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The Canadian Council of The Blind An Abbreviated History

Prior to 1941 numerous independent associations of the blind existed across local Canadian communities. The Manitoba League of the Blind (Winnipeg), however, called for meetings between 1941 and 1943 with the London Association of the Blind of Ontario and other interested parties. These same groups met again in 1944 and established the Inter-Provincial "Council". When they parted, they faced the task of bringing together representatives from across Canada to establish a national body.

In 1945 Provincial representatives from across Canada gathered in London, Ontario at the first Inter-Provincial Convention, and ratified the formation of a national council. The second Inter-Provincial Convention in 1946 saw the adoption of the name "The Canadian Council of the Blind". Chartered and Incorporated in 1950, the Council achieved representation in every Province by 1954. The CNIB helped with membership development and financial support early in our history. This financial assistance was contingent on the CCB not doing its own fundraising, and this "financial agreement" lasted until terminated in 1985. Today the CCB is comprised of some 85 chapters.

The driving force of the CCB was its interest in improving the quality of life for blind Canadians, and its attempts at legislative reform were predominantly of a national scope. Working jointly with the CNIB, the Council also participated extensively in addressing issues related to various levels of government.

In 1946 CCB Divisions advocated for the adoption of the 1943 CNIB brief which was presented to government, and which outlined a six-point legislative reform package designed to improve the quality of life for blind Canadians. The CCB also lobbied for pensions and pension reforms with deputations to both provincial/federal government departments and individual MP's. Efforts focused on such areas as the elimination of "means" eligibility tests, extension of tax exemptions to one's spouse and guaranteed income. In the 60's and 70's the CCB formally presented briefs and concerns primarily to the provincial Ministers of Finance, Health and labour or to their departments.

The CCB has worked with the Bank of Canada in addressing the need for identifiable currency and the development of the Money Identifier, which is provided free of charge to all blind Canadians. The CCB remains active on this issue.

The Council developed and promoted a number of efforts within the areas of education, recreation and public awareness.

In terms of education for the blind, the CCB quickly established and maintained relations with provincial schools for the blind (there were five at the time) and membership in several then called Special Education Associations. A number of educational programs were also developed and promoted within the CCB, including public speaking, leadership seminars, travel exchanges, Braille literacy promotions and contests, as well as awareness campaigns. Of particular significance was the launch in 1948 of the national magazine, the first of its kind in Canada, entitled "The CCB Outlook", which became an invaluable means of communication with the membership.

During the formative years, the Council recognized the need to broaden public awareness of blindness. The result was the founding of White Cane Week in 1945 and an invitation to the CNIB to participate. History illustrates the CCB played a very proactive role in White Cane Week in its developing years, contributing immeasurably to its entrenchment as a nationally recognized annual event.

As for recreation, significant people resources were invested in identifying and promoting an ever-increasing range of activities, not only to benefit members but also to contribute to the social rehabilitation of newly blinded persons. Recognizing recreation's importance, the CNIB was very active with the Council up until the early 80's. It is noteworthy to mention that "Summer Camps" such as Lake Joseph, established in 1961, and others resulted from a 1948 CCB initiative in Ontario. Since that time, active and well-received programs have developed and evolved across Canada.

The CCB also addressed employment issues related to blind Canadians. In 1963 it established a Standing Committee to research new employment opportunities for the blind. Its intended purpose was to serve as a "clearing house" of information, broadening services and assisting those seeking employment. Division levels also liaised with the CNIB in research, information sharing, and promoting employment opportunities within the CNIB itself. In addition, the CCB made a number of representations to the Federal Government in the early 80's, including a call for an amendment to the Labour Code to prohibit employers from paying below minimum wage to disabled Canadians.

During this period the CCB directly participated in calls for accessible information from the government, accessible services from banks and accessible programming on television. The Council pursued "voice-over" commentary on television where there was no narration. This would include special announcements or bulletins flashed on screen during regular programming.

The Council's activities have not been limited to Canada. As early as 1948 the CCB set about establishing links and relations with the American Association of Workers for the Blind (AAWB), and in 1951 with the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind. In all cases the object has been to further the Council's (and memberships) knowledge and sharing of information through dialogue and presentations with peers. Perhaps in some small measure the CCB can contribute to improving the quality of life for all. The CCB has remained a part of the global community through the World Blind Union.

In 1948 and until today, the CCB established the "Overseas Blind Fund". This is an internal campaign supported by donations from the membership. Projects have included providing two Mobile Eye Clinics in India and Bangladesh, establishing a female wing of an Eye Hospital in Bangladesh, and developing a camp to finance 1000 sight restoring cataract operations. In later years the CCB has worked with Operation Eyesight Universal in supporting a number of different projects.

In the late 80's and early to mid 90's activity existed, but in stasis, between CCB National and Divisions due to lack of resources. The CCB infrastructure lacked the sophistication to develop financial sustainability beyond the level of national office. Activity at National was maintained through funding received from the Social Development Partnerships Program of HRDC which was nominal. The Council, resources permitting, continued to monitor and participate in a number of federal initiatives and consultations, and in sharing information with Divisions. In recent years several Divisions, in developing modest funding bases, have started to re-assert themselves and, in turn, have provided an impetus for change at the national level.

At the same time, while recognizing its financial limitations, the CCB acknowledged that its structure, lack of a focused agenda and limited development of people resources were also impeding the organization's potential. Something needed to be done.

The Council believes that steps to remedy the situation have been underway over the last five years, albeit slowly. There is a revitalization in the membership and a re-commitment to the CCB's mission. In some measure this is attributable to new members, skill development, improved access to information and adaptive technology.

Several Divisions have taken a very proactive role in promoting the interests and issues of the blind in their provinces. An example would be in Ontario, where the CCB was an active member of a coalition promoting enactment of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA). The ODA requires municipalities to set up Standing Committees on Accessibility. It is expected that all 24 Chapters in Ontario will seek formal representation.

At the national level the Council continues to participate in various activities, Such as addressing access and supports issues with the National Library of Canada, CRTC, Treasury Board of Canada, Heritage Canada, Transport Canada, and supporting a coalition That promotes the establishment of a broad National Disability Supports Program.

Communication, through and among the membership and Divisions, has expanded, and this is strengthened by the revival of the quarterly news magazine, the CCB Outlook, a Web site, and an e-list. The Council at the national level is developing a new Scholarship program, and it continues to sponsor projects designed to address the needs of blind children and youth. The Council recognizes the value of fostering relations with International colleagues for what we can learn from each other.

As these ongoing activities are nurtured or expanded, the organization is in the active process of re-defining its structure with a view to providing a more responsive, inclusive, efficient vehicle and productive forum for blind Canadians.

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