January 16, 2018, Blinded Veterans of New Mexico 

September 9-15, 2017 was Medication Safety Awareness Week. Many and varied agencies, consumer groups, hospitals, pharmacies and medical manufacturers are doing much to promote safety in the use of medications in our country. The Blind History Lady weighs in on this important topic from a historical perspective looking at the attitudes of the sighted and blind from decades past and how those attitudes impacted a blind person’s ability to take control of their own health with confidence.   

With companies such as with En-Vision America, the makers of ScripTalk, we are working to make opportunities to lead a full life better for the blind.   

Through the decades and centuries, were we as blind people less equipped or better at taking the correct medication because we are more careful? Did we mark our medication bottles accurately, tactilely to ensure correct identification? Have the amounts of prescriptions written to all Americans in this century made it harder to ensure as a blind person we are taking the correct meds? To the best of my knowledge, no statistics or reports regarding the blind and medication mix-ups has ever been kept. Biennial reports from many schools for the blind to their state’s Governor and state legislative bodies dating back over 150 years ( a great source of hidden blindness statistics for children and adults) rarely note the health of a blind student or “inmate” that was compromised by the blind person themselves through incorrect medication.   

As The Blind History Lady, I have ran across documentation and many old news articles that tell of medication mishaps that have resulted in blindness to young children who were then sent to the state school for the blind. Parents, living in rural areas, have been left medications by traveling doctors and not told how to use it or the correct doses. Their miss-information resulted in the loss of sight for their children. The same with eye injuries to the young and old alike. Medications have been left with families and incorrect amounts have been administered to the newly blinded individual causing permanent damage to the eye. Sighted doctors and nurses had unknowingly given medication to patients that resulted in blindness even in a hospital setting. 

Had ScripTalk been around for the sighted doctors, nurses and family members to use back then, maybe a large percentage of blindness could have been avoided. When beginning my research for this topic, I have marveled at why this product is not marketed and used by the sighted, not just the blind. Remember the medication mix-up in the 1946 holiday film ”It’s a Wonderful Life”? 

Looking at history I have realized that the most important value to those of us who have a ScripTalk in our home is not the identification of the medications itself, but rather the control and confidence it gives us and more importantly, a confidence to our family and medical teams allowing us to have control over our medications, thus control of our lives. Or as one ScripTalk user put it, to get the sighted off our backs.   

Let’s take a quick look back at the history of the blind in our country. For the most part, blindness was considered and dealt with as a condition that must be cured. That the blind who were not able to be restored of their sight, were broken and needed to be put aside. Religion played a major part in how blindness was looked at in the home and the community. How many of us have heard that “The sins of the Father….. 

Deuteronomy, 5-9 says; You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. This message was repeated in many old testament books and preached from the pulpits, tree stumps and street corners for centuries. It is no wonder that blinded family members were shut off in back rooms or sent away.   

As time passed and New Testament readings bringing the message of God’s forgiveness to the forefront of religions, the blanket of shame on an entire family of one who became or was born blind was slowly, over the decades, lifted. Yet, even with passages such as In John 9:1-3, it is written, As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. Yet, even today, I talk to parents who tell me that their first thought when finding out their child is blind is, “What did I do wrong?” 

For centuries, blind individuals have been locked away in Alms Houses and Asylums as it was said to be best for the blind person. Preveling belief was that someone at the Asylum could take care of the blind family member much better than family could at home. Yet many of those who worked in the Asylums had little experience and were just shy of entering an alms house themselves. Inmates had no control over their lives including the ability or freedom to leave. The story of the early years of Anne Sullivan and her brother illustrate the horrors of the old Asylums of the past and how those institutions impacted blind people. 

When the schools for the blind first opened in our country, many families who loved their little blind children very much refused to send them to a school for the blind, no matter how well presented the new institution. Family feared that if their young blind child was sent off to the asylum, that family would lose control and never see their child again, or at least, not as a whole person. While there were other families who were eager to relinquish custody of their child to the state where they could be better cared for and understood and in too many cases, out of sight and out of mind. It is important to note that transportation, even 50 miles back then was a day’s trip or more that farmers could ill afford to take to visit or have their blind child brought home for a weekend.    

At many of the state sponsored schools for the blind, medical eye care was provided free of charge to the families. This was for several reasons. 1. The state was the guardian for these young people and it would not be fiscally or morally sound to ignore their health. 2. This was an opportunity to “cure” the blind child so they would not be a burden on their home community or the state’s welfare funds later when they returned home. 3. It was also a great opportunity for the medical profession to provide experimental procedures or medication to a controlled group of the blind and produce results much faster and with a higher rate of success and assuredness.   

For hundreds of students across America, this was certainly the case. The School for the Blind was in a larger community and the state paid for a doctor to look after the children. Some of these children became guinea pigs for new, experimental medical procedures to prevent blindness. Not all procedures or surgeries were successful for some of the children. Biennial reports do tell of several of the blind children brought under the state’s care who did return to their home schools with vision restored. Yet, no matter the results, family were grateful for the efforts made on behalf of their blind, helpless children as medical treatment in their home community did not exist or the families just could not afford the doctor’s fees. 

No one during the 19th or much of the 20th century, expected the blind child or inmate to be responsible for their medication. No patient, sighted or blind, child or adult, had control over their medication in a hospital or medical setting. Far fewer people took medications as they were expensive and also not as easy to come by unless one lived in a larger community.    

For those blind ancestors who handled medications just as good or poorly as the sighted. Smells, size, texture of pills or powders indicated the medication. Marking bottles in braille, or with different sizes and shapes of bottles and packaging were frequently used to keep medications separate.   

Blind doctors such as Jacob Bolotin or Robert H. Babcock,(1851-1930) renowned blind heart specialist from Illinois controlled their careers through the confidence they had in themselves. During Babcock’s career as a physician, 1877-1920’s, handled medication all the time. He also drew with chalk or crayon on the bodies of his patients to illustrate to the sighted doctors where organs lay or where to make the incisions before surgery. For more than 40 years, he actively practiced medicine in the Chicago area and consulted across the country on cases involving the heart and lungs. According to the Washington D. C. Evening Star of June 11, 1901, there were already eight or ten blind physicians, with an active medical practice, in the United States at that time.  

Blind pharmacists such as Sam Jones, a blind man of moderate travel skills, had difficulty convincing the community that he was up to the task and after a few years, sold his drugstore in Iowa. While in Wisconsin, Pharmacist and drug manufacturer, Willard Tubbs, (1869-1931) a poised blind man with excellent travel skills, not only manufactured medications, but also demonstrated his wares throughout the Midwest with confidence. In his later years, he found it necessary to stay back in Wisconsin to manage his large factory, write books and pamphlets and travel more to conferences and conventions rather than hitting the road as a salesman. His clients had confidence in him and shared their trust with others who asked about the reputation of Mr. Tubbs.   

Blind people are a part of the general population with all of the same fears, worries and confidences as the sighted. When we have confidence in ourselves, identifying the content of a couple of medication bottles is no big deal. Just ask Dr. Babcock or Mr. Tubbs.   

Today, a greater percentage of Americans are living longer and much more independently than before. Senior living facilities are allowing more and more older Americans to live on their own. More community services allow more and more older American’s to remain in their own homes. However, with these targeted housing initiatives and community based senior services, there can often be a formalization of old stereotypes as legitimate criteria that need to be addressed in their guidelines, in case of a lawsuit. “For your safety” is a phrase that some of the older blind individuals I have talked with say they here far too often from potential senior companion or service groups today. As a condition of the acceptance of some community services, the older blind person must declare they cannot do or must give up certain activities or services, not usually related to the tasks requested or set down for receiving services. If the competent blind person continues to cook their own meals or walk to the near-by store for milk, other non-related services will be dropped. In one case, if the blind senior wishes to take care of their own medications, then they will not be able to have a senior companion rake their yard or drive them to the pharmacy.    

Today, most would agree that the confidence level of the blind in respect to the medical profession, the general population and indeed the blind themselves is not much better on the whole than it was in 1800. Most still feel that control of medication is best left in the hands of the sighted. Today, blind individuals pursuing a medical degree are met with every roadblock possible. Rarely do we hear of a blind pharmacist earning a living either in a hospital or with the many large drug store chains who claim to reach out to the disabled communities to employ the handicapped. Yet, today, we still hear of the sighted overdosing or taking the wrong medications. The common theory is that if the sighted, who can read the bottles are still making the mistakes, then the blind surely will.   

ScripTalk provides a product that promotes Control and Confidence and a trust in the blind and low vision population to be able to handle medications with ease and accuracy. Those losing their vision have no confidence in their ability. ScripTalk is a product that is available to provide the confidence to this population. With the confidence they gain from the ability to take control of their medication, they can move ahead with their healthcare, at home, and with the adjustment to their new circumstances, building on the success that ScripTalk provided.   

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Victor Peter Soboleski Jr., 90, of International Falls, Minn., passed away Sunday evening, Aug. 12, 2012, at Littlefork Care Center, Littlefork, Minn. 

Victor was born April 11, 1922, in International Falls. He graduated from the Minnesota School for the Blind, Faribault, Minn., and was a champion wrestler at Faribault. 

He lived in Minneapolis and worked for Toro for many years. 

Victor opened V&E Riding Stables in St. Louis Park, Minn., with his brother, Ed. He returned to International Falls in 1953 and started River View Stables here in the Falls, where he remained the rest of his life. He retired in 1972. 

He enjoyed leather work, saddle making, and was a gunsmith. Victor was a true horseman at heart. He was also a member of the Lions Club and the St. Thomas Catholic Church. 

At Victor’s request, no services will be conducted.  

Memorials in Victor’s memory may be made to the Minnesota Braille & Talking Book Library,