len's masthead




londoner editor pic





When I wrote a column for the Londoner I paid a visit to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Lori Siska, Co-ordinator of Client Services and Mary Ann Morgan a visually impaired, member of the District Board kindly gave me the insight into their programming. The CNIB is the largest non profit agency for the visually impaired in the world. 70% of the income is self-generated - fund raising along with the United Way with the province of Ontario contributing less then the remaining 30%.

Twenty years ago the local CNIB was responsible for 1,000 clients: to-day the numbers are 3,300. To qualify for this designation one has to have 20/200 or less then 10% vision.

In Canada we have over 100,000 deaf/blind with the projections in fifteen years to double to 200,000.
I wanted answers to know the “who/ why” questions. “70% of the visually impaired are over 65 with women in the majority. Less then 20% of the clients are totally blind”.

“Macular degeneration is the most prevalent reason for vision impairment. The restriction of blood flow to the retina due to ageing causes loss of central vision needed for detail e.g. reading or threading a needle.” Cataracts, Glaucoma, Diabetes plays havoc with our vision.”

The CNIB provides early intervention for 70 children who are born sight impaired. The children are taught to learn about the world through the senses of touch, smell, taste and sound. Think about having to understand colour, horses, elephants, clouds and stars when you can not see.

What is like to be blind? It’s a very difficult adjustment for the individual and their family when you lose your sight. Everything changes around you but you are still the same sensational, happy person.

It is a myth that one’s other faculties naturally become heightened when you lose your eyesight. One has to be taught the skills to function in a seeing world. Imagine having to learn the survival skills to be able to cross a busy intersection without the help of a Orientation Mobility Instructor employed by the C.N.I.B.

Mary Ann stressed the need for one who has lost their vision to be well organized. “Her kitchen is her domain and those who try and help without her guidance/permission are muddling in her affairs. Yes, blind women learn to put on their own makeup, co-ordinate their wardrobes - it’s part of being female.”

Technological innovation now provides for talking clocks, braille watches to help tell the time. There are 15,000 audio books on tape for clients to access along with Chatelaine, Reader’ Digest and Saturday Night magazines.

How can you help? “The visually impaired do not need/ask for your pity or to view them as helpless. Family and a sense of community can make a huge difference in offering constant, quiet, support to bring about a healthy adaptation to the many changes that occur.”

Lori and Mary Ann are concerned for lonely widowers in their 80's who lose their sight. “Sadly, elderly men have the highest percentage of quiet suicides. Losing one’s vision only exasperates the problem. They merely stop eating or forget to take their medication.” That is why the CNIB has established “The Men’s Group’ on Tuesdays.

Mary Ann’s message for change is very eloquent and oh so simple. “We need to help people get back in touch with their own natural goodness. Many of us have lost our understanding of unconditional love.”

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com