The CNIB branch office in Kelowna. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

CNIB promises to respond to criticism

Blind community advocates call for inclusion initiatives

Complaints about how effective CNIB is in serving the blind community are resonating, says a project manager for the charitable organization.

Diane Bergeron, CNIB vice-president, international affairs and engagement, says some service changes have occurred and others continue to be assessed “so that we can keep pace with their needs and expectations as well as the opportunities of the time.”

In a statement to Black Press, Bergeron said these changes have included important transformations in how some of CNIB’s key services are funded and delivered—moving away from charitable models for rehabilitation and library services, and toward sustainable models that place the accountability for these services in the public sector.

“We agree there is still much more to do to create the equal, inclusive future Canadians who are blind or partially sighted deserve—especially when it comes to the disparity in employment rates, and access to the mainstream and specialized technologies that are powerful tools of independence in today’s world,” stated Bergeron.

“In recent nationwide consultations, our community has told us change is needed in these areas, so as we move into our next century of operation we will be renewing our dedication to this work.”

The need for changes strike a chord with Joyce Mainland, a Kelowna resident and mother of a 35-year-old blind daughter, who has grown frustrated with the CNIB.

Mainland says the CNIB, with office locations in Kelowna and Kamloops to serve the southern Interior, has dropped the ball in working to develop programs that allow for more inclusion of blind people in society similar to what is done for people with other disabilities.

“People who are blind or slowly losing their vision need help and services and they’re not getting it,” said Mainland.

“It seems like the (CNIB) has outlived its usefulness.”

Related: Hockey player overcomes vision disability

Mainland says she looks at other disability rehabilitative services, often covered by the Medical Services Plan, offered for people with stroke recovery, speech and paralysis issues, and feels blind people are left behind in both access and MSP support.

“If someone is losing their vision, they are sent to a charity. There has to be a paradigm shift in how we deliver services for the blind and visually impaired,” Mainland contended.

She compares it to the Red Cross blood safety controversy, which led to another organization, Canadian Blood Services, being formed to oversee blood donations.

More specifically, she cites the example of CNIB creating a special library service for blind people, rather than advocating for new technology advances that can allow members of the blind community to access public library books and services.

Graeme McCreath, a blind community activist and executive member of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, recently stated the lingering charity status of the CNIB has resulted in blind Canadians suffering 100 years of social stagnation.

“Despite national studies recommending upgrading blind citizens to independent, equal citizenship alongside our fellow Canadians, the power of the CNIB and complicit successive governments have assured our inferior charity status prevails,” said McCreath.

‘Working-age blind citizens were, and still are, one of the most unemployed, welfare dependent, socially isolated and disadvantaged groups.”

The CNIB, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this week, was created directly because of the high profile gas-blinded heroes of the First World War and survivors of the 1917 Halifax harbour explosion where two ships collided, one laden with explosive munitions bound for the WW I battle front, to become a custodial service provider for the blind.

Bergeron said CNIB acknowledges the concerns expressed by Mainland, McCreath and others, saying there is always room for improvement.

“At the same time, countless more individuals and families would tell you about the life-changing difference we make through our work—and that there’s an important role for us to play going forward,” she said.

Bergeron cited her own life example, afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease caused me to lose my sight completely by age 35.

“At every stage and in every part of my life, the training and support I’ve gotten from CNIB has been vital to my confidence and independence. From essential skills like traveling with a white cane, reading braille and using technology, to overcoming the practical challenges of blind parenting, CNIB has been there for me,” she said.

“The skills I learned laid a strong foundation for an active, happy life and a fulfilling career in municipal and provincial government prior to my current role. I could not be personally more grateful for this organization, and I know I’m not alone.”

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