The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. They offer information, support and advice to almost two million people in the UK with sight loss. The charity is run by three thousand volunteers.
The charity was established by partially sighted Doctor Thomas Rhodes Armitage in 1868. Its original name was the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind. Their first meeting was attended by less than a handful of people. Seven years later, the first patron was no other than the reigning Queen Victoria. Nowadays, the patron is Queen Elizabeth II.
The charity’s aim of improving literature for the blind was a success. Shortly after its formation, and the adoption of Braille, they expanded to include a focus on promoting education and employment of the Blind. The charity further expanded in 1914, moving to large premises on Great Portland Street (where they are still based to this day) and changing their name to The National Institute for the Blind. They introduced Royal into their name when they were granted an official Royal Charter in 1949.
The RNIB has been fundamental in the development of Louis Braille’s transformative Braille system. They published the UK's first key to the Braille alphabet, as well as the first music notation. They also introduced a Braille magazine in 1871, which is still in print today.
Over the years, the charity has set the benchmark for being one step ahead of society. In 1918 they launched a Sunshine Home for young blind children. Talking Books came in 1935, which was instrumental in helping blind persons to access literature. Today, the current Talking Books library offers members access to over 34,000 fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children.
With the current rate of donations, the RNIB can only reach one in three people who need support the most. For every pound donated, RNIB spends 87p directly on helping blind and partially sighted people, 11p on raising more funds, and 2p on administration. Whilst a modestly-sized charity, their aim is to grow far bigger to be able to help as many people as possible.
The RNIB is still instrumental in the modern workplace, offering free guides on making businesses inclusive and accessible. They also offer workplace support on how to employ a blind person. They own several educational establishments and residential care homes across the UK. Their main focus at present is funding research to prevent avoidable sight loss, supporting independent living and creating an inclusive society. They also stock accessible everyday items in their shop such as board games, cane accessories, electronic magnifiers and washing machines.
Every day 250 people begin to lose their sight. Whilst there is currently no cure for blindness, more support than ever is available to ensure blind or partially sighted persons do not lose their independence or life fulfilment.