The Politics of Blindness: From Charity to Parity
By Graeme McCreath
Granville Island Publishing, 168 pp., $24.59
A must listen to Interview can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=1844589069
In The Politics of Blindness, Graeme McCreath shines a harsh light on the Reality faced by Canada’s blind community.
He tells most sighted readers things we did not know and need to know in the
Interests of achieving social justice for this often ignored population.
And social justice is entirely unrelated to supporting the CNIB -which no longer wants to be called the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and which
McCreath portrays as having sacred-cow status as a charity. This despite the
high Salaries of its executives while many blind Canadians get neither training
For the non-blind, the book has huge potential as a game-changer -offering Insights and criticism along with suggestions on how to jump-start action
for blind Canadians in keeping with the 21st century.
For people in the blind community, there is not much new in McCreath’s book. Most working-age blind people have been living with the frustration of 75
per cent unemployment and dismal living conditions, not to mention putting up
with the condescending and pity-filled attitudes that permeate Canadian culture.
McCreath suggests that thinking Canadians need to take responsibility for these attitudes and examine how they evolved. But he places the blame
largely on the CNIB, claiming the 93-year-old old charity has long used
high-priced and compelling advertising to reinforce stereotypes, which in turn elicit huge donations.
McCreath, a physiotherapist, competitive athlete and father of three children who has been blind for most of his life, provides a highly
convincing condemnation of the CNIB.
“Charitable donations are supposed to benefit the needy rather than the organization,”
says McCreath, and notes that the current CEO of the organization is paid more than the prime minister of Canada.
“Of the over 300 full-time employees at the Toronto headquarters, nine take Home a salary of over $120,000 a year, a stunning award considering only two out of 10 working blind Canadians can get a job,” says McCreath.
How do blind people feel about having a monopolistic charity look after their interests, as opposed to a government agency? Not so good, according
“Blind people are generally ignored by politicians, and by the public, who sincerely
believe our needs are being met by the CNIB,” he says.
“Over 100 years after the development of Braille, many blind Canadians still Have not been given the opportunity to learn Braille during their formative
Simply put, Braille means literacy; and only in recent years have the CNIB Acknowledged that Braille is important.
But in almost a hundred years, they have not acted on that knowledge. i.e. by lobbying the education system for action.”
Has the CNIB done anything right in 93 years?
Obviously, and if you read a book published by the CNIB, its accomplishments Are many. But the evidence is slight, he suggests, especially when, as he
notes, “in 2003 alone, B.C.’s branch of the CNIB posted a gross income of more than
Granted, the book resembles both a government report and an anti-CNIB rant, but is there an “even” way to open discussion of a huge historical
McCreath might not have the best solutions, but he has identified two major problems.
First, immersion training for blind citizens in skills such as mobility and literacy is not offered anywhere in Canada. (The U.S. has three centres that offer
nine-month training programs at a cost of up to $45,000.) And, second, the
stereotypes that hold back blind people must be addressed.
McCreath’s clear, articulate voice -albeit an angry one -prevails in The Politics of Blindness, but he provides an undeniable and effective
indictment of a Reality that should not exist in Canada in 2011.
Weeks after the book’s launch, a group of blind people from around the province came to support the cry for parity, their voices echoing outside
the B.C. legislature on Feb. 15
“We are doctors and artists and professors -when we have the basic skills training,” read the signs. “We are capable people who do not need pity, but
who do need fundamental blindness-specific skills training.”
We need to know more. We need to know the things that a blind person cannot tell a sighted one in a fiveminute conversation or even in an introduction to a book on blindness. There is a much larger story that blind Canadians need to tell. Whatever the
Faults of his book, McCreath has begun the dialogue.
Thelma Fayle is a Victoria writer who also writes the House Beautiful
feature for the Times Colonist.