A Brief History
In Colorado in the early 1950’s there were two organizations of the blind…the United Workers for the Blind and the Lamplighters. The Lamplighters was strictly a social group, but the United Workers for the Blind had an interest in civil rights, particularly in relation to the conditions in the sheltered workshops. In 1955 the president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, traveled to Denver to attend a meeting of the United Workers for the Blind. He successfully convinced them to become the state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind and on June 4, 1955, the United Workers for the Blind became the first NFB affiliate in Colorado. The new NFB affiliate was named “the Colorado Federation of the Blind”. The first local chapter was also established at that time and was known as the Denver Area Association of the Blind. Bill Woods was the first state president and held the office until 1959 when Ray McGeorge was elected president. Ray held the office until 1963 and again in the latter part of that decade.
The 1960’s was a period of growth for the Colorado Federation of the Blind and the Denver chapter. Several bequests during that decade provided funding for the purchase of a building at 17th Avenue and Emerson in Denver in 1969. The building served as an office where the organization sponsored a group health care policy for blind members and also worked on collecting Braille Books and supplies for shipment to Africa, known as the Braille Book Project.
The 1970’s brought more good fortune when the organization contracted with a firm to do telephone fundraising. The financial gains allowed the Colorado Federation of the Blind to get actively involved in civil rights for the blind. They took on the case of Judy Miller, a blind teacher who was denied the opportunity to apply for a job teaching in the Denver Public Schools because of her blindness. The case was won and Judy went on to successfully teach in public schools. In 1973 the organization was principally involved in getting the White Cane Law passed.
In 1976 Diane McGeorge was elected president and she served in that office until 2005. Under Diane’s spirited leadership the organization grew and flourished. In 1979 the building in downtown Denver was sold and a building at 2232 S. Broadway in Englewood, Colorado was purchased. After extensive remodeling this building would later become the first home of the Colorado Center for the Blind in 1989.
The 1980's and 1990's
In 1981 the Colorado Federation of the Blind changed its name to The National Federation of Colorado to comply with an effort by the national office to have consistency in the names of the affiliates throughout the country. The Denver Area Association of the Blind was renamed the National Federation of the Blind of Denver.
The 1980’s and 1990’s were decades of growth and expansion as more local chapters and divisions were added across the state. The NFB of Colorado took on a number of civil rights cases ranging from the defense of blind parents threatened with removal of their children to employment discrimination and defense of the White Cane Law. In 1994 the NFBCO wrote and pushed passage of the state Braille Bill which guaranteed all blind and visually impaired children an opportunity to learn Braille. Diane McGeorge opened the Colorado Center for the Blind in 1988, bringing national recognition to the state and helping build the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado into one of the strongest affiliates in the country. In 1999 a need for more space led the organization to purchase a former YMCA building in Littleton, Colorado. The building now houses the Colorado Center for the Blind and the offices of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado.
Into the 21st Century
In the first two decades of the 21st century, the NFBCO has thrived under the leadership of Scott LaBarre who has served as president since 2005. As a civil rights attorney, Scott has strengthened the NFB of Colorado role as an advocacy organization, defending the rights of blind people for equal treatment and equal opportunity. At the same time Scott has made the individual a priority, building on the sense that belonging to NFBCO is like being part of a large, supportive family. Scott has passed those ideals down to Jessica Beecham, who has been a long time leader in the NFB of Colorado for almost ten years. We have come a long way from our humble beginnings in 1955 and look forward to making history as we seek to fulfill our mission.