Your used smartphone could be helpful for blind people

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind will accept donations of old smartphones, which will be scrubbed of previous data, loaded with accessible apps and delivered to people with sight loss who need them.

Apps and other tools can provide a wide range of accessibility solutions

Giving people with sight loss a smartphone with accessible apps is part of a program being launched by the CNIB Foundation. (CNIB)

A simple smartphone can make a big difference to someone who is blind or has sight loss.

"My smartphone is my most important tool when it comes to living the independent, connected life I want," says Wayne Henshall, of Toronto, who manages the career support program at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

The CNIB would like more people with sight loss to have access to a smartphone and has launched a program called Phone It Forward.

Individuals and businesses are invited to donate their old smartphones in exchange for a tax receipt. The phones are scrubbed of previous data, loaded with accessible apps and delivered to people with sight loss who need them. The recipients also get technical training, discounted maintenance and data plan support.

According to the CNIB, more than 500,000 Canadians are living with significant sight loss. And an estimated six million Canadians have an eye disease that could lead to blindness — a number that is expected to double over the next 25 years due to aging demographics.

"Forty-six percent of Canadians who are blind don't own a smartphone — at least not one that's advanced enough to help them in their daily lives," John M. Raffery, president and CEO of the CNIB group, said in a media release.

Smartphones can provide a wide range of accessibility solutions for people who are blind or partially sighted, including a book reader, a talking product identifier, a talking calculator, a colour identifier, an audible watch, a magnifier, audio GPS and a bank note reader.

"Phone It Forward lets us put an all-in-one communications and accessibility solution into their hands that will help reduce barriers and drive independence."

The CNIB's goal for the program is to boost participation in the work world, get the technology into the hands of those who need it, and drive achievement and equality. The organization has called its new strategic plan Bold Dreams, Bright Futures.  

Hensall supports the smartphone program.

"Phone It Forward will give others the same chance to use a smartphone to help them stay connected when they might not have had the finances to do so before," said Hensall.

New community hub for London

The CNIB is also celebrating the opening of its new community hub Wednesday at the corner of Queens Avenue and Richmond Street in London, Ont.

The non-profit organization says its new regional centre of excellence for accessible technology has been designed to change what it is to be blind in 2018. It will be holding a grand opening event starting at 4 p.m.

Established in 1918, the CNIB Foundation advocates for, and provides programs to, blind people in Ontario.

About the Author

Travis Dolynny

Content Producer

Travis Dolynny is a producer with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email him at