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Jim Sanders, 2017 Canadian Disability Hall of Fame Inductee

Jim Sanders was born with severe glaucoma in 1947 in what’s now Thunder Bay, Ontario. Although expected to go blind in childhood, he didn’t lose his sight entirely until age 36.

As a young person with visual impairment, Sanders faced his share of challenges. But he recalls adjusting relatively easily due to the strong support he received from his parents, 10 siblings, the school system – and the local branch of the CNIB. No doubt, the many helping hands extended to him in his formative years contributed to his decision to dedicate his life to helping others.

During his teens and early 20’s, Sanders worked part-time and summers at the CNIB, including a stint as the first blind water-ski and para-sailing instructor at the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre in Muskoka. In 1969, upon completing university, he joined the organization as his first career move – and ended up staying more than 40 years.

Sanders advanced quickly through the ranks and gained experience in many different leadership positions. At various times, he held divisional Executive Director roles in both Western Canada and Quebec. In 1989, he helped establish CNIB’s first government relations office in Ottawa and took on a key advocacy role as National Director of Government Relations and International Liaison.

In the early 1990’s, the Canadian government was engaged in overhauling The Canadian Copyright Act. Sanders worked to obtain a copyright exemption for alternative-format materials aimed at Canadians with print disabilities. His efforts helped improve the availability of these materials in Canada, and today CNIB is at the forefront of alternative-format production.

Around the same time, Sanders authored “The Right to Know,” a paper that smoothed the way for the establishment of Accessibility Media Inc. (AMI), previously known as the National Broadcast Reading Service, a service that still today provides news, entertainment and information for the blind, visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired.

In 1997, with electronic technology gaining prominence as an important factor in services for people with disabilities. Sanders took on the role of Vice President of Client Services and Technology. He subsequently guided the CNIB Library into the digital age. It was a significant change for the organization, and the CNIB Library remains today a model for the delivery of specialized library services.

In 2001, Sanders took the helm at the CNIB. His contributions as president and CEO – positions he held for nine years – included a renewed focus on research and the introduction of a bold, new corporate image designed to increase awareness of the organization and strengthen it’s relevance in the public’s mind. He also led a revitalization of the CNIB’s Lake Joseph Centre in Muskoka and the construction of the new CNIB Centre in Toronto.

“It’s truly an honour to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Sanders. “Over my 42-year career with CNIB and now in retirement remaining active, I have met many, many people throughout Canada who are equally deserving. So I appreciate how fortunate I am to receive this recognition. Also, it’s a special honour for me to be inducted into the same Hall as Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Baker, who was one of the founders of CNIB, and served as its chief executive from 1920 until 1962.”

Sanders retired from the CNIB in 2009, but he continues to crusade tirelessly on behalf of people with disabilities. From 2010 to 2015. he served as chair of Ontario’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council.

After leaving the CNIB, he and his wife moved to Guelph, Ontario to be closer to their daughter. A lifelong advocate of involvement at the local community level, Sanders transferred to the Guelph Lions Club and is now in his second year as president. In addition, he’s a member of the Guelph Probus Club, where he has just begun a one-year term as president, and he volunteers at both the Guelph United Way and the local CNIB.

Past honours Sanders has received in recognition of his service to people living with vision loss include the Order of Canada, the Hellen Keller Award and the King Clancy Award.