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Oral History Project

Primary Tasks

    Secondary Tasks

      walking with a cane in Des MoinesHave a Story to Tell?

      The Iowa Department for the Blind is interested in your memories, recollections, or experiences living as a blind person in Iowa.

      We are interested in hearing about your work life, home life, community activities, and more. Any length and topic is acceptable. All submitted information will be made part of a History of Blindness in Iowa collection.

      Excerpts from written submissions:

      Mary Wilmeth writes: "In high school I guided a totally blind friend—we took most of our classes together. Since I had to work hard to see where I was going, I felt awkward and unattractive. Most students were not mean. They simply ignored me. My parents knew how I was suffering, but they didn’t know how to teach me the specific skills I needed to feel confident."  Read more...

      Anthony Balik writes: "In 1970 while working for DHS, I had a second cornea transplant that also rejected after 25 days.  I was working at the time and went back to work after 5 weeks off and continued to perform my job duties.  Up till my retirement from DHS in 2004 my sight had progressively gotten worse.  A cataract developed giving me less vision, but couldn’t be removed unless I had another transplant." Read more...

      Lois Tiberghein writes: "For a number of years, there were no spellers printed in New York Point which took the place of Braille at that time. Miss Ferris, teacher of third and fourth grades, used to dictate a list of spelling words for us to write and to carry with us to study for the next day. One afternoon, when we had just proofread our list, a crowd of visitors came in and carried them away for souvenirs, and the time was up for the day." Read more...

      How Do I Submit My Story?

      You can submit your stories by e-mail or by regular mail in audio, print, or Braille.


      Oral History Project
      Attn: Rick Dressler
      Iowa Department for the Blind
      524 Fourth Street
      Des Moines, IA 50309

      You can also record a story to a voice mail box at: 877-742-4938. You have five minutes of recording time to tell your story with this method.

      With any story you submit please provide your name and contact information.

      Important! All stories submitted to this project will become a part of a History of Blindness collection owned by the Iowa Department for the Blind. By submitting your story, you are acknowledging that your story is a gift, which transfers to the Iowa Department for the Blind all legal title and all literary property rights. You will be granting to the Iowa Department for the Blind an unrestricted license to use your recording, and all the information which it contains, in any manner the Department for the Blind may wish to use it, for as long as the Iowa Department for the Blind wishes to use it.

      What Should I Share?

      Any topic related to your or a family member's blindness that is important to you is welcome. If you need some suggestions, tell us about:

      • Your first or most memorable job experience.
      • Your educational experience at primary, secondary, post-secondary, or vocational school.
      • Your experience at the Orientation Center.
      • Methods you have used to access print materials over the years.
      • Travels outside of Iowa.
      • Your experience with the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
      • Your previous or current legislative or advocacy activities.
      • Your previous or current community or volunteer activities.
      • Assistive technological devices have you adopted over the years.

      About This Project

      The purpose of this Oral History Project is to collect the life stories and experiences of Iowans who are blind, deaf-blind, or visually impaired and to archive this material for current and future research.  These accounts will provide authentic, first-person narratives documenting the effects of blindness on the day to day lives of blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired Iowans, their families and communities. It may also provide insight into the societal changes affecting blind people in terms of employment, education, family, and community life over the past 85 years. Because Iowa was a focal point for a civil rights movement for blind Americans during the 1960s and 1970s, the project will also capture the experiences of individuals involved in this movement and the effects this movement had on the lives of all blind or visually impaired Iowans.

      Process: The project will collect first-person written or recorded accounts. It will also initiate and carry out fifty oral history interviews.

      Scope: Because of limited resources, this project will focus on Iowans present in the state. Native Iowans living outside of Iowa who wish to participate are welcome to provide written or recorded narratives for project. If they wish to be interviewed and are selected for interviews, they would need to come to Iowa for the in-person interviews. The project does not have funding for out-of-state travel. We anticipate colleting as many written or recorded narratives as possible and conducting fifty in-person oral history interviews.

      Focus: The focus of this project is blindness, deaf-blindness, and visual impairment. The project will be devoted to collecting the stories of blind Iowans through written memories and oral histories and the collection and cataloging of related historical objects. The historical resource to preserve will be the personal histories from a range of blind Iowans and those associated with them. Potential topic areas for these inquiries include:

      • Educational Experiences (Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton; Secondary public schools; Post-Secondary Education; Vocational Training)
      • Employment (Home-based employment; Competitive employment: Self-employment; Randolph-Shepherd program)
      • Domestic Life (Raising children; Dating, Life with a Blind Parent; Home Maintenance, etc.)
      • Community Life (Volunteering, Leisure Activities, Social Events)
      • Advocacy (Consumer organizations; Civil Rights Movement; Legislative Activities)
      • Technology (From Slate and Stylus to Computers)
      • Other

      Rather than focus narrowly on a specific topic, we hope to obtain narratives representing a diversity of experiences.


      This project is supported in part by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Historical Resource Development Program and the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.