GTT Notes for June, 2017: tips on traveling

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Ian opened the meeting. Tonight’s meeting topic is travel: what are the challenges and how do we meet them. Gtt.toronto@gmail.com is the email address for the group. You can subscribe to receive notices and meeting notes, by sending an email there. Meeting postings do go up on the CCB Toronto Visionaries website calendar. This will be our last meeting until the third Thursday in September. The gtt organizing committee will be meeting over the summer to brainstorm topics, so if you have ideas, let someone know. Jason added that the meetings are for members, so please offer suggestions for topics or presenters: low-tech to high-tech. Also, discussions are underway to move meetings to the new hub location on St. Clair, which is right on the subway line, and much more convenient to get to. It’s at 1525 Yonge St.

In a go-around of introductions, a member brought the group’s attention to a device he ordered for colour identification called the Rainbow II. He demonstrated it and highly recommended it. Another member raised an issue of concern to him, which is the rates we pay for smart-phone technology, and wondered whether it’s possible to find or lobby for discounted rates for a data plan.

Aamer began the discussion on travel. It’s a large topic with lots of small detail. There are a lot of blogs around written by blind travellers. One way to break travel down, is into: within a city, and travelling more widely. It’s true that some blind and visually impaired people experience isolation in their daily lives. The first topic Aamer raised is the CNIB card. If you are legally blind, this card is available for a small fee. It entitles you to a CNIB transit pass, which is free, and gives you free access to the Toronto Transit system. You must be a Toronto resident to qualify. A member raised the point that access to Wheeltrans has opened up to blind and visually impaired riders. Members pointed out that the CNIB card will often be accepted on other transit systems throughout Canada. Ian added that the TTC has a program for a support person assistance card. This allows a disabled person to take a guide/assistance person to accompany them, and travel free. You must get medical certification of a disability, then you get an ID card that allows your assistance person to travel for free.

There are quite a few things that your CNIB card gets you free or discounted access to: museums, art galleries, and various tourist attractions. Policies change on these year-to-year, so it’s worthwhile to check ahead of time.

Easter Seals offers an Access to Entertainment card. There is a $20 and $30 option that you purchase. This requires a form, or a copy of your CNIB card. There’s an office at Yonge and Eglinton, if you need help filling it out. Aamer said he’s got a MS Word copy to fill out if you want one. This card gives you discounts for things like movies, or the CN Tower. Ian explained that many cinemas offer films with audio description. The Easter Seals card also gets you discounts for the Trampoline park.

Jason took over to talk about discounts available for getting out of the city. Via Rail has a buy-one-get-one-free program when you’re travelling with a sighted guide. When booking, the agent may ask for your CNIB card ID number. The CNIB can give this to you if you don’t know it. You can also get this level of discount for Air Canada domestic flights. You purchase your own ticket first in the usual way, then phone the Air Canada medical assistance desk to book the guide. The guide pays only the taxes, not the fair. You can also request particular seats, without being charged for your seat assignment. Greyhound and GO transit also offer this discount. GO trains have an accessibility car, which has a staff member to help you. GO prefers that you request assistance in advance, and several members said they’ve had good experiences getting help. A member volunteered that GO has a good ap for telling your train schedule, and which platform you need to be on.

Jason then moved on to talk about travelling long distances. The most accessible sites for booking trips are Expedia, and Travelocity. They both have active accessibility teams. They’re a little tricky to navigate, but doable with attention. You may have trouble if you’re using older technology however. The sites are starting to drop support for old web browsers. The iPhone ap for Expedia is also good. The Air Canada ap is good, and there’s another ap specific to smart phones called Kayak. Booking your trip independently is completely possible, but does require skills in navigating the internet. Aamer said that all-inclusive resorts can be a good option for blind or partially sighted travellers. Before booking, try sending an email to them asking for the kind of help you might need, and see how they respond. Look for a wheelchair accessible resort. Even if you don’t need one, this kind of resort will be responsive to other accessibility needs. The ideal plan is to go somewhere with a guide/sighted friend the first time, then you’ll be more confident returning on your own. You’ll find an odd mix of modern and sketchy when it comes to safety/accessibility.

Jason added that cruises are a great option for blind and visually impaired travellers. Cruise lines have an accessibility department, and if you let them know ahead of time, they’ll arrange for a private ship’s tour, and any help you might need onboard. All information the passengers get, can be made available electronically on a USB key, and updated daily, news letters, menus etc. Information may be offered in Braille, but the information changes so often that electronic versions are likely to be more up-to-date. Large scale travel as a blind person is possible, but it requires forethought and planning.

There’s an organization in the UK called Traveleyes. They set up group trips to an enormous variety of destinations around the world. You travel in a group of mixed blind and sighted travelers. It’s not cheap, but it’s an accessible option, that many people speak highly of.

Another useful resource when you’re traveling, is to connect with local blindness organizations at your destination. Through an organization like the World Blind Union, you may be able to connect with an organization in your destination, who might be able to find a volunteer to guide you in activities you’d like to do there.

A member raised the idea that, if you’re travelling within Canada, maybe you could plan ahead for an O&M instructor to have a lesson or two with you. If it’s doable, everyone agreed that you’d better try to arrange it as far ahead as possible.

Aamer gave some suggestions for packing as a blind person. He recommended January’s issue of CNIB’s Insight news letter, which had an article with tips and tricks for packing. He suggested dividing your luggage into compartments by types of clothes, and also insulating with plastic in case of spilled liquids, or spraying. When relying on others to identify and find your luggage, there are several strategies to employ. Take a photo of your suitcase, so you can show it to the assistance person in the airport. Buying luggage that’s distinctive is helpful. You can also buy a suitcase cover, which have distinctive patterns or motifs. Find a unique luggage tag at a dollar store. They’re 10-15 inches long, and made from durable plastic. Buy two so that you can keep one with you to show someone who is looking for your bag. There are websites that will make custom tags for you as well.

Jason described a more high-tech method for finding your luggage. There are several options, none of which are perfect. One such device is called a Tile. Jason pulled one out of his pocket to demonstrate. It connects with an Android or iPhone, within about 100 feet. Secure a Tile somewhere on your luggage. With your phone, you can trigger it to play a little song. They’re Bluetooth low-energy, so they’re legal on planes. The ap is quite accessible. The Tiles are about $25, an available from Amazon. You can also use it in reverse, for example pressing a button on the Tile can make your phone announce itself if you’ve misplaced it.

There’s another device called Tracker, but Jason hasn’t tested it.

Aamer raised the topic of low lighting in hotels for people who have some vision. He travels with a wind-up flashlight. It’s renewable, lightweight, and uses L.E.D. lights. Don’t hesitate to ask for help in your room: how do you operate the thermostat? Which bottle is the shampoo? Hotels are generally happy to help.

Ian suggested that if you’re given a key card for your room, ask someone at the front desk to mark it with a piece of tape to help you orient it properly. Aamer said he typically travels with a small role of tape for random identification purposes, marking the door of your room for example.

A member pointed out that many mobility aids can be transported on a plane for free.

A member asked about smart phones and traveling outside Canada. Jason described the Rogers Roam Like Home plan, which is a flat $10 per day for data. There are also GPS aps which don’t require you to have data. They download the data before-hand. Nearby Explorer is an accessible option, for about $100. Google Maps will also let you download maps before you travel.

Aamer suggested creating your own “Do Not Disturb” sign. The conventional signs are usually indistinguishable by touch, so making your own might work.

Today, June 15, 2017, the CRTC ruled that, after December 1 of this year, locked phones will no longer be allowed. This means that you can put any sim card you want in it, which might be useful when traveling outside the country.

A member asked about how accessible the passport application process is. Jason said that there is a downloadable PDF that is accessible, but you may need help signing it. At the passport office, the staff is legally forbidden from helping you fill out the form. The paperwork for replacing your passport after it’s expired is brutal and costly, so plan ahead. Replacing a damaged passport is the same process as getting your first passport. It’s useful to get yourself a provincial government ID card, $35, and as good as a passport within Canada.

A member added that, if you ask for it, your health card can have its number embossed in Braille on the card itself.

Aamer spoke about the value of getting a accessible parking permit. Friends or family who are picking you up or dropping you off, can use it to do so more safely. It exempts you from metered parking as well. Dr.s may differ in whether they will sign off on one for you. You may need to advocate for yourself about why one would help you.

Jason pointed out how useful Uber can be as a blind traveler. Because they’re so widely disbursed, once you know how to use the ap, you have access to cars in many or most cities you’ll travel to.

A member raised the subject of tipping assist staff in transportation hubs. He said that in some places, staff who are employed by the airport rather than the airline, might expect to be tipped.

A member raised the point that blind people are told to remain on the plane, to be escorted out last. Jason replied that, if you feel like you are capable of exiting the plane with everybody else, then explain this to the flight crew, and leave on your own, to find the gate agent inside. Waiting inside the aircraft, you take the small but real risk of being forgotten. It’s not too difficult to follow the crowd, or even engage a seat-mate to guide you to baggage claim.

 

 

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