The organization that is now known as the Blind Children’s Fund began as an idea in 1972. It was funded by two successive three-year federal grants from 1972-1978. The original organizers were Jane Scandary, a supervisor of special education in the Ingham County Intermediate School District (in Michigan) and program coordinator Sherry Raynor (a special education teacher who had a blind daughter). Their work was later supplemented by the work of Donna Heiner in the last three years.
In 1972, there was little being done by any major organization for pre-school blind and visually impaired children. Many parents of preschoolers were advised to wait until their child started school at a special school for the blind. The organizers worked with the Michigan School for the Blind, the Ingham Intermediate School District, and the Lansing School district to secure a training facility, develop active learning training materials, and helped to develop training techniques that are now considered standard. They also relied upon the research of Dr. Lilli Nielson to help foster the early intervention active learning activities using both specialized equipment as well as everyday objects, such as balls or muffin tins, found in most homes to stimulate active learning. These efforts resulted in a national learning model for “intervention” learning activities to help blind and visually impaired children get ready for school by active learning in their earliest years.
The program went international when it launched a series of symposiums in Israel, Scotland, and Aruba and became known as the International Institute for the Visually Impaired. The program focused on training parents and teachers to help children learn through alternative methods during pre-school years so that they were at — or near — the learning level of their peers when they started school. During these early years when sources of funding were available, BCF also helped to finance a few early learning activities for visually impaired children in several countries.
The International Institute for the Visually Impaired became a 501c(3) non-profit with the IRS in 1978. In 1984 the board of directors changed the name to the Blind Children’s Fund. The organization is still known by that name today.
We gratefully acknowledge the early work of the pioneers in the field of pre-school learning by those whose foundational concepts we cherish. As a result of some of the work they accomplished, there are now many national and international organizations devoted to early learning or national programs that have parental education programs.
At the same time, we acknowledge that the world has changed. When BCF was founded, there was no such thing as the Internet or assistive technology. These resources have multiplied the ability of the blind and visually impaired student to achieve success in a vision-oriented learning environment. At the same time, many schools for the blind have been discontinued or closed down and students are now mostly mainstreamed. This change in educational environments has resulted in extra benefits to students as well as some extra challenges for their teachers.
At the Blind Children’s Fund, we believe that we are not competitors but collaborators in providing information for parents and teachers of blind or visually impaired children. That is the concept behind our clearinghouse website: we take a learning issue and track down resources all over the Internet for your use in becoming both the best parent and best teacher that a visually impaired child can have.