CNIB group builds bonds while advocating for community improvements in Prince Albert

Robert Gentil-Perret uses a magnifier to read. Otherwise, an object must be large and right in front of his eyes to see it. -- Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

When Robert Gentil-Perret was getting ready for work one day, he thought someone turned the lights off on him.

“It was like I got in the shower, turned the water on, and the lights went out. I said ‘That’s not funny, turn the lights back on.’ (My vision has) never come back. Both eyes, instant black. No symptoms, no nothing. No pain, no nothing,” he said.

Twenty years later, Gentil-Perret is part of a close-knit group in Prince Albert of people who are blind or low vision. Some even formed a blind bowling club.

His vision is 20/800, he said. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), a person is legally blind if their vision is 20/200.

Gentil-Perret said you’re lucky if you can see because “you never know” if you’ll lose your sight in an instant, like he did.

‘Mobile hub’ a community-building event

For Kenneth Cook, the CNIB’s Mobile Hub, taking place at the Arts Centre on Thursday and Friday, is the type of event that gives him the confidence to go out, even though he’s barely able to see.

“I felt so alone,” he said.

“Once I came to this program, it sure helped…It helps me to communicate with people here and how to go about my life.”

Cook believes his vision started its downward spiral after some concrete slipped behind his safety glasses at work.

He opted to have his right eye removed, while also losing most of his sight in his left eye.

The CNIB’s Amanda Titman said the event includes information sessions and community-building activities, like painting and trivia.

One session on Thursday morning revolved around demoing products, such as talking clocks, signature guides, and glasses that read for you or give you information on what’s in front of you.

“From the time you step out your front door to the time you step into your new location, it needs to be 100 per cent accessible,” she said.

The CNIB is advocating for better accessibility on public transportation in Prince Albert.

“Making sure that they have audible announcements, making sure that the steps on the buses are for people who have low vision, that there are strips on them so that they can see different contrasts,” she explained.

People in the city with low vision have also mentioned low lighting in restaurants and washrooms, making it difficult to read or get around.