International Featured Agency–Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Date Posted: 01/01/2016

by Maribel Steel, International Agency of the Month Correspondent and Peer Advisor.

CNIB logo with tagline seeing beyond vision loss

This month, we feature the services and goals of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Their national office is in Toronto and they operate out of more than 50 community offices across Canada. In this interview, Carolyn Young, Corporate Communications Specialist, gives us an insight into their services throughout Canada.

CNIB's Mission

CNIB’s mission is to ensure all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunity to fully participate in life, and that no Canadian loses their sight to preventable causes.

two women kayaking

History of the CNIB

CNIB is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected charities. Since its establishment in 1918, millions of people have been touched by the services CNIB provides or by its message of hope. After almost 100 years, CNIB has left a legacy in Canada’s social, legislative, judicial and cultural fabric. When many blind veterans returned from World War I, CNIB was established and set out to meet basic but urgent needs – providing food, clothing and sheltered residences. In its inaugural year, CNIB had 27 employees serving 1,521 people who were blind. By the 1950s, CNIB was serving more than 17,000 clients, and was starting to come into its own.

Community Services

Its offices, vocational centers and residences were found in major Canadian cities, making programs more readily available and giving people with vision loss greater visibility in the community.

Today, CNIB is active in every province across Canada with hundreds of full time staff members and thousands of volunteers. Read a personal account of volunteering by a CNIB volunteer, Ashley Nemeth, VisionAware peer advisor.

A registered charity, CNIB passionately provides community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. Our dedicated specialists work with people of all ages in their own homes, communities or local CNIB offices – providing the personalized rehabilitation support they need to see beyond vision loss, to build their independence and lead the lives they want. CNIB is a registered charity. We receive less than 30 per cent of funding nationally from government sources. As a result, we rely on generous donors and fundraising activities to fill the remaining 70 per cent. Clients receive services through a charitable model.

Working Toward a Barrier-Free Society

In the early years, CNIB achieved significant success in advocacy with the 1930 Blind Voters Act (allowing a blind person to vote with the assistance of a sighted person) and legislation around mandatory eye drops to prevent disease in newborns.

In addition CNIB work's hand-in-hand with Canadians who are blind or partially sighted to advocate for a barrier-free society, striving to eliminate avoidable sight loss with world-class research and by promoting the importance of vision health through public education.

John M. Rafferty Is a Driving Force Within CNIB

headshot of John Rafferty

John M. Rafferty joined CNIB in March, 2009 as the organization’s eighth president and CEO. He came to CNIB with more than 20 years of international experience in the business world, and since then, he’s been a catalyst for change and for the modernization of one of Canada’s oldest charities.

John is a member of the C.D. Howe Institute’s Health Policy Council and serves on the Board of Directors for Accessible Media Inc. He chairs Vision 2020 Canada, a national initiative that seeks to eliminate the main causes of avoidable blindness. In 2012, he earned the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, which honors significant contributions and achievements by Canadians to their community.

Issues surrounding vision loss have always played a role in John’s life, after his late grandmother lost her vision to age-related macular degeneration. John remembers the support she received from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the United Kingdom, and the impact it had on her life. With a strong connection to the cause and a background in business, John jumped at the opportunity to join CNIB.

Facing the Challenge

Approximately half a million people in Canada are living with blindness or partial sight that impacts their quality of life: without action, that number is likely to increase dramatically over the next 25 years as population ages. Within this community lies a range of support needs for different age groups and abilities.

Currently, CNIB is the only provider of post-vision loss rehabilitation for Canadians, something which we will not have the capacity to continue indefinitely. Rehabilitation therapy for Canadians with vision loss must be better integrated within the continuum of care in every province. Rehabilitation should be publicly funded by government and should never have to depend on a charity’s ability to raise funds. This is CNIB's challenge for the coming years.

Ambitious Path to Change

In 2014, under the leadership of John Rafferty, CNIB was proud to unveil "The Path to Change," a bold new strategic plan that will take the organization from today to our 100th anniversary in 2018, and set the stage for our second century of operation.

This plan presents an ambitious agenda for change – one that is informed by the voices of those we serve and rooted in their rights and needs, as well as the realities of Canada’s impending vision loss crisis. It’s a plan that examines the complex roles CNIB plays as a provider of health services and as a charity, and looks to redefine those roles for the future. At the same time, it reinforces our commitment to excellence in our ongoing work across the country.

Two Goals

From 2014 to 2018, the following two goals will drive and shape the work nationally and provincially:

  1. Integrate post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy into the continuum of care: to strive to integrate post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy into the continuum of care so that high-quality, timely and essential services are available to and covered for every Canadian who needs them. CNIB hopes to continue to play a critical role in the delivery of these vital services.
  2. Redefine CNIB’s role as a charity: to create a new vision for CNIB that is relevant and meaningful to all Canadians, particularly those living with blindness or partial sight, in anticipation of the organization’s second century.

For more information or to contact CNIB, here are some links to their webpage and social media pages:

Canadian National Institute for the Blind

CNIB Facebook

CNIB Twitter

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Help us expand our resources for people with vision loss.