981 Canada became one of the few countries to grant Constitutional protection to the rights of Persons with physical and mental disabilities. Yvonne is no longer a practicing lawyer but continues her community work in the area of human rights. In the fall of 2018 she was appointed by the federal government to the Court Challenges Program of Canada Human Rights Expert Panel. In the spring of 2021 she was invited to join the Inclusive Design Advisory Committee with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. For the past few years she has served as a proud member of the Board of Directors for the Winnipeg theatre group Sick + Twisted.

Yvonne travels with a guide dog and as such has encountered discrimination because of her dog. She is therefore a very active and passionate member of the National Coalition of Persons Who Use Guide and Service Dogs. Fun facts include learning to play the flute, involvement in horseracing activities and relaxing with her dog and husband at their cabin in Nopiming Park in Manitoba.

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Transcript

Stuart (Host) 00:00:00

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.

Amanda (Voiceover) 00:00:19

This is Humans on Rights, a podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host, Stuart Murray.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:00:30

One of the great things having a podcast, particularly a podcast that deals with humans on rights, is you get a chance to talk to some pretty impressive people. Today is no exception. It's interesting that my guest is Yvonne Peters, who I'm going to introduce. But I asked Yvonne if she would come on and recognize an international day that happens on January the fourth. It is World Braille Day, and it's an international day to celebrate the awareness of the importance of braille, as a means of communication and the full realization of the human rights for blind and visually impaired people. So let's kind of put that into context. So that was the reason that I approached Yvonne if she would come on to this podcast, which she agreed to do. And I'm thrilled and delighted. But now the listener, you're going to have to bear with me, because this introduction really speaks to the incredible person that Yvonne is. I couldn't find really the word Braille anywhere in what it is that she is so incredible about, other than you should know that Yvonne Peters is visually impaired. But let me just give you a bit of a background on who Yvonne Peters is. She's practiced as a human rights lawyer for over 30 years, focusing on disability rights and women's rights. She was a legislative consultant on the implementation of regulated midwifery in Manitoba, and became the project manager for the development of a freestanding birth center, the first of its kind in western Canada. She was the chairperson of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. And in 1980, Yvonne chaired the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. And the key goal of this committee was to secure recognition for disability rights in the then-proposed Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So, success. In 1981, Canada became one of the few countries to grant constitutional protection to the rights of persons with physical and mental disabilities. Now I know I've met Yvonne on numerous occasions, and I was delighted in 2021 when she joined the Inclusive Design Advisory Committee with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And just a couple of weeks ago, I was more thrilled to meet Yvonne in the Stewart Clark Garden of Contemplation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights when they announced that she was now a board trustee of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Yvonne, as I said, is visually impaired, and she travels with a guide dog and has encountered discrimination because of her dog. We're certainly going to talk about that. She's learning to play the flute. I'm not sure if she's going to play on this program, but she's learning to play the flute. She's involved with horse racing activities, and she has now stepped away from legal practice, but she's involved in a big way in the community. She loves relaxing with her dog Idris and her husband Howard at their cabin in Manitoba. Yvonne, I hardly touched on all the amazing things that you have done, but let me just start off by saying welcome to Humans on Rights.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:03:42

Oh, Stuart, thank you so much for having me, and thank you so much for that very kind introduction.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:03:49

Well, Yvonne, I think the great part about you is that you love a good conversation, and that's what we're going to have. But let's let the listeners know a little bit about. So, yes, you practiced 30 years as a human rights lawyer in Winnipeg. Tell us about your beginning. Where were you born? Where did you go to school? How did you get your education?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:04:11

Oh, boy, those are interesting questions. Well, I am the oldest of five children. I was born in Saskatoon, and I'm the only blind person in my family needed and extended. My blindness was caused by a genetic, very rare kind of genetic issue. So, as I said, I grew up the oldest of five kids. Now, when I was five years old, I lived in a housing complex with lots of kids, so I had lots of buddies, and when they were getting ready to go to school down the street, I suddenly learned that I would not be going with them. So, in fact, what happened is I had to go because the community schools in those days, neighborhood schools did not accept blind children. So I left Saskatoon in September and I went off at the age of six to the Ontario School for the Blind, I believe it's now called Ross McDonald's School for the Blind, located in Brantford, Ontario, which is, from a child's point of view, too. Long days and two long nights on a train.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:05:22

Wow.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:05:22

So that was surprising to me that I found myself not able to attend school. So I went to a residential school for eleven years of my life.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:05:32

So let me just stop you there for 1 second, Yvonne. So just go back to you mentioned that you were the oldest of five children.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:05:39

That's right.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:05:40

And you're the only one that is a blind child. Well, the only person that was blind in your family, if I could say it that way.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:05:46

That's great.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:05:47

Okay. And you said it was a genetic caused by genetic disease. What was that, please?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:05:52

Yeah. So what I was diagnosed with at that time was infantile acute infantile glucoma, which is different than the glaucoma that people might have when they're older. This is caused by two recessive genes. So each parent has to have this gene. It's quite a rare gene. So, in fact, Stewart, I was quite historical because the possibility of this happening was quite rare. My parents are both from Mennonite background, and so who knows? Maybe way back when there was a connection, we're not sure. But yeah, that's my little historical background.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:06:27

And then the other four children were born without that acute what do you call it?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:06:34

Acute infantile glaccoma.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:06:35

Acute infantile glaucoma, yeah. Okay, so that's a fascination. Right. Is that you're growing up as with these kids, and, I mean, they're all buddies and they're friends, and then as they get excited for the first day of school, you go east. Young woman.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:06:52

Yes.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:06:55

What was it like when you arrived there, Yvonne? When you first day that you arrived or the first week? I mean, just what was that experience like?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:07:01

Well, Stewart, I know we're going to talk about braille, and so I won't dwell on residential school, but we all know what residential school is like. It's very significant problems. So being away from your family for ten months of the year, for a good chunk of your childhood is not a good thing.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:07:22

Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:07:22

So I'll leave it at that. It was lonely, it was difficult, and it alienates you from your family, and you have to work hard to get back to finding a place within your family. But let me go to your subject matter, because that is a more happier point, and that is where I learned braille. Braille was the norm, and so there's always a little good with the bad. Right?

 

Stuart (Host) 00:07:50

Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:07:52

That's where I learned braille, and I'm grateful for that aspect of it. Yes.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:07:59

So, Yvonne, again, and just to be candid with the conversation, so you used it twice in this conversation already, residential school. So I'm just sort of trying to sort of process this as I'm asking the question.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:08:14

Sure.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:08:14

I never, ever took that to be a part of your background that you would have experienced. What has Canada is sort of awakening up to more and more is the issue around residential schools. So would you have then been involved with other First Nations children?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:08:34

So the school was primarily what it was for blind children, but yes, we had Indigenous children attend, and I don't think I got a very good experience other than some of the highlights that I can mention. But I had a difficult time at residential school. But let me tell you, the Indigenous blind children had it much worse. And there were cultural norms around hair and religion and various other family contacts and so on. We're very much in my opinion, my opinion, I think they were treated very poorly. So there's stories in every corner.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:09:19

Yeah. No, for sure. Again, I appreciate the openness on this, Yvonne, and in the process of conversation to sort of discover these things. So thank you for sharing that. I don't mean to sort of do a quick pivot away, because that's a horrific part of Canadian history that we're still trying to come to terms with, and I'm not sure how long that will be. The notion that and again, this is an off topic, but I mean, it is part of your life and the fact that it is becoming more and more clear, I think, to all Canadians that this was a genocide. People will say, well, maybe it was cultural. Put whatever word you want in front of it. It was a genocide. And I think that that's where we as a nation have to start to understand what it is we were part of. And I think that it's happening, Yvonne, and it's not what our conversation is today. I think we need to do a whole lot more, but I have to be a part of that as well. So I don't want to stand on any principle here. It's about learning. So let me come back then, Yvonne. One of the things about braille, were you aware of braille before you arrived as a blind child at the school in Brantford? Was that something you'd heard about and you were wondering about it? So how did that how did that come around?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:10:35

I knew a tiny, tiny little bit about braille. I lost all of my vision pretty well. I had a little bit of vision till I was five, but it wasn't much, but a little bit. So for me, being blind is pretty normal. And so as a young child, they did send a very nice man from the CNIB to come and meet with me and he showed me the alphabet and you know a little bit about braille. So, you know, did I know much? No. But I knew braille existed and, you know, it just seemed like a natural to me to read with your fingers. So, yeah, I had a little tiny exposure.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:11:15

And one of the things that fascinates me and I've tried to do a bit of research on this, Yvonne, and please help me with this is when you look at some people who are cited, how they learn to read, you know, there's a slower introduction of words and sentence structure and what that whole process goes. What is that like for somebody who is learning to read braille? Because if I understand correctly, braille is what? Six. Six. Well, you describe what braille is.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:11:42

You know better than I do. If you think of we call it a Braille spell. Three dots going down on the right, three dots going down on the left, and you take those dots and you can configure them. Thank you Louis Braille very much for his genius approach to figuring out how to do this. And you can form a number of different characters, if you will. I think there's 63 or 64 different characters that you can make with these six dots. And then by combining these characters different ways, you get all kinds of words. And there's a lot of short form that goes on in braille. We call it contracted braille. So you begin back to your first initial question. So just like kids when they go to school and they start to learn printing and how to recognize letters and words, it's the same thing for blind children, as I recall, way back then. You start by learning the alphabet, and then you learn and so I remember the teacher handing out she called them word cards. And the letters, there'd be certain letters and she, what are these letters? And you'd have to figure out what they were. That progressed then, of course, to actual words, three letter words, and they get longer and longer, and we'd be so excited when we could figure out the long words. And so I think it's it's just like what happens with kids in in, you know, community schools. And, you know, I think it took about somebody might correct me on this, but it's a long time ago, you know, up to grade four to really be a good braille writer. Because first you learn every letter and what we call longhand braille. It's called grade one braille, meaning not the school grade, but just that level of level of braille where you write every word out right. Gradually, over time, you learn all the different contractions. It's like shorthand, if you will, different letters. Like, for example, if you put the letters F and R together, that will stand for friend.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:13:54

Okay?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:13:55

Then you take a dot say you take a dot five, and you put that in front of an F. You will have father five, M as mother, and so on. And then a lot of the various combinations of letters ation S-I-O-N-T-I-O-N all of those get shortened down to two little characters. So you have to learn all of the contractions and how they fit together. So it probably takes a good three to four, five years to be good at it. And I expect that's the same for kids. They start learning to really read. Well, in grade five, everybody was learning it where I was, so this seemed like a very normal kind of thing to do.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:14:45

Yvonne, let me just ask. So the question becomes, you now learn to read, if you will, by using the touch of your fingers on the six points that Louis Braille has, as you say, ingeniously put together. What is the process then, of learning how to print or to put together? You get to a point where you're writing something.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:15:08

How do you do the writing? Well, that's a very interesting question as well. And to some degree, things haven't evolved much, although there is technology, which I'll touch on in a minute. But if you want to talk about picking up your pen or pencil, what's the equivalent? And so we learned two basic ways to write braille when I went to school. One was with a braille slate. I will try my best to describe what a braille slate is. If you think of a ruler, something the size of a ruler, and you put it horizontally across the page. So there's a ruler on top, and then underneath is another ruler, like you stick the paper in between. So the slate has two parts to it, a top part and a bottom part. And you slide the paper in between. And on the top part, you will have a line of what we call Braille cells. So each little Braille cell is a little individual cell that you can feel, and there's a line of them that go across the page. And then you take a stylus, which is like a little pointy object, like an all, which is the downfall of poor Louis Braille, that vision. So it's a stylus. And you poke holes using this slate as your guide into the paper to make your words. And again, to make it even more confusing, the way we learn to write is from right to left, because remember, the paper is in between these two parts of the slate, so it's going to the underside of your paper, right? So you're going right to left. You're not writing the words backwards, you're just writing the letters backwards. So you never think of it that way. You just think, this is how you do it. And then when you flip the paper over, of course you can read left to right. And I still love my slate. I still have my slate. I love my slate. The other device we use is called a Braille writer, a Perkins Braille Writer. They're kind of big, heavy things, but boy, they were much easier than the slate. So if you imagine a device in front of you and it has six keys, there's a big space bar in the middle, three on the right, three on the left. And remember, we said that braille was made up of six dots. So by combining these keys in different ways, you get braille. You can roll the paper in and you can type away, and it's much easier on your hands than trying to use your slate. And stylist. I have to say, when we use them in the class, they were darn noisy. So that was the two main devices nowadays. And I'll just touch on this now. We have Braille displays, which is attached to your computer. And so you can use them for reading Braille. And you can even write braille using your iPhone. There's a certain way that you can do it using placing your fingers on the screen and engaging the braille writing setting in your voice over setting. So I won't go into that as a little complicated, but that's more the newer version. There's still many of us that wander around using our slates. I mean, most of my writing is done on the computer. I don't sit down in my slate very often, but if I want to jot down a phone number or I want to write a label for my spices, so I know which is the garlic and which is the ginger. I'll just grab my slate and make a label.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:18:36

Yeah. So, Yvonne, that sounds the way you've explained. It is really clear. Thank you so much for that. So let's go from Brantford, you now have learned Braille. You're a young student. You're getting interested in your future. At what point do you decide that you want to study law? How did you find yourself studying law? Where did you graduated? I gather from Bradford.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:19:06

No, I did not. I was pulled out of school by my mother, who has not had some concerns about me. And we don't need to go into that back date myself. Here in the 70s, suddenly it was becoming more acceptable to integrate blind children into the classroom. And I had a very strong mother. She learned to be strong over time. She didn't starly, start out yelling and screaming, but she learned to do that, and so she really pushed for me to be integrated into our neighborhood high school. So I spent the last two years of my high school at City Park in Saskatoon.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:19:50

Saskatoon, okay.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:19:51

Yeah. Enjoying, you know, my being with my family and my friends. So and then from there, of course, one of the things and I you know, I willingly admit there's there's always a little good with the bad. One of the things at the at the School for the Blind that I give huge credit to is it was always assumed that we, as blind students would go to university regardless of gender. And it was highly we had some good teachers, and they really, really promoted, you know, post secondary education. So I just assumed I'd go to university. That was the natural thing to do. So I did, and I got a Bachelor of Arts degree, when, upon finishing it, you say to yourself, what am I going to do with this? What am I equipped to do? And so it was hard finding employment in those days. There was no rights protection, and so employers were pretty open about their discriminatory attitudes. And it took me a long time to find a job, but I found one with a community agency run by a Vietnam draft dodger from the US. Who had come to Canada and had a very progressive view of the world and said he'd give me a chance. And I learned to do crisis counseling, and a lot of it was done by phone, which was really useful for me, and to provide community support to people who needed to know where to go to get the certain kinds of supports that they needed. I'm sorry this is taking long, but no, listen, it's going to be answer. I learned a lot about social services and community development to this job, and I thought, I need more education, need better skills. And so I went off to the university of Vagina to get my social work degree. I was really pretty much convinced throughout most of my studies that I would become a counselor because I enjoyed talking with people, listening to people, engaging with them. So that was pretty much where I was headed. I took all the communication classes and then towards the end of my studies, I took a few, what we call social policy classes. Looking at poverty, looking at systems inequality, social inequality. And wow, did that ever open my eyes. Because then I realized that you can counsel people all you want, but if what they're dealing with as a society that treats them differently and discriminates and engages in inequality, all the counseling in the world is not going to help them because they're dealing with these systemic social inequalities. And that just I threw counseling out the door, much to the chagrin of some of my instructors, and said, I really want to get involved with social advocacy. And just at the same time as all this was happening, I had to do a paper on there was something about labor rights. I don't remember the paper, except that I found this amazing document called the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. I didn't even know such a thing existed. And reading it was very excited, only to discover that people with disabilities, people like myself, were blind, had no protection. So armed with my new, I'm going to be the social rights activist hero, and this discovery that here was a blatant violation, I got involved and found some other somebody, I guess, let me know that there were other people with disabilities similar to me who were concerned about this. And I joined the forces and I began working on human rights and pushing for legislative change and really got introduced to the whole idea of advocacy because before then I was just this maverick individual, didn't really know what I was doing. And somehow through my work we were successful in getting the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code amended to include mental and physical disability. And through my work I landed a job with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and worked as a human rights officer for five years. And as you pointed out earlier, this was all happening around the time that we were debating the constitution here in Canada and a charter of rights and freedoms and what that would mean. And to make a long story short, suddenly what started lurking in my brain was, I need to know how laws are made. I need more than just to be a screamer. I need to figure out how to get, be engaged in the development of laws and pushing through for law reform. And then this idea crept into my head. Why don't you go to law school? So in my early thirty s, I went and talked to somebody at the law school and discovered that I was considered a mature student. And so went through the steps. I never really quite believed I'd do it, but I went through the steps and suddenly found myself accepted into law school and foolishly quit my good paying job, and off I went to law school. And I want to say from the outset that I did not go to law school to get a typical law job. So I wasn't looking to be working in a law firm. I really wanted it as a tool to help me do the work that I really enjoyed in the area of advocacy. And that was a little challenging because all my buddies around me, they were just like, oh, boy, I'm going to go work for this firm and that firm, and this is the best firm to work for, and we should all if you got an interview, you were really something. And I found myself kind of competing with that idea to see what I could do, but that was never my intention. So that's in a kind of long way around how I ended up in law school. And in a way, some of my instructors at the School of Social Work were really hoping I'd continue on and take a master's in social work and continue on my social work career. But I really believe that law is not you can use all kinds of your skills when you're working with the law, and a social work degree is very handy.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:26:45

Yeah. No, yvonne, did you get clarify this. Did you get your law degree at the University of Saskatchewan?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:26:53

Yes. Sorry.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:26:59

Again, was braille the most significant way, of course, that you would be, other than when you had verbal conversations and different things, but braille, you had to present a paper. It was all done by braille.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:27:11

No, let me tell you about braille. Sadly, braille. It was very difficult in those days when I went to university in the get braille, to find a place that could produce the materials that you need quickly enough. And so I was not able to get my materials in braille, even though that would have been my preference. One thing I'll say about braille is it does take up a lot of room. Braille, even with all of its contraptions, still, because it's bumps on a page, the book can get pretty thick pretty quickly. So, for example, if you have I had a pocket dictionary that was seven big volumes.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:27:58

Wow.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:27:59

So in some ways, braille, as much as I love it, isn't practical because it just, you know, takes up a lot of space. So most of my university was done in those days by using cassette tape. So I had to hire readers to read legal text. Can you imagine anything more boring onto cassette tape? And then in turn, I would listen to those tapes. And that is not, let me tell you, an easy way to learn law. Listening to somebody read legal text, everything you have to kind of keep running around the room so you don't fall asleep because it's pretty dry.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:28:36

Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:28:36

But it was the only way available to me in those days. Things are different now, but in those days, it was the only way.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:28:44

Okay, so then, just as a sidebar on this thing, Yvonne, what is different today? Let's just explore that for a second, and then we'll come back to a couple of other thoughts that I have with you.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:28:55

Yeah. Today technologies has advanced leaps and bounds, and now everybody uses a computer. So most of the material that people need can be obtained in an electronic format. That's a huge plus for blind people. The next step, then, is to make sure that electronic material is accessible. That is, it's in a format that will be easily read by your screen reader. So now what you can get is a screen reader that you install onto your computer, and it reads everything that's on the screen to you. And there are some difficulties because you have to make sure the screen reader can only recognize certain things, and it's not good at recognizing pictorial or imagery. So everything has to be sort of in a way that looks like words. So as long as it's very possible to make electronics materials accessible. And just as an aside, anybody who has an iPhone, just go into your settings, go down to accessibility, go down to vision, open up Voiceover. And the good thing about iPhones is that the screen reader called Voiceover is built right into the iPhone, so you don't need to download or install anything different. But that's how people nowadays, most blind people, access any great quantity of material is through the electronic means. And so had I had that when I went to law school, that would have been so much easier. And I mentioned this earlier, you can connect up what we call Braille display devices, and when it connects to your screen, instead of your screen reader reading to you. Now, this device will show you in Braille, line by line, what's on the screen. So you can read your materials in Braille using these very expensive Braille displays. I have yet to own one, but it's on my list. But yeah, so things have really improved. Thank goodness.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:31:05

Yeah. So if Howard happens to listen to this, there could be a special anniversary coming up. He might want to buy one of those for you. Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:31:14

He hears me talk about it all the time, I'm sure.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:31:17

Yvonne, just a couple of things. One is, I know that you currently travel with a guide dog, and I know that this is a bit of a pivot away from Braille, but just for somebody who is blind or visually impaired, as you are, tell me, when did you get your first guide dog?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:31:36

I'm on my 7th guide dog. I got my first guide dog in 1978. Up till then, I was, I think, in. My own opinion, a very good cane user, because that's another way that people mobility for blind people is using a white cane. And I thought it was pretty good and that was adequate. And then I was in Toronto visiting a very good friend of mine who I admired because she had very good mobility skills. And here she was with a guide dog, and she was getting around so gracefully and so easily. That really impressed me. So then I investigated the idea. I didn't know a thing about dogs, didn't even know if I liked them, but went to Morristown, New Jersey. It's called the seeing eye. It's the first school in North America to train. And they actually are the people who own the trademark Seeing Eye dog.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:32:35

Okay.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:32:36

And yeah, I gave it a try and it took a while, but after a couple of weeks, I really loved working with a guide dog. I love the feel of it and the ease of it and the gracefulness of it. And you get a lovely furry companion.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:32:57

Yeah, I know for sure. Why did it take a while? What were some of the challenges?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:33:03

It's quite daunting. First of all, as I said, I didn't even know how to play with a dog. I didn't have a pet as a child. So they brought the dogs to us, and then you're supposed to play with them and get to know them for 3 hours. I thought it was the longest 3 hours of my life. And my dog wasn't very happy with me. She just cried. She wanted to be with the trainer, like she was not interested in me. But I think the real big thing is giving over your trust to a dog. Really? A dog is going to guide you safely down the sidewalk, across a busy street, past obstacles, up and downstairs. Can this really be true? Because I was a very independent person, very sure of myself, and I just could not imagine handing over my trust to a dog. And really, it shouldn't take that long, I suppose, because once you got into it and you realize, oh my God, this can work.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:34:08

Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:34:09

You you give over. But it did take me a while, and even the first year, you know, it's a learning curve for both of you. So it takes time and just learning how to care for dogs. A dog needs lots of care.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:34:22

Yes.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:34:22

You can't just put it in the corner and say, like the white cane, and say, I'll take you.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:34:27

What I mean? Yeah. Interesting. And you mentioned we just touch on the notion, of course, that you have a guide dog and you have encountered discrimination because of your guide dog share. What does that look like for somebody who's watching this happen or happens to somebody? Please. Yvonne.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:34:51

Well, I'll kind of give you a before and after scenario or overview. When I first took my first guide dog back home to Saskatoon in the late 70s, there really hadn't been many people with guide dogs in Saskatoon. I think I may have been the first, so I'm not sure of that. It certainly felt like the first. So every place I went, it was the same debate no dogs allowed. And then luckily, back to the human Race code. It had just been amended to protect blind persons who use guide dogs. So I did have a law on my side, but every place I went, it was a debate about my rights versus their decision that they didn't want guide dogs in their premises. So, I mean, for the most part, after discussion, I would be let in. Sometimes I was very in a very hostile way, kicked out.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:35:48

Oh, wow.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:35:49

I did have to go to human rights tribunals a couple of times. One went to the Court of appeal in Saskatchewan. But I couldn't be honest and truthful with myself and just back down. That's just who I am. I'm not saying everybody has to be that way, but it's a terrible feeling. I mean, the one scenario I'll tell you about, because I'm kind of giving you the academic version, but it has an emotional toll as well to get your stomach goes into a knot wherever you go, you think, oh, my God, it's going to be an ordeal. We took my mum and dad out for Chinese food. My dad loved this Chinese place. He loved it. He wanted me to go with with them to it. So I went, and there was a terrible ruckus at the front door. They did not want me in there, and in fact, there was nothing I could do. They weren't going to let me in, no matter. And I was with my parents. And there's only so much fuss or ruckus that you want to make in front of your parents that they started getting very uncomfortable. And it hurt me deeply, deeply that my parents had to witness this. My my parents were shaken that their daughter would be treated this way, especially at a place that they'd gone to, and really felt like a sort of a neighborhood friend. Even though I feel quite strong and I feel like I can defend myself whenever I say, whenever somebody, you know treats you that way and says, we don't want you in our establishment, it tears away a bit of your soul and it doesn't come back. And even if you go to a human rights tribunal and they give you $100 because you for hurt feelings, that's nothing. I mean, your feelings have been hurt. They're damaged. Now, I want to say that here in Winnipeg at the moment, I have occasionally run into rejection. Very seldom have I left. So for the most part, I've welcomed. And there's nothing said. Occasionally, when there is a bit of a discussion, I win, because I say to them, let's call your lawyer. Let's ask your lawyer if it is okay for you to discriminate against me. And if your lawyer says that you're within the law to discriminate against me, fine, well, we'll see it. But I said I think your lawyer is going to give you a different opinion.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:38:15

Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:38:15

As soon as I invite them to call the lawyer, they sort of give up, let me in. They might not like me being.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:38:24

The part that always comes back when you tell that story. That happens to somebody like you who has been involved in securing the recognition of disability rights in the Canadian Charter for Rights and Freedoms. And there's something that doesn't quite square there. Where Canada has granted constitutional protection to the rights of persons with physical and mental disabilities and you're denied access to in a restaurant.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:38:56

Yes, and it still goes on. I mean, the big issue now is transportation and air carriers. And I want to be careful here. They know they have to carry guide dogs, but now they're throwing up barriers like well, we're not going to carry you unless you register two days in advance. Okay, that's reasonable. But let's say something happens and I need to get to my family because somebody's very ill, right. And I have to jump on that plane within 2 hours. Well, I have to go and argue and who knows if they'll let me on the plane. So there's still barriers and we move two steps forward and we move a step back. The barriers that are pop up in different shapes and versions, but they're still there. But eventually, gradually, we do make success, but we must always stay vigilant because we can never assume that our success is going to hold, that we still have to keep vigilant.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:40:07

Yeah. And again, I'm going to come back to braille at some point, even in this conversation. But here's the part that I'm just fascinated by, that you were involved in the implementation of regulated midwifery in Manitoba. What brought you to getting involved with midwifery?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:40:28

That is such a good question. I asked myself. I did a lot of speaking in the early eighty s I guess, about new reproductive technologies and this is another sort of complicated issue. So in the joined some of the discussions on women's reproductive issues and one of the things that's been happening is, you know, prenatal diagnosis and how you deal with the results of those prenatal diagnosis. And sometimes there are conditions that are identified, sometimes disabilities. And the concern is how women's choice was being looked at in terms of the kinds of diagnosis and what medical professions would say to women about the fetuses that they were carrying. So while I just wanted to raise the awareness with women that prenatal diagnosis is a good thing, but it can also be discriminatory. So I did a lot of this talking, and I guess some people some of the women heard me. And out of the clear blue one day in the got a call from Manitoba Health from a person I knew there. Woman I knew saying would I be interested in joining the Midwifery Implementation Council and would I head up the legislation committee to develop Midwifery? And I'm going, what do I know about midwifery? What do I know about birth or whatever? But the more I thought about it, it really is to some degree a rights issue. Again, a part of choice about how women give birth and done in a safe and well evidence based, researched way. So, you know, I thought about it and then eventually accepted to be on this committee. And let me tell you, Stewart, it's it's a very, very fascinating area. And once you're in, you're sort of hooked for life. I just became such a big, I don't know, groupie or fan of midwifery and thoroughly it's a highlight of my career and still keep in touch with how things are going. So, yeah, and just to keep the braille topic going bubbling here, I had the Midwifery Act brailed. As you know, when legislation is being proposed, it goes through committee review where the public can come and make their submissions. And so the Midwifery Implementation Council was there and I was there with my Braille legislation. In case any questions came up, I could help answer the minister, who was Darren Prasnick at the time, right. If something came up or whatever. So there he was with my lovely braille book. And at the end of the hearing, I don't know who did this, but somebody grabbed my book and took it off to Darren Frazwick and said, here, sign this as the Minister of Health, sign this braille copy of the Migratory Act, because the legislation, as you know, went through. I have this little souvenir of my time with my Braille legislation.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:43:38

Amazing. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Yvonne. Yvonne, is there anything that you look at and say that from a blind person's perspective, how can we improve from a human rights perspective, the use of Braille? Or would you sort of say, look, that's kind of past now. It's really more what you explained earlier about technology, and I'm really looking for this, too. From an inclusive as we try to give every human being the same experience, how do you sort of see that where we at?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:44:16

Well, let me say that braille has enjoyed a resurgence. Many of us really encourage braille. So what I say to anybody who's putting up public information, think about how to be as inclusive as possible. And obviously you're going to start, because no doubt your material will be electronic. That's just the way we go these days. So make sure your electronic material is compatible with screen readers. The other thing, though, let's say you're having an event. What a lovely idea if you had conference materials or agendas or menus in braille. I realized that putting a lot of big chunks of material in braille might be challenging, but how about some of those simple things? Or how about putting numbers on your hotel door that are in Braille? And in many cases, elevators, for example, now do have braille. I was so happy when I see that in Japan. We visited Japan a few years ago, and braille is universal. It's not a universal code. It's different in every language, but it's used in all countries. When I was in Japan, they have braille on everything. Your point of sale device when you're paying all in Braille, my friend had a washer. All the settings you could feel in Braille. You went to visit a beautiful garden with flowers. All the names were in Braille. Sadly, sadly, sadly, I do not read Japanese braille. Oh, it was lost on me. But it was so thrilling. And I think if we can do simple things like that, like just add braille, and for example, the museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, I believe a lot of they do have titles, names of things that you can read in Braille. They have a Braille map and so on. I think if you just do those things and some people will say, well, not a lot of blind people use braille. And I want to be clear, that is probably true. We all learned as children now, because of advancement in medicine, we're not seeing as many blind children anymore. But where blindness is, where there's we're seeing more blindness taking place is in older adults because of illness or disease or perhaps aging. And so it's not as easy for older people to learn braille, but we are pushing that, because even the simplest of things, like, for example, if you're going on a tour and you're in a flower garden and you wonder, what's this flower? And you could just read the name. Just to learn to read a little braille would be it's helpful. Or to write down a phone number that you can keep in your purse. You don't have to flick on your phone. I think braille is still very current. We need to keep pushing it, and that's what we've been doing. There was a time when everybody said, technology is here. We don't need braille. But if I can, can I just go off in a little tangent about braille?

 

Stuart (Host) 00:47:27

Absolutely.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:47:27

And that is why braille what's the difference? Why not just read things on computer, but think about yourself. When you listen to something, you're listening to the radio or whatever, and then you read a newspaper, it engages different parts of your brain, and it's a totally different experience. And that's the same for braille users. If we get to read something and I personally find I call myself a visual learner, if I can feel that or see that word on the page, it it's way more meaningful. I'm going to retain that information a lot more easily than if I just listen to my screen reader read it on the computer voice, or even if it's a human voice reading a book to me or whatever.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:48:11

Right.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:48:13

We need to keep that part of our brain engaged. We all love to pick up a book at Christmas. We're all going to get books for Christmas. Read it. Enjoyable experience. When I get a braille book, I just do a happy dance. I'm really pleased about that.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:48:28

Yeah, that's fantastic. Would you say, Yvonne, is there somebody's listening and said, I'd really like to learn more about braille? Or is there a documentary or a book or something that you may be aware of to say, you know what, this is just something that everybody should watch or read or be a part of to really understand the importance of braille in society?

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:48:54

Well, you can find all kinds of material, I suppose, on the Internet. I think there's something called the International Braille Authority. It ties with the Braille Authority or the International Braille Authority. But look that up because they're really instrumental in promoting braille and providing educational I myself haven't looked it up lately. I suppose I should, but I think there you would find in all of the arguments around the use of braille and why braille is important and, you know, a little issue, but it's kind of important. But I'll just raise it is one of the little debates that some of the some of us in the blind community have been having is, should braille be capitalized? Because a lot of times people do not capitalize it. But we argue, some of us, that braille should be capitalized because it is named after Louis Braille. It is a name. It's named after somebody. It's not just like, you know, print or writing or it's actually like Morris Code, where we capitalize the M, as I understand. So we're having this little debate about we should be capitalizing braille. And many of us do that. And the reason I raised that, because that, again, underscores the importance of braille, but it is a form of communication.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:50:26

Yeah. You mentioned the fact you were in Japan and there was braille on where the flowers were for a description of the flowers. But as you say, you can't read braille in Japanese. This is a big assumption, Yvonne, but is it the assumption that whatever country you go in that so, for example, you go to France. If there is braille there, it is going to be in French, period, full.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:50:53

Stock, totally, totally, totally different. Yeah, it's totally different. But isn't it amazing that they take this little invention by Louis Braille, who, of course, invented it? He's from France, so it's French. But you can take this six dot communication and incorporate it into most languages around the world. It's pretty amazing.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:51:18

It's stunning. I mean, it's a miracle, for sure. Yvonne Peters this has been a great conversation, and we're going to do it again because there's so many other areas that you were involved in. My whole purpose of creating this podcast to talk about humans or talk with humans about rights. You have a great history of being so active and so involved, and so there's going to be another opportunity for us to have a conversation which I really relish and look forward to. But for today, as we really look back and I guess celebrate what is, the United Nations has determined that January 4 should be World Braille Day. Yvonne Peters, thanks for taking some time and thank you so much for this conversation. I really, really appreciate it.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:52:07

Well, thank you, Stewart. I really enjoyed myself. And happy world braille day.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:52:12

Yeah, for sure. Great way to end it. Thanks, Yvonne.

 

Yvonne (Guest) 00:52:15

Okay, bye bye.

 

Stuart (Host) 00:52:16

Bye bye.