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Seeking Our History

Editor's Note: John Rae is the treasurer of the Toronto Chapter. He has been active in the Human Rights Movement for Blind People for many years. This article reminds all of us that we operate in a context. We build upon the work of those who have gone before and lay the foundation for those who come after. Here is John Rae's thought-provoking article.

Many social movements have gained much strength and perspective from a study of their group's history. As blind persons, we have a history but, to date, it remains under-documented and under-reflected in the history books. That fact alone makes a disturbing statement.

In October, 1996, ninety-two individuals from fifteen nations in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia gathered in Copenhagan, Denmark, for the first-ever International Conference on the Blind. This four-day conference included presentations and tours of relevant sites in the Copenhagan area, including a 19th-century building which formed the original school for the blind.

At the conclusion of the conference, a resolution was adopted that calls upon the World Blind Union and its seven Regional Unions "to increase their awareness of the history of blind people, and for the sake of present and coming generations to preserve documents and artifacts." The resolution also urges national organizations to encourage their governments to support research in this area, to establish national museums of the blind, and to encourage universities to undertake research in this important field.

It is hoped that a second International Conference on the Blind will take place in Paris, France, in 1998. This would provide an opportunity to build upon the work of the 1996 conference and would afford participants an excellent opportunity to visit Louis Braille's birthplace. A planning committee composed of Mr. Jorgen Eckmann of Denmark, Mr. Martin Mellor of the United States, and Mr. Jean Desorneaux of France, has been formed to organize this follow-up conference.

For further information, contact Martin Mellor, Editor, The Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind, 80 - 8th Avenue, Room 1304, New York, NY 10011 Telephone: (212) 242-0263.

While we know that change is inevitable, not all change is positive. It is important that we learn about our history to gain strength from past accomplishments and to prevent repeating past mistakes.