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The changing of the leopard's spots: CNIB now and into the future

A few weeks ago, CNIB released a document which marked the beginning of a consultative strategic planning initiative taking place within CNIB. Entitled, "Your CNIB. Your future. Hearing your views on the future direction of CNIB," this document (which has been posted on the AEBC web site already) outlines what CNIB is planning on doing, how and why they are soliciting opinions from the community as to their future direction. (More on this later - see the survey link at the bottom of this message.)

What I found to be particularly interesting, however, were the last two pages of the plan, which are reproduced below for ease of reference.

The rights of Canadians aren’t being fulfilled

CNIB’s services aren’t just helpful to the Canadians who need them – they’re essential. In fact, many of the services CNIB provides are critical to ensuring that thousands of Canadians are able to achieve their basic rights – such as our mobility training, independent living, CNIB Library services, and others.

Throughout many Western countries worldwide, vision loss rehabilitation services such as these are provided by government agencies through their social services system. But with the exception of Quebec – where vision loss rehabilitation services are uniquely funded and delivered by the provincial government – that model doesn’t exist in Canada.

Across the vast majority of the country, CNIB is the primary provider of essential vision loss rehabilitation services for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted. And despite the gains that many other countries have made in this area, these services have never been absorbed within Canada’s health care continuum, and are instead left for a charity to deliver – and fund mostly with public donations.

We believe that the fundamental rights of Canadians should never depend on a charity’s capacity to generate donations.

Consider this...

  • The CNIB Library is the number one source of alternative format materials (e.g., braille and audio books) for the more than three million Canadians who are unable to read print because of a disability. Yet libraries for sighted Canadians are fully funded by government dollars.

  • If a Canadian has a serious health problem that affects their ability to be independent and mobile (e.g., a heart attack or broken bone) their
    rehabilitation is provided within the health care system. But when a Canadian loses their vision, the essential rehabilitation services they need to overcome the challenges of sight loss are provided mostly by CNIB and funded in large part by public donations.

  • Within the province of Quebec, vision loss rehabilitation services are fully funded by the provincial government, enabling CNIB to focus on delivering a range of other valuable, life-enhancing services to people in Quebec who are blind or partially sighted. Though isolated, this model holds promise for the possibility that other provincial governments could establish working service delivery models to support the thousands of Canadians living with vision loss across the country.

  • In order for our specialists to deliver rehabilitation services to Canadians who are blind or partially sighted in communities across the country, we rely on the tireless efforts of thousands of volunteers who support our work behind the scenes.

Traditionally, CNIB has been highly criticized for its paternalistic role in the lives of blind and partially sighted Canadians. Some characterize it as an "unquestionable sacred cow", referring to the manner in which CNIB is so entrenched that most people cannot contemplate an alternate model. CNIB is, to be fair, for most people, the sole provider of vision rehabilitation services. They receive little government funding for this service, and so the availability of basic rehabilitation services is directly tied to the willingness of donors to provide charitable dollars for those services. For some, that means services are all but non-existent.

What is key here, is that CNIB agrees that it ought not to be in the business of raising charitable dollars in order to deliver what is, in some jurisdictions (e.g. Québec), considered a part of the health care system. CNIB agrees that this is not how it should be done. CNIB has now publicly stated that this is their position. Will this satisfy those who have long called for its demise and deconstruction?

Probably not. And there are at least two logical reasons why this statement by CNIB is a step in the right direction but not a complete solution.

  1. CNIB is not calling, necessarily, for vision rehabilitation services to be delivered through other, more direct government channels. CNIB's concern is primarily with "who pays". CNIB believes government ought to pay for these services as they do other health care needs. But it may well still be CNIB delivering those services. Some will take objection to that. But those objectors ought to note that even in Québec where vision rehabilitation is government-funded, the actual delivery is carried out at the ground level at least partially by community organizations that are themselves registered charities, and which deliver other, more "charitable" services.

  2. CNIB faces an uphill battle politically in actually implementing this vision. First of all, the current political and economic climate does not predispose government to spend large amounts of new money. Second, this type of service is typically within the jurisdiction or power of provinces. And so CNIB must essentially go province to province, trying to convince each province to take up the cause. Attempting to get provinces to sign on to provide alternative format library services has been a long enough road, with only four provinces participating thus far. In short, CNIB wishing that rehab services were government-funded does not mean they are or will be in the near future on a Canada-wide basis.

We will, over the next few weeks and months, learn more about this process. But is this a move in the right direction? Is this progress? Should we be doing what we can to work with CNIB toward achieving these objectives, if CNIB determines that they want to work with us?

AEBC needs your input on this question, and so does CNIB. A focus group will be held May 18th by telephone conference call, and information about this has been circulated to AEBC members via the various listserves.

If you cannot attend that session or have further input you wish to provide, an online survey is also available. Below is the announcement from CNIB in that regard:

CNIB is in the initial stages of developing our new strategic plan, which will guide all of our priorities and activities from 2014 onwards.

In order to ensure that plan reflects the views and needs of our community, we’re reaching out to key stakeholders across the country to share their opinions on the future direction of CNIB.

We’ve produced a background booklet called “Your CNIB, Your Future” and an online survey where you can share your feedback. Both the booklet and the survey can be found at The online survey will be available until June 30.

So, let's discuss. Where does this leave "us" (AEBC) and where should we go with it?


This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.


A few weeks ago, I learned that in BC at least, hearing rehab is covered also by the Provincial Government. Given the financial situation in BC right now, I don't hold out much hope of having vision rehab covered in the same way.

Historically speaking, blindness, not even vision impairment, was possibly the first "disability" to be tackled by any organization, and that organization happened to be the CNIB. There was a huge spike in the incidence of blindness, following the First World War, and it was some of those war victoms that got the CNIB up and running, and the rest as they say is history.

On first glance, this seems a solid rational and acceptable change in philosophy. Unfortunately, for reasons, sometimes valid, CNIB will be black listed no mater what they do, or don't do. So often, those perisistent blacklisters are the archetects of their own situations. And, I don't believe that rehabilitation should be based on a medical model of illness. I wonder what kind of howling there would be were daycare handled as a charity, or education. But then in some cases education is little more than a prolonged babysitting service proliferating prolonged adolescence.

Compared to the traditional culture of C.N.I.B. this initiative represents a giant step forward. Hopefully C.N.I.B. will work with other stake holders in the blindness field as persuading government at any level to become more financially involved will require a mammoth effort from both the blindness community as well as the community at large. This thinking looks like a fresh start--now, let's "see" to what extent C.N.I.B. is willing to follow through both with government, the blindness community and the community at large.