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Aiding The Adult Blind

Creator: n/a
Date: February 4, 1904
Publication: Boston Herald
Source: Perkins School for the Blind




The Herald favored the project of the creation of a commission for investigating the condition of the adult blind in the commonwealth, with a view to devising means for assisting them in self-support. Such a commission was authorized by the last Legislature, and, although its members were not designated until August, and therefore have had but a limited time for doing the work imposed, it has presented to the Legislature a report which gives evidence of diligence and much useful work accomplished. The report is accompanied by a bill embodying the recommendations which the commission, from its study of the subject, thinks should be at once carried into effect. The commission consisted of Edward M. Hartwell, chairman, Alpheus H. Hardy and Agnes Irwin. Its report is printed as House document No. 187.


By far the greater proportion of the blind are adults. Few are born blind, and the progress of medical science has made it possible to prevent much of the blindness that formerly occurred as a result of constitutional disease in early life. So it happens that the schools for the blind, which, for the most part, limit their advantages to the young, are of comparatively little use to those whose blindness comes upon them, later in life. The schools conform, so for as circumstances permit, to the general public educational system, and when their pupils leave they go out into the world to shift for themselves as do the graduates of other schools. As a rule, they cease to receive personal care or supervision from the school directors or teachers. It was found that the schools were of little aid in ascertaining the whereabouts or condition of the pupils who had left them. But inquiries sent into every part of the state and the state and national census returns reveal approximately the number of this class.


While it has been found impossible to ascertain with precision what proportion of the adult blind have been trained in schools for the blind, or what proportion of those who have become blind in middle life are proper subjects for industrial training, it may be assumed that the number who would derive benefit from such training is large enough to warrant Coins for them more than bas been done in the past. The total number of adult blind in Massachusetts, according to the best attainable information, is 3437. Many of these are so old or feeble that they cannot be expected to be benefited by such training. Many are cared for at their homes, and would not avail themselves of any advantages that could be offered away from home. The commission has been conservative in its conclusions. Its members express their conviction that there is "need of a much more searching and thorough investigation into the physical, social and industrial condition of all the adult blind than has yet been undertaken by any state government or by the national government." Most of the measures heretofore undertaken to improve the condition of this class "have been tentative, inadequate or inconclusive."


Members of the commission have not only consulted all available records of experiment in this direction, but they have visited and inspected every institution for the relief of the adult blind, east of the Alleghany mountains, and their report of the scope and methods of the several undertakings is both interesting and instructive. Notwithstanding, the commission is not prepared to make elaborate recommendations a full plan which would commit the state to a permanent policy or to a large expense. What they do, recommend is "the appointment of a permanent board, which shall further investigate and be empowered to operate conservatively along the lines suggested by the facts presented in this report." and a draft of a bill for carrying into effect this recommendation is presented.


The bill provides for the appointment of a board of five members, to serve without compensation. Its duties shall be: To prepare and maintain a complete register of the adult blind in the state, which shall describe their condition, cause of blindness, and capacity for educational or industrial training; to establish a bureau of industrial aid to assist the blind in finding employment, in developing home industry, and by furnishing materials and tools for work at a limited cost in each case, and to establish agencies for the marketing of products; to develop the field work by promoting visits to the aged and helpless in their homes, and by facilitating the circulation, of books; to establish, with the consent of the Governor and council, one or more shop schools, and equip and maintain them, paying suitable wages and establishing agencies for the disposal of the product. Other provisions relate to the methods of procedure and administration. It is proposed to appropriate $5000 for the current year, to be expended by the board, with the approval of the Governor and council.


Certainly there is nothing radical in this proposition. The sum of $5000 is now annually appropriated by the state for the home teaching of the blind. In 1892 there were 140 persons who enjoyed the benefit of the fund. But there has been nothing like a comprehensive and systematic measure of service such as the proposed legislation is designed to inaugurate. The subject is beset with certain difficulties that cannot be properly considered even, not to say obviated, by any merely temporary body. It seems to us that this commission has accomplished as much as reasonably could have been expected, has shed much needed light on the subject, and is to be commended for the conservative character of its recommendation, which, in fact, amounts to little more than that the subject should receive further investigation and that whatever is done should have the warrant of knowledge and of experience and of intelligent judgment. We suspect that the report will not be wholly satisfactory to those who would have the state promptly establish an industrial shop or factory for the employment of the adult blind. Before this is done the subject should have a very careful and cautions consideration. It can hardly be expected that such an institution could be self-supporting in the present strenuous competition in all kinds of business.