RNIB looks to the future as it marks 150th anniversary

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – the UK’s leading charity for blind and partially sighted people.

Founded on 16 October 1868 by Thom​as Rhodes Armitage, a physician who had lost his sight, the charity was set up to improve the availability of literature for people with sight loss.

The British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind went on to expand its work to include improving education and employment prospects for blind people, and eventually became the RNIB of today.

There are more than two million people living with sight loss in the UK – a figure that is set to double by 2050. At least half of all sight loss is avoidable, but according to research[1] 25 per cent of UK adults haven’t had an eye test in the past two years as recommended.

And whilst some of the barriers to equal participation in society for blind and partially sighted people have been broken down, many still remain. Only one in four blind or partially sighted people of working age have a job. Four out of every 10 blind and partially sighted people are not able to make all the journeys that they want or need to make. Only 17 per cent of people experiencing sight loss are offered emotional support in response to their deteriorating vision[2].

Eleanor Southwood, Chair of RNIB, said: “Our 150th anniversary is a unique moment. It’s a time to look back and celebrate how the lives of blind and partially sighted people have been transformed over the last century and a half. But it’s also a time for us to take stock, acknowledge the challenges that still exist for blind and partially sighted people, and renew our commitment to overcoming them.

“Our vision of the future is a world free of barriers for people with sight loss, where we can live the lives we want to lead and are valued for who we are, not defined by the disabilities we have.

“Removing these barriers depends on blind and partially sighted people having the confidence, practical and emotional support and opportunities to thrive. It’s also about feeling connected to other people, locally or through shared interests, and improving society’s understanding of the experience and spectrum of sight loss.

“So this is where we will be focusing our efforts. Working with our partners in other charities, business and government, we want to make sure everyone can access the advice and support they need and that nobody feels alone in a world that includes and values us all. It’s an ambitious vision but one I’m confident we can achieve as we move into an exciting new chapter of our story.”

RNIB has supported millions of blind and partially sighted people since its inception in 1868 and aims to be there for even more people in the future. The charity offers information, advice and services on a range of issues including legal rights, access to books and emotional and practical support.

To mark RNIB’s 150th anniversary, the charity is sharing one story a day for 150 days highlighting different experiences of sight loss. And across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there will be activities and events taking place to raise awareness of RNIB and to help celebrate this milestone anniversary.

To find out more about RNIB’s 150th anniversary and to be part of the charity’s vision of the future, visit www.rnib.org.uk/150


[1] The State of the Nation Eye Health 2017: A Year in Review https://www.rnib.org.uk/state-nation-2017

[2] My Voice (2015) https://www.rnib.org.uk/myvoice