The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States


In 1971, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) commissioned Frances A. Koestler to write a comprehensive history of the blind and the institutions that supported them in this country. Although intended to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of AFB, the resulting publication, The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States, made its own distinctive mark in the world. Published in 1976, The Unseen Minority became the first recipient of the C. Warren Bledsoe Award presented by the American Association of Workers for the Blind in 1977. Frances Koestler, a writer, editor, and public relations professional of wide experience who became editor of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind in 1978, herself received great recognition and many accolades over the years for her achievement. She was honored at a special ceremony for the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 for her "outstanding contribution to the literature on, for or about the disabled" and received the Francis J. Campbell Award from the American Library Association in 1985.

Here are some of the comments expressed about this remarkable book in important journals:

"Commissioned by the American Foundation for the Blind, this massive narrative history is a definitive work of potentially surprising interest for the general reader. Frances Koestler spent four years researching her subject in depth, and has spread out, with considerable primary documentation, a hitherto little-known story." … Publishers Weekly

"This extraordinary book paints an absorbing picture of the complex forces that, over the past fifty years, have impinged on one minority group—the blind. Obviously this study will appeal to practitioners in the field of blindness but its contribution—as a resource in the field of rehabilitation, for example—is significant to a much wider audience." … Social Work

"In this highly fascinating book, Koestler presents the history of the [blind] from social, governmental, and personal levels. Her lucidly written work succeeds admirably in revealing the broad sweep of accomplishments of the American Foundation for the Blind. … An important work describing a nation's compassion for one segment of its population. Highly recommended." … Library Journal

Many years have passed since the initial appearance of The Unseen Minority and the early praise that greeted its publication. Another century has begun. The David McKay Company, the original publisher of the work, was acquired by Random House in 1986, and Frances Koestler died in 1992. But the story told in The Unseen Minority is one that should not be forgotten. The early struggles and milestones that marked the history of the blindness field are an important part of the social history of this country and a rich source of information and inspiration to individuals who are blind or visually impaired and those who live and work with them. Therefore, when we at AFB discovered recently that this seminal work was in danger of going out of print, we decided to keep its legacy—the history of the field and the beginnings of AFB itself as an organization—available to readers. The result is this reissued edition of The Unseen Minority, which presents a rich panorama of events, personalities, and still-relevant issues to a new generation.

This new version of The Unseen Minority includes additional useful appendixes containing timelines of critical events in the field of blindness and visual impairment compiled for AFB's Foundations series of textbooks. Readers will find chronologies from Foundations of Education, Foundations of Low Vision, and Foundations of Orientation and Mobility that will help them trace developmental landmarks that have taken place since The Unseen Minority was published almost thirty years ago.

During the last three decades, another rich and complex chapter of the history of our field has taken place. The following list is only a sample of the trends and issues that have shaped the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired that Koestler was not yet able to describe:

  • The increasing power and influence of consumers
  • The passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, and its subsequent evolution into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • The enactment of other far-reaching civil rights legislation, such as the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The change in perspectives on the usefulness and importance of braille and its instruction
  • The transformation of many residential schools into state educational hubs or learning centers
  • The movement toward generic as opposed to disability-specific services
  • The critical shortage of funds and trained personnel in low-incidence programs
  • The recognition of the importance of services for individuals with multiple disabilities
  • The rise and growth of assistive technology.

As you review this list of powerful and dynamic forces that have captured our attention and engaged our passions and commitment, you may find yourself wondering what the next several decades may bring. This edition of The Unseen Minority will provide you with a perspective on how we arrived at the present and remind you of how much progress we achieved to get here.

President and CEO
American Foundation for the Blind

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