|A student writes and reads using a Perkins Brailler® in 1964.|
Perkins School for the Blind was founded in 1829 as the first school for the blind in the United States. It has since been a global leader in the education of children who are blind, deafblind and blind with additional impairments. Perkins' programs were born from an ambition to support students to become independent and prepare teachers to be resources for their communities. This philosophy and practice are still alive today on the Perkins campus and are the foundation of programs in over 67 countries.
The Beginnings of Our International Efforts
In the 1920s, Perkins began training teachers of visually impaired students from around the world. This effort evolved into a formal initiative now called the Educational Leadership Program (ELP). This program sponsors promising international leaders to gain first-hand training in the education of children with multiple impairments over an academic year at Perkins. Perkins has regularly supported ELP graduates in developing programs and expanding services in their communities. Each of these connections has broadened our global community, and many have evolved into formal projects. Over the decades, increasing numbers of schools, organizations, governments and individuals worldwide have invited Perkins to collaborate on projects and support new programs for children.
An Important Partnership Propels Perkins' Global Presence
While undertaking a limited number of projects abroad up through the 1980s, we became aware that increased services were greatly needed throughout the world. In many countries, children with blindness and additional disabilities had no educational opportunities at all. We aspired to amplify educational opportunities for these children and youth. We aimed to provide this group with the possibility to cultivate their talents, explore the world, live independently, contribute to their communities and achieve their dreams.
The ability to foster such opportunities became possible in 1989 when the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Perkins School for the Blind commenced upon an ambitious venture—the promotion of a global program that provides quality educational services to children who are deafblind or blind with additional disabilities. Conrad N. Hilton, the famous hotel entrepreneur, was inspired by Hilton Keller's story as a young boy.
|Perkins School for the Blind President Steven Rothstein visits a Perkins International partner school in South Africa.|
Reaching Marginalized Populations Worldwide
Perkins International began by concentrating our efforts on communities where services were minimal or nonexistent, primarily in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe and Eurasia. From the onset, the core of the program was cultivating partnerships with local organizations, schools, government departments, and individuals with a shared enthusiasm for enriching the lives of children with multiple impairments.
During the program's early years, we collaborated primarily with our partners in building awareness of the needs of children who are deafblind or blind with additional impairments. We accomplished this through a variety of training activities for professionals in partner countries. As work progressed, we developed strong working relationships with agencies interested in developing education programs for children.
Valuing the critical role that parents play in the education of their children, we also made a concentrated effort to support the formation of national parent organizations. Our work evolved into creating model education programs that could be used as the foundation for expanding services more broadly in each country. These programs incorporated the development and provision of educational materials appropriate for each community.
In order to support braille literacy, we began providing the Perkins Brailler® and other Perkins Products at subsidized rates to less economically developed countries. All of these initiatives involved collaborating with a broad spectrum of individuals and agencies.
Today this work has expanded to include consultation services at the policy level in many countries, resulting in a healthy array of services. These activities were also catalysts for building networks and coordinating conferences to strategize regionally on how to expand children's educational opportunities. Lasting results have ranged from transforming the lives of children and families in rural and urban communities to developing a strong network of professionals and influencing policymakers.