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American Foundation for the Blind

American Foundation for the Blind (1921-present)


Introduction: The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit organization that expands possibilities for the more than 25 million people with vision loss in the U.S.  AFB’s priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB’s work in these areas is supported by its strong presence in Washington, DC, ensuring the rights and interests of Americans with vision loss are represented in our nation’s public policies. The needs of people with vision loss have evolved over the last century, and the history of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is the story of meeting those needs in the United States.

History: With the support and leadership of M.C. Migel, a philanthropist who was moved to help the large number of veterans blinded in World War I, AFB formed in 1921 to provide a national clearinghouse for information about vision loss and a forum for discussion for the burgeoning, yet dispersed, community of blindness service professionals. Made official at the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa, AFB’s founding was also intended to generate new directions for research and represent the needs of people with vision loss in the nation’s corridors of power.

Accomplishments: AFB’s early accomplishments include taking the lead to standardize the English braille code and establishing the first professional publications program for teachers and administrators of programs for people with vision loss. In 1926 AFB’s Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons—the most convenient, comprehensive, and reliable source of information on vision loss available—first appeared. The fact that the contents of this publication, now in its 27th edition in print and online, have exponentially increased since its inception show how far services for people with vision loss have come. Today, AFB continues to conduct trailblazing research and provide comprehensive information on all aspects of vision loss to the general public. AFB Press is the largest publisher of scholarly works and research for vision loss service professionals.

From its outset AFB also demonstrated a commitment to enhancing access to information for people with vision loss. In 1933 AFB engineers developed the first long-playing record and player, and set

Helen Keller and M. Robert Barnett, executive director of AFB, examining records that go with a talking book machine for President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Fitzsimons Army Hospital. Polly Thomson is at Miss Keller’s side, circa 1955.

up studios for the recording of Talking Books. AFB played a major role in persuading the Federal government to include Talking Books in the National Library System for blind people operated by the Library of Congress. Today, AFB remains the largest producer of Talking Books with its state-of-the-art, fully digital recording studios in New York City, and AFB has made significant forays into the commercial recording arena as well.

Helen Keller, who worked for AFB for over 40 years, was instrumental in the foundation of the Talking Books Program, among many others. She remained with AFB until her death in 1968—lecturing, writing, fundraising, lobbying, and providing a shining example of committed action for the public good.  Keller’s advocacy work on behalf of people with vision loss around the world provided a rich legacy upon which AFB continues to expand. She no doubt would have been proud in 1990 to see President George H. W. Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act, which AFB had been instrumental in creating and passing. Today, AFB remains one of the strongest voices in Washington for people with vision loss.

For many years AFB designed, manufactured, and sold products that were made specifically for people with vision loss, such as braille-writers, magnifiers, and audio blood pressure monitors. Currently, however, AFB devotes its energies to working with technology manufacturers at the design stage to develop products that can be used by everyone—sighted or visually impaired. Especially since the advent of digital technology, AFB believes that working to establish “universal design” practices among technology producers is the most promising and cost-effective option for making all products accessible in the long term.

Source:  American Foundation for the Blind:

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