Post date: 
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Boats on a river bank in India

A century of NB - RNIB’s flagship publication, NB Online, is this year being recognised for reaching 100 years in circulation. Each month throughout the year, we look in the archives to find out what issues blind and partially sighted people have faced since the magazine started in 1917. 

Inspired by World Sight Day earlier this month, we dug into the New Beacon archives again to find an article exploring sight loss in overseas countries. In October 1992, NB reported on mobility training in Bangalore, the Helen Keller International charity and the Jewish Braille Institute of America.


Full scale formal orientation and mobility training in India started in July 1982 when the National Association for the Blind Mobility training centre was founded at Bangalore. So far more than 400 blind men and women have undergone the residential training in six-week courses run throughout the year.

The bulk of the blind men and women who come for training are drawn from rural India, where the average family income is as low as 500 rupees per month (£25). So for the blind trainee entering the institution it provided him literally with a haven – clean, orderly surroundings, simple but nourishing food and above all the ‘cared for’ attention he gets from the staff. 

During the first week of the training the average student feels wary and apprehensive but slowly these feelings disappear with the attention and care he gets. A lot of his self-esteem is built up and he is helped to look forward to his rehabilitation with fresh hope and energy.

After the six weeks training, the client goes back to his home environment where he practises transferring skills learnt at the centre. His training at the centre on how to assert himself, how to transfer his skills and how to seek public assistance stand him in good stead. In the course of time he has entered the mainstream mostly on his own efforts!

Almost all the clients who have undergone the training at the centre have expressed their preference for the residential training to having domiciliary training in their home environment. They have also had no specific difficulty in operating on their own after leaving the residential centre – nor have they faced difficulties in their respective home environments in being accepted by them as a newly-trained foot traveller.

Helen Keller International

The new executive director of Helen Keller International ( HKI) is John M. Palmer. HKI is the major US private voluntary organisation devoted to combating blindness overseas.

Mr Palmer, 40, an ordained priest of the Episcopal Church, will direct programmes for the prevention of blindness and rehabilitation in 30 developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, plus many in the Caribbean region. HKI has a budget of $4.6 million for the current financial year and a staff of 50 in New York and abroad.

A $9-million, five-year programme to combat two major causes of avoidable blindness – cataract and xerophthalmia – has been set in motion with a $500,000 gift to HKI from the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation.

Xerophthalmia, caused by vitamin A deficiency, robs up to 500,000 children of their sight every year. Correction of the deficiency has taken on even greater importance because of new studies linking vitamin A depletion with child mortality in the third world.

Cataract, the greatest cause of blindness at the other end of the life span, has left 17 million people without vision because surgery is unavailable to them.

Within six months, the funds helped to restore the sight of 2,000 cataract victims in four countries: Peru, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Tanzania.

While operations proceed at ever-increasing rates, cataract experts from the US, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America convened at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, to record the worldwide cataract problem and make recommendations that will lead to major breakthroughs. The objective is reduction in the enormous backlog of cataract-blind people around the globe. 

In addition, special efforts will be made to explore and overcome fear of surgery that many cataract patients harbour. 

The funds have also allowed HKI to begin to make inroads on xerophthalmia in drought-stricken countries of West Africa: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritiana.


The Jewish Braille Institute of America (JBI) has recently announced plans to tape major works of Jewish scholarship to assist blind and physically-handicapped scholars and students. The JBI is seeking rabbis, cantors, teachers and others to undertake readings, which will primarily be in English, with Hebrew, Aramaic or other foreign language references. 

Another service that the JBI is expanding provides recorded materials in Hebrew for blind or visually-impaired children attending religious schools or for listeners in Israel.

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