The Evolution of Schools for the Blind
By Bob Branco
With rare exception, the student population which attended such schools years ago had blindness as their only disability. I was one of those students. We were trained how to shop, cook, clean, travel, play musical instruments, swim, run a store, operate dangerous machinery, and lots of other things that sighted people do. Quite often when we were on campus, there was some form of construction going on. It never bothered us, and we knew how to get out of the way. We were trained accordingly.
As schools for the blind trended toward multi-handicapped students and younger staff members, our own training began to be ignored. If you lived at a school for the blind in the seventies with proper training in independence while work was being done on campus regularly, how would you feel if you took a group of friends from your generation to that school today, only to be told, “You have to be very careful. We don’t want you hurting yourself. Keep your group off campus until renovations are completed.”?
I realize that many of today’s students at schools for the blind have multiple disabilities, and that they need more specialized treatment. The staff who cares for these students may not remember our generation. Therefore it is possible that they don’t recognize all the extensive training most of us had in order to be independent blind people. So how do we combat this, that is, if it’s worth doing? Does one size really fit all? I say, no.
On the other hand, today’s staff may recognize our extensive training, but feel that we will include multi-handicapped students when we bring groups on campus, whether for alumni activities or other private events with our friends. If this is true, there might not be anything we could do about it. The evolution of schools for the blind is what it is, and our generation needs to be patient and understanding.
If some of us learned how to operate chainsaws, we may have to accept the fact that present staff members will tell us to watch out for a chain saw because we could be seriously injured. If we learned how to cook gourmet meals over an open fire, we need to accept the fact that current staff members might ask us to be very careful of the stove because we could be severely burned. I do not envy the tough task that alumni associations of schools for the blind have to deal with, because there is a lot of juggling between today’s and yesterday’s students. We are talking about two entirely different cultures being brought together. So how should today’s staff members and alumni associations handle this issue?
(Originally published in Word Matters, www.ernestdempsey.com)
About the Author
Bob Branco resides in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and is a self-published author of four books. He is a community organizer, tutors persons with visual impairments, and has written columns for local and international organizations. Bob’s web site is