History of the Iris Network:

The Iris Network is one of the oldest and most respected non-profit agencies in Maine. William J. Ryan, a visually-impaired traveling almanac salesman, formed our organization in 1905. Ryan was passionately concerned about people who were visually impaired or blind he had met in his travels around the state. He wanted to help them conquer poverty and isolation. He formed the Maine Institution for the Blind to create opportunities for individuals with vision loss to learn a trade, earn a living wage, and live in community.

Ryan corresponded with Helen Keller and other leaders to promote his new organization. In 1907, Miss Keller hosted the Maine Institution for the Blind’s first fundraiser, generating $1,000—$21,638 today—to support the organization. People came from diverse locations to live and work at the center. They caned chairs, made brooms, mattresses, and other textile products, sold their wares, and became an important social group in southern Maine.

As the 20th century progressed, the number of people who were visually impaired or blind grew, and their goals also grew and diversified. In the 1980s, the Maine Center for the Blind responded to these changes. The center shifted from offering sheltered workshops to developing and delivering individualized programs of training, education, and support so people might live in their own homes, engage in work of their own choosing, and contribute to their own communities.

Today, our organization is the Iris Network. Our name has changed, but our commitments to opportunity, partnership, and community still guide us. In the first few years of the twenty-first century, we formed an array of new programs and resources—the Iris Network Low Vision Clinic, the Maine Audio Information and Reading Service, statewide support groups, and residential services at the Iris Park Apartments. In 2008, we are further diversifying our services with programs in assistive technologies and the arts.

The Iris Network celebrated 100 years of service to the blind and visually impaired in 2005! 

Click here for booklet outlining our centennial history

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