12 | January 16, 2020 | 22nd century media Hadley at 100


Technology: Past, Present and Future

Technology has had a powerful

impact on the lives of people who

are blind and visually impaired—

and on the possibilities for distance

learning. For the past century,

Hadley has been on the forefront

of these developments, embracing

technology to improve our ability

to reach and teach those in need of

our services, and to enhance the

quality and experience of the learning

it provides.

The Early Years

In the 1920s, when Hadley was

first founded, braille textbooks

were produced one-at-a-time on

braille writers, making for a timeand

labor-intensive process. In

these early days, William Hadley

wrote and produced most of these

himself, even once more staff was

hired to assist.

So, when braille presses came

on the scene in the 1930s, it was

transformative for the school. The

ability to produce textbooks much

more efficiently enabled Hadley to

expand its student base and course


Alfred Allen was hired in 1922

to be William Hadley’s “right hand

man” and manage the business affairs

of the school. Allen was also

an innovator who developed a

braille press with an accompanying

stereotyping machine that produced

zinc plates from which the

books could be printed. This sped

up production of textbooks so the

school could keep pace with the

growing demand.

Allen also pioneered the idea of

the “Talking Book” in the 1930s,

which sent recordings and record

players to students. Since many

students did not yet have access

to electricity, these machines were

spring loaded. This initiative inspired

the Talking Book program

the Library of Congress launched

later, which loaned electric players

to students to use.

When Hadley’s new building

was constructed in 1957, it included

an audio recording studio.

This gave the school the ability

and flexibility to produce these

learning materials in-house. It also

brought many broadcasting personalities,

such as Shirley Cole of

“Little Orphan Annie” fame, to

Hadley to record course material.

In the late 1950s, the Thermoform

Braille Duplicator revolutionized

printing. Books could be

produced for a fraction of the cost

of printing them on a large braille

press and materials could be updated

more efficiently and easily.

Hadley updated its recording

studio in the 1980s, enabling

learning materials to be captured

and shared on cassette tape. Celebrities,

such as Sammy Davis,

Jr. and George Shearing, read and

recorded books and magazines for

Hadley. Future enhancements including

a teleprompter, powerful

computers and digital sound editing

software allowed Hadley staff

to digitally master, edit and duplicate

recordings in house.

Hadley’s early

braille reproduction

machines were

simple presses with

zinc plates.

Personal Computers

and the Internet

The 1990s brought the personal

computer and, since then, the speed

of technology has accelerated exponentially

to open new doors and

opportunities for people who are

blind and visually impaired.

One of the most significant developments

was the screen reader,

a software program that enables

a blind or visually impaired user

to read text on a computer screen

Charles Shipley, Hadley recording studio

engineer, records Shirley Cole, a wellknown

Chicago broadcaster who voiced

Annie on the “Little Orphan Annie” radio

show, in 1957

with a speech synthesizer or braille

display. This allowed Hadley students

and teachers to correspond

and share materials electronically.

While computers and screen readers

were prohibitively expensive

for many in the early years, today,

nearly every program has major

accessibility options built right in.

Then came the Internet. Hadley

launched online learning, or

Please see future, 13

Hadley creates personalized learning opportunities that empower people

with vision loss to thrive – at home, at work and in their communities.


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