Our history

We’ve been supporting people with sight loss since 1868, when we had our first meeting with just a few people.

Today, we are here to support the almost two million people in Britain who are living with sight loss.

Our beginnings and other key dates

We were founded on 16 October 1868 as the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind. The first meeting, at 33 Cambridge Square, London, involved our founder, Dr Armitage (partially sighted), Daniel Conolly (blind), WW Fenn (blind), and Dr James Gale (blind). We have developed and changed much over the years and you can read about this detailed history of RNIB. Here are just some of our key developments.

How our name has changed

On 10 March 1869 we became the British and Foreign Blind Association for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind and Promoting the Employment of the Blind. Within five months, the growing intention to also promote employment opportunities was reflected in a name change to the British and Foreign Blind Society - for improving the embossed literature of the Blind and promoting their employment. In November 1869 the rapidly expanding organisation became an Association, the British and Foreign Blind Association, for improving the Embossed Literature, and promoting the employment of the Blind.

In 1871, after committing ourselves to braille and having published a major report stressing the link between education and employment for blind people, we once again changed our name, becoming the British and Foreign Blind Association for Promoting the Education and Employment of the Blind. This name remained through our incorporation in 1902. In 1914, we moved (for the second time) to larger premises in Great Portland Street, and took this opportunity to change our name to reflect our status as a national body involved in all aspects of blind welfare and became The National Institute for the Blind, or NIB.

We are renamed RNIB

Our name was officially changed to the Royal National Institute for the Blind in 1953, having received the Royal Charter in 1949. In 2002 our name changed to the Royal National Institute of the Blind rather than 'for' blind people when we became a Membership organisation. To coincide with the launch of the UK Vision Strategy in 2008, we renamed ourselves the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Development of braille

On 5 May 1870, we adopted braille as the best format for blind people and we published the UK's first key to the braille alphabet and music notation.

However, an official code for braille music, ensuring that everybody was writing music using the same braille systems was not developed for roughly another 60 years.

Other key braille developments include:

  • our first braille magazine, "Progress" in April 1871 (still being published)
  • we developed an Arabic braille code in 1889
  • in 1893 we released our first dictionary of braille contractions.

How our services have developed

Below are just some of the changes that have happened over the years.

Our first official headquarters In 1902 our charity moved from being based in Dr. Armitage's own home at 33 Cambridge Square, London to its first official Headquarters at 206 Great Portland Street. In 1914 we moved to new premises at 224, 226 and 228 great Portland Street.

First home for blind children

In 1918 our first "Sunshine Home for Blind Babies" was opened. The first Sunshine Home was opened at Chorleywood, Hertfordshire. Generally these homes looked after blind children between 6 months and 6 years of age.

Talking Books service

In 1935 we introduced Talking Books, which is still one of our flagship services.

Our "Big Print" newspaper

RNIB's large print newspaper and television listings called "Big Print" was first issued.

RNIB website and Helpline

In 1995 we launched our first website. It's changed a bit since then! Our Helpline launched in 1997.

You can still call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email [email protected].

RNIB membership open

We launched our Membership Scheme in August 2002.

Our first royal patron and our Royal Charter

Her Majesty Queen Victoria became our first Patron in 1875. Queen Victoria took a great interest in our work and on many occasions used blind scribes provided by us to take down dictation.

We received our Royal Charter in 1949, although our name wouldn't officially include "Royal" for five more years. Find out more about how we are governed.

We are truly honoured today to have Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as our Patron.