CELA has recently hired 3 Peer Trainers to support our Expanded Delivery Options Pilot Project. It was important for the people in these positions to bring lived experience, a knack for supporting others and technical knowledge. We couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce these friendly and highly-qualified colleagues to our users.
Rosalie Best hails from Manitoba where she graduated from University of Manitoba after completing her studies of English Literature. She then went on to work as a career counselor helping people with disabilities join the workforce, first at Premier Choix where she worked in the French community, then at Vision Loss Rehabilitation Manitoba. Most recently she worked with the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities where she delivered webinars to employers on proper workplace accommodation. As a disability rights activist, she often speaks to the media about accessibility issues and her experiences living with Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle wasting disease, and using a power wheelchair.
One of Rosalie’s goals for the pilot is to help people understand the devices and to show them that new technology isn’t something to fear. She’s looking forward to developing training materials which will help people continue to use the devices once the pilot is complete.
Yves Séguin also uses his experience to advocate for people with disabilities. During his 30-year career in the federal government, he was involved in various human resources functions, and managed a technology centre for federal employees with disabilities. He used opportunities in public speaking engagements and presentations to influence hiring managers so they could look beyond the disability and focus on the potential of the person they were about to hire. Working with CELA as a Peer Trainer, he draws on his experiences of living with a visual disability and his professional experience supporting small groups and individuals to assist CELA users, making them aware of new possibilities, and giving them confidence to access reading materials in various new ways.
Yves commented that "it is encouraging that most patrons who are reaching us are appreciative of the assistance we can provide, and they welcome the opportunity to be part of the pilot project to test new ways of accessing reading materials."
Ioana, our third Peer Trainer, has a unique set of qualifications. She’s a professional classical guitarist and has performed and taught in many countries around the world. Blind since birth, she now lives with her husband and guide dog in Montreal where she co-moderates a list for visually impaired accessible technology users. She says she has been drawn to this work, partly because of her experience and enjoyment of learning from the group and sharing tips including from the wonderful instructions on technology she received from the Montreal Association for the Blind. A self-declared “geek” she has always been fascinated by technology and how it might enhance her life.
Ioana shared that for many years she wanted her blindness to be irrelevant in her professional life but came to more fully embrace the insights and hurdles her visual disability offers. Now she wants to use her roles as a performer, speaker, teacher and Peer Trainer to inspire others and help change perceptions about people with disabilities in general.
As a Peer Trainer, Ioana finds it rewarding to help remove barriers to accessible reading. “I have heard such enthusiasm from patrons wanting to get a chance to be part of this project. It is a real honour to listen to their feedback and pass it on. I appreciate that CELA has provided the community with the opportunity to make sure their point of view about emerging reading technology is heard and taken into account.”
Leading our Peer Trainer team is Virginia Systma, who joined CELA as the Project Coordinator. Trained as a librarian, Virginia was familiar with CELA and its services before joining the team. She had recently obtained a certificate in Project Management and the Project Coordinator position seemed like a perfect fit for professional and personal reasons. Virginia shared that “in 2019, I was designated legally blind. I have been low vision my whole life but experienced a significant change in my vision at that time. Since then I have learned a lot about adaptive technologies and tools that I never had access to before. I started using a white cane, which allowed me to feel safer and more independent when I leave the house. I also started using more eBooks as they let me increase the size of the font and I found it so much easier to read. Having lived most of my life without access to services because I didn't fit into the LB designation, I have a full appreciation for how life changing accessible technology can be. Once I had access to these services I was able to live a fuller and more independent life.”
As the Project Coordinator, Virginia has been instrumental in organizing all areas of the project, supporting the Peer Trainers and preparing to receive and evaluate the feedback from participants. And while the work has been interesting, what really excites Virginia is the possibilities of the pilot project. “This project is an opportunity to provide even more options for technology, which increases accessibility for CELA users. Everyone's disability is different, so providing flexibility in service offerings is important. It means that people can choose the right device for them.”
The entire CELA team is grateful for the support our bilingual Peer Trainers are offering CELA’s users during this pilot project.