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Unleashing the power of technology

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Hand holding smartphoneIntroducing the Phone It Forward program

Technology can level the playing field for people who are blind or partially sighted – but only when it's accessible, available and affordable.

Last month, the CNIB Foundation was thrilled to launch an exciting new program designed to help level that playing field. It's called Phone It Forward

Phone it Forward is the first intiative from our new strategic plan to address our key ambition of "Unleashing the power of technology" by providing a smartphone to anyone who is blind or has sight loss and needs one. 
"Many people don't realize what a powerful impact a modern smartphone, particularly an iPhone, can have in the life of someone who's blind or has sight loss," says Norris Ma, who is leading the launch of the Phone It Forward program. "It's incredible what a single device like that can do to improve someone's independence."  

In fact, accessible smartphone apps now make it possible for users who are blind to do all kinds of things that may have been challenging before, from reading prescription labels in order to take medication safely, to identifying colours, to travelling alone safely.

Despite how life-changing smartphones can be for users who are blind, many people with sight loss still don't own one – at least not one that's advanced enough to help them in their daily lives. For some people, it's hard enough to make ends meet, let alone purchase the latest smartphone.

"Finances should never be a barrier to someone being able to lead an independent life," says Norris. "So that's where Phone It Forward comes in."

The goal of the Phone It Forward program is to place a smartphone in the hands of every Canadian with sight loss who needs one.

Here's how the program works:

  1. Individuals and businesses donate their used smartphones. We're asking people and companies across Canada to donate their used smartphones for this program. We're accepting any modern smartphone (although we're particularly interested in iPhones) and we'll give donors a tax receipt for the market value of every eligible phone they donate. 
  2. We'll wipe and refurbish the phones. If the donated phone is modern enough, Fixt, our technology partner and a leading Canadian smartphone repair and refurbishment organization, will refurbish and outfit it with a suite of accessible apps. Otherwise, it will be sold, and the proceeds will be put towards the cost of a refurbished smartphone for a user who is blind.  
  3. We give the phone to a person with sight loss who needs it. Once the phone has been refurbished, we'll give it to a Canadian with sight loss who is waiting for one. We'll also give them one-on-one training on how to use it.

"Right now, we're in the phone collection stage," says Norris. "We're reaching out to potential donors across Canada, especially corporate groups, and asking them to donate their phones for this much-needed program. After that, we'll be ready to start refurbishing phones and giving them out to those who need them."

To donate your used phone or learn more, visit

Read more articles from the October, 2018 issue of Insight:

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