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Work Among The Seeing

Creator: Charles Campbell (author)
Date: April 20, 1908
Publication: The Outlook for the Blind
Source: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc., M. C. Migel Library

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Superintendent Industrial Department Massachusetts Commission for the Blind


REMUNERATIVE employment for the blind may be divided roughly into three groups. First, occupations at home, i. e., home industries; second, employment in workshops adapted to the blind; and third, employments among the seeing.


The two examples of the first named class most commonly engaged in are chair caning and needle and fancy work. Recently cobbling has been tested as a possible home industry. The vending of small wares, and in some places the maintenance of tea and coffee agencies, are without doubt very good ways for blind men to earn a livelihood if the conditions are favorable. Whether such work should be included under the first or third head is immaterial. Housework for blind women might properly be called a home industry, and was commented on at some length by the speaker at the close of the first session. I feel that sympathetic study of the capabilities of the blind, coupled with a careful investigation of the home environment of each individual, would reveal possibilities of occupations hitherto untried. Here, as in other fields of employment for the sightless, the family and friends, through mistaken kindness in relieving the blind member of responsibility or through failure to understand his needs, rarely encourage in him independent effort in searching for new lines of work.


The more one has to do with finding employment for the blind the more evident it becomes that it is impossible to treat the applicants as a class. The possibilities and qualifications of each person are so diverse that no sweeping generalization can be made.


Much attention has been given to work-shops for the blind where conditions are especially adapted to their needs, and the previous papers deal at length with this subject. In the collective as in the home industries, greater variety of employment, I believe, may yet be found. There is certainly a need for some industry for the blind which requires little or no skill, inexpensive materials, and an assured market; something so simple and practical that the clumsy worker can be given employment within a few hours of the time that he applies for work.


Employment of the blind among the seeing, as a distinct means of self-support, has not been given as much attention as the two first mentioned groups of occupations, except as students in schools for the blind have been prepared for tuning or professional careers.


In 1903, when the Massachusetts Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind was organized, it enabled me, as its agent, to visit a large number of factories in an effort to ascertain if persons with defective vision might not find employment in them on the same basis and under the same conditions as seeing operatives.


Probably we all agree that a blind person earning a living wage side by side with seeing workers is enjoying a more normal life than if he were earning more in a subsidized institution for the blind. I am not overlooking the fact that there are many blind men and women who lose their sight too late in life to adapt themselves to the strenuous conditions of modern factory life, and that many of those who are blind possessed but little initiative when they had their sight, and that for them the only hope is work in an institution under special supervision. Workshops for the blind most be fostered and are to be encouraged, but they should not be the only means of employment for a person who is suddenly bereft of sight. Work in factories may be available for but a comparatively small number of the blind or partially blind, and exactly the same kind of work is rarely available in the same shop for more than two or three individuals. Yet if every state would make a systematic search and find even twenty or thirty such opportunities, how great would be the gain to the present limited number of occupations open to the blind!


It has been said that the extensive introduction of machinery has made the possibility of blind labor in factories for the seeing more difficult. This is true in a measure, but in some instances machinery has simplified the problem, as its use has so subdivided the manufacture of certain articles that each process is made distinct in its performance, and payment by the piece is frequently found. In this detailed manufacture may be seen certain operations where the labor is so automatic that very little and sometimes no sight is necessary for exact and perfect execution.


In the operation of a machine like a box-corner cutter, the knife is protected by a guard for all operatives, and is set by the foreman of the department, who also apportions the work. The cards are brought to and taken from the workers, leaving the operative only the simple act of cutting by moving the handle of the machine back and forth with one hand and turning the card to insert each corner with the other. Three years ago we started a totally blind fellow in a well-known factory on a machine such as has just been described. Since that time three blind men have been employed at such work in the same factory.

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