Ho‘opono History

“Ho‘opono”, translated from the Hawaiian language means “to make things right”. That is the very essence of what is taking place in this attractive setting, to make things right for persons who are blind and visually impaired by empowering them with the skills of blindness they need to achieve success in their lives.

In 1935, the Territorial Legislature incorporated in the general Appropriation act for 1935-37 the sum of $20,000 for a program of Conservation of Eyesight and for the Blind. In 1936, the Honorable Joseph B. Poindexter, Governor of the Territory of Hawaii, appointed Mrs. Grace C. Hamman to initiate and direct the program of the “Bureau of Sight Conservation and Work with the Blind”.

Picture Hawaii at a time when the only means of travel from the mainland to the Islands was a six-day trip aboard an ocean liner, and to travel from Honolulu, the capital, to one of the neighboring islands meant an overnight sea voyage. Roads were poor and sometimes non-existent, and not infrequently the only way to reach out to the blind was to travel on the back of a mule which is endearingly called by the Hawaiians, a Kona Nightingale.

At the time the Bureau was established it was believed from information derived from earlier surveys that the number of blind persons in the Territory totaled 266. It was later found that only 178 of this group could be certified as blind. However, by the end of its first year of operation an additional 177 blind persons were certified, making a total of 355. This positive identification of so large a group of blind individuals over the span of 12 months reflects true pioneer efforts.

And so it was under the pioneering efforts and dedicated leadership of Mrs. Hamman that things progressed and by 1951, work with the blind included social casework, vocational rehabilitation, a shop for the adult blind, and a vending facilities program. Conservation of eyesight was carried out through an annual vision screening program of all school children, annual eye clinics held in the rural areas of the Territory, and an unceasing program of community education. By 1951 personnel serving the blind and carrying out the preventive aspects of the program, including four part-time vision screeners, numbered 41.

In the spring of 1951, Mr. Donald Dabblestein, Assistant Director of the Federal Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, made a brief visit to Honolulu. It was just at the time two publications were received from his central office. One on the Hoover method of cane travel, and the other on training the blind in the use of power and hand tools. “Dabs” was asked, “Where do we find these people who can teach blind individuals to travel independently?”

Mr. Dabblestein suggested that the Physical Education Department at the local University might be a source from which to recruit someone who would be interested in applying Dr. Hoover’s outline for teaching mobility to some of Honolulu’s blind residents. He also suggested that as we were considering new evaluation and training programs, why not think in terms of establishing a comprehensive program of services similar to those developed for the blinded veterans at Valley Forge and Avon Old Farms.

Could this be done way out here in Hawaii? The odds appeared overwhelmingly the lack of experience  the disbelief held by many that blind persons could achieve any degree of physical independence  the lack of money. And yet, the idea caught fire, and for six weeks during the summer of 1951, 24 blind individuals demonstrated what they could achieve, given the exposure and opportunity.

This brief positive experience led to a second adjustment center program, which, was held in the summer of 1952. This time it was for eight weeks and an around the-clock operation. Funds were secured through a special grant from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (in the days before there was a research and demonstration grant program) and the District 50 Hawaii Lions.

The Department of Education made available several buildings at the rear of Farrington High School Campus. These included a gymnasium which was converted to men’s dormitory, with cots borrowed from the Army, and mattresses and other bedding borrowed from the Navy; a Manual Arts shop complete with hand and power tools; a building where home economics was taught during the course of the regular school year, which for Center purposes was converted in part to a women’s dormitory and used in part for food preparation and service for Center faculty and participants. All the food services including cooking were handled by the participants under the supervision of the home economist.

Other classrooms were used for instruction in Braille and typing, crafts, sewing and personal grooming. Other activities included group discussion, group therapy, Dale Carnegie, dancing and other recreational activities. Instruction in mobility was carried out in the various classrooms, in an outdoor recreational court, on the campus, and eventually extended to the public thorough fares.

The athletic program included bowling, swimming, volleyball and a modified version of basketball. Excursions were made to various businesses, military installations, restaurants and theaters.

The 28 participants in the 1952 program benefited from the experience gained from the previous summer. The majority of faculty members engaged in the “52” program was “returnees”. They met the challenge of teaching the blind with a great deal more confidence and expertise. Indulgences granted to the trainees during the first summer, unless otherwise prescribed, were withheld from the trainees during the course of the second summer. Lesson plans were more “reality oriented”, and progress evaluation reports better related to rehabilitation goals and objectives.

Knowing that the Federal Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Lions could not be counted upon to support another summer session, every effort was made to familiarize the Legislators and the community with the activities taking place at the rear of the Farrington campus during that summer of 1952. As a result, the 1953 Legislature approved an appropriation which carried the program forward through the summer of 1955. By this time it became evident that although the summer program fulfilled a much needed service, it also demonstrated the inadequacy of a part-time operation and the need for an on-going year-round adjustment center program for persons who were blind and visually impaired.

The opportunity for initiating just such a program came in the fall of 1955 when the Department of Public Works made available to the agency a small building located across the street from its main offices. Because the building was small and the electrical wiring and plumbing inadequate, it was not possible to carry on all the activities which took place at Farrington, but this lack was more than compensated by the fact that a needed service was available to the client at the time he was motivated toward making an effort to reduce his dependency.

For seven years the adjustment center program limped along in extremely poor physical facilities. No more than 10 individuals could be accommodated at any given time. Activities were limited to crafts, Braille and mobility.

Concurrent with the initiation of a year-round adjustment center program, the Lions began to push for a permanent structure to house not only a Center for the blind but also the workshop for the adult blind, and all other related offices and activities. They pledged support money in the amount of $20,000 and succeeded in securing for the agency an appropriation of $150,000 from the 1955 Legislature for acquisition of land and architectural plans.

Additional funds were appropriated during subsequent legislative sessions. Hawaii was the first state to receive federal funds under the Hill-Burton Program for construction of a Rehabilitation Center for the Blind.

Elizabeth Morrison played an integral part in seeing to fruition the completion of Ho‘opono’s facility in October, 1962. It would be expected that with a new facility and new furnishings that a program of top quality would result. So it might except that by the time Ho‘opono was completed only vestiges remained of what in fiscal year ’59 had been a comprehensive state-wide program for the blind.

In 1959 Hawaii achieved Statehood and with it came a complete reorganization of governmental agencies. The program for the blind which had been free and independent of all other government agencies suddenly found itself merged with many different programs in a newly created Department of Social Services. All 44 positions were absorbed in administrative units of the Public Welfare Division. Only nine of the 44 positions retained identifiable responsibility for work with the blind. These included a State Consultant, a supervisor, a rehabilitation teacher, an occupational therapist, a travel training instructor, a vocational counselor, a business enterprise manager, a shop foreman and a home industry coordinator.

In November, 1962, eight of the foregoing-named personnel were transferred to Ho‘opono from the various public welfare units to which they had been assigned. The State Consultant remained in the Program Planning Office of the Division of Public Welfare.

It was hoped that the advent of Ho‘opono would magically restore to the program an identity and status it formerly held. This was not to be, but gains have been made. Several problems faced in 1962 were resolved, at least, to a degree. One of these was the scarcity of personnel. Another was the out-of-sight, out-of-contact client. And still a third, which was the primary cause for the first two problems, was the organizational placement of Ho‘opono within the administrative structure of the Department.

Until July, 1965, Ho‘opono was administered as an operational unit of the Oahu County Branch of the Public Welfare Division. This administrative arrangement discouraged blind and visually impaired persons from seeking the services offered at Ho‘opono. They were required to go through the same application process as were applicants for public assistance. The blind disliked the implication that, through association with public welfare recipients, they too were regarded as needy. They were unhappy with the practice of being shunted from one social worker to another. In its first year of operation, calendar year 1963, Ho‘opono served a total of 169 blind and visually impaired persons. Eventually, thanks to the efforts of administrator Elizabeth Morrison, Ho‘opono was placed as a branch within the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind Division. Ms. Morrison worked diligently to restore many of the lost staff positions and ensured that Ho’opono received adequate funding.

Over the next 38 years an adjustment-to-blindness training program operated under the traditional medical model. It was a day program in which students could come in when they wanted and take classes they wanted using whatever vision they had, and it was run primarily by sighted staff who cared about their students and were doing the best they could to train blind consumers in the basic core areas of cane travel, Braille, computers, and home management. There was also a class called “GT” or “Give and Take.” which was a sort of group therapy session. Many students had been coming to the center over and over again but did not really get to know one another. Staff and students did not interact much except in the classrooms. Ho‘opono operated a sheltered workshop producing items such as mops, mophandles, outdoor dustpans, cafeteria aprons, ball point pens, Skilcraft products, and performed contract services for various companies.

In the year 2000, Dave Eveland visited Iowa Department for the Blind as part of a conference and saw a very different kind of training program. This program employed a structured discovery model. Students were given instructions under sleepshades using long canes and problem-solving, and, most importantly, were immersed in a positive philosophy of blindness. There, students came to believe that given the opportunity, blindness could be reduced to a nuisance level, a characteristic. Students and staff understood that the main problem facing blind people stemmed from the misconceptions they faced from society. Lea Grupen, a newly hired Counseling Section Supervisor, participated in sleep shade training at the Iowa Center for the Blind. Impacted by the training she experienced along with earlier requests for change by Hawaii’s blind consumer organizations (Hawaii Association of the Blind and National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii – NFBH), Lea met with Administrator Dave Eveland and the two decided to pursue how to make things better for the blind of Hawaii.

The change process to today’s program that employs a structured discovery model and teaching alternative techniques of blindness involved the support, guidance investment and mentorship of Carlos Servan, Deputy Director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind, Fred Schroeder, former RSA Administrator, Doug Boone, Mobility Instructor, Allen Harris, former Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind and Sandy Tigges, Director of the Orientation Center in Iowa, Jim and Sharon Omvig, Ramona Walhof, Chris Boone, Ron Gardner, Dr. Eddie Bell, and “coaches” from Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Colorado and countless others. Ho‘opono staff received training and shadowed teachers and counselors there in the skills of blindness for two to three weeks at Iowa Center for the Blind. Having a better understanding of the structured discovery method, Ho‘opono renamed its Rehabilitation Center class offerings as the “New Visions” program in November 2002 and students began using sleepshades and the long cane exclusively, taking all classes, and attending the program daily. In addition, classes were now taught in groups. The change process was not easy and included opposition and criticism from various sources. But supporters from other blind agencies kept encouraging, mentoring and cheering on the process as staff continued to attend training at Iowa Center for the Blind and Louisiana Center for the Blind. With the help of Dave Eveland, Fred Schroeder and Dr. Eddie Bell, a contract was negotiated where staff from Iowa Department and the Louisiana Center for the Blind coached Ho’opono staff one on one, observing and modeling the way. Structured Discovery training methods became clearer and our students were learning faster, exceeding expectations. Subsequently, instructors and directors from Colorado Center for the Blind and BLIND, Inc. continued with the momentum of training. Ho‘opono staff were fully engaged, worked hard and persevered. Ho‘opono now has off-campus apartments that are extensions of our classrooms and have built a whole other dimension into the New Visions program.