On 22nd June 1920, the Kent County Association for the Blind was created to support servicemen whose sight had been damaged during the First World War. Nearly a hundred years on, we are still supporting over 11,500 sight impaired people in Kent, Medway, Bromley and Bexley.
During the Great War many servicemen were blinded by bomb blasts and the effects of mustard gas. Returning to Britain, these men couldn’t work and many of them experienced severe financial and emotional hardship.
The British Government passed the Blind Persons Act giving local authorities power "to promote the welfare of blind persons" and a demand for local voluntary support services to be established. In response, Kent County Council brought together the various voluntary groups that had evolved to provide some support for sight impaired people in the county, at a meeting chaired by the Mayor of Maidstone on 22 June 1920 and created the Kent County Association for the Blind.
Today, we have over 800 volunteers still providing crucial support for the delivery of our services, and many of the voluntary groups that helped form the original Association still exist today as some of our local social clubs and groups providing leisure activities and social support for sight impaired people.
The primary responsibility of the Association was to compile a complete and up-to-date register of all blind persons in the County, and to investigate what help these people needed. In 1921, 902 people were recorded as being registered blind; the population of Kent at the time was 1.1 million.
Today, the population has more than doubled to 2.3 million and we provide services and support to over 11,500 sight impaired people.
The Association (then one of only seven in the country) was funded by a grant from central government of £20 per 100 registered people, with an additional grant from the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
During the 1920s and 30s
Kent County Association for the Blind was very active and in 1935 showed great initiative in developing what later became the Home Teacher Service - the forerunner of today's Rehabilitation Service.
The service aimed to help people develop skills for work (predominantly crafts skills), and to teach tactile communication such as the use of Braille or Moon for reading and writing, as well as basic independent mobility skills. By 1940, there were 11 Home Teachers, which we now recognise as Rehabiliation (Rehab) Workers.
World War 2
The 2nd World War brought challenges for the Association and its service users. As a result of German air raids, especially in coastal areas, many sight impaired people had to be evacuated to unfamiliar environments and needed daily support from the Association, and many people suffered sight loss as a result of the bombings.
After the Second World War, it was agreed that Home Teachers should be funded by local authorities, although they continued to be employed by KCAB. In some areas of the country, Home Teaching was undertaken by Health Visitors which made the service more generic and less able to respond to the specific needs of people with sight impairment. However, this wasn’t the case in Kent and the Association continued to provide the Home Teaching service to sight impaired people.
Residential homes were viewed as a progressive initiative and were considered an ideal environment for older people with sight impairments. In 1946, the Association opened its own residential home, The Ogden Home for Blind People, in Ramsgate, and by 1947 it housed 35 people.
The Association went on to open the Merrell Holiday Hotel in Cliftonville. The hotel was designed to meet the specific needs of sight impaired people and to provide them with a place to holiday. The Association received over £8,000 in donations towards the £13,500 cost of establishing the hotel. At this time the number or people registered blind had risen to 3,258.
The Ogden Home for Blind People and the Merrell Holiday Hotel closed in 1994 as result of the Government's ‘Care in the Community' policy and the subsequent move away from the concept of residential care. Funding and resources were re-directed towards the development of a comprehensive region-wide rehabilitation service.
In 1965, Bexley and Bromley become London boroughs and the Association changed its name to Kent Association for the Blind (KAB). The Home Teaching Service now comprised elements of social care, teaching Braille and the Moon alphabet, mobility training and crafts. Home Teachers had to be qualified to gain a permanent post, they were responsible for registrations as blind or partially sighted, and were also responsible for setting up clubs when a need was identified. At this time, it was common for a team of two Home Teachers to be responsible for up to 600 service users, working across an area from Tenterden to Tonbridge.
KAB launched the free Kent Talking Newspaper Service. The first edition was recorded in Maidstone and was followed in the same year by editions in Gravesend, the Medway towns and Folkestone. Production was time consuming as cassettes had to be copied using a Telex Copier. The number of people registered with a sight impairment was 4,162 and 800 of them received a free news tape every week.
Today, we have 13 Talking News editions. The service is still free, and is now fully digital with MP3 and USBs replacing cassettes.
This was a significant period of growth in the development of services; KAB and the local authorities worked together to identify and meet significant gaps in provision, resulting in the development of Rehabilitation services. In 1987, following research by KAB that people with learning disabilities were more likely to also have significant sight loss, a specialist was appointed in conjunction with Maidstone Health Authority to work with sight impaired people who also had a learning disability.
We opened our specialist Sight Centre at 72 College Road, Maidstone in 1990. A Tunbridge Wells Rehabilitation and Resource Centre opened in 1994 followed by the Canterbury Sight Centre in 1997.
Today, the Maidstone and Canterbury Centres provide an Assistive Technology suite for training, a resource room for demonstrating equipment, contact with the local Rehab Team, training and awareness courses and Maidstone also hosts a Low Vision clinic run by a Consultant Ophthalmologist.
KAB launched its Guide Communicator Service following a two-year research project that identified over 900 people with dual sensory impairment in the region. The service was set up to provide trained one-to-one enablers to support deafblind people to achieve their highest level of independence, helping to reduce isolation and risk. The team started with six Guide Communicators and eight service users and continued to grow.
Today, there are 27 Guide Communicators providing an average 0f 185 hours of support each week to 55 people and we've added a Sight Support Service for visually impaired people and an Intervenor Service for people with sight loss and other complex needs.
An Assistive Technology Service was established to meet the growing demand for training in the new types of magnification and speech software that were becoming available.
Today, the AT service is an integral part of our rehabilitation service, and specialist Assistive Technology workers provide support and training in using computers, specialist software, smart phones, tablets and other devices.
KAB set up a Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care (Visual Impairment) with Canterbury Christ Church University to alleviate the shortage of qualified Rehab Workers in the UK. All of our 30 Rehab Workers are now fully or part qualified: that's 87% of our rehab workforce.
Today, we also run a range of accredited and non-accredited training courses in understanding sensory impairment and understanding assistive technology.
KAB opened the Bromley Sight Centre, expanding service provision to sight impaired people in the London Borough of Bromley for the first time in over 40 years.
KAB started its Eye Clinic Service, placing Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) in the Ophthalmic Departments of hospitals across Kent initially, but then in Bromley and Bexley as well. The ECLOs provide emotional support, information about eye conditions, and advice about services available to people with sight impairments.
KAB developed a new Peer Support Programme based on the Expert Patient Programme model. The course runs for 6 days over 6 weeks, and aims to equip learners with skills in self-management and life balance, action planning and goal setting, becoming and staying active, eating well, visualisation, pacing, handling challenging or unhelpful emotions, relaxation, distraction, and much more. It is run by trained sight impaired volunteers.
We celebrated our 95th Anniversary with tea parties across the region attended by clients, supporters, volunteers and donors.
We're looking forward to our centenary year and have started planning the celebrations for 2020. If you are interested in taking part, running your own or even sponsoring an event, please contact our Fundraising Team on 01622 691357.
Elsewhere on this site you’ll find details of all our services and the latest developments at KAB, plus a range of new training courses, social clubs and a variety of equipment that can make everyday life easier. If you can’t find what you need on this website, or if you would like to speak to someone, then please contact your local team.
Make a donation to support KAB's services throughout the region.