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White Canes. Black Canes. Blindness. Fiction. Reality

August 28, 2015 | Marie | Comments (0)

The first week in February is White Cane Week in Canada. Initiated in 1946 by the Canadian Council of the Blind, White Cane week is all about awareness, activism and integration.

Yes, it's not February. For blind people who use a cane, every week is white cane week. So let's roll with that. 


The white cane has its origins in the early 20th century. Canes, like hats, were often part of someone's "haberdashery" back in the day. These ubiquitous black canes were not readily visible to sighted people to indicate someone's blindness. Accidents happened. Black canes were not practical!  

But, things change. Libby Thaw from the Checkered Eye Project demonstrates the practicality of a black cane against the white snow and suggests that perhaps it's a bit of a fashion statement.

CNIB blogger Lynn Jensen shares a story about how a fuchsia white cane eroded a teen's reluctance to use a cane.

Robin from the Alliance for Equality for Blind Canadians shares a witty story about Black Canes and Canadians.


Blindness and "seeing" have long been inspiration for some of the most eloquent - and dystopian - fiction.


Portuguese writer Jose Saramago's Blindness is about truth, lies, disaster and ignorance. New York Times reviewer Andrew Miller described it as giving us "a powerful sense of the folly and heroism of ordinary lives". It became a visually stunning film with Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore.






NOthing. Doting. Blindness


Early 20th century British writer Henry Green gives us a tale, also called Blindness, of a young man blinded in a senseless accident who thereafter develops intuitive powers.

"Henry Green" was a pseudonym for a man who wished to live his life anonymously and avoided being photographed. Find out more about "Henry Green", his life and work.                                                            





Shades of Grey


Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron is a dystopian novel about the fictional society Chromatacia, in which one's social standing is determined by the colours they can see.

Extremely popular with his fans, Fforde disconnects himself from literary circles, and is generally unconcerned with what his publisher thinks.




But really, being blind is just that. Blind people don't live their lives as an allegory. Perhaps that's a luxury sighted people exercise.We sighted people are often nervous and not quite sure just what to do when we encounter a blind person. We want to help, to assist. But what does the blind person want? To find out, just ask them.

YouTube poster "Breaking Blind" demonstrates how she navigates with her "stick", and explains why she prefers a straight stick to a telescoping cane. 

Tommy Edison demonstrates his own technique, and tries to give blind walking lessons to a sighted person. She has a tough time! 

Haberdashery photo:


Wooden Leg Outcast to Super Human Saviour: Prosthetics in Life and Popular Culture

August 20, 2015 | Marie | Comments (0)

I spent a day last week at Ontario's Accessibility Innovation Showcase (#OntarioAIS for Twitter users) down at the MaRs Discovery District. It highlighted the cutting-edge work of Ontario technology companies working to improve life for people with disabilities. It featured an amazing array of products and services.

The folks at the Otto Bock booth shared lots of information about the work they do. Otto Bock provided athletes with free repairs and maintenance on equipment and limbs at this month's Parapan Am Games.

I found out a lot about the latest prosthetics and mobility devices. The examples were awesome. Here's a mockup of a prosthetic for an above-the knee amputee.

The knee is key. It controls the movement of the lower leg and allows for maximum flexibility and operationally. This example is by no means fully complete.  This sample has a blade for the footpiece.  Otto Bock Full Leg

Feet are designed for specific purposes; there's a myriad of variations. These have a separate big toe.

Otto Bock Feet

Thank you to the Otto Bock staffers for giving me permission to photograph.

Toronto-based tech startup LegWorks won the $20,000 Accessibility Innovation Showcase Tech Pitch Competition with their high-performing prosthetic for universal use. The key to their success is the All-Terrain Knee.

Their social business model charges full price for people who can afford to pay so they can subsidize the service for people in developing countries. Former Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley presented the award.

  Leg works AIS 2015

The earliest known prosthetic devices are from Ancient Egypt.  The specimen in this photo is from Ancient Rome. Actually, it's a 1910 copy of a bronze prosthetic. The original dated from 3000 B.C.  It was housed in London and, despite efforts for safekeeping, was destroyed in a World War II air raid.

 Roman Leg


20th Century popular culture is rife with references to "wooden legs" as an indicator of low social status and being an societal outcast.

D.W. Griffith's 1909 film The Wooden Leg is about a young woman who borrows a wooden leg from a tramp in order to repel an unwanted suitor.  Anthony Balducci puts this film in context of popular culture in his book The Funny Parts: a history of film comedy routines and gags

The Cover Of The Funny Parts                                          The Cover of Artificial Parts, Practical Lives

Stephen Mihm explores the recent history of prosthetics within a popular culture lens in his book Artificial parts, practical lives: modern histories of prosthetics.

The quintessential "outsider" with a wooden leg is Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver. Many editions of Treasure Island feature the pirate, not the young hero, on the cover.  Long John captures young readers with an ideal combination of nurture and danger. The library has numerous editions in various formats. Long John is a perfect subject for creative illustrators!

Treasure Island First US Edition  Treasure Island Ingpen Illustrations Treasure Island NCW yeth Edition  Treasure Island Teen Graphic Novel

Indeed, since the days of Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John in the 1950 film Mr. Silver seems to be a flamboyant actor's best opportunity to flamboyantly chew up the scenery! A long list of powerful actors, including Tim Curry and Eddie Izzard and have interpreted this intriguing one-legged pirate.  

Treasure Island                   Treasure Island             Muppet Treasure Is land       

Can you imagine Long John Silver with a 21st century prosthetic? Well, you really don't have to. Since 2003 two-legged actor Geoffrey Rush has been ripping up the screen as Jack Sparrow's nemesis Barbossa in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, most lately one-legged. Rush pays homage to Robert Newton and contemporary special effects. Pirates VFX supervisor Simon Stanley-Clamp explains the magic of making a two-legged actor into a one-legged character. (Hint: it involves a blue sock)

Pirates Of The Caribbean The Curse Of The Black Pearl                  Pirates Of The Caribbean At Worlds End              Pirates Of The Caribbean On Stranger Tides

Cutting-edge technology has enabled prosthetic devices to become more than just a "get-by".  They are tools of personal empowerment, freedom and integration.  LegWorks' venture targeted for people in developing countries exemplifies this philosophy.

This hasn't been lost in popular culture. Cult filmmaker Robert Rodriguez' 2007 film Planet Terror features a female character with a full on right leg prosthetic. Which just happens to be a multi-use machine gun. Which just happens to help her save the world from the bad guys. She couldn't do that with a bronze prosthetic, could she?

  Cherry Darling Machine Gun Leg


Listen to Planet Terror's refreshingly loud and outrageous original soundtrack with your library card. Connect with Hoopla, our streaming music and video service, and it's right there. Enjoy!


Surviving the "Summer Plague": The Struggle to Beat Polio

August 12, 2015 | Marie | Comments (4)

2015 is the 60th anniversary of the polio vaccine and many countries are celebrating an apparent eradication of polio. That's a wonderful good news story.  

Polio paralyzes muscles, including those muscles that allow one to breathe. In the early to mid 20th century parents, fear stricken that their children would survive the disease only by use of an "iron lung", fundraised diligently for a cure.

The "summer plague" was a dreadful experience.  Polio is extremely contagious and is spread by contaminated food and water. Children fell to the disease fast and hard. Out running and playing in the summer sun one week, then encased in one of these the next.

Iron Lung

This monster of a machine is the Negative Pressure Ventilator, the "iron lung".

Canadians have shared their stories of iron lungs, forced exercise and other treatments of the time. Explore their experiences in fiction, non-fiction and audiobook.  

To Stand On My Own         Remembering Polio       Walking Fingers

Young people will discover the hardships borne by youth and families on the Canadian prairies in To Stand on My Own, one in the excellent "Dear Canada" Young Adult series. 

Hear Canadian stories of survivors and caregivers in Remember Polio.

Polio survivors, caregivers and family members give vivid first person accounts of how polio affected lives in Walking Fingers. True stories told by Canadians who lived and continue to live with polio.

United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio when he was 39 years old. He leveraged his financial and social influence to fund American research. His work was instrumental in the founding of what would later become the March of Dimes and the discovery of the Salk vaccine. 

Roosevelt's personal struggle with polio greatly influenced the tone and direction of his presidency.  Children and adults can learn more about his bravery in these titles.

            The Man He Became                                      FDR and the American Crisis

FDR's Warm Springs, Georgia retreat continues to be a place of respite, healing, restoration and empowerment.  It's now a popular travel destination.

                                                      Presidential Retreats

How effective was that "iron lung"? The negative pressure ventilator is not a total phenomenon of the past. This Oklahoma woman has lived for over 60 years in one. A Texas man survives today because of one. And they are worried about polio's resurgence in some places in the world. Will polio ever really be eradicated?

Now, let's get up from the computer and go for a little walk in the sun. Just because we can.

Five Really Great Social Media Feeds by and for People with Disabilities

July 30, 2015 | Marie | Comments (0)

IBBY Collection at North York Central Library
Over the last few months I’ve come across powerful and influential social media work done by and for people with disabilities. Here are five of my favourites (so far).  It's definitely not an exclusive list. I hope you enjoy this mix! It reflects some of the work that I've been doing lately.

No Bones About It: The Official Blog of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Breeders’ digests, personal experiences, fundraising ideas, and really cool links. Lots of photos of dogs.  Very participatory. This post by a woman about to retire her service dog is stunning. You'll increase your awareness of the critical importance of trained and dedicated service animals. 

American Foundation for the Blind News Digest. AFB is the American equivalent to the CNIB. Their website is a super information source about Helen Keller. Posts are frequent and full of information. You'll need to set up an AFB profile and choose your blogs. Recent blog posts in their digest include an item on workplace mentorship  and an experiential post about how the Americans With Disabilities Act has enabled workplace success, dignity and independence.

@CELA_CAEB: A great Twitter feed to find out more about CELA and their role. Short, sweet tweets with links. They retweet lots of items of interest to library accessibility. Their website is a gateway to over 300,000 items in alternative formats. Toronto Public Library offers access to CELA collections for those who are blind or have a print disability.

@aodaalliance: This voluntary community coalition is chaired by @DavidLepofsky, the well-respected blind Toronto lawyer and activist. He leads in holding government, corporations and agencies accountable to people with disabilities. Mr. Lepofsky most recently spoke out for improved service to people in wheelchairs at the Air Canada Centre.

@LArcheCanada: Strong advocates for the rights and dignities of adults with developmental disabilities, L’Arche’s Twitter feed will increase your awareness of the work of Jean Vanier and the community within which L’Arche works. L'Arche Canada and L'Arche Toronto web pages invite you in to the world of L'Arche.

I’ll stop here. Watch for 5 more social media accessibility eye-openers soon!

Cerebral Palsy: Beyond the Wheelchair

January 21, 2015 | Marie | Comments (0)

A tribunal of the Ontario Human Rights Commission  has been hearing a case about vulgar comments and actions targeted at disabled residents of a local Co-operative Housing unit. The victims include a young lad with cerebral palsy, his mother and other residents.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a historically misunderstood condition which is caused by an injury to the developing brain during pregnancy, labour or in early childhood. There is no one "level" of CP; some have mild conditions, others more severe. Every person with CP is unique. The Ontario Federation of Cerebral Palsy publishes a plain-language guide which includes information on different classifications of CP, adaptive equipment and community living.

The first person with CP many people think of is Irish author Christy Brown, whose memoir My Left Foot became an award winning filmRoger Ebert, in his 1990 "4 star review" gives you an idea of Christy's struggle against the "odds", not a little of which was societal prejudice and disdain. A selection of Brown's work is at TPL, most at the Toronto Reference Library.

The library has several titles about the clinical aspects of cerebral palsy. Here are a few fiction and non-fiction titles from our collections which feature someone with CP as just a part of the story.

Stoner and Spaz

Stoner and Spaz (YA) by Ron Koertge, also available in e-book

Gadget Girl

Suzanne Kamata's Graphic Novel Gadget Girl is about a 14 year old's life-changing trip to Paris

Princess Panda Tea Party

The Princess Panda Tea Party is an Advanced Picture Book about competition and striving for success

People who live with cerebral palsy are active in sports, the arts, and in greater society in general.  They lead incredibly fulfilling lives despite ingrained negative societal attitudes. Have a look at this Huffington Post compendium of posts about issues surrounding CP. British Conservative MP Paul Maynard lives with CP.

The "7-a-side Para Football" at this year's Parapan Am Games debuted in Scotland at 1978's Cerebral Palsy-International Sports and Recreation Games and has been part of the Paralympic Movement since 1984. Here is more info about football and the Parapan Am Games.

Other people with CP who are prominent in sport, arts and culture include comedian Josh Blue ; motor car racer Nicolas Hamilton; artist and motivational speaker Dan Keplinger; activist and performer Lawrence Carter-Long; and actress Geri Jewell.

Geri is an accomplished actress and producer. She broke many barriers in the '80s with her recurring role on NBC's The Facts of Life. She's appeared in The Young and the Restless and Deadwood with Ian McShane and Molly Parker. You can pick up a copy of her candid and inspirational memoir at the library.

Animals at Work: Service Dogs

January 5, 2015 | Soheli | Comments (4)

It seems like there's a crowd on every corner when you come out during the holidays. You may have even spotted dogs among all the people, but service dogs tend to stand out a bit more.

If you haven't encountered one before, a service dog is a highly trained animal paired specifically with a person with a disability. These dogs are taught to be extremely aware of their surroundings and help their owners get around safely and independently.

Service Dog
Great Pyrenees Service Dog | Courtesy of Jean on a CC license

While service dogs can be friendly and very social, they are different from other dogs. There are always a few good things to keep in mind when interacting with them. The following ideas have been modified from a short list at

Speak with the owner before engaging with the dog - remember, this animal is hard at work! It's probably always a smart idea to ask someone before touching his or her dog anyway, but particularly when it's a service dog. You don't want to get in the way of the dog's work.

Keep in mind that a service dog's behaviour may seem peculiar at times, so it's best to listen to instructions from the dog's owner if you've been allowed to pet or interact with it.

While service dogs have been typically associated with people with visual disabilities, they are frequently being trained for other types of disabilities as well. You may have heard some buzz about a fairly new reality show, Dogs of War. The series follows returning veterans, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as they train with their service dogs over the course of a year.

Younger readers can learn more about service dogs and what they do too, with the help of some of the titles we have in our branches:

Helping Dogs
Helping Dogs
by Marie-Therese Miller

Dogs EyesThrough a Dog's Eyes (DVD)

Service animals are welcome in all Toronto Public Library branches. If you'd like to learn more about service dogs, what they do, and how we accomodate them at the library, drop by and ask, or call Answerline at 416-393-7131 for more help. 

Canadian thalidomide victims victorious

December 8, 2014 | Soheli | Comments (2)

In a rare act of unanimity, Canadian MPs recently voted to provide "full support" for those living with the effects of the drug thalidomide. It's recently been in the news, but thalidomide victims have been struggling to be heard for decades now.

Dark RemedyMost of these survivors were born in the early 60s, around the time that pregnant women were often offered thalidomide as a means to control morning sickness and insomnia.

It was a federally approved drug that didn't display its serious effects until later. The children born of many of these women suffered severe physical impairments, including missing or incompletely formed limbs.

Thalidomide has a chilling history, bringing up important questions about the kinds of drugs that are regulated and what we use to treat various conditions. You can read more about it in Dark Remedy by Trent Stephens.

Now, almost fifty years later, with more financial support from the country, many of these now-grown children can finally breathe a little easier. The War Amps, an organization that works with amputees, urged the Canadian government to look specifically at what the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada (TVAC) have outlined when considering what kind of support their members need. As many of the survivors are now reaching their fifties, they will require additional help as they start to face some of the disabilities that come with age. You can find out more about this debate in this article at the Globe and Mail.

About Canada: Disability RightsAlthough it's still a little too early to predict exactly how the promise of 'full support' will pan out, it's a huge moment in Canadian history.

In her book, About Canada: Disability Rights, Deborah Stienstra describes how small changes can help transform Canadian society into something that is truly supportive of those living with disability.

The focus, as she says, must not remain on 'fixing' bodies but instead enhancing the support structures around us. Hopefully, with this latest victory, those with disabilities due to thalidomide will be finally getting the support they deserve.


IBBY Selections and Other Picks for Kids

December 1, 2014 | Soheli | Comments (0)

When you hear 'ibby', what does it mean to you? 

A) A small, spotted dog

B) A nonsensical word made up by Dr. Seuss

C) the International Board on Books for Young People

D) the itch you get in that exact spot on your back you can't reach

If you answered C - pat yourself on the back! (And maybe try to get that itch, too).

If you answered B, you're still close: after all, IBBY collections will certainly include a Dr. Seuss book or two!

IBBY's Outstanding BooksThe IBBY collection housed at the North York Central Branch is a world hub of books specifically selected for children and youth with disabilities. These books range from simple picture books that explore diversity to intricate titles in Braille, American Sign Language and more. 

The collection is international , so you'll find books in many languages and formats. The North York Central Blog has a great introduction to the IBBY collection; be sure to check it out to see more. The Toronto Star also recently posted an article about this unique collection.

If you're not able to see those books in person just yet, there is a handy PDF document online outlining some of IBBY's outstanding recent books.

You can also see a librarian in your local branch to get  some great books showing children of all needs and abilities in many kinds of situations. Here are just a few that come to mind:

Brian's Bird by Patricia Davis

Eight-year-old Brian, who is blind, learns how to take care of his new parakeet and comes to realize that his older brother, while sometimes careless, is not so bad after all.

Lemon the Duck by Laura Backman

Lemon, who lives in a classroom full of children, acts like a duck and quacks like a duck, but she just can't quite walk like a duck. With the help of her friends, however, Lemon will do lots of things to become one happy duck!

Just Because by Rebecca Elliot

A younger brother describes all the fun he has with the big sister he adores even if she can't do some of the things he can.

Happy Reading!



Autism Spectrum Disorder: Increase Your Awareness With the Help of the Library

November 13, 2013 | Margaret W. | Comments (0)

Autism is affecting more and more lives. The Toronto Public Library can help you increase your awareness of this very complex disorder.


Find many full text, current articles in the library's databases. Here are some examples:

In the Health Reference Centre Academic database, you can find the full text of an article published in  the Townsend Letter in Oct. 2013. It begins: "Autism is the fastest-growing developmental
disability in the United States--more children are now diagnosed with Autism
Spectrum Disorders (ASD) than with cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. The rate
of ASD has increased from 1 in 100,000 births to 1 in 54 male births, as
reported by the Centers for Disease Control in 2012."  

Another example: "Asperger syndrome", from the Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013. This can be found in the "Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine" database.

Or check out the Teen Health and Wellness database. It has articles on Autism Spectrum Disorder under the following subjects:

  • What is Autism?
  • Myths and facts about autism
  • Ten great questions to ask when a sibling or friends is Diagnosed with autism
  • The problems that come with autism
  • How autism is diagnosed
  • Treatment options
  • Other autism spectrum disorders
  • How can having an autistic sibling or friend affect my life?

To locate these databases, go to to the A-Z list of databases on the Articles & Online Research page of the Toronto Public Library's website.

Need help using databases? Some  of the library's user education classes include information on how to search databases. Or you can always ask a librarian at your local branch to show you. You'll be amazed at how easy it is! You'll need your Toronto Public Library card to access the databases.

Library Programs

The Library is offering a program called "Science in History: The History of Autism" at both the Runnymede and Brentwood branches this month.

The theme of Leaside's Monday Afternoon Book Club for October is Autism.


Of course the Library also has many current books on the subject. Examples include the three below. There are many more.


The reason i jump

Understanding Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

  Living independently on the autism spectrum

The Reason I Jump

Also available as an eBook

Understanding Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders


Living Independently on the Autism Spectrum

Using the Library's Health and Medicine Databases to Find Information About Acquired Brain Injury

August 12, 2013 | Margaret W. | Comments (0)

People often come to the library asking for information about acquired brain injury, for themselves or for a loved one, or as students or professionals working in the health field. Their information needs range from the very basic to the extremely in-depth.

What is acquired brain injury? According to the Toronto ABI Network, acquired brain injury is caused either by a trauma or by a medical problem or disease process that causes damage to the brain, including "anoxia, non-progressive tumour, aneurysm, infection or stroke".

These injuries can cause disabilities that are anywhere from mild to severe.

The library's health and medicine databases are rich sources of information on this important topic. Databases such as Consumer Health Complete, Health and Wellness Resource Center, and Health Reference Center Academic all will have informative journal and magazine articles, book reviews, news, videos, and more. 

The library pays for these databases, and makes them available FREE to members of the Toronto Public Library - like you!

To access the databases, go to the home page of the library, and click on "Articles and Online Research". Then, from the "Databases by Category" list, choose Health and Medicine. You will be asked to fill in your library card number and your PIN before you continue.

As examples, here are few articles (of many) that I found on this topic, and the database each can be found in:

"The Experience of Living With a Family Member With Challenging Behavior Post Acquired Brain Injury", by Mary E. Braine. Available full-text in the Health and Wellness Resource Centre database.

"The Adaptation Process Following Acute Onset Disability: An Interactive Two-dimensional Approach Applied to Acquired Brain Injury", by Ingrid HM Brands et al. Located full-text in the Consumer Health Complete database.

"Neurotrauma and Repair Research: Traumatic Brain Injury and Its Treatments", by Hanna Algattas and Jason H. Huang. Full text in the Health Reference Centre Academic database.

This is only a small taste of what's available. Have a look.


The Accessibility Services Blog provides information and updates on current and upcoming library trends, programs, collections, and services to existing and potential TPL customers with disabilities, along with their friends and family. The blog offers a forum through which library customers can interact with TPL and share feedback and ideas, and communicate with staff. Features of the blog include highlights on special collections and assistive technologies available through the library, opportunities to get involved, and staff recommendations for programs, books and other materials.