Initiative to Revise the Excise Tax Act for Goods for the Blind and Visually Impaired

By Steve Barclay
July 26, 2012

Below is a summary of our argument that you can use as background information.  It’s just a two page summary of why it needs to be changed.  It gives
examples of other types of equipment that enjoy blanket exemptions and outlines why low vision and blindness gear should be handled in a similar fashion. 

It also gives the wording that could be used to change the exemption to a more simplified form. 

I wasn’t aware of this, but if any member of parliament presents a petition to government then the government is required to respond.  Please pass this along to as many people as you can. 

So here’s how you can help. 

Call your MP and make an appointment to visit them.  A face to face visit will by far in a way have the most impact.  Review the information I’ve sent so that you know it well. 

The purpose of the meeting is to  

1)      Make them aware that this is a problem. – relate this to your own situation and stress how critical your access technology is to you.

2)      Make them aware that not everyone can buy equipment via CNIB or another blindness agency and that doctors no nothing at all about this equipment.

3)      Make sure they understand that we’re not asking for an exemption on anything other than the specialized equipment.  We’re not asking for an exemption on computers for example, just the screen readers and large print programs that have to be added on to access them.  This is a very important point and one that is easily misunderstood.

4)      Ask them to support Kennedy Stewarts legislation when it is tabled.  If your MP is a member of the Conservative party, ask them if they would be willing to introduce the legislation themselves.  Kennedy is more than willing to hand it off to someone else if it means it stands a better chance of
passing and a Conservative has the best hope of getting it done.

5)      If you can, take an example of some type of specialized assistive technology.  When I visited Kennedy I took a Braille notetaker and it made his jaw drop.  He didn’t even know such a thing existed.  Once he saw it, he completely understood where I was coming from.  Also tell them about the cost of assistive technology and how hard it is to afford at a personal level. 

If you can’t arrange to meet them in person and will be writing or emailing, the effort is still appreciated.  It won’t be as powerful that way but every little bit helps. 

For anyone who has questions, I have arranged a conference call for Monday July 30th at 11:AM Pacific Time or 2:00PM Eastern Time.  You can join the call by calling one of the following numbers then use the participant code:  63083 

Available numbers: 

613-212-4220 Ottawa

514-395-9913 Montreal

604-899-2339 Vancouver

403-232-0994 Calgary

780-421-1483 Edmonton

416-883-0133 Toronto

1-877-385-4099 Toll Free (Canada & USA)  

If you can’t make that call and have questions, as always, feel free to call me directly or email me. 

Thanks again for your help.  Together we can get this changed! 

Steve Barclay

VP Sales and Marketing

150-5055 Joyce St.
BC V5R 6B2

Tel: 1-800-561-6222 xt 1102 
Fax: 604-431-7995 


In 1996 the Excise Tax Act was changed.  Amongst other changes, the section specifying that specially designed goods for the blind and visually impaired
were exempt was changed to read:

“A supply of any article that is specially designed for the use of blind individuals when the article is supplied for use by a blind individual to or by
the Canadian National Institute for the Blind or any other bona fide institution or association for blind individuals or on the order or certificate of
a medical practitioner”

This presents a number of problems:

*       There are many specialized pieces of software and hardware that are available for people who are blind or visually impaired that are not sold by
the CNIB.

*       The vast majority of doctors have no understanding of what specialized aids are available for the blind or visually impaired.

*       Because of the limited size of the market for products for people who are blind or visually impaired, most of these aids are prohibitively expensive
and GST or HST on top of the price makes them even more so.

*       It can be very difficult for someone who is blind or visually impaired to travel independently to their doctor in order to secure this kind of certification.

*       Doctors frequently charge a fee for this kind of certification, adding an additional burden.

*       Businesses specializing in aids for the visually impaired are forced to charge then refund the GST/HST as clients return letters from doctors.

Products for other disabilities are covered by blanket exemptions and do not require input from a third party agency or medical professional.  These include,
but are not limited to:

*       Communication devices specially designed for use by an individual with a hearing, speech or vision impairment.

*       Laryngeal speaking aids.

*       Chairs, walkers, wheelchairs, lifts or similar aid to locomotion with or without wheels, including motive power and wheel assemblies designed to
be operated by an individual with a disability for locomotion of the individual.

*       Lifters specially designed to move an individual with a disability.

*       Portable and stationary wheelchair ramps.

*       Driving controls designed for attachment to a motor vehicle to facilitate the operation of the vehicle by an individual with a disability and installation
of the modifications.

*       Patterning devices designed for use by an individual with a disability.

*       Toilet seats, bath seats, shower seats or commode chairs that specially designed for use by an individual with a disability.

*       Artificial limbs.

*       Canes or crutches designed for use by an individual with a disability.

*       Feeding utensils or other gripping devices specially designed for use by an individual with impaired use of hands or other similar disability.

*       Reaching aids specially designed for use by an individual with a disability.

People who are blind or visually impaired rely upon equipment which is as specialized or more specialized than the equipment listed above.  These include:

*       Electronic refreshable Braille note takers.

*       Braille printers and Braille translation software to convert conventional print into Braille for printing.

*       Screen reading software for auditory access to computers and to interface with Braille computer displays.

*       Print magnification software for computers.

*       Braille computer displays.

*       Screen reading software to provide auditory access to mobile devices such as cellular phones.

*       CCTV large print systems for magnifying and enhancing text.  These can provide magnification levels typically between 2 and 80 times magnification
as well as substantially increase contrast levels for reading.

*       Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems for scanning printed text and reading it aloud.

*       Talking book players designed to read the DAISY book format – used by CNIB to deliver their talking books.

*       Talking Global Positioning Satellite navigation systems specifically designed to provide walking directions for people who are blind.

These aids have no application other than for someone who is legally blind and as such should not have barriers put in place which make them more difficult
to acquire.

A simple change to this section of the Excise Tax Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. E-15) (Subsection 123(1)) (Part 30) would alleviate all of these problems.  It could
simply be changed to:

“A supply of any article that is specially designed for the use of blind individuals.”

This wording would be more consistent with the exemptions provided for other types of equipment such as communication aids and physical disability products. 
It would be revenue neutral as it continues the current exemption.  It would remove the onerous requirement for people to go to a doctor to get a letter
certifying an obvious disability and reduce the amount of paperwork required by agencies and businesses specializing in helping people who are blind.