11/08/2019
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Helen Keller with a group of veterans from World War I, 1919.

The American Foundation for the Blind was founded in 1921 to advocate for soldiers blinded during World War I. The organization was formed with the support of M.C. Migel, a philanthropist who wanted to help the large number of veterans who lost their sight in the war. Under his leadership, AFB began its mission to:

  • provide a national clearinghouse for information about vision loss
  • create a forum for blindness service professionals
  • generate new directions for research
  • represent the needs of people with vision loss in the creation of public policy

From our earliest days, we led the nation in demanding legislative change and inclusion for people with vision loss. We created Talking Books to help the veterans who had not yet fully mastered braille.

We advocated for the creation of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, to further improve access to literature and information.

When Helen Keller joined AFB in 1924, she became a leading advocate for the men injured and maimed not only during World War I, but also World War II; and the Korean War.

Between 1944 and 1946 alone, Keller visited over 90 military hospitals. What she saw motivated her to become a powerful advocate for wounded servicemen. She successfully lobbied state and federal agencies demanding that rehabilitation centers be created and accommodations implemented for those who fought on behalf of their country.

Following World War II, the Veterans Administration asked AFB to help set up its rehabilitation program for blinded soldiers. Migel, then AFB's President and CEO, gave what was at that time a large donation of $10,000 towards the establishment of the Blinded Veterans Association.

In 1958, veteran Irvin Phillip Schloss, who had been blinded in battle during World War II, joined AFB. He began working on legislation in Washington, D.C., and served throughout the 1970s and 1980s as AFB's government relations director. Schloss was a trailblazer at a time when there were few advocates for people with disabilities on Capitol Hill, let alone one who was blind. Schloss testified repeatedly to Congress and was influential in securing passage of such legislation as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1975.

Through VisionAware, AFB created resources for veterans who have lost their sight, including an overview of blind rehabilitation services available from the Veterans Health Administration.

Today and every day, AFB honors our military veterans for their service, and affirms our commitment to creating a world of no limits for people with vision loss through research, education, advocacy, and partnerships. Thank you to our veterans and to all the soldiers still serving our country, at home and abroad.

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