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CNIB Hubs create "heartbeats" in local communities

Several photos from the Toronto Hub, including images of wall art, an art class and someone playing guitar Ever wish you had an accessible place to hang out in your area? A place where you could attend fun events, try out the latest assistive technologies, learn new skills and get to know other people in your community who are blind or have sight loss? Well that's what CNIB's Community Hubs are all about. 

As we launch our revamped CNIB Foundation brand, we're introducing lots of very cool new programs and opportunities for the people we serve, and one of them is our oh-so-awesome Community Hub project.  

"Our Community Hubs are really special places," says Angela Bonfanti, Vice President of the CNIB Foundation's Ontario and Quebec divisions. "We wanted to create accessible spaces that are open and welcoming to not only anybody who has sight loss, but also their families, friends and any members of the community who want to become engaged in the programs we're offering." 

But Angela is quick to add that a CNIB Community Hub isn't just a physical space; it's a unique programming concept where participants are able to meet new people, try new things, and build networks of friendship and support right in their own backyards.        

A heartbeat going strong 

It all started a little over a year ago when we launched our first Hub in the heart of downtown Toronto at 1525 Yonge St., which is easily accessible by public transit. 

There, on any given evening, you can pop in and find participants with sight loss doing sighted guide yoga, taking art classes, trying out new technologies, orating in a toastmaster's group, or sharing tips and advice in a private support group.   

The best part? There's something for people of all ages. Whether it's kids and parents having playgroups with tactile toys, teens trying out our virtual reality room, or adults and seniors dissecting the latest bestseller in a braille book club.  

"There's always something going on," says Angela, adding, "And that's exactly the kind of atmosphere we were trying to achieve – one where it feels like a heartbeat for our community that's always going strong." 

And what a heartbeat it is. Since opening its doors last year, our first Hub has become tremendously popular with people with sight loss of all ages in the local area, even many who haven't been involved with the CNIB Foundation for decades. 

"There are a lot of people with sight loss or blindness who haven't needed our services in a very long time. And suddenly through the Hubs and with all the other new programs we're creating, we're relevant to them again," says Angela. "They may not need rehabilitation training, but maybe they want to try a yoga class or an art class, or they might want to join a music group or learn more about fashion or doing make-up. They can do all those things at the Hub." 

Expanding from coast to coast 

With the popularity of the Toronto Hub, we've recently opened two more Hub locations: one in London and another in Montreal. Meanwhile, plans are in the works to open at least 10 more Hubs across Canada in the next one- to three-year period.  

"Ultimately we want to create these kinds of spaces in communities right across Canada," says Angela, but she stresses that Hubs shouldn't be the only places in someone's community where they can go to feel included within an accessible environment. 

"We want to be one of many solutions for people to find accessible activities and resources in their area," she says. "So we're doing a lot of work reaching out to community agencies and local services to help make sure more places are accessible to people with sight loss, like gyms, community centres, art studios, that kind of thing." 

Want to take a guided tour of our first Hub location? Check out the video below… 

Still image of Hub video


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

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