Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for Blind has spent nearly a century ensuring that individuals who are blind or visually impaired have access to the information, technology, education, and legal resources they need to live independent and productive lives. From our earliest days, we have amplified the voices of people with vision loss, and have been the engine of advancement and opportunity for every person affected by blindness or vision loss.
Early Leaders: M.C. Migel and Helen Keller
AFB was formed through the support of M.C. Migel, a philanthropist who wanted to help the large number of veterans blinded in World War I. Under his leadership, AFB began its mission to:
- provide a national clearinghouse for information about vision loss
- create a forum for blindness service professionals
- generate new directions for research
- represent the needs of people with vision loss in the creation of public policy
Helen Keller—the world-famous author, activist, and advocate—helped to raise AFB's profile when she began working with the organization in 1924. In addition to serving as AFB's counselor on national and international relations, she made countless speeches and appearances at home and in more than 39 countries around the world on behalf of the organization. (Read one of Keller's addresses to Congress.) Keller remained active with AFB until her death in 1968, by which time she had radically changed perceptions of blindness and left a rich legacy upon which AFB continues to expand.
Connecting People with Vision Loss to Information
Since its earliest days, AFB has excelled at connecting people to the information and resources they need. Early achievements include:
- Leading the effort to standardize the English braille code
- Publishing AFB's Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons, which remains the most convenient, comprehensive, and reliable source of information on vision loss available
- Establishing AFB Press, the largest publisher of scholarly works and research for vision loss service professionals.
Innovating with Assistive and Accessible Technology
Technology plays a crucial role in keeping the vision loss community informed and connected. We have led the effort to make technology available and accessible to people with vision loss for over 90 years.
In its first decades, AFB pioneered many advancements in assistive technology—including the hugely successful Talking Book program, which provided audio books for millions of people with blindness and low vision.
AFB has also designed, manufactured, and sold numerous assistive technology products, such as braille writers, magnifiers, and audio blood pressure monitors.
Today, we concentrate on ensuring that all technology—especially digital technology—is accessible to everyone, whether blind, low-vision, or sighted. Our efforts include:
- Working with technology manufacturers at the design stage to develop products that are fully accessible.
- Advocating "universal design" practices among technology producers
- Providing consumer reviews, ratings, and recommendations of technology products via AccessWorld
Advocating for Rights and Opportunities
AFB is a powerful voice in Washington, DC on issues that affect the vision loss community. We make sure that policymakers hear and understand the perspective of blind and visually impaired people, and we advocate for legislation that will improve the lives of millions of Americans who are or will be affected by vision loss. Our work in Washington includes:
- Advocating for and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990
- Ensuring the accessibility of consumer electronics, home health appliances, and communication devices
- Advancing education policy for children with vision loss
- Supporting policies that benefit seniors with vision loss, such as accessible prescription labeling
Advancing Toward the Future
AFB celebrated 90 years of achievement in 2011, but our work is not done. Guided by our leadership, we are continuing the mission set forth by M.C. Migel, and advanced by passionate supporters like Helen Keller. As always, we strive to expand possibilities for people with vision loss—in work, communication, technology, and all spheres of life. Our future success depends on the active support of people like you. Find out how you can get involved with AFB.