Library Collections: Document: Full Text

The Adult Blind

Creator: n/a
Date: February 5, 1904
Publication: Boston Transcript
Source: Perkins School for the Blind

Page 1:




The report of the commissioners appointed last year to investigate the condition of the adult blind within the Commonwealth, as well as the proposed bill accompanying it, again demonstrate the wisdom of referring difficult social problems to intelligent, unpaid commissioners for study and recommendation. In view of the lamentable neglect of suitable provision for the adult blind, it will doubtless disappoint some persons, whose admirable zeal out-strips their discretion, that the commissioners have not advocated some comprehensive scheme for the immediate relief of the unhappy conditions under which so many adult blind live. The wise conservatism, however, which has kept the commissioners from offering a panacea for the very perplexing problem is precisely what should commend their work.


The local situation may be summed up in the words of Helen Keller: "The important fact remains that nothing of consequence has been done for the adult blind in Massachusetts since Dr. Howe's day." We do not even know how many there are of them among us, and shall be without exact information on this point till the next State census is taken. It is certain, however, that the adult blind numbered 3437 in 1895, and then constituted about eighty-six per cent of all the blind. As to the actual condition of these unfortunates we know less. "It is impossible" say the commissioners, "to state accurately 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 age are proper subjects for industrial training; but it may be safely assumed that the number who would derive benefit from such training is large enough to warrant much more active and comprehensive measures on their behalf than have hitherto been taken in most States in the Union."


Just because the knowledge of the actual conditions and needs of the adult blind is so incomplete most of the measures instituted to improve their condition have been "tentative, inadequate or inconclusive." The commissioners, therefore, urge a much more searching and thorough study of the physical, social and industrial condition of all the adult blind than has hitherto been undertaken. This must be the preliminary step before extensive efforts are made to relieve the situation, and it is a matter that cannot be left to private enterprise. The report makes very plain the inadequacy of existing agencies, both in this and other communities, for ameliorating the condition of the adult blind. There are schools, perhaps, in plenty, but they are mainly for instruction of children and youth, and "do but little directly for adults." As a class, American school for the blind are said to pay little heed to the fate of their graduates in after life. So true is this that it is said to be impossible at the present time to obtain full and trustworthy information from the managers of such schools in regard to the success of their graduates in making their way in the world.


In general it is imperative that other agencies than the existing schools should be developed for the betterment of the condition of such of the blind as are found to be capable of being helped to help themselves. The commissioners make several specific recommendations. One of the most pressing needs, in their opinion, is the establishment of bureaus of registry and employment. As next in importance they mention industrial, or shop-schools, and industrial home. Without some machinery for keeping in touch with the blind it seems unlikely that schools and shops would unfold any large usefulness. The very fact that no systematic effort is made to aid blind workingmen and women In their homes by supplying them with material for work and helping them to market their wares, or to find positions for capable young men and women who are blind, accounts for the comparative ill-success of most of the industrial homes and schools for the blind now struggling for existence.


The commissioners rightly hold that the time is not yet ripe for committing the Commonwealth to a permanent policy carrying a large annual expense. All that is asked is the appointment of a permanent unpaid board, which would make further investigations and operate within conservative lines. Among the functions of such board should be to prepare and maintain a complete register of the adult blind, to establish a bureau for industrial aid, to develop the field work among the blind, and later to erect shops, schools, etc. In short, the work of the board would, at first, be tentative and experimental; its business would be to develop gradually a sound policy for the aid of the blind. For the first year's work the small appropriation of $5000 is sought.


Massachusetts owes a large duty to her adult blind, and the commissioners have certainly pointed a way to perform it, to which it would be difficult to offer any rational objection. The whole subject is one that should arouse the profoundest sympathy and enlist energetic cooperation.