Blindness. In Great Britain one of every 1,100 to 1,200 persons is blind, and thus in England and Wales there are some 30,000 blind people. The advances which have been made in ophthalmic surgery have considerably lessened the number of cases of loss of sight occurring in the course of a year, and this improvement has been specially marked within quite recent times. Still much remains to be done; too many people are still to be seen whose blindness is due to causes which might have been prevented had the mischief been dealt with in time.
Perhaps the most important of the preventable causes of blindness is the ophthalmia of infants. The neglect of inflammation of the eyes in the newborn child too often leads to blindness; and yet if the necessity for careful treatment be recognised from the very commencement of the affection, no impairment of vision should result. Neglect and want of cleanliness can work in this disease a life-long mischief, in the course of a few hours.
Sympathetic ophthalmia is another form of ocular disease which used to be accountable for many cases of blindness. An injury of one eye may set up "sympathetic" inflammation, as it is called, in the other, and so lead to loss of sight in both. In the case of so important an organ as the eye, the advisability of at once seeking competent advice, even in what may appear a trivial affection, cannot be too strongly insisted upon.
Fortunately the dense corneal opacities so often seen in former years as the result of smallpox are now quite a rare phenomenon. Sight is not often actually lost, but in an enormous number of cases it is considerably impaired, by the neglect on the part of parents to recognise the fact that their children require a pair of glasses. Reiterated complaints of headache in a child should always cause suspicion to fall upon the eyes; and again, the fact that a child holds its head close to its book and has indifferent vision for distant objects should be held to demand prompt attention. If the evil be recognised, it is most important to obtain the right glasses and not be content with a rough and ready trial. Skilled advice should be obtained at the outset, and on no account should a child be allowed to run the risk attendant upon wearing a pair of spectacles simply because they appear to suit the eyes.
The education of the blind has received much attention during the present century. M. Hauy conceived the idea in 1784 of enabling blind people to read by passing the finger over letters raised in relief. Many forms of type have been tried, among which maybe mentioned those of Frere, Lucas, and Moon. The last named form is in most general use. Blind people are taught various trades, especially those of rope, brush, broom, and basket making. Pianoforte tuning has been suggested as an employment for the blind, and found eminently satisfactory. For information on these subjects see Education and Employment of the Blind, by Dr. Armitage.