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Adapting literacy programs for the blind community

ABC Life Literacy Canada provides a number of free adult literacy programs for community groups across the country. Whether it be financial literacy training through Money Matters, helping learners improve employability skills through UP Skills for Work, or introducing seniors to the Internet through ABC Connect for Learning, our suite of programs have helped many adult learners.

Most recently, our programs have been adapted to serve the blind community. BALANCE for Blind Adults, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that provides customized training and support for persons who are blind or living with sight loss, recently ran UP Skills for Work and Money Matters.

As an organization that aims to help adults with sight loss become more self-sufficient, program facilitator Cristina Lopes was keen to run UP Skills for Work after having seen the need in a previous 20-week program for youth with disabilities trying to get into the workplace. Due to the pandemic, BALANCE ran its series of nine workshops online using Zoom, with six participants taking part each week.

“The materials were great and were fully accessible,” Lopes said. “Our clientele uses screen readers, and the PDFs supplied by ABC Life Literacy were able to be read clearly by these devices. There were instances where we did remove some of the activities from the workbooks – for example, if an activity said, ‘What does this look like,’ we would remove it. But the great thing is that the program is adaptable like that.”

Lopes explains that the group discussion went really well, and the program appealed to all its users, despite the fact that the group had varying backgrounds and education levels.

It was after seeing the success of UP Skills for Work that she then decided to run Money Matters for People with Diverse Abilities – financial literacy program for adults with various intellectual, verbal, physical and nonphysical capabilities. Similar to the UP Skills for Work program, Lopes was able to review each workbook ahead of time during practitioner training.

“I went through each workbook to see which activities might not be a fit for our learners. The program is very adaptable to varying needs – the wording and activities were accessible for the most part, and where there was an activity that wouldn’t quite fit, we just filled the space with extra Q&A time with our TD Bank volunteer facilitator.”

People who run Money Matters programs have the option of having a TD Bank volunteer co-facilitate the program (TD Bank is a founding sponsor of Money Matters). Since Lopes’ workshops were run online, they weren’t limited to having a local volunteer.

“We had a volunteer from Calgary and she was fantastic. She was really descriptive and adaptable, answering all of the questions from the participants and explaining things in a simple manner.”

In addition to bringing in volunteers from across the country, Lopes said that running virtual workshops has allowed them to expand their clientele to those living outside of Toronto. She says that while being an online facilitator can present its challenges, there’s the added benefit of getting more people to take part.

“Transportation can be an issue for people living with blindness, so by hosting workshops online, people don’t have to worry about public transit. We’re definitely getting more learners, and while I prefer in-person workshops, we’ve been able to keep the spirit the same.”

To learn more about our adult literacy programs, and how they can be adapted to the needs of your learners, get in touch with your regional coordinator.