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