2010 A Centennial Year
The New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
By Pamela Gaston, CBVI
In April of 1909, Governor Franklin Fort and the New Jersey State Legislature mandated that an agency be established for the direct purpose “to provide any and all means which shall be deemed feasible for ameliorating the condition of the blind."
The formation of a single agency to administer to the needs of New Jersey's blind population was the culmination of a wave of social conscience that swept the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was in no small part inspired by the advocacy of then, media figure, Helen Keller. As a result, significant strides were made toward equalizing opportunities for people who were blind.
The New Jersey Commission for the Blind was established in 1910 under the leadership of Lydia Young Hayes, a teacher of the blind who’d lost her vision due to an injury at the age of nine. The agency’s first assignment was to compile a registry of the state's blind residents. By the end of the year 750 people living as far north as Bergen County and as far south as Cape May were registered by Commission staff.
Also during that first year, Miss Hayes and another teacher, Janet Paterson, established the state's first integrated classes for blind and sighted students within the Newark school system. These classes were based on a very innovative philosophy that integrated classes provided blind students with the educational tools and exposure necessary for a smooth assimilation into society.
Throughout 2010, the Commission will commemorate the centennial anniversary by sharing in a variety of events and activities presented by groups and organizations working cooperatively with the Commission to address the needs, issues and concerns of New Jersey’s blind and visually impaired residents. The aforementioned events and activities will be held in addition to Blindness Awareness Month activities during October 2010.
The Concordia School for the Blind at St. Joseph’s, The Little Rock Foundation, The State Library Talking Book and Braille Center, and the NJ Foundation for the Blind are just a few organizations planning events in recognition of the 100th anniversary.