THE UNSEEN MINORITY: A Social History of Blindness in America by Frances A. Koestler

THE UNSEEN MINORITY: A Social History of Blindness in America

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An extremely long, often rather dim, study of American institutions and methods for assisting the blind. In addition to the American Foundation for the Blind, begun in 1921, which sponsored this book, Koestler charts innumerable foundations, schools, and other private and public bodies, along with their faction fights. The debates--even the general question of home versus school ""training""--are not rendered in a way to arouse partisanship. Most absorbing are details on the refinement of reading substitutes and the invention of special gadgets and techniques (like the laser cane). Koestler is particularly interested in mobility, which she rates the greatest loss suffered by the blind, though one might think most people would rather be physically hindered than lose faces, landscapes and books. The special problems of children--some handicapped as well as blind--are discussed with some fresh reconsideration of Helen Keller's and Anne Sullivan's achievements. On the subject of vocational education and placement, the book notes that many blind workshops were and are ""exploitative"" but gives no specifics--although Koestler is excessively fond of statistics in general. She also endorses the view that too many blind students are now in college instead of more ""practical"" locations. The sections on the men blinded in the world wars are absorbing, probably because the problems of individuals blinded after infancy are easier to identify with. Overall, however, the book lacks emotional impact--at the end, Koestler briefly alludes to what still needs to be done and how expensive it is, instead of drawing out the possibilities indicated by the scientific work she has described, and the horrors doubtless undergone by aged and poor blind people in particular. The question also arises of how the blind themselves can benefit, even on ""talking books,"" from such a long, dry exercise. Yet the book is the only survey of its kind and, as such, a mandatory reference.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1975
Publisher: McKay