The Early Years

From the start, our aim was help visually-impaired people to lead lives as rich and fulfilling as possible. Originally, the charity was called the Devon County Association for the Welfare of the Blind. Though the word ‘welfare’ was dropped in 1962, the welfare and wellbeing of blind people in Devon remained the goal.

Initially, the charity employed five ‘home teachers’ who covered the county, so that ‘all the blind in the county who are able and willing to do so can, in their own homes, receive instruction and help in reading embossed type and in simple handicrafts’. These included knitting, rug-making and basketwork and enabled blind people to enjoy the activities for their own sake as well as gaining an income from selling the products.

In 1930, the charity purchased two Austin Sevens for two of the home teachers to use. By 1932, the charity was able to report that there were now 6 home teachers. Between them they had made 9424 visits during the year and given 504 handicraft lessons. Delightfully, the charity was able to announce in its Annual Report in 1937 that ‘all teachers shall have the privileges of membership of the AA’. The home teacher service reached a peak in the mid-1960s, with 10 home teachers employed. At the same time a pilot voluntary visiting service was introduced in Exmouth, with volunteers helping blind people with shopping, letter-writing and so forth. This service lapsed in the mid-20th-century but was re-instigated in 2008, with new pilot schemes in Torbay and Mid-Devon, and will hopefully be expanded across other areas of Devon in the future.

As well as home visiting, the DCAB provided a number of other services during the 1920s and 30s. One significant one was the provision of wireless licences, which the charity distributed to blind people from 1927 on behalf of Devon County Council. Wireless made a huge difference to the quality of life of blind people isolated in their homes. A fund, administered by the National Institute for the Blind on behalf of the Daily Express, unfortunately allowed the purchase of crystal sets only, which the DCAB reported ‘are practically useless in Devonshire! Nonetheless, by 1930 a total of 189 free licences had been issued and a list of 221 more blind people sent to the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, ‘hoping the necessary valve sets will be forthcoming’. This scheme continued over many years.

Financial assistance for blind people living in their own homes was another service that DCAB provided on behalf of the County Council. It was introduced in the mid-1930s, distributed directly to the blind by volunteer almoners, and continued for a number of years. In 1937, each blind person in receipt of this domiciliary assistance was given a gift of half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) on the occasion of the Coronation of King George VI.