It’s hard to believe the Council has now been around for 70 years! Please join us in celebrating all that we have accomplished so far and in looking toward the opportunities ahead to advance equity, access and independence for Wisconsin residents living with vision loss.
We’re grateful to all of the founders, supporters, board members, staff and friends who have been part of the journey that has brought us to where we are today. Here’s a brief overview of how we got here. You can also find more information in the history timeline on our Who We Are page.
From its creation in 1952, the Council has worked with the Wisconsin State Legislature to bring about systemic change. Some of the early issues the Council’s legislative committee worked on were pensions, labeling of items made by people who are visually impaired, income tax exemptions, and separating the Bureau for the Blind from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Seventy years later, our advocacy continues to grow and evolve as we work, often in statewide coalitions or with local partners, to educate policy makers about the needs, rights and interests of state residents living with vision loss. Today, our advocacy focuses on civil rights, education, employment, health care, transportation equity and accessible voting. You can read more about each focus area on our Advocacy page.
White Cane Fund and White Cane Program
The White Cane Fund launched in 1948, a few years before the Council was incorporated, and was the primary source of revenue for the organization. The support generated by this annual drive made it possible for the Council to provide a white cane to any Wisconsin resident who needed one starting in the 1980s. This service, and the fund that created it, still exist today, providing white canes to 500 people each year.
In 1953 the Council launched its scholarship program to support students with visual impairment seeking a college education. Since then, the program has provided thousands of dollars to hundreds of students across the state.
Sharper Vision Store
What began as a few adaptive products displayed on a pegboard in the 1960s has evolved into one of the leading stores of its kind in the country. From its humble beginnings, the Council’s Sharper Vision Store has expanded into a full-blown retail operation that occupies much of the first floor of our Madison facility and maintains a web-based store where clients can purchase products to be shipped directly to their homes. This growth has dramatically increased access to products that promote the independence and dignity of people across the state and beyond.
In the early 1990s, the Council started moving to a service model, with staff working directly with clients. Our vision services operation has grown over the years and today includes in-home teaching, in-person and remote access technology training, and low vision evaluations. We’re excited to be adding orientation and mobility services to the mix later this year.
We know there is a lot more to do. Only a small fraction of people with visual impairment currently receive vision rehabilitation services that can change their lives. With your support and partnership, we will continue to advocate for change, provide services that break down barriers, and reach more people who can benefit from our work, including traditionally marginalized populations, people with fewer resources, and those living in underserved parts of the state.