Education of Blind Iowans
Social perceptions and cultural beliefs about blindness are revealed in the story of the education of blind Iowans. This story is not limited to the education of children. Opportunities for post-secondary education and approaches used in vocational training for Iowans who became blind as adults show how changes in beliefs and attitudes about blindness and vision loss shaped their lives.
Establishment of Schools for the Blind
In the 19th century, blindness prevention activities and social welfare aimed at the blind became prevalent in the United States. Prior to this period, blind persons were understood to be recipients of charity; few efforts to ameliorate the condition of the blind or blindness were made. Social progressive movements changed this situation. Samuel Gridely Howe and others advocated for institutions that provided an academic education for the blind and sought to teach them skills that would allow for self-sufficiency. Educators like Howe looked to the schools for the blind in Europe as models. This period saw the establishment of many schools for the blind throughout the U.S., including the Perkins School for the Blind founded in Boston, MA (1832) by Howe. A school for the blind was founded in Iowa in 1853 by Samuel Bacon. These schools were aimed at blind adults as well as children.
From the beginning, the curriculum of the schools were largely academic covering such topics as geography, arithmetic and algebra, grammar and writing, and music. These early educators not only wanted to improve the academic education of the blind, they also saw the need for blind persons to work and earn money. Because they felt that many blind people would not be able to pursue a career like their sighted peers, specialized vocational and trades training were also included in the curriculum. Broom-making, chair caning, knitting, weaving, bead-work, and piano-tuning were trades determined appropriate occupational training for blind persons.
The educational approaches for blind children and adults has changed radically since the founding of those first schools. Most blind children are no longer educated at segregated schools and employment and vocational training for blind adults is no longer restricted to trades training. Please follow the links below for more information about the education of blind Iowans.