The CFB’s Testimony to the BC Budget Consultation Committee

Presented October 13, 2017

The Canadian Federation of the Blind ( is a membership organization of blind people committed to the complete integration of blind people into British Columbian society on the basis of equality. We believe that blindness need not be the characteristic that defines us and that, if training and opportunity is available, blind British Columbians can live the lives we want. CFB is not a service provider organization. We are not seeking money from the province to offer rehabilitation programs. We are considering applying for gaming funds in the same manner as a local civic or service club would apply. It is important that you understand that our suggestions relate to a pattern of thinking and strategies of funding that matter to us as advocates, but the Canadian Federation of the Blind in no way seeks to benefit financially from the changes we propose.

Since 2008 the Canadian Federation of the Blind has come before this committee to say that blind British Columbians are not getting the training they need to become fully participating citizens. The proof of our claim is the completely unacceptable unemployment rate among blind people of working age. The most optimistic estimate is a jobless rate of 70%, with some estimates ranging as high as 90%.

There are a number of reasons for these dismal figures. Government can help with two of the main reasons, without a major increase in expenditures. What’s needed is a paradigm shift.

Blind people are not getting jobs because they do not have the skills and training they need to join the labour force. British Columbia does not have a comprehensive strategy to provide them with rehabilitation. When someone is physically injured and acquires a disability, the BC medical system steps in with training designed to help them re-enter the work force, perhaps in a new profession. When someone becomes blind they are effectively abandoned to a charity.

Using charities to provide services for the poor and disadvantaged is not a new idea, it is a very old system. Charities were society’s social safety net before governments created social programs. However, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that the charity model is an effective or innovative way of delivering training and rehabilitation programs. If the charity model was effective, I am sure there would be many more examples not just training for the blind.

There are people who will accept help from a social program but would rather go hungry than accept help from a charity. This is because there is a stigma about being a recipient of charity. How does it affect a blind person’s self -respect when they are told to go to a charity for everything, from talking books, to independence training, to helping them find a job?

Another unusual aspect of the blind training model in Canada is the charity that provides the service has a virtual national monopoly and provides it many other services as well. As a general rule, monopolies are not known for being creative, innovative, or responsive to its customers.

Canada has relied almost exclusively on the charity model for nearly a century. I’m urging you to shift the paradigm and adopt a social model of disability rehabilitation.

How does the charity model differ from the social model of blindness rehabilitation?

The social model begins with the belief that blind people are normal. Blindness does not alter their personalities, their aptitudes, or their ability to contribute. It alters the methods used to accomplish everyday goals. Those methods are easily learned and extremely effective. The real handicap faced by blind people is the very attitude that the charity model reinforces. Blind people pay directly in loss of opportunity for every appeal that yanks on the heartstrings of a government or the public that wants to be generous and kind. When the public truly begins to believe blindness is part of the range of normal characteristics, attitudes will shift and opportunities increase.

Rehabilitation built on the social model of disability emphasizes skills; it also emphasizes examination of attitudes and the building of confidence. Good blindness rehabilitation is not designed to bring the blind person back to a level almost as capable as before blindness occurred. Good blindness rehabilitation is designed to help blind individuals tap into their previously unrealized potential, to challenge limits, not just perceived limits imposed by blindness. Good blindness rehabilitation is to the charity model what an Outward Bound program is to high school gym class.

Although fully funding good rehabilitation for blind British Columbians will eventually require additional expenditures, British Columbia can do the preparatory work to become the innovative leader in Canadian blindness rehabilitation without spending one extra dime.

Begin by recognizing that the charity model, though it was instrumental in the historic development of blindness services, has now outlived its usefulness and has become a detriment. Adopt the social model of blindness training.

Commit to funding rehabilitation of blind individuals as those with physical disabilities are funded. It is unconscionable that someone with a spinal chord injury receives provincial help while someone who becomes blind does not.

Do not accept a single source contract. Instead, adopt the navigator style of paying for service. Make funding contingent on individually developed plans and individually determined goals. Renew on the basis of results.

Commit to offering blind individuals a choice of programs. Monopolies weren’t good for telephone service; they’re not good for rehabilitation, either.

Actively develop local service providers. Throughout British Columbia there are blind individuals who teach the newly blind and do it as volunteers. Why not contract with them directly?

The same is true of innovative programs. Why should a training program for blind British Columbians be directed from Toronto when there are local individuals and groups with creative problem solving ideas that are going untried due to lack of funding?

Take responsibility for the effectiveness of public money spent on blindness. Stop deferring to the charity experts. Enlist the creative capacity of potential leaders throughout the province. What you’ve been doing is not working. I repeat, what you’ve been doing is not working. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, it will keep not working. Please have the courage to think differently, fund differently, and demand better results.

Mary Ellen Gabias, President
Canadian Federation of the Blind