Independence Key Goal of Organizations For Visually-Impaired

Blind, according to one edi­tion of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, means “sightless”. The dictionary is wrong. To the sighted, blindness is […]

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Blind, according to one edi­tion of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, means “sightless”. The dictionary is wrong.

To the sighted, blindness is generally a matter of black and white – one either is, or is not. To the visually impaired, on the other hand, the condi­tion is one – literally – of shades of gray, and every other color on the spectrum as well.

Of the 64 million persons in the United States with some kind of visual impairment, only 1.7 million – or 27% – function as if they were “legally blind” (a person who sees no more at a distance of 20 feet than someone with normal sight sees at 200 feet; commonly referred to as 20/ 200 vision). Only 6% of the 6.4 million, or some 400,000 persons, have no usable vi­sion at all.

Nearly 2/3 of the severely visually impaired are age 65 or over.

The severity of the handicap is generally agreed to be as variable as the degree of impairment itself. Expressions of dismay at the condition, on the part of the sighted, are projections. Those living with it, to whatever degree it has advanced, generally judge it a “handicap” only to the extent that it interferes with living the life they wish to lead.

Over the years, a variety of organizations have been formed to minimize that inter­ference: to assist those with the impairment to neutralize it through technology, to deal with its inconveniences, and to ensure development of the strongest possible self-image in the face of personal limi­tations.

In the Twin Cities, a cross-section of those organizations include the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, the Minneapolis Society for the Prevention of Blindness and the Preservation of Hearing: The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota; Blind, Inc; the Minnesota State Services for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (SSB); and the SSB’s Communica­tion Center.


Formed in 1914, the Min­neapolis Society is the oldest of the private rehab, support

and advocacy groups for the visually impaired in the metro area. Located at Franklin and Lyndale since the 1940’s, the Society’s stated mission is to assist persons who are blind or visually impaired by making available to them opportunities for personal growth, independence and self support. A statewide organi­zation offering a complete menu of rehabilitation and low vision services primarilv to the younger adult.  MSB graduates some 125 students per year from its rehabilita­tion program, and serves approximately 1500 visually impaired persons each year through all of its activities. Innovations include Trained Listening Colleagues (TLC), a peer counseling program that matches each client with a counselor who has experi­enced vision loss, and can offer support and resources for the newly-blinded indi­vidual.

Program staff includes pro­fessionals in the fields of rehabilitation, optometry and ophthalmology, health care and social work.

MSB’s programs focus on achieving optimal use from remaining sight, and educa­tion in the techniques of adaptation, rather than deal­ing with philosophical/psy­chological orientation. In addition to their on-site and in-home/work place pro-grams, they conduct an ac­tive public education effort, including speakers bureau, free vision screening, tours, information and referral serv­ice, and in-service training for professional caregivers.


Known for most of its half-century of existence as the Minneapolis Society for the Prevention of Blindness and the Preservation of Hearing (the latter responsibility added in 1981), Prevent Blindness/ Preserve Hearing’s founder acknowledged in 1939 that the Society’s preventative work would “lack the glam­our of working to aid the blind”. The founder, Dr. Frank Burch, knew, however, that 50% of all blindness is pre­ventable, that prevention is a function of education, and that education begins with research.

Among other facts, that research has shown that the leading causes of blindness are diabetes, macular degen­eration, cataracts and glau­coma; that 46% of eye inju­ries – a leading cause of blind­ness in one eye – occur in the home; that 95% of eye inju­ries are preventable through the use of protective eyeware; and that the keys to prevent­ing blindness from its lead­ing causes are early diagno­sis and prompt treatment.

A good portion of the Soci­ety’s efforts during the past half century have thus been directed at both educating and screening young people. Their Pre-school Medical Survey of Vision and Hearing was administered to more than 10,000 3, 4, and 5-year-olds in 1989, seeking to identify the one in twenty pre-school­ers who typically have an unsuspected vision problem, and the one in seven with hearing disorders.

Adult vision screening is conducted by the organiza­tion at community health fairs and screening clinics. Their Minnesota Adult Home Eye Screening program was in­troduced in 1981. It provides a simple, effective means of self-testing for the presence of macular degeneration, cata­ract, retinal damage and other eye problems, and has been adopted for international use.

The Society’s public information programs include public lectures, media pres­entations, and school programs on cataract, glaucoma, diabe­tes and the eye, eye safety and hearing loss. Their resource library offers an extensive collection of text materials, films and slide presentations on the causes of, and treat­ments for, blinding eye dis­eases and hearing disorders, about preventing accidental blindness at work, home and play.

The Society’s professional education component includes seminars for nurses and other health professionals, a news-letter on ophthalmology and otolaryngology, and reference texts containing comprehen­sive medical information on vision and hearing disorders.

An activist as well as screen­ing, research and educational organization, the Society has successfully lobbied for vi­sion testing for drivers’ li­cense applications, the safe Fireworks Law, the BB Gun Law and the School Eye Safety Law.

BLIND, INCORPORATED Blind, Inc., is the most con-temporary of the adaptive educational programs for the visually impaired. It is also the most intense, and one of the most productive. It is the “boot camp” of such programs, where students live in, learn in an environment where the maximum class size is four, and apply what they’ve learned evenings and weekends un­der the tutelage of both sighted and blind instructors.

Photos of white cane-toting students striding confidently across a 4-foot wide wooden bridge without side rails, heft­ing a sharpened splitting maul at the tip of a 10″ diameter fireplace log, or igniting a grill full of fluid-soaked char-coal briquets gives one a sense of the attitude here.

Attitude, in fact, is one of the subjects taught at Blind, Inc.

The course, which lasts anywhere from 90 days to over a year, depending on rate of progress, is not intended as a vocational school. In its relatively short period of existence (January, 1988), however, it has demonstrated measurable success as a vocation-enabling school.

Serving just 25-35 students annually with a staff of eight, blind, Inc. provides classes in braille reading and writing, independent cane travel, home/ self management, typing, computer literacy and career exploration, as well as the more basic skills, such as the inde­pendent management of dia­betes.

Throughout, students are taught that it is respectable to be blind. Feelings of inade­quacy are neutralized not only by traditional, classroom related successes, but by ac­tivities described in under-stated fashion as adventure learning”. Ranging from din­ing out to martial arts, danc­ing to chopping wood, rock climbing or horseback riding, adventure learning is intended to reinforce positive attitudes, while teaching that there are invariably alternative tech­niques by which blind people can accomplish the same tasks other do with sight.

Since personal independence is a state of mind as well as state of being, the confidence developed with each new accomplishment contributes directly to that state of mind, and hastens the achievement of true independence.  That theory has been supported by the programs graduates. While a major goal of Blind, Inc.’s efforts is the eradica­tion of the 79% unemploy­ment rate among the blind, the program stresses clarifi­cation and achievement of individual goals. While the goals of graduates to date have varied from enhanced living skills to educational access to employment and a broad range of other personal objectives, virtually all have achieved a substantial measure of suc­cess toward them by the time of graduation.

Unique for its class size and student/teacher ratio, Blind, Inc. also offers the only resi­dential program, the only overtly attitudinal program, the only program not con­nected with a sheltered work-shop, and the only program in which 50% of staff members belong to the blind commu­nity.


An arm of the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Train­ing, State Services for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (SSB) is a multi-faceted, tax‑supported agency serving anyone of any age in Minne­sota who has a vision loss that creates a handicap to their vocational or personal inde­pendence.

SSB operates in three primary areas – Rehabilitation Serv­ices, Communication Center, and a well-stocked store.

Through its own facilities and those of non-profit agencies it helps to fund, SSB offers the complete range of serv­ices to the blind and visually impaired, including adjust­ment to blindness; rehabilita­tion counseling; braille instruc­tion; travel training; career exploration; job placement and retention; rehab engineering; low vision services; independ­ent living skills training; vocational training; a blind vendor program and more.

Vocational rehabilitation programs include instruction in alternative techniques in­cluding braille and travel train­ing; vocational training and job placement services; the newly established SSB Re-source Center for Assistive Technology; the Employer Committee, a partnership with the private sector which as­sists consumers in gaining needed work and internship experiences; counseling and adjustment-to-blindness serv­ices which facilitate consumer growth and development.

Three programs assist inde­pendent living; the Center for Independent Living, a federal grant project working with young adults 17-25 who also have a communication disor­der; the Elderoptions Project that helps elderly blind and visually impaired people maintain independence in their own homes and the Self-Care Program for those 55 and older who would benefit from help in the areas of self-care and communication. Nearly 4000 blind/visually impaired per-sons receive help from these programs each year. In addi­tion, the state-funded Child Rehabilitation Program works with blind children and their parents to help the youth develop self-confidence and employment-related skills on the road to independence.

The SSB’s Business Enter-prises Program provides train­ing and professional manage­ment assistance to blind ven­dors who operate independ­ent businesses under franchise agreements. These businesses, include cafeterias, lunch-rooms, gift shops and other public-related facilities, and generate an average income exceeding $24,000 for their proprietors.

In all, some 6000 persons are served each year by SSB counselors in all programs.


The SSB Communication Center was founded in 1954 as a statewide special library and transcription service through funding by St. Paul’s Hamm Foundation, which largely sustains the Center to this day.

In 1969, the then-director of State Services for the Blind, C. Stanley Potter, established within the Center the first

Radio Reading Service in the nation. He did so in partner-ship with William Kling, Director of Broadcasting for KSJR-FM and KSJN-FM – which later came to be Min­nesota Public Radio (MPR) As MPR expanded, so did the Radio Talking Book Network, a unique idea which now serves as a model for similar pro-grams in over 100 communi­ties throughout the nation.

With the help of some 400 volunteers, the network to-day presents a total of 168 hours of programming – 87 based on current magazines and newspaper articles; 33 hours of direct newspaper reading, and 48 hours of books broadcast in their entirety. The broadcasts are made through closed circuit receivers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to those who are print-handi­capped. Receivers are avail-able on loan to those who are eligible. There is no charge. (For information, call (612) 642-0502, or 1-800-652-9000)

In addition to its daily read­ing, the Communication Center offers:

  • Custom recording of text-books and job-related ma­terials on tape (84,000 last year)
  • A lending library of books on tape, without charge
  • Custom transcribing of text-books and job-related ma­terials into braille (704,000 braille pages produced in 1990)
  • A lending library of braille books
  • Lending and servicing of the Radio Talking Book Re­ceiver, special phonographs and cassette playback equip­ment which offer access to the Library of Congress Talking Book program
  • Multi-media instructional materials and resources on blindness, the education of blind children, and the re-habilitation of newly-blinded adults


The Radio Talking Book program of SSB’s Communi­cation Center currently reaches some 7,500 disabled listen­ers; the potential audience is 35,000.

In addition to the popular Dial-In News feature, which al-lows touch-tone callers to access to particular sections of the day’s newspaper, the Radio Talking Book’s Pro-gram Guide offers a cornuco­pia of education, information and entertainment ranging from Backpacker to Bon Apetit, the New Republic to Vital Speeches, the Mayo Clinic Health Letter to City Pages, and around 200 other publications in between. Books by such as Ken Follett, Tho­mas Tryon, Shakti Gawain and William Novak, in their en­tirety, round out the audio fare.


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Mental Wellness