World Blind Union Office
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON M4G 3E8
WBU External Resource Paper
World Blind Union– The International Voice of the Blind
Author: Penny Hartin/A.K. Mittal
Replaces: Aims & Objectives – November 2001
Date Reviewed: March 2014
Approval: WBU EXCO – May 2014
Who We Are
The World Blind Union (WBU) is an international not-for-profit, charitable organization representing the estimated 285 million people who are blind or partially sighted worldwide. The WBU is recognized as the international voice of blind and partially sighted persons speaking on their behalf at the global level, including the United Nations, UN Agencies and other international organizations. The WBU has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and with a number of relevant UN and other international agencies such as WHO (World Health Organization), WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), UNICEF, UNESCO, ILO (International Labor Organization), UPU (Universal Postal Union) and the World Bank.
How We Began
The WBU was formed in 1984 through the union of the International Federation of the Blind (IFB) and the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (WCWB) at the General Assembly held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, the WBU represents over a century of global co-operation on blindness issues – dating back to the first international conference on the subject in 1873 in Vienna.
Sheikh Abdullah- Al-Ghanim was our first President. Through its leadership and the development of its constitution, WBU has provided a forum where blind and partially sighted people established the right to speak for themselves. It was established as a worldwide movement that brought together the WCWB and the IFB but retained sufficient flexibility in its approach to embrace the wide range of realities in the world. It is significant to highlight that when the WBU was established in 1984 it only had about sixty countries as members, but in 2014 membership now totals approximately 190 countries – very close to the total United Nations membership.
What We Stand For
We are a worldwide movement of people who are blind or partially sighted, acting on our own behalf to:
- Eliminate prejudice and discrimination;
- Promote belief in the proven abilities of blind and partially sighted persons; and
- Achieve full participation and equality in society.
We have been striving for capacity building, leadership development, Braille literacy, accessibility and empowerment for women, elderly persons, children, youth and indigenous people. We also work for the development and sharing of tools and resources, representation and advocacy on key issues of importance to people with vision loss.
We envisage a community where people who are blind or partially sighted get empowered to participate on an equal basis in any aspect of life they choose.
The WBU has become a powerful voice in the worldwide disability movement. It uses in its work three world languages: English, French and Spanish. It has been able to strengthen the activities of its six regional unions and has become the authentic voice of blind and partially sighted people throughout the world.
This was undertaken by interacting with:
- United Nations and development agencies;
- Intergovernmental agencies;
- Other organizations of people with disabilities; and
- Organizations in the international social development field.
The WBU provides a forum for the exchange of views and experience and sets standards of good practice on any issue relating to the provision of service to blind and partially sighted people. It also provides a unique partnership of organizations of blind and partially sighted persons and organizations providing services to them, who come together and work towards a common purpose.
How We Function
The WBU is managed by six table officers, five of whom are elected by the international membership at the general assembly held every four years, and the immediate past president. As set out in the WBU constitution, all table officer positions, except for the treasurer, must be held by a person who is either blind or partially sighted, as must the CEO.As of 2014, WBU has had eight quadrennial general assemblies.
The WBU is divided into six regions: Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and Asia Pacific.
A country is a member of the WBU, not individual organizations.
To be a full national member of the WBU, at least 50% of the country's delegation must be from organizations of blind and partially sighted persons.
The Officers Board consists of the elected table officers and the six regional presidents. The WBU Executive Committee which is the main administrative organ of the Union and supervises the work of the officers consists of the elected table officers, regional presidents, three representatives from each region and four representatives from amongst the international members.
The WBU constitutes various committees /working groups to carry out assigned tasks in the achievement of its priorities. These hold meetings through e-mail, teleconferencing or face-to face mode and provide reports, which are considered at the meetings of officers.
The WBU international office is located in Toronto, Canada, where the WBU is legally incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation and is recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency as a registered charity. The office has a very small staff team, led by the CEO, who coordinate the administrative functions of the Union and support the WBU Officers, its committees and working groups in their work.
WBU is financed primarily through the support of its members through annual membership fees, special member donations and in-kind contributions as well as some funding from private donors and external partners for particular projects.
Ever since its establishment, the WBU has been continuously striving towards the achievement of its goals, primarily, in pursuance of various resolutions adopted by its members at different general assemblies. For this purpose, a formal strategic planning process is set in place and updated at the beginning of each quadrennial.
This strategic plan is supported by detailed workplans and status reports. Details of work carried on, are presented in WBU Annual Reports and Quadrennial Reports to the General Assembly and are available on the WBU website at
Some of the landmark outcomes resulting from WBU's interventions are:
- Forceful presentations of the interests and points of view of the blind and partially sighted populations during consideration of the UNCRPD (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Draft document;
- Consequential inclusion in the final Convention document under various Articles, of critical issue concerning the blind and the partially sighted, e.g. Braille, inclusive education, access to information, awareness-raising, etc.;
- Drafting and adoption of the WIPO Copyright Treaty,
“The Marrakesh Treaty” to improve access to information for the Blind and Other Print Disabled;
- Consolidation of the Right To Read campaign;
- Development of a comprehensive employment resource website, called Project Aspiro:
- Advocacy support program to increase WBU’s ability with respect to representation and to support and develop the capacity of members with respect to the implementation and monitoring of the UNCRPD, the Marrakesh Treaty and other UN instruments;
- Clear enunciation of our positions on such critical issues as air travel, silent cars, audio description and talking televisions, PowerPoint presentations, easy access to currency notes and coins, rehabilitation, including CBR, Braille literacy, education with special relevance to inclusive education etc.
- Continued engagement in the WBU Institutional Development Program for organizational and leadership development in Africa.
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