Perkins School for the Blind: Making education accessible since 1829

Happy August, heartful humans! And to all you parents out there: happy last couple of weeks before your kids start school again! (Cue collective sigh.)

As you shove your way through those back-to-school sales and grudgingly listen to KIDZ BOP Greatest Hits on repeat for a third consecutive day, take a second to appreciate just how lucky you and your family are. No, seriously! While continually listening to a squeaky-clean version of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” may not be your ideal way to spend a Tuesday afternoon, the fact is that if your kids are rocking out in your car, if they’re running around JCPenny wreaking havoc, if they’re pointing at the TV every time their favorite cartoon character appears, they are probably healthy and able-bodied kids.

Nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability—that’s over 64 million people. Today, we want to focus on the almost 4 million Americans and 285 million people worldwide that struggle with some form of visual impairment.

More than 46 million children and young adults around the world are visually impaired, but fewer than one in 10 goes to school. In the United States, the unemployment rate among people with a visual impairment is twice the rate of those without a disability. People who are blind or visually impaired also frequently find themselves excluded from society—both socially and professionally—making it extremely challenging for them to achieve independence.

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Toddler and woman playing with toy drum.

Fortunately, there is Perkins School for the Blind, an organization that is helping individuals who are blind, deafblind or visually impaired become productive and engaged citizens. To this end, they customize education programs for every student according to their needs and abilities, seize every opportunity to prepare students for life beyond the classroom, and blend appropriate assistive technology into students’ daily living and learning habits—teaching them how to compensate for vision loss and function in a world designed for those with sight.

What’s the story?

Founded in 1829, Perkins is the first school established for the blind in the United States. More than 175 years ago, Perkins’ founders were committed to opening the doors to education, literacy and independence for people who are blind and deafblind.

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Helen Keller and young girl.

Samuel Gridley Howe, the first director of the Perkins School for the Blind, taught his students to see the world using the eyes in their fingertips. His mission was to adapt all educational methods to this new way of learning. Howe devised his own system for printing and reading, and began publishing books on campus. In addition to producing tactile books, the Howe Press perfected the mechanical braille typewriter. Today, the Perkins Brailler is considered the pen and pencil for people who are blind all over the world.

The legacies of Laura Bridgman, Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller can be felt everywhere on campus. Perkins’ best-known student, Helen Keller, flourished while studying there and is highly regarded around the world for her efforts to assure equal benefits and full rights for all people, particularly those with disabilities.

Areas of focus

Perkins consists of five distinct lines of business that collaborate on local, national and global levels that work together every day to change what it means to be blind.

Perkins School for the Blind serves approximately 200 students on campus, and operates as the headquarters for our Community Services programs including itinerant services, independence courses for public school students, evaluations and assessments for communities, and training for professionals.

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Young boy learning using foam numbers.

Perkins International impacts the lives of thousands of children, families, educators and professionals every year. Perkins International works to develop sustainable capacity in 67 countries through local, on-the-ground partnerships, and provides resources, training and advocacy to improve the lives of the 4.5 million children around the world without access to education due to blindness. It also works to strengthen disability policies in those countries. Perkins International has reached 78% more children, adults, educators and caregivers around the world in the last six years.

Perkins Solutions provides innovative assistive technology products and consulting services to people, organizations and governments around the world to empower people who are blind or visually impaired to reach their full potential. Product offerings range from the classic mechanical Perkins Brailler to cutting-edge tools such as the LightAide. More than 23,000 people are living more independently thanks to assistive technology from Perkins Solutions.

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Young girl using a Perkins braille typewriter with an adult woman next to her.

Perkins eLearning is an online portal designed to provide resources and support to anyone, anywhere, in the field of blindness education. Perkins eLearning leverages their reputation as a teacher of teachers by offering high-quality webcasts and webinars on a variety of topics. They also provide professional development and graduate level credits to educators through online workshops. A recent grant from the Gates Foundation for Perkins eLearning is providing financial support for this critical sharing of resources.

Perkins Library circulates more than 530,000 items in braille, audio, electronic and large print formats to about 28,000 patrons in the U.S. The Library has served patrons since 1835 and is one of the oldest accessibility services in the country.

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Woman holding a girl who is smiling and waving to the camera.
How to get involved

There are plenty of ways to support this impactful organization! You can:

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