Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  7 (1883–84), 864–68.

Control of the Dangers from Defective Vision

B Joy Jeffries, MD




Disability, Accidents, Railways, Expertise, Government, Medical Practitioners, Internationalism, Metrology

People mentioned:

William A Brailey

    Brings attention to the 'dangers from defective vision among mariners and railroad employés', and insists that several 'accidents' at sea and on the railways have been 'caused by both imperfect eyesight and color-blindness'. The 'experience' of 'specialists' and 'medical men' has long shown that 'about four per cent. of males [are] color-blind' and 'such [is] most probably the case among those who give or read colored signals on the land and sea'. While these 'Men of special training and experience have thus proved the practical application of their scientific knowledge', the 'official [...] examination of the eyesight of those implicated in disasters on land or sea seems to be as studiously avoided in England as in the United States'. (864) Indeed, in England, it has been claimed, 'Railway directors and officials allow the fastest trains to be driven by men whose defects of vision preclude them from distinguishing any form of signal' (865), and even the 'frightful' rate of a shipping 'collision "once in four hours"' has not prompted legislation regarding testing the vision of sailors (868). In Europe, things are somewhat better, and the 'first movement for control on land and sea was made in Sweden through the earnest work of Professor Holmgren' (866). Since then, the International Medical Congress, in 1879 and 1881, 'formulated definite requirements, through experts representing twelve different countries' regarding 'what was safe and right [...] as to the color sense and visual power of [...] railroad employés and mariners', and stressed the 'need of international agreement as to standards of requirements [...] and standard methods of testing' (867). Concludes that only such internationally recognised standards can 'produce a moral force not to be withstood by political pressure' that could overcome the 'human greed and human carelessness' manifested in the current 'Official neglect' of the issue (868).

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