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Touching History in New York

It was an ordinary weekday in New York the day I touched history. For several hours on the day before Thanksgiving 2005, my fingers gently turned the pages of over 100 years of written history while researching material to highlight in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) for its centennial. Outside the window of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) headquarters in New York City, an American flag snapped smartly in the strong breeze. A few flights below, in the shadow of Penn Station, New Yorkers and the obligatory tourists hurried to and from work or holiday shopping. The constant sound of a Salvation Army bell ringer kept me company as I worked my way through generations of authentic documents.

While researching material on the topic of communication for people who are blind that appeared over the years in the archived issues of Outlook for the Blind, New Outlook for the Blind, and JVIB, history came alive before my eyes. With reverence, I held the April 1907 issue of Outlook for the Blind--the inaugural issue of what is now our JVIB. The pages were brown, with crumbled edges. It was immediately apparent that if I didn't turn the pages carefully, the potential existed for them to split in half. The odor reminded me of the small room where the prayer books were kept in my grandfather's temple. Red dust from the leather-bound book escaped its binding and floated down onto my pants as I sat on the floor of the AFB Information Center with this one-hundred-year-old volume on my lap.

For several hours, I followed the paths our leaders and legends have taken to provide education and services for people who are blind. I sat in the hospitals with blinded World War I veterans during 1917-1918, and again in 1942-1944. I was moved to tears by a brief commentary (published in the September 1947 issue of Outlook) about a Jewish ophthalmologist in Paris, who--because she was being sought by the Nazis for her role in the resistance movement--bandaged her own eyes and face and successfully posed as one of her own patients in the hospital to avoid capture. Several quotations from Helen Keller that I have known and admired for years emerged from the articles in which they were originally voiced. In reading these articles, I gained insight into the gentle wisdom she shared so willingly and abundantly with others. I shook my head in consternation to note that our field, the field of visual impairment and blindness, is still addressing many of the same issues 100 years later--those of quality education (including home-schooling), underemployment, literacy, and teacher preparation.

The Internet has opened a new vista for us in research. With the touch of a finger, in the comfort of our own home, we can travel a superhighway of knowledge, visit places and communicate with people around the world. As much as I appreciate the immediacy and convenience afforded by the Internet, I am a richer and wiser person today for this gift of the opportunity to touch history and hold it in my lap.

Sheila Amato, Ed.D., special education teacher, teacher of students with visual impairments, Eastport-South Manor High School; adjunct assistant professor of education, Teachers College, Columbia University, Dominican College, New York, and New Mexico State University; mailing address: 72 Aster Street, Massapequa Park, NY 11762; e-mail: <>.

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The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)--the international, interdisciplinary journal of record on blindness and visual impairment that publishes research and practice
and serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas, airing of controversies, and discussion of issues--is copyright Copyright © 2017 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.


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