American Foundation for the Blind
The American Foundation for the Blind is an American non-profit organization that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. For more than 80 years, AFB has been at the forefront of advocating for the rights of people who are blind or visually impaired.
AFB, with the support and leadership of M.C. Migel, a philanthropist who was moved to help the large number of veterans blinded in World War I, was formed in 1921 to provide a national clearing house for information about vision loss and a forum for discussion for the dispersed, yet burgeoning, community of blindness service professionals. Made official at the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa, AFB’s founding was also intended to generate new directions for research and represent the needs of people with vision loss in America’s corridors of power.
AFB’s early accomplishments include taking the lead to standardize the English braille code and establishing the first professional publications program for teachers and administrators of programs for people with vision loss. In 1926, AFB’s Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons — marketed as the most convenient, comprehensive, and reliable source of information on vision loss available — first appeared. The fact that the contents of this publication, now in its 27th edition in print and online, have exponentially increased since its inception, shows how far services for people with vision loss have come. Today, AFB continues to conduct trailblazing research and to provide comprehensive information on all aspects of vision loss to the general public. AFB Press is the largest publisher of scholarly works and research for vision loss service professionals.
From its outset, AFB also demonstrated a commitment to enhancing access to information for people with vision loss. In 1933, AFB engineers developed the first long-playing record and player, and set up studios for the recording of talking books. AFB played a major role in persuading the federal government to include talking books in the National Library System for blind people operated by the Library of Congress. Today, through Talking Book Productions, AFB remains the largest American producer of talking books, with state-of-the-art, fully digital recording studios in New York City. AFB has made significant forays into the commercial recording arena as well.
AFB's advocacy efforts have led to the passage of significant legislation for people with vision loss. AFB was instrumental in creating and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and more recently worked on the renewal of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that it contained provisions to meet the specific needs of children with vision loss.
For many years, AFB designed, manufactured and sold products that were made specifically for people with vision loss, such as braille writers, magnifiers and audio blood pressure monitors. Currently, however, AFB devotes its energies to working with technology manufacturers at the design stage to develop products that can be used by everyone — sighted or visually impaired. Especially since the advent of digital technology, AFB believes that working to establish universal design practices among technology producers is the most promising and cost effective option for making all products accessible in the long term.
AFB is the organization to which Helen Keller devoted her life. Keller worked for AFB for more than 40 years, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Talking Books Program, among many others. She remained with AFB until her death in 1968 — lecturing, writing, fundraising, lobbying and providing an example of committed action for the public good. Under the terms of her will, Helen Keller selected AFB as the repository of her papers and memorabilia, which AFB has carefully preserved and arranged in the Helen Keller Archives located in its New York City headquarters.
Louis Braille Bicentennial
January 4, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille's birth. Braille was the Frenchman who invented the raised dot code that bears his name, making it possible for blind and visually impaired people to read and write the same books and correspondence as their sighted counterparts. To commemorate the Louis Braille Bicentennial, AFB created an online gallery that includes pictures of Louis Braille, digitized books, articles, and more. AFB's Bicentennial page also showcases one of the first books printed in braille that was embossed in Paris in 1837, and one of only three copies in the world. Visitors to the gallery can also access digitized copies of "The War of the Dots," a chapter from Robert Irwin's As I Saw It, and The Reading Fingers by Jean Roblin.
AFB's main headquarters is in New York, New York. Other offices include the Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., the AFB Center on Vision Loss in Dallas, Texas, AFB Tech in Huntington, West Virginia, and an office in Atlanta, Georgia.
AFB maintains a strong online presence at www.afb.org. In 2012, AFB further enhanced this presence by adding VisionAware to its family of sites in partnership with the Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation. This site folded in content from AFB's Senior Site, with new information and resources for adults of all ages with vision loss.
VisionAware's goal is to help adults and their family members to cope with age-related eye diseases — a growing public health problem in the United States. According to research on vision problems in Americans over age 40, by the year 2030, rates of vision loss from diseases like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy are expected to double as America's 78 million baby boomers reach retirement age.
VisionAware offers instructional videos and articles describing independent living solutions geared specifically to people with age-related vision loss. The website also connects adults and their families to important resources in their own communities, such as vision loss specialists who can recommend solutions and instruct older adults with vision loss. Content is likewise available for professionals who work with adults with vision loss.
In spring 2008, AFB, along with the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), launched FamilyConnect an online community for parents and other caregivers of children with visual impairments. This site was created to help families connect with each other and to give busy parents, grandparents and other caregivers a place to find the comprehensive resources and support they need, 24 hours a day.
Visitors to FamilyConnect are able to create a personal profile and receive information on news and events geared toward their child's age, eye condition and location. Parents have access to message boards where they can talk to other parents, videos of real-life families, a mother-authored blog, parenting articles, a glossary of eye conditions and links to local resources. They can also find featured sections dedicated to multiple disabilities, technology, education and every age group from infants to teens.
- Koestler, Frances A. The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States. 2d ed. New York: AFB Press, 2004.
- American Foundation for the Blind. Helen Keller Biography (downloaded January 2, 2009).
- Prevent Blindness America. Vision Problems in the U.S.: Prevalence of Adult Vision Impairment and Age-Related Eye Disease in America, update to the 4th ed. Schaumburg, IL: Prevent Blindness America, 2008.
AFB produces a number of publications. Periodicals include, among others:
- AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments
- Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)
AFB's online bookstore is located at http://www.afb.org/store/. and www.nfb.org/