A brand new vision for the blind

You don’t have to be blind to see the value of this place. From plastic doodads that keep your socks together in the wash, to electronic wands that identify your CDs or food, a new Toronto store that caters to the visually impaired has more than 200 items to help people navigate a darkened world.

Margarethe and Vincent Davies shop for magnifiers in Toronto. From plastic doodads that keep your socks together in the wash

TORONTO — You don’t have to be blind to see the value of this place.

From plastic doodads that keep your socks together in the wash, to electronic wands that identify your CDs or food, a new Toronto store that caters to the visually impaired has more than 200 items to help people navigate a darkened world.

“We’ve got things here that enhance your vision, or replace your vision,” says Geoff FitzGibbon, director of business operations for the CNIB, which runs the outlet at its Toronto headquarters.

“And we’ve got a whole host of everyday useful items for when you’re home or out and about, which just give you an extra edge,” he says.

The institute operated a number of stores across Canada in decades past, but closed them in favour of mail order and web-based businesses. “But there are some people who need to see the products, who need to see them and try them. We heard that and we responded.”

While the new Toronto flagship store marked its grand opening last month, the CNIB will have 18 outlets across Canada by year’s end.

There are the obvious standbys that are signature staples of a visually impaired life.

“There are some things you’d say, ’Of course’ — things like magnifiers, special sunglasses, white canes,” he says. “But then there’s other stuff you might not even know exists and other stuff you might say, ’Why would you have that?”’

Products at the store generally fall into three categories. There are products that speak what other people see, items that magnify images for those with some sight, and items that make it easier for the blind to feel their way through everyday activities.

Among the speaking selection, there are talking clocks and dozens of styles of talking watches.

There are talking book players, talking thermometers, talking and beeping cookware and talking scales, of both the bathroom and kitchen variety.

Then there’s the wand, which has revolutionized life in the blind community since an affordable “Pen Friend” version was introduced a few years ago.

The $150 wand, about the size of a big cigar, comes with dozens of small circular labels that you affix to any item you need identified.

Each time owners place a coded label on an item they or a helper can scan it with the wand, and then make a voice recording into the device identifying the product and any instructions it may include.

When the wand subsequently scans that label, it will select and replay the recording.

“That is on my holiday (wish) list this year for sure,” says Debbie Williams, 39, who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa and has only limited tunnel vision.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve opened a tin of food and said, ‘Oh, that’s not really what I wanted.’ Now if I want tomato soup, I get tomato soup.”

Williams also owns 500 music CDs and is constantly asking her partner which one she has pulled out. “I just won’t have to bug him saying, ’What do I have here’ every time.”

Williams already owns one of the store’s offerings: a colour detector you can scan over clothes to match them correctly. “No blue and green for me,” she says. “Yuck.”

Among the visual aids for those with residual sight are computer mouse-like mechanisms that can scan print and magnify it on a screen.

There is even, for $40, a giant magnifying glass to place over a television or computer screen.

Items that offer tactile help include plastic templates that go over envelopes to correctly locate the address position and a host of board games that include pieces identified by Braille lettering or shape.

“Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you don’t want to play,” FitzGibbon says.

FitzGibbon admits it may sound odd a store for the blind would offer its customers a chance to “see” their purchases before they buy.

“’See’ is an interesting word — when you and I talk about ’see,’ we mean our eyes,” he says.

“Blind people often say they ’see’ things, but they’re using their hands and so forth. They’re perceiving just the same.”

In Ontario, the ministry of health will subsidize the purchases of many of the items sold in the store, FitzGibbon says.

Just Posted

Alberta hiring more paramedics and buying new ambulances, none for Red Deer

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is not concerned the provincial government didn’t… Continue reading

‘My nightmare began again’: Close call as bus carrying Humboldt crash survivor rear-ended

CALGARY — A terrifying ordeal for Humboldt Broncos survivor Ryan Straschnitzki this… Continue reading

Halifax airport operations normalize after Boeing 747 runway overshoot

HALIFAX — The Halifax Stanfield International Airport has resumed normal operations a… Continue reading

Bentley family left without a home grateful for community support

Central Albertans are coming together to support a Bentley family left homeless… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP ready for new mandatory alcohol screening law

Red Deer RCMP are ready to enforce a new law intended to… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer and District Kennel Club Dog Show at Westerner Park

The Red Deer and District Kennel Club is holding a dog show… Continue reading

Pence aide out of running to be Trump’s next chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff… Continue reading

Swath of South faces wintry mess: Snow, sleet, freezing rain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain… Continue reading

‘I killed my best friend’: Opioids’ fatal grip on mayor, pal

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

Brothers, 20, face second-degree murder charge in death of teen: police

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Police west of Toronto say two brothers have been… Continue reading

A young mayor, his friend, and a fatal attraction to opioids

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

GM fights to retain key tax credit amid plant closing plans

WASHINGTON — General Motors is fighting to retain a valuable tax credit… Continue reading

TTC union asks provincial government to step in on transition to Presto

TORONTO — The union representing transit workers in Canada’s most populous city… Continue reading

Small pot growers find roadblocks on path to microcultivation licences

Yan Boissonneault’s daughter was turning blue. Without warning, his baby had stopped… Continue reading

Most Read