Low Vision News

For low vision specialists and those who consult them

Conference report…from 1949

I was browsing in a second hand bookshop recently and found the proceedings of the ‘International Conference of Workers for the Blind’ held in Oxford, England in 1949. It’s fascinating.

First, the welcome addresses included greetings from Harry Truman, Clement Atlee and Helen Keller, and the united nations had considerable representation. Welfare of ‘the blind’ was of course a very political issue at this time as so many people were visually impaired as a consequence of the second world war.

One of the major resolutions of this conference was the standardisation of blind registration around the world, to recommend that every country has ‘a definition of blindness, to include both the totally blind and all other persons suffering from such defect of vision that they also require special education or special assistance to save them from destitution, and to enable them to share in the economic and cultural life of the nation’ and that a register of blind people is kept. It was also suggested that an international definition of blindness should be established, which has still not been adopted (although most countries have very similar criteria).

I was interested to see that there was considerable debate over whether registration should be compulsory, with a majority of delegates favouring this. I am not aware of any countries which have compulsory registration today as the idea of labelling people without their consent is not liked. Of course, many benefits are only conferred on those who are registered.

Not every resolution was successful: the suggestion that ‘the neutral auxilliary language of Esperanto be used internationally in work relating to the blind’ does not seem to have been widely adopted (perhaps unfortunately!).

Whilst conferences today would not make so many references to ‘the blind’ as these minutes do, many of the themes and discussions are just as relevant today as they were 61 years ago. And the report that a river cruise was ‘unfortunately marred by heavy rain’ isn’t unusual for a meeting held in August in the UK…

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