IRWIN, ROBERT BENJAMIN (2 June 1883-12 Dec. 1951) was an educator of the blind who organized public school classes for visually impaired children in Cleveland and throughout Ohio.
Irwin was born in Rockford, Iowa to Robert and Hattie (Chappell). He was raised in Vaughn, Washington, Irwin contracted inflammatory rheumatism when five, leaving him blind. In 1890 he entered the Washington State School for the Blind, becoming its first blind graduate in 190l. Irwin graduated from the University of Washington (A.B. 1906), Harvard (M.A. 1907), and received an LL.D (honorary), from Western Reserve University (1943).
Irwin's work for the blind started in Cleveland where, as superintendent of public school classes for the blind (1909-1923), he organized classes in Braille, placed blind students in regular classes (assisted by readers/tutors), and created "sight-saving" classes. He organized the Howe Publishing Company to print Braille books, and the Clear Type Publishing Committee to print books in 24-point type. He was an early innovator for the CLEVELAND SOCIETY FOR THE BLIND and, by 1913, was organizing his educational programs throughout Ohio.
Irwin's research on blindness was published in Blind Relief Laws and Their Administration (1919), and Sight-Saving Classes in the Public Schools (1920).
Irwin left Cleveland for New York to become president of the American Association of Workers for the Blind (1923-1927) and, later, executive director of the American Foundation for the Blind (1929-1949).
Irwin married Mary Blanchard on 19 June 1917. They had one son, Robert. Irwin, a Unitarian, died in Port Orchard, Washington and is buried in Pompton Lakes, N.J.