In 1920, Winnetka resident William Hadley began teaching ‘braille by mail.’ Frustrated by the lack of services for the blind, he applied his experience as an educator to teach correspondence courses to others, like himself, who lost their vision later in life.
With the help of Dr. E.V.L. Brown, a renowned ophthalmologist who was his neighbor, The Hadley Correspondence School for the Blind was born.
A century later, Hadley continues to help people who are blind or visually impaired learn to read and write braille, manage everyday tasks, navigate a world only intended for sighted people, and master professional skills needed in their employment. Today, Hadley is the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind or visually impaired worldwide. Last year, the organization reached nearly 150,000 learners from all 50 states and in 65 countries.
“Hadley serves all equally, regardless of location or income,” explains Hadley President Julie Tye. “Our distance approach allows us to be there with personalized learning experiences to help people with vision loss or blindness thrive in their homes, workplaces, and communities. And, Hadley provides these services free of charge because we never want cost to be a barrier.”
2020 is also a special year for Hadley because the organization has just launched a new learning platform. Due to age-related eye diseases, an estimated 5 million Americans will experience low or no vision by 2030. Hadley’s reimagined approach gives this growing population immediate access to the help they need to manage life with vision loss. It is free and accessible to everyone by logging on to Hadley’s website.
“Very few nonprofits have been around for 100 years,” says Tye. “Hadley remains strong because it has continuously innovated and adapted to provide the greatest assistance.”
Over the last 100 years, the organization has remained true to William Hadley’s commitment to personalized learning. People who are blind or visually impaired often feel isolated; at Hadley they are part of a community where they can find assistance from experts and also have the opportunity to connect with others, like themselves, who are living with vision loss.
Throughout its history, Hadley has greatly benefitted from the vision, leadership and support of the many North Shore residents who have championed its important work.
This includes the Hadley Woman’s Board, a volunteer organization started by Nancy Jones, the daughter of Hadley co-founder Dr. E.V.L. Brown. In 1953, when the school was in a precarious financial position, she recognized that it “would require women, who keep their shoulder to the wheel.” In a 1989 interview, Jones, who died this past spring at the age of 103, recalled recruiting “unusually capable, bright, charming, and well-organized women who knew how to get right to a problem.”
Since then, the dedicated women of Hadley Woman’s Board have continued to support the organization. The board’s success has made it a special partner and financial cornerstone for Hadley.
The group’s fundraisers include the Braille Holiday Card sale, a tradition since 1956. Unique artwork is created each year—with a message printed in ink and transcribed into braille. (This year’s card may be ordered online at brailleholidaycard.hadley.edu/)
The Woman’s Board also holds an annual benefit. Over the years, these events have taken many forms such as dinner dances, casino nights, Kentucky Derby parties, garden parties, and art sales.
This year, a formal dinner dance was planned to recognize Hadley’s centennial. However, “2020 has also given us the need for social distancing, so we will be celebrating Hadley’s century of distance learning from a distance as well,” explains Sara Ridder, Woman’s Board president and event chair.
Now, the Hadley Virtual Centennial Celebration will be online Friday, October 2 from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. It includes a short program, live prize drawings and an accompanying silent auction that runs from September 25 through October 9.
“We are excited to be able to expand the reach of this milestone occasion,” says Ridder, “There is no cost, and everyone is invited to attend!”
To participate in Hadley’s Virtual Centennial Celebration, log in to donate.onecause.com/ hadley100. For more information about Hadley, visit hadley.edu.