Breaking Down the Doors
“[Y]ou’ve got to see the blind as a minority. Since, from the time of childhood, all of us are conditioned to believe that, to be blind means necessarily to be less capable than others. Blindness means inferiority. Now, we’ve got to help the person undo that kind of conditioning.” – Kenneth Jernigan
Blind Iowans have a long history of organizing and working to improve their lives through education and employment reforms. This timeline highlights some of the national and state laws, events, and people who had a significant impact on blind and visually impaired Iowans. The activities listed below provide a snapshot of how views and attitudes about blindness changed through the years.
Iowa (State) Timeline:
1852/1853 –Samuel Bacon opens the Asylum for the Blind in Iowa City. The school provided both an academic education on topics ranging from geography to music and vocational and trades training in weaving, broom making, chair caning, needle work, and beadwork. For more information, please visit the Education page.
1862 – Iowa Asylum for the Blind moves to Vinton, Iowa. (Today, it is known as the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.)
1886 – Alumni Association of the Iowa College for the Blind formed.
1892 – Industrial Home for the Blind opens in Knoxville, Iowa
The effort to open the Industrial Home for the Blind began at a meeting of alumni from the College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa. The alumni found many had few opportunities to work after they had completed their training at the school. They proposed that the State Legislature establish an industrial home to provide residence and factory work for the blind of the state. For more information: Industrial Home for the Blind.
1915 – Home for Sightless Women opens in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Iowa Home for Sightless Women was established in 1915 after many years of fundraising efforts by alumni of the Iowa School of the Blind and by prominent women in Des Moines. The home was to give blind women a way to make some money and provide them with a residence. It was to be an alternative to the poor houses where many blind women who had no family or sources of support would be forced to live. For more information: Iowa Home for Sightless Women.
1921 – Establishment of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in Vinton, Iowa. For more information: American Foundation for the Blind.
1925 – The Iowa Commission for the Blind (now the Iowa Department for the Blind) is established by the Iowa State Legislature.
The Commission was founded shortly after Helen Keller visited Iowa with the sponsorship of the American Foundation for the Blind. Ms. Keller visited the state specifically to support the creation of the agency. Originally, the mission of the Commission was to establish a registry of blind persons in the state, market the products of blind workers, make home visits for instruction, learn about and promote blindness prevention activities, provide trainings at centralized locations (workshops), and discourage begging. Now, the Department for the Blind’s mission is to improve skills so that blind and visually impaired Iowans may obtain or retain competitive employment, increase confidence and independence of blind and visually impaired Iowans in all aspects of daily life, and improve their access to information, activities and opportunities. For more information: Employment and the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
1939 – First food service vending stand under the Randolph-Sheppard Act was established in Sioux City. For more information: Vending Stands and Cafeterias.
1939 - Iowa state law enacted compulsory education for blind children over age 7 and under age 19. This law required attendance at the school for the blind in Vinton, with some exemptions. For more information: Iowa Braille School.
1942 – National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) Annual National Convention is held in Des Moines, Iowa.
1959 - Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center opened with three students and two teachers. First blind Iowan was placed as a teacher in public school setting.
1960 - Library of Congress established the Iowa Library for the Blind.
1966 – Breakthrough in vending stand program as blind persons begin managing Iowa State Capitol food services.
1968 – NFB National Convention is held in Des Moines, Iowa.
1969 – Iowa legislature passes the “Little Randolph-Sheppard Act” giving blind people the opportunity to operate vending facilities in all public buildings.
1970s -- Insurance Battles.
1970s – Iowa Council of the Blind formed
1971 - State’s Civil Rights Act enacted by the Iowa Legislature. For more information: Civil Rights.
1973 - Governor Robert Ray signs annual proclamation, acknowledging October 15 as White Cane Safety Day.
1980 - Independent Living (IL) program at the Iowa Commission for the Blind began serving elderly and multiply-disabled blind persons in Iowa.
1981 – United Blind of Iowa formed.
1985 – Governor Terry Branstad signs annual proclamation, acknowledging October 15 as White Cane Safety Day.
1986 – Iowa Commission for the Blind is placed under the Department of Human Rights.
1988 – Iowa Council of the United Blind (ICUB) formed as a result of a merger between the Iowa Council of the Blind and United blind of Iowa. ICUB becomes an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. For more information: American Council of the Blind.
1988 – Iowa Commission for the Blind renamed to the Iowa Department for the Blind.
After extensive lobbying efforts by blind Iowans, the Iowa Department for the Blind was granted independent agency status under the executive branch. The three-member policy-making body, the Commission for the Blind, retained its name. For more information: Commission to Department.
2000 – American Council of the Blind’s (ACB) National Convention is held is Des Moines, Iowa.
1936 – Randolph-Sheppard Act (Federal Vending Stand program) is established. For more information: Randolph-Sheppard Act.
1938 – Wagner O’Day Act was enacted, as a means of creating employment for the blind. For more information: Sheltered Workshops.
1938 – Fair Labor Standards Act
1940 – National Federation of the Blind (NFB) established. For more information: National Federation of the Blind.
1943 – Passage of the Barden-LaFollette Act.
This acts made federal funds available to states to provide vocational rehabilitation services to the blind for the first time. The goal of this legislation was first, to enable the blind to contribute to wartime production and second, to help them become employable after the war. As a result, more than thirty state rehabilitation programs were established. The process of establishing the Iowa Commission for the Blind as a federally funded agency for the vocational rehabilitation for the blind began in the 1950s.
1961 – Early July, American Council of the Blind (ACB) formed in Kansas City, MO. For more information: American Council of the Blind.
1964 – Oct. 15 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a formal proclamation, declaring White Cane Safety Day.
White Cane laws throughout the country recognize the white cane as an indicator of blindness and require traffic to yield the right of way to a pedestrian carrying a cane. White Cane laws also give a blind person the right to enter any public space with their cane. Fore more information: White Cane Laws.
1973 – Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was signed by President Nixon on Sept. 26, 1973.
This legislation revised Vocational Rehabilitation policies and included a number of landmark civil rights protections for persons with disabilities. To learn more about the influence Iowans had in the passing of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, follow this link to the Iowa Department for the Blind's Application to the National Register of Historic Places.
1975 - Passage of the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act.
This Act impacted the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton as it gave parents the right to have their child educated in the least restrictive environment. As a result, many parents moved their children from the Braille School to the school in their local community. For more information: Public Education Integration.
1990 – Passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA guaranteed rights of access and nondiscrimination in private employment, public accommodations, state and local governmental programs and facilities, and telecommunications. For more information: Americans with Disabilities Act.