The Hatlen Center for the Blind (originally the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired) was founded in 1972 by Dr. Philip Hatlen. In the 1970’s, thousands of children blinded by an epidemic of Retinopathy of Prematurity were graduating from high school. At the time, rehabilitation counselors, social workers, and others involved in services for adults who are blind had serious concerns about what was to become of these young people and how they could best be helped.
Although many young blind people had attained academic achievement, there were significant gaps in their development beyond scholastics. These gaps were due, in part, to the combined constraints of pity, over protection, and low expectations. In an effort to address these gaps in learning, transition-aged blind youth were placed in traditional rehabilitation centers where students lived in dorms with cafeterias and were not responsible for their own daily living needs.
These centers, though well-suited for many people with visual impairments, didn’t provide many essential skills necessary for complete independence. Sighted people glean a wealth of information by observation and by doing; however, the only way for a blind person to learn is through hands-on experience. Dr. Hatlen wanted to create a center where students would learn how to take care of themselves, and thus become independent, living in the world rather than being sheltered from it.
In 1972, The Hatlen Center became the first transition agency of its kind. At the time of its inception, this approach was considered highly unorthodox. Students who are blind living on their own, paying their own bills, cooking their own food? With the support of young, dedicated and enthusiastic teachers, all trained by Dr. Hatlen in his role as professor at San Francisco State University’s teacher preparation program, our graduates began to prove to the world that Dr. Hatlen’s vision made perfect sense.
The Hatlen Center is now seen in the field of blindness as having pioneered the most effective way to teach independence to people who are visually impaired, and the new industry buzz phrase, “transition skills,” is very much a product of the curriculum Dr. Hatlen pioneered. Over the years, while the staff may have changed, the mission and the dedication have not. We have continued to hone our curriculum, change with the times, and get constantly better and better at what we do. Dr. Hatlen didn’t stop moving forward either. He authored “The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC),” which is part of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youth with Visual Impairments. The Hatlen Center for the Blind embodies the goals of the ECC.
We are thrilled that Dr. Hatlen’s outstanding service delivery model is now growing beyond its California borders and is available to blind people nationwide. Each student who graduates from our program is living proof that, with the proper information and training, people who are blind can choose their own lifestyles, command dignity and respect, and live independently.