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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.

Get Inside the Action: Parapan Am Athletes on Twitter!

August 6, 2015 | Marie | Comments (2)

Immerse yourself into the Parapan Am experience along with our athletes. Not only are they amazing competitors, but they know their way around social media. Feel their pain and their gain! A caveat: these are not scientifically chosen. I like them because of their frequency, retweet-ability and enthusiasm. If you've got a fave Parapan athlete Twitter buddy, add them in the comments.


 Photo: @CDNParalympics

Road Cyclist Jaye Milley @ParaJayeMilley. Calgary native Jaye is racing at Parapan right after hard competition in Switzerland. Daily tweets, short and sweet.


Photo: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald/

Wheelchair Rugby player Zak Madell @ZMadell. The master of "murderball", CBC calls Zak "one to watch".  Zak's tweets are enthusiastic and funny. Zak's from Okotoks, Alberta. Zak does not take his eye off the ball!

Zak Madell

Photo Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Europe Sept. 8, 2012

Swimmer Benoit Huot @benhuot. Wow. Five golds, Athens 2004. Fifty world records. Philanthropist and motivational speaker. The pride of Longueuil, Quebec. Find out about his accomplishments and work. Tweets in English and French. 


Photo Source: Getty Images/

Wheelchair Basketball player Jamey Jewells @JameyJewells. A product of Variety Village's all abilities training program, Sydney Nova Scotia native Jamey pulls no punches! She will keep you on the edge of your seat during the action. She's married to fellow Paralympian - and Variety Villager Adam Lancia. Find out more about their wonderful story.


 Photo source: 

Expand your Parapan experience even more with these Twitter feeds. The info will be current, accurate and dependable! 

Canadian Paralympic Team @CDNParalympics. Expect lots of up to date summaries here. Check out the website for info in more detail.

  • Accessible Media Inc. @a11ymedia AMI live-describes CBC's coverage of the games beginning August 7

Follow these feeds and you'll be the best informed person you know about Parapan Am 2015!

Parapan Am - #Paratough - Canadians "Got the Grit"

August 4, 2015 | Marie | Comments (2)

It's time for the Parapan Am Games! 8 days, 1600 athletes, over 40 delegations. The stellar accomplishments of our Canadian athletes at the Pan Am games have created a buzz which is still strong leading up to the Parapan opening ceremonies on August 7.

Our 216 Parapan Am athletes are tough, dedicated and have a "no prisoners" attitude to their sport.  "The games are tough, the athletes are tougher" is the clarion call that invites us to witness their sports achievements for a stunning August week.

Frame your experience by discovering these Parapan events - and the amazing tough athletes who engage. Get out to a venue for thrilling sports thrills!

Wheelchair basketball - Think making it up and down the court is tough on your feet? Well, this is tougher - fit-wise and coordination-wise. Look for Scarborough's own Adam Lancia.  He's a product of Variety Village's all-abilities competitive program. Find him @AdamLancia on Twitter.



Boccia - When I was a kid I'd watch Italian men in my neighbourhood play Bocce for hours. There would be drama.  Marco Dispaltro  brings his winning attitude to the court. The psych-outs are totally intimidating! Many boccia afficianados live with Cerebral Palsy or, like Marco, Muscular Dystrophy. Find him @bc4boccia. Marco represented Canada at a recent diplomatic ceremony in Panama to celebrate the games. 



Football 5-aside - Sighted people are both admirable of and intimidated by all the things that blind and low vision people can do. This sport is no exception. It debuted in Athens, 2004.  See it in action, courtesy of the London 2012 games.

Cycling - Road - Canada's Jaye Milley has a story of grit and determination to tell. And he's not finished yet. He's a quadruple amputee with the nickname of "Iceman". Don't get in his way. He will run you over. He's also an inspirational speaker. Find him @ParaJayeMilley

Use the Twitter hashtag #paratough to keep in the loop with all the excitement of the games.

Visit a Toronto Public Library branch and share in the Pan Am and Parapan Am fun with lots of events, art exhibits and suggested reading. We're having a great time - join us! 

This image of Jaye brings together all the work, vision, determination and winning spirit of the games: 




Parapan Am Athletes Take the Stage

August 1, 2015 | Soheli | Comments (0)

Although the Pan Am Games may have ended, the excitement hasn't died down just yet. The Parapan Am Games are set to begin this month (August 7, 2015) and will continue until August 15th.

This year's Parapan Am Games will be the fifth edition since the Pan Am Games began, and it will include a number of unique sporting events. Among these are archery, wheelchair basketball and rugby, goalball, and many more.

Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball 2012
Image courtesy of Ben Rodford on a CC license.

The history of paralympic sport is a rich one. Here's a quick rundown from the official Pan Am/Parapan Am Games website:

Sport for athletes with a disability has existed for more than 100 years. It was not until after World War II, however, that sports for athletes with a disability were widely introduced as a way to assist in the rehabilitation of war veterans and civilians who had been injured during wartime.

In 1944, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain and, in time, rehabilitation sport evolved to recreational sport and then to competitive sport.

On July 29, 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes — named the Stoke Mandeville Games — where 16 injured servicemen and women competed in archery. In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the movement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded. Four years later, competitors from the Netherlands joined the games and an international movement was born.

Inclusivity and accessibility has been a huge part of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. If you tuned into the Pan Am Games' opening and closing ceremonies, you may have noticed American Sign Language translation. Also, all the medals awarded to athletes this year will include the enscription "Toronto 2015" in English, Spanish, French and Braille. This will mark the first time Braille has been incorporated into all medals for both Parapan Am and Pan Am winners.

There is lots to look forward to for the upcoming Games. If you're in a library branch with a TV, you're likely to see coverage of the many sporting events taking place during the Parapan Am Games. You can also look out for great book displays and activity ideas at a number of branches. 

Two separate torch relays will begin on August 3rd (one in Niagara Falls and the other in Ottawa) and unite at the Parapan Am opening ceremonies on August 7. When the Games wrap up on August 15th, the closing ceremonies at Nathan Phillips Square will be sure to dazzle the crowd. Best of all? The closing ceremonies are free to attend!

Toronto 2015 Nathan Phillips Square
Image courtesy of Sean_Marshall on a CC license.

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!

Women Who Fought for Disability Rights

March 9, 2015 | Soheli | Comments (0)

International Women's Day Yesterday marked International Women's Day. Celebrated the world over, this is a time to honour and celebrate all the women who have made the world a better place and to look more deeply into women's causes. This year's theme is "Make it Happen"

Historically, women have often faced tremendous challenges in doing the things we take for granted: voting, working outside the home, receiving education, and more. A woman with a disability may have even a more frustrating experience.

Here are three Canadian women who fought for disability rights and awareness.


Theresa Ducharme
Polio survivor and political candidate

Ducharme was born in Winnipeg and contracted polio later in life. She was often in and out of the hospital and required an iron lung to support breathing. She was an avid disability rights activist and was the first person needing an on-board life support system to fly as a regular passenger on an Air Canada flight in 1981.


Bonnie Sherr Klein

Bonnie worked in Montreal for a number of years for the National Film Board of Canada. In her time there, she directed Not a Love Story, an anti-pornography documentary, as well as Shameless: the ART of disability. In 1987, at the age of 46, she suffered a massive stroke, which led to months of hospitalization and then several more years of rehab.

To learn more about Bonnie's extraordinary life, be sure to check out  Slow Dance: a story of stroke, love and disability.


Mona Winberg

Winberg was born in Toronto with cerebral palsy. She went on to become a highly respected journalist and strong advocate for independent living for people with mental and physical disabilities. Between 1986 and 1999, she regularly wrote a column for the Toronto Sun about disability issues -- she was the only columnist in North America doing so at the time.

Her book, Solitary Courage, is a collection of some of her finest columns as well as a look into her life.

Living the edges explores the many voices of disability, in a collection of writing that challenges the stereotypes of living with disability. While society traditionally views having a disability as "weakness" and that women are the "weaker" sex, this collection points to the strength, persistence, and resilience of women with disabilities.

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. 

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.