CNIB (formerly known as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which was officially changed to its current name in 2006) is a volunteer agency and charitable organization dedicated to assisting Canadians who are blind or living with vision loss, and to provide information about vision health for all Canadians. Founded in 1918 to assist soldiers who had been blinded in the First World War, CNIB originally offered sheltered care and specialized employment to people with vision loss. It has since expanded to include other programs and services, including research, public education, rehabilitation counselling and training, advocacy and an alternative-format library for people living with a print disability. It is a member of BANA.
CNIB was incorporated in 1918 to provide food, clothing and sheltered residences for blind veterans returning from World War I. It began with 27 employees serving 1,521 people who were blind, primarily in Toronto, with two "home teachers" providing rehabilitation training in other parts of Canada. During the 1920s, CNIB operated a job placement program with limited success, also creating jobs through its own factories, broom shops and concession stands. The organization also appointed a special nurse responsible for vision health and sight preservation.
By the 1950s, CNIB was serving more than 17,000 clients, with offices, vocational centres and residences in major Canadian cities. A formalized research program into prevention was also prioritized. Steps were taken towards advocacy with the 1930 Blind Voters Act, allowing a person who is blind to vote with the assistance of a sighted person, and legislation around mandatory eye drops to prevent disease in newborns. In 1956, the organization helped sponsor a course for blind computer programmers.
In the 21st century, CNIB has approximately 1,100 staff and over 10,000 volunteers conducting research, personalized rehabilitation support and advocacy for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted. It also provides public education on the importance of vision health and preventing eye disease, with the goal of eliminating avoidable sight loss in Canada.
CNIB operates community-based services for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted. This includes assistance in returning to school, advice on travelling, and emotional support. These services are delivered either at a local CNIB office, within the community, over the phone, online or in an individual’s home. It also offers advocacy support for resources focusing on social issues, such as concessions, housing, finances and leisure pursuits. Self-help groups are facilitated by staff and volunteers who may be blind or partially sighted.
CNIB provides functional assessments of visual abilities, instruction on how to maximize residual vision, and, as required, information and training in the use of low vision devices. Life-skills training emphasizes managing the essentials of daily living, including safe and effective methods of cooking, alternate communication methods such as braille and large print, and household tasks such as laundry, banking, writing and personal care. Orientation and mobility instructors provide instruction on how to move safely around the house, and/or skills to travel safely within the community.
The organization operates a library that includes more than 80,000 accessible materials in formats such as Braille, audio, DAISY and e-text. Assistive technology services include accessible audio book players, video magnifiers, computer screen readers and other tools to make life with vision loss easier. Specialists provide instruction through demonstration, assessment, training and technical support about the availability, selection, use and purchase of devices for individual needs.
CNIB employs approximately 1,100 professionals, working in the fields of life-skills training, library services, research, advocacy, public education, accessible design consulting, fundraising and administration. CNIB also receives support from over 10,000 volunteers working in all regions of the country.
The organization consists of a national office at the CNIB Centre in Toronto and eight provincial and territorial divisions. They are governed by a volunteer board of directors, selected from across Canada, including representatives from the corporate, medical and government sectors, as well as individuals affected by vision loss. There are eight operating divisions, plus the Lake Joseph Centre and the CNIB Library, each with a volunteer board. The chair of each division board sits on a Council of Chairs in order to provide input and advice to CNIB’s President and CEO.
A number of businesses and government services offer discounted rates for those who are blind or visually impaired upon presentation of a CNIB identification card. The card is offered exclusively to Canadians who are legally blind and registered at CNIB, with 20/200 vision in the best eye with correction or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.
The One Person, One Fare Policy has been in effect since January 10, 2009. The policy accommodates at no extra cost people meeting certain requirements who require an extra seat due to a disability for domestic flights on WestJet and Air Canada only.
Via Rail offers free travel to one escort accompanying a person with vision loss. The escort or attendant travels free in the same class of service. Passengers wishing to travel with an escort must be eligible for a CNIB ID Card and have the card in hand when purchasing a train ticket.
Greyhound offers two-for-one fares, wherein a guide can travel free when accompanying a blind or visually impaired person. The discount also applies to travel with Société de transport de la Rive-Sud (STRSM), Corporation métropolitaine des transports de Sherbrooke (CMTS), RÉgie de transport en commum de Shawinigan (RTCS), Corporation inter-municipale de transport des Forges (CITF) and Société de transport du Saguenay (STS)People with vision loss should contact the bus carrier about discounted fares as it varies from province to province.
Discounts are available on the cost of admission for select cultural events upon presentation of a CNIB ID card. Most major movie theatres take part in a program run by Easter Seals in Canada called Access2Entertainment. The program requires CNIB members to pay an administration fee of $20, which goes to Easter Seals, in order to receive a card good for 5 years. Regardless of their participation in the program, some theaters will still accept the CNIB ID card.