The Amerrican Printing House for the Blind's Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is dedicated to preserving, honoring, and promoting the tradition of excellence manifested by the specific individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame and through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired. William Bell Wait is now one of 58 persons honored to be inducted into the Hall.
William Bell Wait was an educator, inventor, tireless advocate and leader in the field of blindness. He was a firm believer that persons with blindness get an appropriate education as a right not as a charity.
In 1859, he became a teacher in the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, remaining two years, except for three months' service in the Seventy-first Regiment, New York Volunteers, under the first call for troops, at the beginning, of the Civil War.
In October of 1863, he was offered and accepted the office of Principal of the NY Institution for the Blind. It would be a position he would hold until 1905, when he was appointed Emeritus Principal until his death in 1916.
Locally, for the New York Institute he was relentless in his view, that the school should be treated as an educational institution and not as a charity. He fought for over a year in Albany, and successfully argued legal challenges that led to moving the state supervision of the school to the Department of Education with full accreditation, to provide legal high school diplomas and have its students subject to the standardized Regents testing.
He was the staunch advocate for the writing code known as “New York Point” which he developed and promoted. While “New York Point” is writing code that is barely remembered today, it was widely used across the United States and the most commonly used code by the blind according to the 1910 census.
He was one of the founders of the American Association of Instructors of the Blind (AAIB) at its first biennial 1871 conference, organized in Indianapolis. He served as AAIB’s Corresponding Secretary for 44 years. This organization has eventually morphed into what is AER today. AAIB paid tribute to his life in its 24th Biennial Conference in 1918. In the published proceedings, they wrote about Mr. Wait:
“A biography of Mr. Wait would comprise the progress of the education of the blind for almost six decades. So potent a factor was he that scarcely a movement was made for their welfare educationally or socially, for more than half a century, which had not his support and guidance. He was a man of strong personality, tireless energy, capable, and resourceful in all his activities, and he gave to every detail of his work a thoroughness which soon made him a master educator.”
His legacy lives on in the school today as we persue our mission to help the children of the school. As Mr. Wait once said "The least we can do is to work on, still achieving, still pursuing.".
Jump to minute 29:26 for Wait's part of the ceremony.