Closed. Not Interested, Blindy.

I don’t use my CNIB card for much, but it has come in handy for Via Rail. Apparently, they use it as proof that your guide dog is a guide dog, which is slightly twisted logic but that’s been the established piece of ID they default to. If you don’t put a piece of ID for this purpose in your file, they won’t send you EBoarding passes and you run the risk that some goof will get all weird about ID when you get to the station. Nobody ever has, but they tell me this is a thing. I have also occasionally used it to get discounted concert tickets, and it’s good in some cities as a free bus pass.

The other day, it dawned on me that I think my CNIB card is getting close to expiring, or perhaps has expired and I should figure out how to get it renewed. Back when I got my last one, I was still getting some orientation and mobility lessons, so I just asked my instructor and she set things in motion. But right now, the instructor I used to have has retired and I haven’t needed lessons, so I don’t have that contact person to go bug. But I never anticipated that the lack of a contact would make the process so unbelievably frustrating!

My first stumbling block was when I called the Waterloo CNIB office. I already knew that when you call CNIB Waterloo, you don’t actually speak to someone in Waterloo. You could be speaking to someone from who knows where. But I thought I could ask to be transferred to Waterloo’s reception or something. No, who you get for reception is who you get. You then have to name a specific person in the office you are seeking in order to get to someone who actually walks and drives and does stuff in Kitchener Waterloo. I’ll talk more about this later.

So, since I didn’t know who the person is who does CNIB card stuff, I told the one who answered the phone what I was calling about. It felt like the person answering the phone knew nothing about what would be required to renew the CNIB card. How much did it cost? Do I have to come into the office or can I email a picture somewhere? Were there requirements for the picture? All they did was say “I’ll transfer you to Waterloo.” This feels a little less than ideal. You would think if these people are going to be put out on the front lines, they should at least have been given the tools to answer some pretty basic questions.

Then, I was transferred somewhere, who knows where. I got what felt like a random staff member’s voicemail. The voicemail didn’t even say what this person did, so I had no idea if I was talking to the right person. So, I left a message and hoped they would return my call soon, because I had this week off, and after that, if I had to go see someone in person, it would get a lot more difficult.

After I left my message, I went looking on the internet, and what I found didn’t fill me with confidence. After seeing basic information from the CNIB about uses of the ID card, I found this blog post detailing the total lack of information about the ID card.

It was through this post that I learned that the charge is $10, which feels like a giant jump in rates since I last had it done, and you have to go down to the CNIB and get the picture done because it has to be a precise size.

So, I went to figure out when the local CNIB office was open, since back a few years ago, it was only open once or twice a week. I found a link which I cannot find anymore that said they were open to the public every Tuesday. Since I wanted to make double sure that was when they were open, I called their number and got transferred to who knows who. I asked to confirm that the Waterloo office was open on Tuesdays and was told that no, they’re only open the first Tuesday of the month from 9:00 to 4:00. When I expressed my disappointment, the person responded with “That’s all the resources they have.” How impressive…impressively pathetic that is.

Let me quote their service description from the Community Links database:

Primary resource for information, public education, programs, services and advocacy for people who are blind or partially sighted.

Should an office that offers such broad services be only open to the public one day of the month? If someone has just lost a massive amount of vision and is coming in off the street seeking guidance, should they be expected to wait for the designated one day a month to just start the process of getting connected? Do they really think that clients have so little to do that they can all come in on the one designated day if they need something from the office? What if, shock of shocks, we work, and getting there on some Tuesday between 9:00 and 4:00 isn’t workable?

I figured out that my card expires on November 6. The next day when we should all march to the CNIB office and graciously accept their assistance is November 7. Although I don’t use the card for a lot of things, it feels stupid to let it expire just because the hours are so restricted. So, I called back to that lovely central reception office and explained the whole expiring CNIB card thing, and the guy actually suggested that I go to Woodstock. I just finished telling him that I can’t drive and am not exactly flush with available time, and he told me to drive nearly an hour to the next city!

Thankfully my story has a happy ending. I left another message on the seemingly random person’s voicemail explaining that my card would expire before the office was next open, so what could we do, and she did respond the next day with options. She was, in fact, the right person to talk to, so I wasn’t deluging the wrong person. I could in fact email her any picture of me, as long as I wasn’t wearing a hat, and then she could take my credit card over the phone and start the process.

I’m sure there are some people saying I could have avoided running so close to my card expiring if I had just planned better. The thing is most things that are going to expire send you letters in the mail warning you that the expiry is coming up, and telling you how to renew. This isn’t what the CNIB does. They don’t even send an email, for those of us who would prefer that over print. I guess they used to, but stopped getting volunteers to do it. It was just lucky that my internal sense that something was due started bugging me. So, if not for my freakishly weird memory, I, the blind one, is expected to look at the small print on the back of my card and check the expiry so that I can go through piles of hoops to get to the CNIB one day a month to get it renewed. Something seems wrong here.

I have a bit of a problem with them consolidating reception to a central location for something like the CNIB. If I am trying to locate a business, and am close by but can’t find it, the first thing I do is phone the place and ask for some guidance, since I can’t very well look for the sign. Sometimes the person on the phone gives me specifics I can use, or sometimes they just keep an eye out for me and help me make the final leg of the journey. If I did this while trying to locate the local CNIB office, the person on the other end of the phone could offer me nothing in the way of help. Considering the CNIB is serving people who can’t see well so might need a little help locating their destination, this feels kind of like a big problem.

I asked the person in charge of CNIB card renewals why the reception person didn’t know anything about the process, and she said they were just volunteers. Volunteers do some pretty intense stuff. I have volunteered on a crisis line, at a women’s shelter, and with people with some pretty serious needs. If volunteers can be expected to do all of that, they can be given some training on how clients can reach services, especially since they are the point of contact.

I was also bothered by the comment that the only reason they were open one day a month and didn’t send renewal reminders was because they didn’t have the resources. So let’s go back to that topic of the CNIB opening up their own guide dog school. How?

I think I’m done now. I guess, of all the services the CNIB offers, the card is not as important as helping someone who is newly blind learn how to live with their situation, but I worry that the troubles getting cards renewed is an indicator of a deeper problem. If the card is this hard to get, what happens when someone needs something more complex?

The first blog post that I referenced had some pretty solid suggestions of how they could improve the process that still apply. Maybe some day, things will improve. Hopefully, in five years when I have to do this again, I will have an easier time of it. At least this blog post will roughly tell me when I did it last if I don’t get a renewal reminder.

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