In Canada, an estimated 500,000 Canadians are blind or partially sighted according to CNIB, an estimated 1.5 million people identify themselves as having sight loss, and another 5.5 million as having an eye disease that could cause sight loss. And as Canada’s aging population continues to increase at a high rate, the number of people with blindness or partial sight is expected to double in the next 25 years.
What is visual impairment?
Blindness means different things for different people, with different levels and types of vision, and visual impairment is not just an acquired disease or injury, but for many, something they are born with. In addition, it may have little to do with the eyes at all. For example, in children, Cortical Visual Impairment is the most common cause of visual impairment in North America. This brain-based visual impairment means that, while healthy eyes are seeing, the brain’s visual systems can’t process the information in the expected ways.
While there have been great strides in recent years in removing barriers for all forms of disability, including visual impairment, much of the day to day activities many of us take for granted present barriers to blind Canadians. These barriers can be found in our physical infrastructure, our education and healthcare systems, the job market, and in individual attitudes and expectations.
In addition, the families of children with visual impairment need support and education so they can learn the best ways to support and relate to their children, make their environments accessible, and help their children thrive.
How Canadian charities are helping remove barriers
Charities across Canada play a critical role in removing these barriers, and supporting families and people with visual impairments in navigating the world around them.
Working with health practitioners, they offer the best in leading-edge diagnostic instruments for vision, as well as advanced expertise in clinical eye services – and many are involved in supporting frontline research into better treatments and future cures.
Teaming up with local businesses and neighbours, charities run workshops, job searches, and one-on-one training and coaching, assisting people with visual impairment to find employment or to improve their living conditions. Mentoring blind children and adults through interaction with successful, blind role models is often part of these processes.
Collaborating with schools, organizations also run training centres that employ skilled teachers for the visually impaired to work with blind students to increase independence, confidence, and skills. Education is key. Some organizations are dedicated to promoting braille as the primary medium of literacy for those who are blind or visually impaired, but braille transcribers and producers, as well as parents of braille users — and the braille users themselves — need more resources and services.
Overall, their approaches in education, employment, health services, and housing instill a belief in blind people’s capabilities and independence – and they take a non-custodial approach. As one charity puts it: ‘It’s not about sighted people doing things for the blind; it’s about blind people doing things for themselves.’
Sports leagues and cultural and arts events are part of this. They enable people who are blind or partially sighted to live engaged, active, and fulfilling lives. Sports organizations and events that remove barriers to sailing, ice hockey, and competitive sports for the blind are extremely popular. Hockey leagues, for example, function like any other league, but with equipment and rules that make it easier to hear the puck and other players. Tournaments and training for everyone from kids to elite athletes who are blind or partially sighted improve physical and mental health, counter negative stereotypes, and build friendships, communities, and peer support – and are just plain fun.
In every sphere of life, charitable organizations provide training, equipment, live descriptions, and other services to theatre companies, business boardrooms, arts organizations and others to make events and productions accessible to communities of people who are blind or partially sighted.
Many organizations are also part of national or regional advocacy initiatives, raising awareness and protecting the rights of partially sighted and blind people, ensuring they have equal access to opportunities in Canada, especially in new legislation and programs, and in terms of removing barriers that prevent access to information, technology, institutions, and goods and services.
You can help provide critical support services for people with visual impairment
To support the vital work of these charities, CanadaHelps has created the Removing Barriers for People with Visual Impairments Fund. Canadians can easily support more than 30 charities working towards the same cause in a single transaction, pooling their gifts with those of others to achieve even greater impact.