‘Nobody has a list of them’: blind and low vision support group aims to reach out in 2024

Submitted photo. Don Horncastle, second from left, poses for a photo with members of the Prince Albert Blind Bowlers Team that won a provincial title in 2022. Horncastle is the moderator of a support group that advocates for blind and low vision residents in Prince Albert.

A support group dedicated to residents who are blind or have low vision hopes to generate some awareness one year after its founding.

The PA Blind and Low Vision Support Group began operating in 2023 with the goal of advocating for local residents struggling with severe vision problems. Group moderator Don Horncastle said the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) estimates there are 1,800 people in the Prince Albert area who are blind or low vision, but contacting them has been a challenge.

“Nobody has a list of them,” said Horncastle, who was forced to retire due to vision loss. “We don’t know who we are, and there’s no representative group that speaks on our behalf or advocates on our behalf.”

Since its founding a year ago, the PA support group has made presentations at City Hall advocating for more accessible infrastructure, like audible crosswalks. They’re also trying to start more recreational programs for blind and low vision residents, like blind curling.

However, Horncastle said it’s been a challenge to contact people who need the support. He said the services for blind and low vision residents are there, but many residents either don’t know about them, or can’t afford them.

“It’s being done, but at what cost,” Horncastle said. “A lot of blind people aren’t well financed. If you live in rural Saskatchewan or outside of the main cities, for just about every medical procedure… you’ve got to go to Saskatoon or wherever. Well, how are you going to get there if you can’t see?”

The PA Blind and Low Vision Support Group stepped up their advocacy efforts earlier this month to coincide with the Canadian Council for the Blind’s White Cane Week. The annual event takes place during the first full week of February, and aims to provide information about services available to residents with severe vision issues.

Horncastle said it can be tough to find out what services are available, something he knows from experience. Initially, he struggled to get involved, but soon became active in events like a local Blind Bowling League after reading media reports about it.

 “I know when I first went blind, I spent three years sitting at home going nowhere because I didn’t know about these services,” Horncastle remembered.

“All of a sudden my phone was ringing saying, ‘here’s something you can do.’ Getting tied into (blind bowling) got me tied into a whole bunch of other things. Then, that got me into the CNIB.”

Horncastle said one of the biggest concerns heading forward is public transportation. He said blind and low vision residents can ride the PA paratransit services for free if they have a CNIB card.

He said if paratransit services cut weekend or evening routes due to cost, that’s going to prevent low vision or blind residents from getting involved in the community.

“We can’t even go to City Hall and complain because the bus has been caught off by five,” he said with a chuckle. “Going down by cab is going to cost money, and then you’ve got to get home again.”

Horncastle was forced into retirement twice before age 65 due to vision issues. He said the peer support group has helped people learn from the shared experiences of other members, which allows them to stay active and social, despite their vision loss.

The PA Blind and Low Vision Support Group has had lots of success this past year, he said, and now they’re hoping to build on that for the future.

The PA Blind and Low Vision Support Group meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month at the Margo Fournier Arts Centre at 2 p.m. For more information, call Don Horncastle at 306-314-1860.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca