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History and Revolutionary Philosophy

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      The cover of the 1962 Iowa Department for the Blind annual report featuring a photo of a well-dressed, confident, young woman walking with a long white cane.In 1958, programs at the Iowa Department for the Blind experienced a dramatic and positive transformation.  Kenneth Jernigan assumed the directorship of the agency, and under his innovative and dynamic leadership, opportunities for blind Iowans began to improve dramatically.

      Jernigan's philosophy of blindness and his dynamic approach toward the quality provision of services to blind Iowans were a direct result of his association with and leadership in the National Federation of the Blind, which had steadfastly maintained that rehabilitation programs for the blind should be conducted using a positive, "can do" approach to blindness.  Iowa provided an ideal opportunity to prove, once and for all, that the Federation's positive philosophy of blindness could be given practical expression in programs of rehabilitation and service delivery to the blind.

      The model and positive philosophy developed by the National Federation of the Blind and implemented by Kenneth Jernigan in Iowa continues to shape the Department's programs.  As written in the 1959 Annual Report of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, that philosophy purports that " the real problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information which exists. If a blind person has proper training, and if he [or she] has opportunity, blindness is only a physical nuisance."

      Today, this philosophy serves as a blueprint for progressive blind agencies throughout America. Iowa is consistently ranked as one of the nation's highest in the percentage of blind and low vision people successfully placed, employed and remaining in jobs.  Its library features one of the world's most comprehensive collections of reading materials in alternative formats (e.g., Braille and digital audio). The Department continues to utilize innovative methods and technology to provide quality services to blind and low vision people in Iowa.

      Listen to the "Dishwashing Tape" about the Department's philosophy on blindness.


      The Iowa State Legislature established the Iowa Commission for the Blind, known today as the Iowa Department for the Blind.  At the same time, a governing board was established to provide oversight to the agency.

      The Commission distributed 99 Talking Book Machines to blind Iowans; books for the machines had to be obtained from Illinois.

      First food service vending stand under the Randolph-Sheppard Act was established in Sioux City.

      1942 - 1945
      The Commission helped place blind persons at work in war plants.

      Kenneth Jernigan, a leader in the blind community, became director and introduced the long white cane, positive philosophy of blindness and revolutionary concepts of rehabilitation.

      Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center opened with three students and two teachers. 
      First blind Iowan was placed as a teacher in public school setting.

      Library of Congress established the Iowa Library for the Blind.

      Breakthrough in the vending stand program as blind persons begin managing Iowa State Capitol food services.

      The Library becomes the largest of its kind in the world.

      Director Jernigan receives the American Library Associations highest award.

      This year represented a decade of incredible progress for the Department:

      • Number of persons achieving employment rises from 26 to 90;
      • Staff increased from 19 to 80;
      • Library circulation increased five-fold;
      • Jernigan received special citation from President Lyndon Johnson in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the advancement of blind individuals

      Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped sent out its millionth book, and it was designated to provide textbook materials to blind and physically handicapped students.

      Legislature passes the "Little Randolph-Sheppard Act" giving blind people the opportunity to operate vending facilities in all public buildings.

      Iowa Radio Reading Information Service (IRIS), Iowa's first and only radio reading service for the blind, was established and is a private, non-profit corporation.

      Clients' average earnings 20 percent higher than national average.

      Independent Living (IL) began serving elderly and multiply-disabled blind persons in Iowa.

      Iowa Commission for the Blind renamed to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB).

      The three-member policy-making body, the Commission for the Blind, retained its name.

      Business Enterprises Program (BEP) opened its first roadside rest area vending facility.

      A technology resource center opened to give blind Iowans the opportunity to examine state-of-the-art technology.

      Dept. of Corrections collaborates with the Department to build a corps of transcribers to produce Braille materials. 

      Project ASSIST developed and distributed tutorials designed to help blind people use complex computer software. Project ASSIST was internationally recognized as a valuable source of technology training for the blind.

      Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped circulated its eight-millionth book.

      Pathfinders, a mentoring program designed to pair blind youth with successful blind adult mentors, began a five-year federal grant which demonstrated mentoring relationships were a key ingredient in helping blind youth to increase their self-confidence and the belief in their ability to compete in the world on terms of equality with their sighted peers.

      The Iowa Library for the Blind became the first library of its kind to distribute multiple audio books on a single cartridge.

      IDB created the LEAP summer youth program and expanded weekend retreats for transition age youth during the school year.


      Digital Talking Books

      Youth Employment Program

      History of Blindness in Iowa