HISTORY OF VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS
By: Carmen Willings
The history and documentation of visual impairments dates back to Biblical times. There are numerous references in the scriptures specific to blindness. These passages give us an insight into how visual impairments were perceived so many years ago. Clearly during this time, people with visual impairments were seen as helpless and dependent on others. The perception was that the cause of blindness could be attributed to the sin of the father.
It wasn't until 1260 that there is documentation that perceptions of people who were blind began to change. After King Louis the Ninth of France had suffered a defeat in the Sixth Crusade, he returned with an interest in charities. He endowed one of the first formal institutions for the blind. (Enabling Technologies, How braille Began) During this period there was no formal education available for those who were blind. Although braille had not yet been developed, some developed their own literacy methods in clever ways including a writing system of pinpricks and silk embroidered onto cardboard. The following are some important historical events in the history of the field of visual impairments.
1784 The first school for the blind was established in Paris, France by Valentine Hauy.
1791 First school for the blind established in Liverpool, England.
1793 France had first mandatory school for the blind
1808 Charles Barbier infents Ecriture Nocturne, or night writing, for use by French soldiers at night.
1827 James Gall publishes First Book for Teaching the Art of Reading to the Blind, the first English-language work in raised type.
1829 Louis Braille publishes an explanation of his embossed dot code (inspired by Barbie)
1829 The New England Asylum for the Blind (later the Perkins School for the Blind) was incorporated in Watertown, MA
1831 The New York Institution for the Education of the Blind (now the New York Institute for Special Education) was incorporated.
1832 The Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind (later the Overbrook School for the Blind) was founded.
1833 The Gospel of St. Mark was printed in Philadelphia. It was the first book in raised print in the United States.
1834 Louis Braille perfects the literary braille code.
1837 The Perkins School for the Blind establishes a printing plant, later named the Howe Memorial Press.
1839 A state-supported "normal school" for training general education teachers is started in Lexington, MA.
1854 France officially adopts braille as a reading mode for people who are blind.
1858 Seven states establish central printing house. APH.
1860 The Missouri School for the Blind becomes the first institute in the United States to use braille.
1872 The Scottish Education Act calls for educating children who are blind with sighted children.
1878 Joel W. Smith at the Perkins School for the Blind develops the American raised-point system, modeled closely on
braille, which became the foundation for American braille.
1879 Act to promote education of blind and establish quota funds. Quota funds brought about the American Printing
House for the blind (APH). It was established with federal money. APH was the first professional organization of blind workers. Materials from APH can be purchased with quota funds for students who are legally blind.
1893 Children 0-22 who are blind receive an education
1903 Helen Keller was the first student who is deaf/blind to receive a college degree.
1905 The New York Association for the Blind (now Lighthouse International) was founded.
1915 The National Society for the Prevention of Blindness was founded.
1918 The University of California offers the first university preparation courses for teachers of students who are blind.
1921 The American foundation for the Blind was founded.
1922 The Council for Exceptional Children was founded.
1929 The seeing Eye, the first dog guide school in the United States, was incorporated.
1931 The Library of Congress established the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. It began distributing braille and recorded materials in accordance with the Pratt-Smoot Act of 1930.
1935 The Social Security Act is passed. It adopts the AMA's definition of legal blindness.
1940 The National Federation of the Blind was founded.
1947 The Perkins Brailler is designed and developed by David Abraham of Howe Press.
1948 Recording for the Blind (RFB) is established.
1954 The Pine Brook Report identifies different educational options for students who are blind or visually impaired and the type of teacher preparation required.
1960 US conducts a study outlined in the Comstock reports. Determined a need for O&M specialists.
1960 Boston College started the first university program for O&M instructors.
1961 The American council of the Blind was founded.
1966 The CEC Project on Professional Standards defined visually handicapped to include both blind and partially sighted.
1970 CCTVs become commercially available.
2000 Academy for certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals is established.
2000 American Foundation for the Blind National Literacy center established.
2001 Bookshare, a source of downloadable books, was founded.
The Biblical history and perspective of people who are blind and visually impaired as well as scripture specific to blindness.
This page provides a list of many notable people throughout history who were or are blind or visually impaired and what made them noteworthy.
Although there are a number of famous people who were blind, Helen Keller is by far one of the more well known. This page provides information on her life and achievements as well as book resources.
I had the privilege of seeing the War of Dots and Braillewriters traveling exhibits from the American Printing House for the Blind during the GVEST (Georgia Vision Educators Statewide Training) conference in 2013. This page shows how braille writers have changed over the years.
NOTE: I have assembled this list from online and offline resources. If you know of a discrepancy on this page please contact me so I can amend the entry. Thank You!