When we started in 1859 as the ‘Society for Promoting Reading among the Blind’, we taught blind people to read the Bible using a type called MOON. In that year:
• Queen Victoria was on the throne.
• 250,000 people lived in Glasgow.
• Life expectancy was approximately 30 for men and 32 for women.
• Blind people were among the poorest in the city.
• Braille had been invented.
• The slave trade was still making money for Glasgow’s ‘tobacco lords’ and funding a huge programme of building libraries, museums and more.
• David Livingtone had recently ‘discovered’ the Victoria Falls.
• Gas lamps lit the city (there were no electric street lights until 1893).
• Telephones, the NHS and welfare benefits had not been invented.
The big event of the year (other than us starting up as the ‘Society for Promoting Reading among the Blind’) was the opening of the Loch Katrine scheme. This brought clean water from the Trossachs to Glasgow.
It was the great public health advance of the time. The cleaner water and improved sewage systems cut infection and disease (often associated with blindness).
Serious typhus epidemics in 1837 and 1847 and the first cholera outbreak in Scotland in 1832 killed 10,000 people. Between the 1830s and the late 1850s, death rates rose to peaks not seen since the 17th century.
• We change our name three times, firstly to ‘The Glasgow Mission to the Blind’ then to ‘The Glasgow Mission to the Outdoor Blind’ (because we helped people who did not live in the Blind Asylum) and then ‘The Mission to the Outdoor Blind for Glasgow and the West of Scotland’.
• Our Ladies Auxiliary Committee begins to support blind women, mainly by teaching them to knit.
• We begin awarding grants for training blind people to ‘increase income and self-respect’ – in 1887 for example we helped 19 people to start up small businesses.
• We open the first reading club in Glasgow’s East End (39 ‘ladies’ had already copied out suitable books for people to read).
The Education (Scotland) Act includes a clause drafted by our president so that blind and seeing children are educated together.
First successful telephone call.
Education (Scotland) Act extended to make schooling compulsory for blind children aged 5 to 10.
HMS Glasgow launched on the Clyde at Govan.
25,000 households in Glasgow refuse to pay rent and hundreds of people turn out to stop evictions.
• We open more reading clubs in Glasgow and also Paisley, Greenock and Kilmarnock.
• We give out ‘wireless sets’ (radios) to ‘invalid blind persons of good character’; 100 sets in 1925 alone.
• We appoint home teachers to visit people in their homes and teach Braille, mobility, household tasks and much more (the forerunner of local authority social workers or mobility officers).
• Some parts of our work stop because of the war but other work increases because of the many people blinded by the war.
• The ‘white cane’ is introduced.
A massive rally is held in George Square. Around 90,000 men and women turn out to support the campaign for a 40-hour week and better conditions for workers. The Red Flag is raised and the government sends in tanks and soldiers because it fears that the protests will turn to revolution.
Blind Persons Act requires councils to look after the welfare of blind people and reduces retirement age of blind people from 70 to 50.
The Blind Persons Facilities Act introduces free wireless licences for people who are registered blind.
WW2 begins and 313 blind people are evacuated from Glasgow.
• We change our name for the fourth time to become ‘The Society for the Blind in Glasgow and the West of Scotland’; and then for a fifth to ‘The Glasgow and West of Scotland Society for the Blind’.
• Political activist Helen Keller visits Glasgow and comes on our summer excursion.
• We provide funds to help set up Playback magazine, which is still going strong.
• Guide dogs for blind people are introduced.
National Health Service is set up.
The last tram runs in Glasgow (link to video on YouTube).
The last trolley bus (‘silent death’) runs.
First person walks on the moon.
Incapacity Benefit is introduced.
First email sent.
Local authorities become responsible for supporting the ‘visually handicapped’. Strathclyde Regional Council takes over teaching and welfare services, leasing our property on St Vincent Street.
Margaret Thatcher becomes prime minister.
Blind and partially sighted people qualify for severe disablement allowance.
WW3 (world wide web) is invented.
Disability Discrimination Act is introduced.
• We change our name again – this time to Visibility.
• We set up our Go! Project.
• We set up our Patient Support Service at Gartnavel Hospital.
• We set up New View© training visually impaired people to read using a technique called eccentric reading.
• We set up our Family Support Service.
• We set up our Echo-location project, a technique using tongue clicking to navigate.
• We set up the Sealladh project, supporting people who have neurological sight difficulties caused by brain injury or stroke.
• We expand by incorporating Dumfries and Galloway Association for the Blind.
• We celebrate 150 years of supporting people with sight loss.
First-generation iPhone released.
Employment and Support Allowance replaces Incapacity Benefit.
Equality Act replaces Disability Discrimination Act.
592,820 people live in Glasgow (more than double since 1859). Life expectancy is 71.6 for men and 78 for women.