MAB Community Services has been serving blind and visually impaired people since 1903, the oldest social service agency to serve blind and visually impaired people in the United States. For over 100 years, MAB Community Services has been dedicated to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in our communities, supporting them to live full, independent, and self-directed lives. For decades, MAB has espoused the belief that disability rights are, in fact, civil rights. Throughout its first decades, MAB―an all-volunteer organization―found itself on the cutting edge of what could be considered “the blindness-rights movement.” As broad changes evolved in social and political attitudes towards disabilities in general, and blindness in particular, MAB’s Board responded proactively with specialized services and forward-thinking training and advocacy.
The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired is MAB’s flagship division, founded in 1903 as the Massachusetts Association for Promoting the Interests of the Adult Blind, thanks to the leadership of Helen Keller and other Boston trailblazers who launched one of the first social service agencies in the US for adults who were blind or visually impaired.
It wasn’t until 1946 that MAB acquired its first office space, in downtown Boston, hired its first paid Director, and began to expand services. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s had profound ramifications far beyond the realm of the racial issues it initially sought to expose. Other disadvantaged groups became acutely aware of how their rights were being denied. A climate of consciousness permeated the disability community and gradually changed the way service providers interacted with their clients. In 1963, President Kennedy called for a reduction “over a number of years and by hundreds of thousands” of the number of persons confined to residential institutions. He asked that methods be found “to retain in and return to the community the mentally ill and mentally retarded, and thereto restore and revitalize their lives through better health programs and strengthened educational and rehabilitation services.” Thus began two decades of de-institutionalization.
In the 1970s the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Foundation helped MAB create some of Massachusetts’ first community-based residential and vocational programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Then, in 1993 The Ivy Street School was founded to fill a need for therapeutic and educational services for adolescents with brain injuries. We now specialize in individualized rehabilitation and family-focused strategies that help students with multiple disabilities complete high school and live full lives in the community.
An early participant in the de-institutionalization movement, MAB cooperated with the Commonwealth to design a residential Life Learning Program that specifically responded to the needs of adults who were blind and also had an intellectual disability.
The first residents had lived their entire lives in institutions and lacked even the most basic personal skills. They could not count, brush their teeth, or even recall their own last names. The severe social retardation that life-long institutionalization had forced upon them had discouraged them from ever trying to take care of themselves. At MAB’s community residence, these men were assigned responsibilities, instructed in daily living skills, and given job training. Within 18 months, they held reasonably demanding jobs, and with the help of volunteers increased their level of independence markedly.
In early 1990, MAB responded to the Department of Education’s call for educational services for youth with traumatic brain injuries. Established in 1993 as the Commonwealth’s first self-contained residential treatment and education program for youth with traumatic brain injuries, the Ivy Street School has since expanded its reach, with an increasing enrollment among adolescents and young adults with autism and other cognitive disabilities. Through day and residential programming, ISS serves up to 45 youth aged 13-22 throughout Massachusetts. Located in Brookline, ISS capitalizes on the resources of Boston as an extended learning community. Ivy Street’s unique model includes an individualized special education program, a full complement of clinical and therapeutic services, and rich vocational and transitions support to foster hands-on skills that build our students’ capacity to lead productive and satisfying adults lives in our local communities.
Today, over 400 employees and nearly 400 volunteers support 1600 individuals annually through MAB’s offices in Brookline, Allston, and Worcester.