The Randolph-Sheppard Act (1936) authorized the Commission to license qualified blind clients to operate vending stands in federal and federally-sponsored buildings, later broadened to include state, municipal and private buildings. There are presently 63 Commission-sponsored newsstands, snack bar, and coffee shop facilities throughout the state, and three more are planned.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services were formally organized in 1941 under the supervision of Carl Pirrups-Hvarre. These services provided a wider range of training, placement, counseling and guidance to prepare blind clients for employment and to bring them together with the business establishment. This comprehensive rehabilitation service also incorporated diagnostic and restorative procedures to minimize visual handicaps affecting employability.
The Commission has not only been concerned, however, with the issue of vision in the workplace. Prevention and total sight care have always been the primary concern of those dedicated to serving blind and visually impaired people.
From 1911 to 1918, the Commission, concerned citizens and private organizations such as the New Jersey Association for the Blind pooled their resources to secure legislation to promote research into blindness prevention. Eye Health Services were formally established in 1943 under the supervision of the late Emma Howe, and the nation's first traveling eye unit and glaucoma registry were organized. These services have continued to grow over the years and provide clients with the most sophisticated tools available to detect sight-threatening illnesses promote sight conservation and utilize restoration technologies.
Under the direction of Joseph Kohn, (1964-1976), the size and scope of the Commission's staff and service programs more than doubled. Significant expansions occurred in many departments: social services under the supervision of Helen Gromann; the home industries program under the supervision of Dan Sullivan; vocational rehabilitation under the supervision of Irv Kruger, an expanded contract workshop program; the career development program; the opening of the George Meyer Textbook and Materials Center; volunteer programs; preschool screening programs; and many more.
The Commission has also benefited from the individual support of private citizens, beginning with the Churchill Fund in the early 1900's. Sarah Churchill, a prominent Montclair resident who dedicated her time as well as her substantial resources to the Commission and its clients, set a precedent for private patronage which has carried through the years by way of the Welfare and Client Assistance funds and the New Jersey Fund for the Blind.
Caroline Rose Foster, a client of the Commission from 1964 until her death in 1979 at age 102, bequeathed a sizable sum from her estate to promote the Commission's work for blind and visually impaired people. A Morristown resident since 1881, Miss Foster distinguished herself in the social and political life of Morris County and the state. Appropriately, she specified in her will that the funds derived from the interest on her gift to the Commission be used for "the amelioration of the condition of the blind."
Invaluable services have been provided by other people including the volunteers who spent hours transcribing thousands of pages and tapes for the Cornmission's clients.
Other contributions were made by those who served on the Commission's Board of Trustees, such as the late Dr. Joseph Kler, Nathan Rogoff, Joseph Mellilo, and Margot Studer, all long-term members.
Consumer involvement and client responsibility have also played a major role in shaping the Commission's present levels of efficiency. With the establishment of the first Consumer Forum in 1964, under the auspices of Governor Richard Hughes, consumer groups and individual clients began to take active participation in the Commission's decision and policy- making procedures.
The Commission's present efforts and future goals for the next decade are to continue applying all resources towards preventing blindness and providing services that facilitate equality in education, employment and quality of life for New Jersey’s visually impaired residents.
Over 100 years ago the New Jersey State Commission for the Blind, guided by the blind teacher from Massachusetts, Lydia Hayes, established a tradition of dedicated service for blind and visually impaired people which has grown and flourished into a modern, multiservice agency prepared to identify and serve the state's more than 259,000 visually impaired citizens.