Is the CNIB’s centennial this year really something to celebrate?
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind came about directly because of the high profile of gas-blinded heroes of the First World War and survivors of the 1917 Halifax explosion. As a self-preservation policy, the institute eventually turned to influencing government to designate all blind Canadians permanent wards of a charity, but in reality, recipients of little.
Temporary causes reflect contemporary attitudes, but society changes and so should attitudes. Nevertheless, this longstanding enigma, the CNIB, will celebrate its centennial this year, yet elsewhere inclusion has replaced segregation, and obsolete Victorian values have evaporated like the age of steam power.
In contrast with cultural advances, this lingering charity status 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.
Although blind citizens’ treatment does somewhat mirror the First Nations experience, it does not have the same profile to generate conscious political recognition. Instead, Canada’s custodial treatment of its blind citizens just continues to reinforce the public’s morbid fear of blindness.
A new approach to produce successful, respected blind citizens can transform lives that today are damaged through an inherited cultural entrenchment. The institute’s monopoly has permitted billions of dollars to flow unrelenting into this self-serving icon.
In contrast, there are hundreds of deprived, abandoned, young blind people resigned to perpetual exclusion. Governments continue to sanction this paternal single ideology, with the voice of blind citizens forgotten and ignored.
Working-age blind citizens were, and still are, one of the most unemployed, welfare-dependent, socially isolated and disadvantaged groups. Unbelievably, Canada has a preoccupation in keeping young blind people entertained through sport, which helps to deflect attention from much more important tasks, such as participation in the workforce.
Although the primary mission statement of the CNIB is to “foster the integration of blind Canadians into the mainstream,” the institute fights tooth and nail in direct opposition to its published goal.
The CNIB represents antiquated, paternal, Victorian values forced onto each new generation of blind citizens, and should be relegated to the history books.
In 2018, we need government to recognize and treat blind citizens as contributing, respected and worthy members of society.
Graeme McCreath is an independent blind activist and executive member of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (cfb.ca).