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History Minute: Breakthroughs for the blind, March 29th

<p>Dr. Ken Bridges</p>

Dr. Ken Bridges

After His disciples had asked about the blind man, Christ answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In this verse is the story of the Arkansas School for the Blind.

In ancient times, little was known about the causes of blindness and very few tools or facilities existed for helping the blind. This posed a difficult social problem in a world dependent on sight. Into the 1800s, conditions had not advanced in frontier America.

In 1859, a minister named Reverend Haucke founded the Institute for the Education of the Blind in Arkadelphia. Not much is known about Haucke, save that he was a Baptist minister and blind himself and dedicated to the mission of helping the blind lead fulfilling lives. Otis Patten was soon brought in as the superintendent of the residential school. The facility was the only one for hundreds of miles to help the blind and only the fifth such school west of the Mississippi River.

The chaotic aftermath of the Civil War forced the school to move to a more centralized location in the state to reach more children and to gain access to more resources. In 1868, the school moved to Little Rock and would change its name to the current Arkansas School for the Blind in 1877. Eventually, the state would start financing the school to keep its services available for the blind and visually impaired of Arkansas.

The new Little Rock campus gave the school the stability it needed to solidify its services and expand. In 1939, the school moved to its current location. The old and unused site, however, would become the site of the Governor’s Mansion in 1947.

By the 1960s, the school began working with students with other disabilities in addition to blindness. And with the 1970s, the school embarked on an ambitious plan to expand its curriculum. Computer technology became a new course of study for the students. By 1976, the school was providing services to the blind and visually impaired off-campus as well by providing Braille textbooks, education resources, and vision screenings to students statewide.

The campus provides a thorough education for students, including athletics, art, music, skills for every aspect of running a household, and early intervention programs for visually impaired children under three. The facility has its own seven-member school board appointed by the governor, which by law includes two parent representatives.

A report by Cornell University stated that in 2011, about 2,000 children in Arkansas up to the age of four have some kind of significant visual impairment, with 5,100 children between the ages of five and fifteen with similar vision problems. Today, the Arkansas School for the Blind has 94 students residing on campus, but the reach is statewide, and its impact is inspiring.

Modern science has produced many breakthroughs for the blind with new technological tools to help the blind live a life of independence and medical techniques to treat the condition, and the Arkansas School for the Blind continues with its dedication to helping the blind and visually impaired.

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