Life for the blind has always
been fraught with obstacles that we who can see will never be able to fully appreciate.
Society has come a long way in accommodating the special needs of those with no
or severely reduced eyesight. Recent news stories report of experiments with electronic
implants that use
implants set into the eye and couple somehow with the retina to
send image information to the person's brain. While in no way close to being able
to be called sight, it has at least allowed the guy or girl with training to detect
and avoid obstacles based on changes in scenery shading. We are probably a century
away from true bionic vision. Incremental improvements will thankfully improve the
lives of our thusly challenged brethren.
This article from a 1947 edition of Radio News magazine reports on efforts
made by the
New York Institute for the Educations of the Blind to make amateur
radio accessible to interested students. It is no small accomplishment to learn
the material and apply electronics and communications principles with your eyesight,
so I have a great admiration for those who master the science with a handicap. Can
you imagine learning to solder by 'touch?" The
American Amateur Radio League (ARRL) has a collection of resources
for sight impaired enthusiasts.
Incidentally, when visiting St. Augustine, FL, a few years ago, Melanie and I
visited the Florida School
for the Deaf and Blind where, amongst other notable Americans, musician Ray
Charles was a student.
Hands That See: NY Institute for the Blind Prepares Students for
N. Y. Institute for the Blind prepares students for their ham
The students' first contact with radio is in the Science Room where the instructor
is shown teaching them theory of electricity and magnetism. Standard textbooks are
used and classroom notes are taken, in Braille, on the machines shown.
An hour's ride from downtown Manhattan, on picturesque Pelham Parkway, is the
New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. Founded in 1831, the school has
grown with great strides, so that today, through the efforts of a former student,
it proudly boasts of a modern, topnotch radio section. Happily responsible for the
rapid growth and establishment of this phase of the school's curriculum is that
former student, who is now instructor of the radio department. The sequence of instruction,
methods of demonstration, and a myriad of lesser problems had to be overcome, for
Robert W. Gunderson had no pattern or example to follow except that of determination
to succeed at his task.
Now after 15 years of activity, requiring many evenings and weekends of hard
work, students go through the radio section of the Institute at the rate of 10 per
year. Theory naturally comes first, but instructional technique must necessarily
be different. The blind literally "see" with their ears and sensitive fingers, so
textbook data and instruction manuals must be set in Braille, from whence it is
translated orally by the teacher. Small machines, called Braille Writers, and faintly
resembling a typewriter, are often used for classroom note work.
Combination circuit and Braille demonstration board is the means
by which the theory is applied to actual practice. This system is analogous to the
well-known block diagram in radio.
The next, and natural, step is to learn construction techniques.
Here the instructor helps the student learn the proper handling of the soldering
iron for wiring a radio chassis.
With theory and construction techniques mastered, the students
are instructed in the operation of the school's high fidelity audio network. While
the instructor supervises, Vito cleans the culling table and Al maintains the proper
level on unit.
After winning his coveted ham license, this senior student goes
on the air with a two-meter portable rig which he built.
From theory classes, the student studies circuit applications with the demonstration
boards designed and built by the instructor, and patterned after the well-known
Dynamic Demonstration Board. Using these enlarged, Brailled, block diagrams, the
student learns the component parts and their placement in circuits. Actual practice
is soon begun, and students begin learning the proper handling of tools and the
correct construction techniques. Starting first with simple breadboard receivers
or amplifiers, they soon advance to building finished units that look and operate
as well as any commercial product.
If the student hasn't been bitten by the "ham" bug from the beginning, he certainly
has by now, so concurrent code instruction and practice is interspersed throughout
the course. By the time the boys (and an occasional girl) are well up on theory,
they also possess a code proficiency high enough, or better, to meet license requirements,
and are soon heading for the FCC offices.
By now every student has been bitten by the urge to become a
"ham." In the textbook translated to Braille, our student studies the frequency
control of a transmitter by use of a crystal. Note the Braille frequency markings
on the crystal.
Keynoting the entire course is the practical application of the basic radio instruction
absorbed by the student. The school's high fidelity audio system which serves the
auditorium and playgrounds is an outstanding example of this application. With this
system, programs are recorded for future presentation to assemblies, recordings
by the student choral group are made for study and analysis, and general sound coverage
is given the school for regular or extra-curricular activities.
Keeping the station log is also done in Braille. The sheets are
shellacked to retain the raised dots and then bound into a permanent form. Operator
is shown checking time for entry.
Bob Gunderson's own call, W2JIO (Jump In the Ocean), is the basis for the "shack"
in the school's administration building, where many of the boys are indoctrinated
in the pounding of brass and talking one's self hoarse. The fellows are proud of
their work at the school, especially Bob, for here, tomorrow's citizens are training
today to become independent, self-sufficient members of an honorable profession
and a happy fraternity.
A fine example of the excellent workmanship seen at the school
is the instructor's pet transmitter. The rig was built entirely by Mr. Gunderson,
including drilling of chassis and panels.
Posted July 27, 2022
(updated from original post on