Volunteering to Support Advocacy Manual

Who is this manual for?

This document has been written for people who would like to learn how to advocate in support of causes that matter to them. While it has been written for CNIB volunteers, it can be used by anyone who simply wants to understand how advocacy works and how to apply advocacy best practices in support of any cause of their choosing.

This manual is available as a WORD document at the bottom of the page. We have done this to make the material as accessible as possible - and to allow people from different organizations to be able to adapt and tailor the manual for their needs. If you do so, please provide an acknowledgement that CNIB created the original document.

We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to offer this manual in accessible, alternative formats - our braille room volunteers for creating braille manuals, our library volunteers for producing audio copies and Jim Parkin for formatting large print versions.

To request an accessible (braille, audio, large print) copy, please email ontario.comms@cnib.ca.


Providing input into this document was a Working Group of volunteers and CNIB staff, including Aaron Marsaw, Amanda Lee, Angela Bonfanti, Catherine Kieran, Chris McLean, Christall Beaudry, Diane Bergeron, Dorothy Macnaughton, Lui Greco, Ray Smith, Rob Gaunt, Shelagh O'Donnell, Sherri Helsdingen and Victoria Pearson. Volunteers and donors who shared comments and stories with us included Allan Angus, Darla Smith, Dorothy Macnaughton, Jerry Smith, Jim Ronald, John Moorcroft, Julie Morris and Marisol Pestana. Our sincere thanks go out to all of them.

Special thanks to Susan Ellis, founder of Energize, Inc. who provided valuable insights and to the Strengthening Communities Through Volunteer Program Development Core Project Members – Jennifer Spencer, Kat Clarke, Marilyn McGale and Susan Cheeseman (all of CNIB). 

Advocacy and CNIB

CNIB Advocates work to challenge discrimination and break down societal barriers so that people with vision loss can participate fully and equally in society. CNIB was born out of advocacy. In 1918, right after World War One, a group of about 200 Canadian veterans, blinded in the war, realized there was a need in the community – to improve the lives of Canadians with vision loss – and that they could best meet that need by working together. We have been doing it ever since.


What is advocacy?

Advocacy is persuading a person with influence, the public, businesses, organizations or government to change attitudes, policies and/or practices about an issue. Education or awareness building is part of advocacy because it is informing others of issues – or a side to an issue – they may not be aware of. However, change in attitudes, policies or practices may not automatically happen with just education.  

There are various types of advocacy:

  • Self-Advocacy is speaking up for yourself. It could be as simple as stating that you need to sit at the front of the class or you need materials in an accessible format. It could be a volunteer or employee explaining that they need a speech output program or screen reader. Or it could be a person pointing out it is their right to have access to a treatment or a medication, or telling someone not to touch their guide dog. When people with vision loss advocate for themselves, they draw on their own experiences. They might not be thinking of other people with vision loss, although their advocacy actions could result in helping others.
  • Individual Advocacy is when a person or group concentrates solely on advocating for one or two vulnerable people. The advocate could be a staff member of an organization, a caregiver, family member, friend or volunteer. This type of advocacy is often focused on the specific needs or situation surrounding an individual with a disability.
  • Third-party Advocacy is when a person or organization not directly involved in the issue represents a person or group in advocating for change, such as through unions, elected representatives, an ombudsman, disability organizations or a municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee.
  • Systemic Advocacy is primarily concerned with influencing and changing the 'system' in general (such as legislation, policy, and practices) in ways that will benefit people with a disability as a group. Systemic advocates will encourage overall changes to the law, service policies, government and community attitudes.
  • Public Awareness Programs raise the public’s level of understanding about a particular issue. They are an attempt to enact change through raising awareness of an issue (for example, educating the public about not distracting a guide dog when it is working in the harness). Public awareness is also often required as a component of an advocacy campaign when the objective is a change in public policy. By building awareness, you help to create the kind of environment that governments often need in order to take action on an issue. They need to know that the public wants the changes they are considering.

Advocay 101 Video Series

Part 1 - What is Advocacy?

Part 2 - Government Relations 101

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Why advocate?

  • To realize your individual rights as a citizen, as a customer or as a member of a community
  • To raise awareness and ensure individuals who are blind and partially sighted have a voice and that their concerns and issues are heard by elected officials, businesses, organizations, decision makers and the general public
  • To develop or use experience and skills in communications and advocacy
  • To make a positive difference for people in your community who are blind or partially sighted
  • To be part of a dedicated and passionate staff and volunteer team working towards a more inclusive society and improved quality of life for people living with vision loss

"My most important role as a volunteer for CNIB is to enable people with vision loss to become their own best advocates. Being an advocate is a great experience and very rewarding. You meet fascinating people, you are really appreciated and can feel good about yourself for helping others."

– Darla Smith, CNIB Advocate

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Role of CNIB Advocates and Champions

As part of our Advocacy program, there are two different ways to get involved:

Advocates and Champions are just two of many different volunteer opportunities that are available at CNIB. Because there are no set hours or times for these roles, you can often advocate alongside other volunteer opportunities like fundraising or running a peer support group (for other opportunities, please visit our Get Involved page). But if your passion just lies with advocacy, then that is fine too! 

On the Road Together

We hope that by reading this manual, you will able to decide what degree of involvement you would like. The decision is yours. If you prefer to simply use our advocacy resources for your own needs, we are glad to have been of support. Or you can become involved as a CNIB Advocate or Champion any time you wish.

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What is a CNIB Advocate?

We are people with sight loss, their friends and family members, and people who have a passion for social justice. Our Advocate network consists of people with all sorts of backgrounds, interests and reasons for wanting to be involved. 

There is no regular time or length-of-service requirement to become an advocate. All we require is that you have a passion to change what it is to be blind today and believe in an inclusive and barrier-free society for people with vision loss. We will provide you with the tools and resources, key messages and training to put that passion into action in your community. 

There is no formal application process to become a CNIB Advocate.

  1. The first step to is to sign up to receive "Equalize", our advocacy e-newsletter and become part of our community to hear the latest news and ways you can get involved. It's that simple!
  2. The second step is to visit the advocacy pages of the CNIB website (coming soon) to see:
    • The resources available to help you prepare for self-advocating on the issues that matter to you
    • The advocacy initiatives that are happening in your region

We are continually looking for feedback on what resources we need to develop to help you advocate in your community. Please keep in touch with us at advocacy@cnib.ca to let us know.

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What is a CNIB Champion?

CNIB Champions are CNIB Advocates who want to take their advocacy to the next level. They are empowered and trained to advocate as a partner with CNIB on issues that are important to people with vision loss. In many cases, they are living life with sight loss, have a story to tell and a message that needs to be heard. If you think you might like to be a CNIB Champion, you likely have a lot in common with other Champions:

  • You want to make a difference – to do something to improve the quality of life of people living with vision loss.
  • You have a burning need to apply your experience, knowledge and passion to the cause.
  • You want to develop advocacy skills to increase your effectiveness as you advocate for an inclusive and barrier-free society, in which people with vision loss can participate fully and are seen as equal in every respect.
  • You believe in CNIB's mission and with the right training can become a CNIB spokesperson in your community to break down societal barriers and bring about change.

Champions are trained by CNIB as an official spokesperson to speak out on issues that CNIB has identified as important, in effect, representing CNIB, using our materials and delivering our messages. 

If you decide you want to be a CNIB Champion, you will be joining a determined and strong advocacy team made up of people with different backgrounds who have a shared purpose to work for a better world for people with vision loss. Thank you for your interest in advocating for equality and accessibility. Together, we can change what it is to be blind today.

"My local advocacy work with CNIB resulted in the Region of Durham significantly increasing their budget to retrofit intersections with accessible pedestrian signals. This provides many people with the secure feeling that they can cross intersections and roads to lead independent and productive lives. Advocacy requires persistence, dedication and collegiality."

– Allan, CNIB Advocate

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How can I become a CNIB Champion?

CNIB Champion Application Process

In most cases, it is simply a matter of filling out an application and having a conversation with one of the advocacy team members.

  • It begins with an application form. Most volunteers fill these out. You can do it online or you can fill out a form in person if you come to one of our community locations.
  • You may be asked to meet with us so we can get to know you and learn about your skills and interests. That way, we will be more likely to line you up for advocating on an issue that you are passionate about and you will have a better idea of what we have to offer. This meeting can be done over the phone or in person.
  • You can attend an orientation session. We hold orientation sessions for potential volunteers regularly in our offices and in the community. They allow you to learn more about the cause, meet some people who use our services (as well as people who share your values and also want to volunteer) and hear about the various volunteer roles available. Orientation sessions are usually held in the early evening.

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Your partnership with us as a CNIB Champion

The Volunteer Code of Conduct.docxVolunteer Code of Conduct outlines the values, rights, responsibilities and expectations of volunteers. All volunteers must read and sign the Code of Conduct to indicate they have read and understand these policies and agree to follow them. Below we have highlighted a couple that are important to CNIB Champions:

  • You will not enter into a conflict of interest by using the authority or knowledge of your position for personal benefit or for the benefit of another. An example of this could be presenting yourself as a CNIB Champion and going 'off script' or presenting a personal advocacy issue as a CNIB official issue.
  • Volunteers with political or religious affiliations must keep these activities separate from their CNIB responsibilities. Having a good relationship with legislators is really important. We want to engage all political parties on sight loss issues and must remain politically neutral to do so. Parties in power can often change, so our focus must be on maintaining good relationships with all parties at all times.
  • You must maintain client confidentiality. Everything about a client is confidential, including the fact they are a client. Your story is your own; others' stories need to be used with great caution for the person's confidentiality (you never know when one of the people in the meeting, or sitting behind you in the bus, might be able to figure out who you are speaking about).
  • You must maintain organizational confidentiality, including (but not limited to) information about employees, donors, volunteers, finances, statistics, customers and suppliers, production and cost information, board policy and fundraising strategy. As a CNIB Champion, your role is to share CNIB's position with decision makers and community leaders. In the course of your duties, you are likely to come to know information that CNIB is not sharing with the general public.

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Our partnership with you as a CNIB Champion

Our commitment to you

We will work together with you, as a CNIB Champion, on important advocacy initiatives, and provide supporting information to you, including:

  • Advocacy tools for Advocates and Champions. Check out our advocacy toolkit containing sample letters, speaking notes, fact sheets, etc. You will receive other supporting materials as you get involved in different campaigns.
  • Subscription to Equalize, our quarterly advocacy e-newsletter informing you about the progress of advocacy campaigns, outlining actions that need to be taken, and celebrating the successes of our Advocates and Champions.
  • Training in advocacy. You will need to attend a specialized and tailored advocacy training workshop. As well, we will provide you with information about opportunities to attend additional training workshops (such as media training, public speaking, social media training any many more) to develop your skills.
  • CNIB Position Statements (available upon request) on advocacy issues so you have the key facts and statistics at hand when meeting with officials and decision makers to support your personal experiences.
  • Support from CNIB Volunteer Co-ordinators and Advocacy staff to answer your questions and provide additional materials.

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CNIB Advocacy Successes

CNIB advocacy volunteers have already helped us achieve so much through their hard work and dedication. Here are a couple of highlights below. Who knows? Soon we could be celebrating your campaign success!

Marrakesh Treaty

On June 30, 2016, Canada became the 20th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, bringing the legislation into force. The treaty allows for the exchange across borders of alternate format copyrighted materials for people with print disabilities. Countries that have ratified the treaty can create an exception to their domestic copyright laws, which allows for the import and export of these copyrighted materials. The ratification of this treaty will allow the three million blind and partially sighted Canadians and people with print disabilities to have access to a wider range of literature and increased literacy. 

The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted on June 27, 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco, and has been ratified by other nations including Australia, Peru, Brazil and Mexico. This long-fought campaign would not have been successful without global partnerships of sight loss organizations and Canadians with vision loss working together over many years towards this common goal.

The Centre for Equitable Library Access

On May 29, 2014, the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) was launched. CELA is a national non-profit organization established through collaboration between Canadian public libraries and CNIB. CELA is designed to supply Canadians with print disabilities access to accessible format materials through the public library system. CNIB Library services are now available to the public library system through CELA (www.celalibrary.ca) in Ontario and other provinces across Canada. 

CELA and this partnership with the Canadian public library community is the outcome of many years of national studies, recommendations and advocacy by volunteers in Ontario and across Canada. It is a great step toward equitable library services for all Canadians with different reading needs. 

"As a former teacher I knew firsthand the importance of access to reading materials. This was a long-fought campaign, and I spoke to a number of Ministers, MPPs and the Premier. We were a small yet mighty number of advocates who wrote letters, emails, and made calls to decision makers. We kept the pressure on and I was so happy when the funding came through; it is going to have a huge impact for people with print disabilities."

– Dorothy, CNIB Advocate.

Government Commitment to Fully Funded Rehabilitation

CNIB and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have reached an agreement about CNIB’s funding for post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy. Starting in 2017, CNIB post-vision loss rehabilitation services will be fully funded by the Ontario government.

CNIB will now focus on working with the government and healthcare professionals to better integrate post-vision loss rehabilitation into the continuum of eye health care within the publicly funded healthcare system. This would not have been possible without the work of our Advocates who contacted their MPPs and attended a CNIB lobby day at Queen's Park.

Neighbourhood Accessibility in St. Catharines, Ontario

"I sit on the Accessibility Advisory Committee for the City of St. Catharines. We are an active committee that represents a wide range of disabilities. Because of the AODA, (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) organizations are now approaching us for advice. We've advised the Meridian Centre and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on how to make the buildings accessible. They kept coming back to us during the design phase, checking that the contrast and tactile markings were good. We have a great relationship with city staff and work with them to make St. Catharines accessible. The first step to advocating for accessibility where you live can start simply with a phone call to report barriers in public spaces."

– Julie, CNIB Advocate

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*Download a WORD copy of this manual:

2.1a JS Printable Advocacy Manual.docxVolunteering to Support Advocacy - Manual for Volunteers.docx