Special Education

History of the New York State School for the Blind

New York State Institution for the Blind


History of the New York Institution for the Blind

During the years immediately following the Civil War, an awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities came into focus. This led to the establishment of programs to serve individuals with disabilities in many parts of the country.

On April 27, 1865 an Act was passed by the Legislature which authorized the establishment of “The New York State Institution for the Blind."  The purpose of the school was to educate the young blind of the State in the usual branches of learning pursued in schools for the seeing, and train them in some appropriate industrial arts which might aid them in gaining a livelihood either under the fostering care of the Institution or through their own individual efforts. 

In February 1866, the Building Commissioners chose a site overlooking a beautiful region embowered in trees, broad meadowlands, cultivated fields and forest-clad slopes. The region had also long been celebrated for its general good health, and freedom from epidemic and endemic diseases.  It was referred to as the most healthy place on the “Holland Purchase.” 

The area had an abundance of water and a much needed railroad station for transporting students to and from their homes. The result was the selection of the Village of Batavia, in the County of Genesee, upon grounds consisting of 50 acres purchased and presented to the State by the citizens of Batavia.

On September 2, 1868, the building was opened for use.  Dr. Asa D. Lord welcomed the first 17 students to the school.  Sixty-five students were in attendance by the end of the school year.   

The schools purpose was to provide a public education for children who were blind utilizing a curriculum adapted to meet their special needs.  Instruction was given in reading, spelling and definitions, writing, arithmetic, geography, English grammar, history, natural philosophy, moral cultures, Sabbath instruction and vocal and instrumental music.  Knitting, crocheting, beadwork and several varieties of fancy work were also taught. Other school activities included: Broom making, rug weaving, wood working, farming and raising poultry, raising plants (Green House), Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Wrestling, Typing, Guitar, Mandolin, organ and piano lessons. 

NYSSB has graduated many recognized citizens.  Students have gone on to careers in teaching, piano tuning, performing, broadcasting and many other professional areas. The NYSSB Alumni Association is very active and meets for an annual weekend in Batavia each June.  Several alumni offer professional and social assistance with our outreach efforts, which serve blind students from districts for special weekend and weeklong programs. 

Over the years the school has changed in many ways, but its mission has remained constant. The school has consistently provided an appropriate education to students to assist them in skills of independence and reaching their personal and professional goals.


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Last Updated: August 6, 2015