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A Look Back

Editor's note: The sampling of articles included in this month's "A Look Back" demonstrates that attention to research has been an integral part of the journal from its inception and traces how that attention has developed and matured over the last century. These works published in the journal in the past 100 years reveal the fact that research has always been, and continues to be, a major theme.

Since 1907, the journal has been the "organ of communication" of the field of visual impairment and blindness. The inaugural editorial set the purpose of the journal as a

". . . forum for free and open discussion . . . [so that] those who have the experience and expert knowledge . . . will give us the results of their work and observations. . . ."

By examining the practice of those who worked with people who are blind or visually impaired, the journal has always been engaged in the search for the truth. As truth emerges, the journal's duty has been, and is, to record and deliver it.

Early proponents of the journal, Edward E. Allen, then director of the Pennsylvania Institute for Instruction of the Blind at Overbrook, and E. J. Nolan, described as "the able blind lawyer of Chicago," underscored the value of a professional "organ of communication" focused on practice. Allen encouraged Outlook for the Blind Editor in Chief Charles Campbell to model Outlook after two journals for "workers for the deaf," which he described as being scientific and "well edited and comprehensive in scope." Nolan recommended that "the views of workers . . . may be exchanged, experiments described, and results compared." Even as the early incarnation of the journal focused on practice, its supporters were thinking about research. (A reprint of this first editorial, which was published in the January 2006 issue of JVIB, can be found online at <>).

Over its 100-year life span, the journal has broadened its search for the best ways to serve people who are blind or visually impaired by its initial concentration on the publication of best practices to the current mix of research and practice, with the common goal of both types of articles being to improve services through the discovery and presentation of new information. Figure 1 shows the frontispiece of the Winter 1912 issue of the journal that highlighted the in-depth scientific investigation into tactile writing systems of the Uniform Type Committee of the American Association of Workers for the Blind. Charts and figures, mainstays of current scientific research, were used in 1914 in an early graph illustrating elementary statistics on "Visual Disablement" (see Figure 2).

Attention to research gained momentum in 1922, when a short article, "The Contribution of Research to Practical Pedagogy," by Charles Campbell, addressed the large number of pages Outlook for the Blind reserved for the presentation of scientific studies. Also in 1922, Samuel Hayes published a research article that presented data in the form of a line graph, "Can Blind Children Spell?" (see Figure 3). Outcomes for students were a concern as early as 1928, when Superintendent Hamilton published a study on the graduates of the New York State School for the Blind. A forceful article by Richard S. French (1928) considered the function and value of research in the development of effective educational strategies and provided a detailed list of areas needing vigorous research. In 1933, an article by Blend featured a rudimentary, yet effective, graphic that made a clear point--prevention of blindness costs less than paying pensions (see Figure 4).

It is worth noting that (although not excerpted here) in the article "Towards More and Better Research" (May, 1961), the Commissioner of the Office for the Blind of Pennsylvania, Norman Yodel, reported on the mandate of the Committee for Research on Problems Associated with Blindness, a newly formed nonprofit organization of which he was president, reflecting the increasing focus on research. Not long after, Milton D. Graham, director of the Research and Statistics Department of the American Foundation for the Blind, asked "What Good Are Statistics?" in a 1965 article that identified the role of research and analysis, as well as the need for more information on important topics, including program planning, the aging population, and the mobility of veterans with visual impairment.

Over the decades, JVIB has presented such seminal work as that of Richard Hoover on long cane techniques; Natalie Barraga and Anne Corn on low vision; Sally Mangold, Alan Koenig, and M. Cay Holbrook on braille reading; and Kay Alicyn Ferrell on the findings of Project PRISM and the development of young children who are visually impaired, to mention just a few, as well as key research that is international in scope in rehabilitation, education, multiple disabilities, aging, and technology. Today, the journal publishes studies and analysis from virtually every corner of the field of visual impairment and blindness, reporting research and practice from around the world.

Throughout the discussions of the importance of and need for research expressed in the writing of our forebears, it is interesting to note that many of the areas identified as needing scrutiny and careful study are still featured topics of articles and Research Reports published in the journal today. The organ of communication--fueled by research--continues its search for and dissemination of the truth!

Michael J. Bina, Ed.D.Chair, JVIB Editorial Advisory Board

Summer 1922 - Volume 16, Number 2, The Contribution of Research to Practical Pedagogy, Outlook for the Blind, p. 39.

Charles Campbell

Editor in chief, Outlook

In our last Winter issue we published the "Manual for the Guidance of Teachers," written by Dr. Samuel P. Hayes to facilitate the use of standard tests in school subjects and in general intelligence by teachers and superintendents who have felt the invigorating influence of the test movement in modern education. In this issue we are printing another article by Dr. Hayes, a report upon the spelling of the blind, prepared for the 1922 Convention of the A. A. I. B., but not read because the program was too congested. This paper, also, is based upon extensive research in schools for the blind, and supplemented by a discussion of the practical application of the modern pedagogy of spelling to a group of poor spellers in Mt. Holyoke College. At the end of the article we are glad to find suggestions for the improvement of spelling in our own schools.

Some of our readers have expressed surprise that so much space is being given for the presentation of scientific studies of this sort. But if these critics will look back through the files of the Outlook for the last fifteen years they will find that it has always been our policy to print a certain number of articles which bid fair to have a permanent value in order to preserve them in readily accessible form for our subscribers. . . . Once an article is incorporated in . . . Outlook, it is protected from loss and oblivion, just as if it were placed in a library.

And these particular articles seem to us especially fitting at this time, when everyone is talking about tests of this or that, and the newspapers as well as the magazines for the seeing are constantly presenting abstracts and reviews of work of this sort and stressing their value for practical educational and vocational guidance. We have already received considerable evidence that our judgment in this matter is correct. The next to the last issue of the Outlook, in which we presented the "Manual for the Guidance of Teachers" has been called for more frequently than any other issue in recent years. . . . A veteran teacher of the blind recently had occasion to examine a child of eleven with normal vision. It occurred to her to use the test material printed in the Outlook and she was much gratified to find that she could gain a very satisfactory picture of the mental ability of this child through the use of the tests we had published.

December 1928 - Volume 22, Number 3, The Function and Value of Research in Schools and Classes for the Visually Defective, Outlook for the Blind, pp. 12-17.

R. S. French

Principal, California School for the Blind

From recent utterances of certain publicists and some educators, chiefly political, one would gather that the schools are to "educate," by which they mean to continue the old traditions, and that teachers and research psychologists are not to meddle with their precious charges, that no one has a right to experiment with . . . children. . . . This contention . . . might have a bit of validity if the world were still a world of dirt roads and cobbled streets, few books and fewer periodicals, no "movies," no radio, no rapid transit, no aeroplanes, and so on, and above all, no shift of ideas; in other words, if we still lived in the snug and horribly uncomfortable little world of our great-grandparents. Our education, including most of our present curriculum and practices in schools for the blind, really fits a world of from fifty to a hundred and fifty years ago! and isn't it the most dangerous and fatal of all experiments to try to fit boys and girls of this dynamic, rushing, complex world into the static scheme of their ancestors?

The fact is that all education is an experiment, a trial; and that education is in this age likely to be most effective which makes the "trying out" process one of conscious procedure, governed by the approved criteria of scientific research. For research in the scientific sense only puts a stronger emphasis on the search, on the honest and sincere search for what is true. It has no magic formulae, no hocus-pocus for obtaining miraculous results: in fact, research strictly speaking does not obtain results in the usual sense; it only ascertains facts. Results frequently follow, sometimes marvelous results, . . . but always by steps that are clear and readily understood by those who know the technique of procedure and even by the well-read layman.

Research starts with a question mark. It becomes scientific research when the question . . . assumes such definition that one may proceed toward an answer along the lines of the accepted canons of critical and quantitative investigation. Thus, . . . whether Johnny, age nine and partially blind, reads better or worse than his sister of eleven, a girl of normal vision, may be of passing interest to parents or to the teacher, but the answer, even though possible through test and measurement, is hardly of scientific interest: it is too immediate and too obvious. A study in the technique of "blind" reading, the physical movements, perceptions of differences including two-point threshold, memory factors and image formation, becomes preeminently scientific under proper procedure and not the less so because it is pressingly practical.

Research is then only a well defined way of seeking the answer to properly formulated questions, the validifying of the question being itself essential to research. [It] is more urgent in work with the visually defective than in schools and classes for those of normal vision [because:]

  1. The education of the blind and partially blind requires special technique based on the muscle and skin senses, or based partially on these senses: the "normal" education is overwhelmingly visual. . . . Until we search adequately into the differences thus presented, we shall all, blind and seeing alike, go blindly about the education of the blind.
  2. There is no "blind world" and the blind or partially blind person must adapt himself or be adapted to a world (socially and economically) of the seeing. . . .
  3. Blindness and partial blindness so often involve complications, physical and mental, which are not part and parcel of the blindness but which must be segregated and understood if blind children and youths are to be dealt with effectively from the educational point of view.
  4. We do not know yet concerning any young humans, least of all our visually handicapped children and young people, what part is played in their mental and moral growth by controllable factors, notably those of physical environment, diet, sleep, effects of light and heat and the like, but even more by such subtle ones as "atmosphere" in the spiritual sense, whether of beauty, harmony, encouragement, or of repression, goading, nagging:--we don't know, for instance, just where to withhold the helping hand and let the youngster go on alone, at the risk perhaps of a fall.
  5. There is no blindness but blindnesses of many kinds and in varying degrees and we must search into differences as well as similarities and vary procedures as well as treat comparable groups with certain likenesses of method and content.

Some things we do excellently well. Somehow we sort of bungle through, even with the things we do ill. But how splendidly effective we might be if we only knew what may be known by diligent search. And how much might be known if only one-tenth of the resources of schools and classes were devoted to scientific research into the things we ought to know and must know. . . .

Beginnings are being made. The pioneering work of Irwin and Hayes has been splendid. Some of the work accomplished in Germany and in France stands high in the general field of research. . . . Even Heller's early work taking rank as truly scientific; and some fine synthesis has been accomplished; but the time has come for a far-reaching ­co-­operation and a plan of integration that will bring all individual researches together and make each contribute to a larger and more comprehensive whole. . . . Research, to be effective, must be carried on on a national, if not international, scale; and some agency . . . must act as clearing house and integrator.

. . . We may hope from our scheme of research into the behavior and education of our visual defectives some direct light on many points of universal validity. The relation of sense acuity to learning is little enough understood. The logical problem of denotative and connotative values in vocabulary becomes a psychological problem with the blind--for example, just what do color words signify to those totally blind from hirth? Which leads over directly into the problem in social psychology as to just how far convention determines our verbiage and to what extent any person forms his own ideas; just how original our verbalized reactions may be anyway. . . .

No specific method can be out lined for attacking so many and varied problems. The nature of the problem determines the technique. There are excellent handbooks on research procedure, notably the works of Rugg, Thorndike, Starch, Yerkes and Terman in educational research and educational psychology, including statistics as both science and art. . . . Is it too much to hope that our profession will read as largely and fully as possible the existing literature and parallel their reading with specific problem work, submitting both their problems and their results through proper channels to our central clearing house?

Only a small proportion of our teachers and administrative officers are prepared to carry on research except under special expert guidance. It is therefore imperative that trained specialists be made available . . . to each school maintaining classes for the blind and sight-saving classes.

December 1928 - Volume 22, Number 3, What Some of Our Graduates Are Doing, Outlook for the Blind, pp. 41-44.

C. A. Hamilton

Superintendent, New York State School for the Blind

. . . The New York State School for the Blind at Batavia was established by law in 1805. It was opened to pupils at its present location in September 1868. During the sixty years of its existence over 1,700 pupils have lived within its halls. . . . For a number of years after the establishment of the school no formal graduating exercises were held and no diplomas were given. Pupils entered, took what subjects they desired and after receiving, what education they desired or all the school had to offer, they left. Our records show only 101 names of pupils who have been awarded diplomas after completing a regular course and after going through the form of graduating. The first figures which I give pertain to these bona fide graduates only. . . .

Thirty of this number are known to be engaged in [piano] tuning. Our list of tuners outnumbers those engaged in any other occupation and, being limited to males alone, constitutes considerably more than one fifth of our male graduates. . . . A close second to our number of tuners is the number of those engaged in business, twenty-six in all. In this group I have included not only those who are the proprietors or managers of business plants but those who are acting as agents, salesmen, operators of stands; in fact all those who require some amount of capital for their operations. This class has largely increased during the past ten years, due . . . to the activities of the New York State Commission for the Blind. . . .

Next in number comes those engaged in various lines of teaching. These total twenty includes graduates teaching in schools for the blind, home teachers for commissions for the blind, music teachers, and public school teachers. Teaching seems to be a profession which attracts many of our pupils, but we must admit that the openings for blind teachers are very rare outside of schools and organizations for the blind. Of our five graduates who are engaged in public school work, only one is totally blind. The other four have a certain amount of vision without which it is doubtful if any of them could have secured the positions which they now hold. Prospective teachers should realize in advance that their opportunities for employment are extremely limited, except among the blind themselves. . . .

Nine graduates are employed in some capacity by local associations for the blind. Graduates engaged in the practice of law number six. With one exception they are totally blind. This profession seems to attract a certain number of our brainiest boys. . . . Our graduates number five practicing osteopaths and three professional masseuses. Two of the osteopaths have partial sight. The other six mentioned are totally sightless. . . .

Four of our recent graduates are in institutions of higher learning and naturally their usefulness and success in the world can only be estimated at the present time. Three [graduates] are known to be filling positions as dictaphone operators together with three non-graduates. . . . There are only two who we feel should be classed as professional musicians, and also only two who are making a success in the manufacture of brooms. Perhaps they should be included in our list of businessmen. Most of our pupils who are making a living out of their musical ability are doing it by means of teaching music. So far as we have any record, only two of our actual graduates are inmates of charitable institutions.

The summing of the above figures leaves approximately twenty who are more or less engaged in some kind of work, and twenty-seven concerning whom we possess no data whatever. Five of the list are known to have died. The number under miscellaneous includes a number of girls and women who are living at home, some of them doing more or less work for the state commission or some local association, but whose income is probably uncertain. It also includes a few of both sexes who are known to have been employed for short periods of time but who have no permanency of work sufficient to warrant them being given a classification. . . .

The statistics given reveal little that is new, and they can probably be duplicated by many schools for the blind throughout the country. If the facts given have any significance or point to any conclusion, it is that the sightless are engaged in almost as great a variety of occupations as are the sighted and that with the requisite combination of intelligence, persistence and preparation, they may parallel the accomplishments of their sighted friends. These facts should be a source of encouragement both to the blind and to schools for the blind. To the former as they consider that what has been done can be done. To the latter as demonstrating beyond possibility of refutation the value to the blind of an education. . . .

September 1965 - Volume 59, Number 7, What Good Are Statistics?, New Outlook for the Blind, pp. 229-232.

Milton D. Graham

Director, Research and Statistics Department, American Foundation for the Blind

"What good are statistics?" I am often asked. "I get one set of figures on how many people are blind from one person, and another set from another person. Who can give me the right answer?"

Begging the question, I generally say that it is the question, not the answer, that is wrong. I ask "What do you want the answer for?" "Are you asking not only the right question, but the right person for an answer?" "Why do you need a right answer?" And so on.

To say it another way, statistics are a tool--an invaluable tool--for research. They suffer the limitations of research as far as operational programs are concerned, and they suffer the limitations of a tool. Both are intended for specific purposes; they are useful only insofar as they are used for those specific purposes. Indeed, they are less than useful if they are misused.

The role of research is not to be the operational manager of a program for the blind and severely visually impaired or, for that matter, for any operational program, whether it is the Foreign Service of the United States Department of State, or the running of the municipal water works. The proper role of applied research (which addresses itself to problem-solving) is two-fold: it helps to define a problem and it suggests possible solutions. I say suggests most advisedly. When research and research personnel get into operational details they are most generally going beyond their competence, except in those rare instances when the researchers happen to know the day-to-day routine and problems of an operational program. Most researchers do not know these details, which are best left to those who do. The researcher can, however, give the views and suggestions of an informed and interested bystander whose professional competence is in analyzing and defining problem areas and situations. The resulting suggestions and recommendations can be most useful to the operational manager and especially to the program planners . . . [if they] take research and statistics into serious account.

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