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Taking a peek into the world of the visually impaired

Marie-Josée Lavoie, a Certified Translator at the JGH, navigates the hospital blindfolded, using a detection cane to experience what it’s like to be completely blind. She is accompanied by Stéphan Larouche, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre. [1]

Marie-Josée Lavoie, a Certified Translator at the JGH, navigates the hospital blindfolded, using a detection cane to experience what it’s like to be completely blind. She is accompanied by Stéphan Larouche, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre.

To truly understand visual impairment, a sighted person sometimes needs to step briefly into a dimmer world. That was the concept behind a special event at the Jewish General Hospital where, for a few minutes, curious individuals donned masks and picked up white canes.

On February 6, patients and staff in the main lobby experienced first-hand how a visually impaired person navigates the hospital, as part of a series of events during White Cane Week. Blindfolded participants took cautious steps, using a detection cane or assisted by a guide dog provided by Fidelco.

Some also opted to wear a vision-loss simulator goggles, which altered their sight to duplicate tunnel vision, a lack of peripheral vision and other impairments. Orientation and mobility specialists accompanied participants, who each spent about five minutes walking from the main lobby, down the hallway to Pavilion K, and back.

During a demonstration at the JGH, a name is typewritten in braille by Christine Théorêt, a client at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre. This special typewriter prints embossed braille characters which can be read by the fingertips of the visually impaired. [2]

During a demonstration at the JGH, a name is typewritten in braille by Christine Théorêt, a client at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre. This special typewriter prints embossed braille characters which can be read by the fingertips of the visually impaired.

Launched in Canada in 1946, White Cane Week is held annually during the first week of February. This year, a game of braille bingo and two blindfolded yoga sessions took place at other sites of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

“The goal is to increase awareness of the effects of blindness and low vision, and the challenges that these people are facing,” said Suzanne Cloutier, Associate Director of Rehabilitation for the CIUSSS.

“However, we also want to spotlight the great things they can do, as they live with an impairment. The more aware that society is of people with impairments, the more we’ll be able to integrate those people into our lives.”

In Quebec, roughly 300,000 people are affected by some form of visual impairment, she added.

Stéphan Larouche, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, with vision-loss simulator goggles, which were on display in the JGH lobby during White Cane Week. [3]

Stéphan Larouche, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, with vision-loss simulator goggles, which were on display in the JGH lobby during White Cane Week.

At the event, tables were covered with a variety of pamphlets—some aimed at informing the public how to assist the visually impaired, while others detailed the services available to those affected. At one table, visitors could also ask to have their name typewritten in braille or they could play a game of braille Scrabble.

“For me, White Cane Week shows how a person with a visual impairment lives,” said DanyRizk, a client at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, who attended with his guide dog, Mickey. “It also highlights their abilities, rather than the disability.”