Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

The First Blind Rehabilitation Center for Veterans Celebrates 75th Anniversary

by B. E. Lewis, RDPFS Intern:

This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital’s Central Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC), the first blind rehabilitation center to be established by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Since that facility opened on July 4, 1948, the goal of BRCs has been to facilitate ongoing training for blind veterans, first with a model program at Hines VA Hospital and now totaling 13 inpatient blind rehabilitation centers across the nation. These centers provide in-depth intensive and supportive care to restore the abilities of veterans and active military personnel to “achieve their independence, support their families, care for their homes, and integrate into their communities.” Russell C. Williams, a blinded World War II veteran and the center’s first chief, is credited with developing innovative programs and practices which helped build the foundation for the modern rehabilitation of individuals who are visually impaired, from developing touch recognition of everyday objects, to improving the form and function of the long white cane. Hines VA’s BRC continues to develop innovative techniques and use cutting-edge technologies. Today’s center enrolls 34 veterans in a four- to six-week inpatient course. This modern facility features practical skills areas, a woodworking shop, arts and metal-working areas, and independent living apartments to help veterans continue a full, self-sufficient life after completing the program. Participants also learn how to operate various technology to meet their needs, such as assisted reading devices, braille reading and writing aids, voice-activated technology, and GPS devices. Since 1948, Hines BRC has trained approximately 10,000 individuals and currently serves approximately 300 annually. It uses video conferencing to reach additional veterans across the country remotely. For an example as well as additional details on the work of the Center, read about Marine Corps Veteran Robert Smith, who credits the facility for saving his life, in the article stating that the Hines VA Center is vision of hope for 75 years. More information on the anniversary and its significance is covered in the VA news release reporting that the Oldest VA Blind Center, white cane perfecter, to celebrate 75th Anniversary and from the Blinded Veterans Association commemoration  on their webpage noting that BVA Recognizes Milestone 75th Anniversary at Hines.