Vimy Week Stories - The CNIB and SAPA's Aid for War Blinded

Date published:

April 8, 2024

[Display of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ont.] C.N.E. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-057078

As the dust settled following the end of the First World War and soldiers returned home, many carried wounds both seen and unseen. One such group was those who lost their  sight during the war. A soldier's sudden loss of vision was an incredibly difficult task to face. 

One beacon of hope amidst this adversity was the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Founded in 1918, the CNIB dedicated itself to assisting those blinded in service to their country. Providing essential services such as rehabilitation, vocational training, and ongoing support, the CNIB helped these individuals rebuild their lives with compassion and expertise.

The CNIB's rehabilitation services were comprehensive, addressing the physical, emotional, and practical aspects of blindness. War veterans received tailored programs encompassing physical and occupational therapy, mobility training, and counseling to help them adapt to their new circumstances. Moreover, vocational training initiatives equipped veterans with the skills needed to pursue employment opportunities, including workshops and specialized training in fields such as Braille transcription and woodworking. Importantly, the CNIB provided ongoing support beyond initial rehabilitation, offering access to assistive technologies, such as talking book libraries and adaptive equipment, as well as counseling and peer support groups to address psychological and emotional needs.

Example of workshop on basket weaving - Lawrence Toulouse and instructor. Canadian National Institute for the Blind (1957) / Library and Archives Canada / Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds / e011308583

But the story doesn't end there. Inspired to help others facing similar challenges, a group of CNIB veterans formed the Sir Arthur Pearson Association of War Blinded (SAPA). Named after a pioneer in blindness rehabilitation, this association aimed to extend a helping hand to those in need.

SAPA members, themselves war veterans who had lost their sight, served as mentors and advocates for newly blinded individuals. Drawing on their own experiences, they provided practical guidance and emotional support to help fellow veterans navigate the challenges of blindness and adjust to civilian life. Additionally, SAPA organized social events and gatherings to foster a sense of camaraderie and belonging among war-blinded individuals. These events provided opportunities for socialization, recreation, and mutual support, helping to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Recognizing the need for systemic change, SAPA also advocated for the rights and resources needed to ensure the well-being and inclusion of war-blinded individuals in society. This included lobbying for legislative reforms to improve accessibility, employment opportunities, and social services for the blind community.

Together, the CNIB and SAPA played complementary roles in providing holistic support to war veterans who had lost their sight during the First World War. While the CNIB focused on rehabilitation, vocational training, and ongoing services, SAPA offered peer support, mentorship, and advocacy to help individuals rebuild their lives and achieve independence despite their disabilities.


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