Kevin Carey, chair of the RNIB

The newly appointed chair tells Paul Jump why emotional support is as important as practical help

Kevin Carey is not planning to throw his weight around as the new chair of the RNIB. "It is only when a charity is not well governed that a chair can come in and say: ‘We are going to do this and that,'" he says.

Carey, who stepped up from vice-chair in July, says his role will instead be to implement the charity's five-year strategy up to 2014, which was drawn up after a two-year consultation process.

He also has some "hobby projects", such as encouraging museums to permit blind people to touch their sculptures and developing IT tools that allow blind people to use the internet creatively.

He thinks disability charities should stop focusing just on solving their beneficiaries' practical problems. "The real problem for blind people is that it is horrible being blind," says Carey, who went completely blind in his mid-20s. "We need to deal with blind people's emotional, dislocational issues instead of just thinking we can keep wheeling out standard products."

He says the RNIB should provide training to employees in clothes shops and hairdressers to "talk to blind people intelligently" about their style.

"If a blind kid goes to a job interview wearing the wrong clothes by accident, that might make more difference than whether he can climb the stairs," he says. "Style is as important in the 21st century as mechanical ability, but post-modern nuance is very difficult for blind people."

Carey is a veteran of the voluntary sector. He recently switched from chief executive to chair of humanITy, the IT charity he founded in 1997, and also chairs Ofcom's community radio funding panel and Futurebuilders' audit committee. He has also been an HR director at major corporations, so he also has an outsider's perspective on the sector.

Carey compares the RNIB to the US: "People criticise us, but they want our money."

As the largest sight-loss charity, he says, the RNIB was entrusted with a leadership role when it received its royal charter in 1948, and it should not shy away from that.

On the other hand, although he is happy to agree that there are "stacks too many" sight-impairment charities, he denies it is the RNIB's role or intention to absorb them all. "We don't want to do things we are traditionally bad at," he says.

He says charities should collaborate with their competitors whenever possible. "People who compete take it so personally they find it impossible to collaborate," he says. "But it happens in business, and as a sector we need to grow up a bit.

We need to think about what is fundamentally right for the end user, not what is temporarily right for our institution."

The key, he says, is to be straightforward. "The RNIB will be honest, open and public in its collaborations - and we will play the competition off the park."

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