The Organized Blind Movement in Washington State

In the 1920s blind people in this state felt that the only way that they could gain recognition for their special needs was to organize. Groups were formed in Spokane, Vancouver, Everett, and Seattle.
By the middle 1930s it became apparent that blind people needed a larger voice to advocate for such things as library services, maintenance of the state school for the blind, and a raise in public assistance. In 1935 the Washington State Association of the Blind (WSAB) formed with three chapters: Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma. The group grew larger with the addition of groups in Everett and Yakima.
In the early 1940s, The National Federation of the Blind was founded. In 1941 WSAB joined this organization. Eleven years later, the Washington State Association of the Blind incorporated doing business in our state. More chapters joined WSAB from Wenatchee, Clarkston, Thurston County, and another group in Yakima. By the middle of the decade, the WSAB began producing its own magazine called ‘The White Cane.’
In the early 1960s, the national organization split creating the American Council of the Blind. The Wenatchee group withdrew, but two more chapters were added from Grays Harbor and Vancouver. In 1969 the WSAB president asked the national organization to assist the state in recruiting younger people, since the average age of a WSAB member was pretty high. After a reorganizing effort, a youth group was created to attract a new generation of members.
In 1970 the youth group dissolved because its leaders were elected to offices in the state organization. The WSAB was instrumental in the passage of a major civil rights bill for blind and visually impaired people in this state. The White Cane bill is still a state law over 40 years later. The WSAB continued until 1972 when its name was changed.
In 1971 a small group of blind people felt that another organization was needed to present another view and voice for the blind of the state. An organizing meeting was held at the Roosevelt hotel in Seattle and the Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) formed in King County. It incorporated doing business in Washington State in 1972. WCB affiliated with the young American Council of the Blind. During the next 19 years, the WCB added chapters in Vancouver, Walla Walla and on the Olympic Peninsula and produced its own internal news bulletin. The WCB stayed relatively small, but its members will tell you that it had a family environment.
The Washington State Association of the Blind changed its name to the National Federation of the Blind of Washington (NFBW) in 1974. For nine years it served as an activist voice for the blind of Washington. The NFBW succeeded in getting legislation passed allowing blind people to serve on juries and to obtain car insurance without being charged a higher rate. The NFBW also succeeded in getting the Washington State Legislature to establish an independent rehabilitation agency, separate from the general rehabilitation agency. During this time chapters from the Tri-Cities and Olympia were added. In 1979 the state relationship with its national organization became strained to the point that the NFBW was expelled from NFB.
After its expulsion, the state organization became the United Blind of Washington State (UBWS). For 10 plus years the organization maintained its posture as a purpose driven voice for blind people. Chapters were added in Walla Walla and Bellingham. UBWS continued to publish Newsline quarterly. Having no national organization to look to for direction, the UBWS wasn’t as active as in the 1970s. In 1988, UBWS and WCB initiated merger talks.
A reorganized affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind was established in Seattle in 1980. This organization has remained an affiliate of the NFB. NFBW is the voice of NFB within the state of Washington. NFBW added chapters in North King County, South Snohomish, Vancouver, and the Inland Empire.
After talks between the Washington Council of the Blind and the United Blind of Washington State, a special convention was called. Members of the two organizations voted to merge. The new organization kept the name Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) along with its affiliation with the American Council of the Blind. From the merger to the present, its presidents have been Sue Ammeter, Sharon Keeran, Sue Ammeter, Berl Colley, Cindy Van Winkle, Denise Colley, and Cindy Van Winkle. The merged organization succeeded in maintaining its family environment while embracing the purpose driven activism of the UBWS.
WCB worked on the passage of the Braille Rights bill in the middle 1990s. WCB kept the White Cane Law from being watered down with non-blindness clauses. WCB helped pass state laws giving disabled people the ability to vote independently. WCB served as a willing advocate for blind and visually impaired individuals who have needed financial or legal help.
Since the merger, new chapters have been added in Olympia, Jefferson County, Everett, Yakima, South King County, and in Southwest Washington. The Bremerton chapter grew to the point that it split off a new chapter in Port Orchard. The Southwest Washington chapter dissolved, but was reformed in 2021 when its president relocated to Vancouver from Snohomish County. Two special interest groups have joined the WCB: Guide Dog Users of Washington State, and WCB Diabetics. In 2023, there are 17 chapters in the WCB. WCB’s primary focuses are in the areas of education and advocacy.
The organization doesn’t forget to have fun, as it sponsors chapter picnics, trips to concerts, and other fun events. The WCB is a strong advocate for separate services for blind and visually impaired people through the Department of Services for the Blind. It supports the efforts of the Washington State School for the Blind to provide the highest quality education for blind and visually impaired youth through out the state. The WCB has also been an advocate for the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library. The Washington Council of the Blind has proven that an organized, collective voice is the most effective way to protect the rights of blind and visually impaired Washingtonians.
Last updated July 22, 2023