What would happen if you lost your sight? Your first reaction may be to think that life is over and there is no hope of ever being independent again. You might feel alone and like no one understands the challenges you are suddenly facing. Or, upon discovering blind people can become independent given the appropriate training and opportunities, you may try to get back on your feet only to discover the severe lack of services to help you get your life back. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Blindness does not have to be a sentence of despair, dependence, and loneliness. The primary purpose of the Bowen Island Centre for the Blind and DeafBlind project is to give blind and DeafBlind Canadians the skills, peer supports, and belief in themselves to live life independently, through blindness/DeafBlindness skills training and Summer Independence Camps.
It is estimated that 1.55 million Canadians (about 4% of the Canadian population or one in every twenty-five Canadians) has experienced vision loss. In British Columbia, the percentage is even higher, at nearly one in every twenty residents across the province. Nationally, there is estimated to be an additional 5.78 million Canadians (about 15% of the total Canadian population) who have eye conditions that can lead to vision loss. (CNIB; Canadian Survey on Disability 2017; Statistics Canada 2017; Statistics Canada 2020)
There is a severe lack of intensive rehabilitation available to blind and DeafBlind people in Canada. Many blind and DeafBlind people in Canada have never had the opportunity to learn the skills of independence, or have recently lost their vision and have nowhere to go to access regular training in these techniques. Due to this lack of adequate rehabilitation, blind, low vision, and DeafBlind people often lack basic life and employment skills. The majority of blind and DeafBlind people stay in their homes and do not take part in community life, leading to isolation and disconnection from others. Due to well-meaning but overprotective families and school staff, many people who have been blind or DeafBlind their whole lives internalize what can be called “learned dependence”, where a person will wait to be helped instead of taking a leadership role of helping themselves and others, putting them at a disadvantage in the workplace and society in general. Studies show that 75% of blind Canadians are unemployed and exist on minimal incomes provided through disability assistance payments. Compared to the rest of the population with disabilities, only 25% report being employed versus 51% of people with disabilities in general. Without these services, blind, low vision, and DeafBlind Canadians will continue to face isolation, mental health struggles, unemployment, and other challenges.
When taken together, the above statistics paint a grim picture of what it is to be blind in Canada, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The Pacific Training Centre for the Blind and the Camp Bowen team believe that with the appropriate training and opportunities, blind and DeafBlind Canadians can live on terms of equality with their sighted, and in the case of people who are DeafBlind, hearing counterparts. These organizations are partnering to change this reality and fill an important gap in services provided to this population by creating a recreation, training and meeting centre to house services aimed at providing independence, connection, and confidence to blind and DeafBlind Canadians.
There are three goals for this project . The first is to create a recreation, training and meeting Centre to house a ten-month intensive blindness/DeafBlindness skills training program from September to June and summer independence camps for blind and DeafBlind children, youth, adults, and their families during July and August. The second goal is to raise sufficient funds to ensure that the first two years of the programs’ costs are covered while longer-term funding is secured. The last goal is to invest 20% of the money raised through this project with a community foundation to ensure long-term operational costs remain covered.
The goals identified above will address the need faced by many blind and DeafBlind Canadians for meaningful connection, independence, and peer support. Building on their combined industry experience and expanding on their current programs, the Camp Bowen team and the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind Society are coming together for this project as the Canadian Organization of the Blind and DeafBlind. The teams will work hand in hand to make these valuable programs vibrant, sustainable, and effective.
To learn more, check out the following links.
- Blindness/DeafBlindness Skills Training Overview
- Summer Independence Camps Overview
- Community Impact
- Project Updates
- Project FAQs
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