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The Conservation Of Eyesight

From: Out Of The Dark
Creator: Helen Keller (author)
Date: 1920
Publisher: Doubleday, Page & Company, New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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*Address at a meeting of The Massachusetts Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind, Boston, February 14, 1911.


I rejoice that the greatest of all work for the blind -- the saving of eyesight -- has been so clearly laid before the public. The reports of progress in the conservation of eyes, of health, of life, and of all things precious to man, are as a trumpet blast summoning us to still greater effort. The devotion of physicians and laymen and the terrible needs of our fellow-men ought to hearten us in the fight against conquerable misery.


Our worst foes are ignorance, poverty, and the unconscious cruelty of our commercial society. These are the causes of blindness; these are the enemies which destroy the sight of children and workmen and undermine the health of mankind. So long as these enemies remain unvanquished, so long will there be blind and crippled men and women.


To study the diseases and accidents which cause loss of sight, and to learn how the surgeon can prevent or alleviate them, is not enough. We should strive to put an end to the conditions which produce the diseases and accidents.


This case of blindness, the physician says, resulted from ophthalmia. It was really caused by a dark, overcrowded room, by the indecent herding together of human beings in unsanitary tenements. We are told that another case of blindness resulted from the bursting of a wheel. The true cause was an employer's failure to safeguard his machine. Investigations show that there are many ingenious safeguards for machinery which are not adopted because their adoption would diminish the manufacturer's profits. We Americans have been slow, dishonourably slow, in taking measures for the protection of our workmen.


Does it occur to any of you that the white lace which we wear is darkened by the failing eyes of the maker? The trouble is that most of us do not understand the essential relation between poverty and disease. I do not believe that there is any one in this City of Kind Hearts who would willingly receive dividends if he knew that they had been paid in part with blinded eyes and broken backs. If you doubt that there is any such connection between our prosperity and the sorrows of others, consult those bare but illuminating reports of industrial commissions and labour bureaus. They are less eloquent than oratory, less pleasant than fiction, but more convincing than either. In them you will find the fundamental causes of much blindness and crookedness, of shrunken limbs and degraded minds. These causes must be further searched out, and every condition in which blindness breeds must be exposed and abolished. Let our battlecry be, "No preventable disease, no unnecessary poverty, no blinding ignorance among mankind."