Tag Archives: History

10 Ways I Take the Internet for Granted and You Probably Do Too

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

The World Wide Web  became available to the public back in the 90’s. I was hearing a lot about it but struggled with its concept. I couldn’t visualize  what a website actually looked like on a computer screen. So, I took a class with an assistive technology teacher and she did a good job describing it. She even took my hands and placed them on the computer monitor  moving them around  to help me visualize  the actual layout.

Today, I am on the internet  daily. This technology  that was so new, at one point in my life, is old, mundane  and ordinary. I mean I don’t even think about getting online. I just do it which shows me how much I take it for granted. Perhaps, you do too. Can you imagine  going through the day with no internet? I know I can’t because of all the tasks I preform on it. Not being able to read the news, email, podcast or an audiobook is unconceivable. And that is just a small list of things. So, in honor of National Internet Day, Saturday, Oct. 29, I am going to feature 10 things I take for granted  when using the internet. I am sure many of  these items will resonate with you as well. My hope is this list will help all of us be  more mindful and grateful  for this invention.

1. Paying bills  and managing finances

Empish Writing a Check

I use to do this task on paper. I remember a  statement  would come in the mail. I would read the bill, tear off the bottom  and place in an envelope  with a paper check. I paid my bills and managed my finances for years  this way. Even after I went blind, I got sighted help  until the internet  made this chore easier and accessible. Today, I do all my financial business online. Not just paying basic household bills but  managing online savings  and investment accounts.

2. All kinds of shopping

Online shopping intensified during the pandemic  because we all had to shelter in place. But I  would dare to say many of us are still doing a lot online. Yep, I know I am. In the past I would do simple little things  like purchasing household  items and toiletries  on Amazon. Or I would do a little clothes and shoe shopping. Now, I do almost all my shopping on the internet. Grocery, household, hair and beauty supplies, technology  and electronics and more I purchase via the internet.

3. Entertainment like watching movies

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

I love watching movies on Netflix. I remember when they launched. Prior  was the iconic Blockbuster’s  where you had to go in person and rent a movie  to play in a VCR. Do you remember those days? Netflix started with DVDs and then moved to streaming services. However, it is hard to stream a movie without a good internet connection. That WIFI  signal has got to be strong and working.

4. online learning

Want to learn something new? You can take Online courses  for almost anything. Courses online are the ticket to exploration. Learn basic home repairs, bake a cake , paint or garden. There is probably a course for that.

I lean toward career advancement  so my courses have mostly  been on ways to improve my writing or enhance my job searching. I take these courses easily from my home. They are convenient and sometimes free of charge. They are fairly accessible with my screen reader.

5. communication like zoom videoconferencing and web chats

A man with only his Torso visible. He is wearing a doctor’s coat and stethoscope around his neck. He is holding a cell phone in his hands.

The internet  allows for multiple communication methods. We can use videoconferencing  or web chats to not only connect with friends and family, but conduct business  and medical appointments. If you can’t meet in person, set up a quick Zoom call. I have personally enjoyed the ease and convenience using videoconferencing for my book club meetings  and community discussion groups.

6. Sending and receiving emails

Emails are as old as the internet itself. They are another way we communicate online. Emails are delivered extremely fast compared to traditional correspondence. Remember writing and mailing letters? We call it snail mail because of its slowness.  Emails are sent  and received all day and all year round. They are sent and received from any computer, anywhere in the world with an internet connection .

7. Read news  stories, papers, magazines and journals

Stack of Newspapers

Just about every print publication can now be read online. Think of your local, regional or national newspaper and more than likely  there is an online version. Same goes for magazines and journals.

I use to read my news in print. For years, I would grab a paper or magazine  and hold in my hands to read it. Although print publications  are sadly declining I appreciate  digital content because it is easier to read with my vision loss.

8. social media interaction

Want to engage wit friends, make a professional contact or create a TikTok video? It can all be done online. Social media has  provided opportunities  for us to connect electronically  and share our lives, interest and even be entertained.

9. Job searching

Woman sitting at table using a laptop to look for a job

Those of you who spend time surfing the web know full well advancements in computer technology have made it easier and better to search for employment online. As a job seeker, we no longer must go in person and fill out a paper application or physically fax a resume and cover letter. Today we can independently and on our own time go online to search for jobs.

With my screen reader, I can upload my resume and cover letter to a prospective employer’s website. Or I can create a username and password to log in to generate an online profile. Or I can fill out an electronic application and search for a job using an online recruiting job board. All these advancements are awesome because as a blind person I can apply for jobs from the convenience and comfort of my home.

10. research   and find info

I am naturally curious and doing  internet research answers most of my probing questions. I can do  a quick Google search and look up and learn about  most anything. Have a question? Just “Google it” as they say. You will find all kinds of info. But use caution and  check multiple sources

I got my 10 ways but what about you? How do you take the internet for granted? How has using the internet improved your life?

July is Disability Pride Month and  Is There Pride in Being Blind?

The Disability Pride Flag. There are Five Colors representing the diversity within disability and our experiences. The colors stand for: Red for physical, Yellow for cognitive and intellectual, White for invisible and undiagnosed, Blue for mental illness, and Green for sensory perception.
The Disability Pride Flag. There are Five Colors representing the diversity within disability and our experiences. The colors stand for: Red for physical, Yellow for cognitive and intellectual, White for invisible and undiagnosed, Blue for mental illness, and Green for sensory perception.

A Response on Becoming Disabled

Back in August 2016 I read a very interesting article in the opinion section of the New York Times. It was titled, “Becoming Disabled” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. It asked the question, Where is our disability pride movement?” Afterward I wrote my own thoughts  and personal reflections. In honor of Disability Pride  this month I am dusting off  my piece  and reprinting  it here. It is still relevant as we in the disability community continue to work, advocate, teach, communicate  and find  pride in ourselves.

Empish standing near President Roosevelt statue in Washington, DC

In the beginning of the article, Garland-Thomson noted unlike other marginalized and minority groups the disability movement hasn’t gotten the same level of attention. She reasoned it is because we have a clearer idea of race, gender and sexual orientation; but when it comes to being disabled maybe not. I agree. In my 20+ years of disability, there has been a lot of work I have had to do to educate people about what that really means. Whereas it has not been the same for being female and Black.

People make assumptions about my abilities in thinking I can’t work, go to college, travel safely, cook in my kitchen, own my own home, enjoy a movie or date and the list goes on and on. I find myself constantly having to explain to people that I can do all these things and much more. Sometimes people are not convinced until they “actually see it” and then not even then.

Empish at gas stove

A deeper issue is the varying degrees of vision impairment, most people are not totally blind or totally sighted. Some might have light perception, no center or peripheral vision. Their vision might be blurry or they might have floaters in their eyes.

Learning New Skills and How to Communicate

Garland-Thomson went on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. She said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. Indeed, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States.” But even with that the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. When I lost my vision I didn’t know automatically how to be blind. It was actually the opposite. I had to be taught. I had to go through a vision rehabilitation program where I learned braille, mobility and assistive technology skills. There was a big learning curve and a huge life adjustment going from being a fully sighted person to low vision and later total blindness.

Garland-Thomson went on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. She said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. Indeed, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States.” But even with that the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. When I lost my vision I didn’t know automatically how to be blind. It was actually the opposite. I had to be taught. I had to go through a vision rehabilitation program where I learned braille, mobility and assistive technology skills. There was a big learning curve and a huge life adjustment going from being a fully sighted person to low vision and later total blindness.

Not only did I have to learn these new skills but communication and language had to be worked out. Understanding “I am visually impaired or blind now” is a hard pill to swallow. Then trying to communicate that concept to others can be overwhelming. Even though I got a degree in journalism and thought I was fairly good at written and oral communication, I had to work very hard on getting my point across after I went blind. People misunderstood what I wanted and vice versa. I had to learn patience and understanding. Sometimes I would have to rephrase the question or statement and try again to explain. People thought they knew better what I needed neglecting even to ask me and I would have to find a gracious way to correct them on that point. Also, in conversation people would be naturally curious, asking questions that were not always appropriate about my vision impairment leaving me to try and find a polite way to tell them that it was none of their business.

Identifying  Yourself

Another point that impacts  our pride movement is what we call ourselves. Are you calling yourself blind? Are you calling yourself visually impaired? What about partially sighted or legally blind? Do you use people first language where you focus on the person and not the disability; or name the disability upfront? Trying to make this decision all plays a role too.

I personally use the word blind because that is truly what I am. It is clear and straight to the point. But there are times in some social settings where I do use the word visually impaired to help make people feel more comfortable and at ease. This way they don’t feel so awkward or uncomfortable being around a person with vision loss. But should I try and do that? Maybe or maybe not.

Positive Role Models and Images

Photo of Helen Keller

This leads to my last point. We may fail to see or read about positive images of blind and visually impaired people accomplishing great things in society letting our minds take on a negative viewpoint. Sometimes it is hard for us to relate to situations and circumstances unless we have had direct exposure to it or unless we know someone personally who has. Growing up I don’t remember reading or hearing much about people with disabilities or people that were blind. I did read a book about Helen Keller when I was in middle school; and I did listen to music by Stevie Wonder and ray Charles but that was about the extent of it. Still that exposure didn’t tell me much about their personal lives and how they really dealt with their disability. So, when I went blind I was not able to really use those people as role models.

But I was fortunate to have had a blind co-worker when I was a teen in a federal government summer job program. She was an older woman and used a white cane and assistive devices I would later use too. I remember her independence and how she was able to work and do her job effectively; telling me I could do the same.

When I look at the beginning of my journey, I can’t say there was pride in being blind because of the huge adjustments to vision loss. But today, I can say that I am proud to be blind. I have accomplished much in my years and don’t look at it in a negative way. I see how my life has added value to society. I also see how I have been able to help so many people through my own personal journey of disability. I can relate and understand people’s pain and problems a lot more than before. I am not ashamed to be blind because it is just a part of who I am not all of who I am.

Deaf Culture Facts I Learned from Reading True Biz

Two people having a sign language conversation over the computer. One person is at a table and the other is on the computer.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I recently joined Book Nation for another virtual discussion about the book  True Biz by Sara Novic. The conversation with the author, who is deaf, was noteworthy because she shared about her life and the writing process for the book. But reading The audiobook was such an educational and intriguing read. First, she recorded the sound of ASL dialogue to differentiate from spoken dialogue. Before  this I had never read an audiobook  about deafness where I could hear the  sound of sign language. It made the experience more realistic.

Second, I learned so much about deaf culture  and the deaf community I didn’t know . Although, I am blind, I don’t take for granted I know everything about other types of disabilities. I took this reading as an opportunity to be entertained and learn.

Book Summary

True Biz focuses on three main characters. Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who wears cochlear implants and has never met another deaf person before. As a result, she struggles with communication with the limited sign language she knows. Next is Austin, the school’s most popular kid because of his family lineage  of deafness, but his world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing. Last is February, the hearing headmistress, a child of deaf  adults (CODA) who is struggling to keep her school open and her marriage intact, yet unsuccessful at both.

The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf are typical kids. They just want to hang out, pass their finals, and have adults stop telling them what to do with their bodies. True Biz is a  story about sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss. This is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.

Chapters were separated by the voices of the three main characters with sections on deafness inserted. These sections I found the most interesting as they educated me on deaf culture. Novic was initially resistant to adding these sections to a novel but later reasoned that the hearing community  would  likely have no working knowledge of deaf culture and without  information would lack understanding and empathy. She was right. Here are some of the facts I learned from reading this book:

Finger Spelling Doesn’t Count

1. Use finger spelling only for proper nouns and names. You should look at the shape of the word not the individual letters. This technique is very similar to learning braille. Although my braille skills are limited when I was learning it I was encouraged to not touch letter by letter but get the feel of  the whole word. This would increase my speed and reading comprehension.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Here’s a fascinating bonus fact I learned about myself. I was a sight speller before I went blind. If the word looked correct then it was correct. Over the years my visual memory  has decreased impacting my spelling. As I was reading this book, I struggled a bit with Charlie. Since she was a finger speller  and her sign language  skills were not sharp. She spelled out everything and I would sometimes get lost in what she was trying to communicate. I would have to rewind  portions to hear exactly what she said.

Meaning of True Biz

2. True Biz is an idiom in ASL. Meaning, in context it is something different than the denotation of the constructed signs and hand shapes. It means true business, seriously, literally, no kidding and real talk.

Deaf Cures

3. The variety of cures for deafness were just as broad  and creative as those I have heard for blindness. One was to insert olive oil, red led, bat wings  ant eggs and goat urine into the ear. Then you have faith healings like the time Jesus healed a deaf man in the Bible. Harsh chemicals like mercury were used. One particular healing technique was to fly the deaf person upside down to correct pressure on the ears. Lastly, we have hearing aids, cochlear implants and stem cells. Early models of cochlear implants actually destroyed residual hearing, and  success could vary  widely. When it comes to stem cells the questions of ethics   and consent arise. Who gets to decide if stem cells should be used or  not for deaf children?

ASL Influenced by France

4. The usage  of what would be later called American Sign Language  (ASL)  was greatly influenced by a sign language teacher named Laurent Clerc  from France. Deaf Schools there were using sign language and when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who later founded America’s first school for the deaf, came to learn and observe  he brought  those techniques back to the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because braille came from France too.

Manual Verses Oral Communication

5. Late 19th Century manual language verses oral communication for deaf children was a hot button topic. The thought was if a deaf person could learn how to speak they could better assimilate into  the dominant hearing society. Also, there were strong beliefs around eugenics, championed by Alexander Graham Bell, who had a deaf wife and mother. It was used to forcefully sterilize disabled people. Bell was not a proponent of sterilization. Instead, he believed if deaf people talked  rather than sign they would be more likely to not marry each other and produce more deaf children.

Banning Sign Language

6. In 1880 educators gathered  in Italy to determine deaf education. It was decided to ban sign language worldwide. This ban would be in place for the next 80 years. Some schools like Gallaudet, pushed back and resisted but many others stop the usage of sign language. The history of braille has some striking similarities. Initially blind children  learned how to read by touching raised embossed letters. This process was painstakingly slow. When Louis Braille invented his code it was initially rejected partly because sighted people  couldn’t read and understand  the formation of the raised dots on the paper.

Interesting, how abled body people assume they know best when it comes to people with disabilities. This of course is ableism and can cause great harm.

Punishment for Deaf Children

7. Deaf children were forbidden to sign. If they did, there was severe punishment. Hands were tide, tapped with rulers  or slammed in desk drawers. This decision resulted in fewer deaf teachers, role models or professionals for deaf children to emulate. Further stigmatizing deafness in society.

Black Deaf People Communicated Better

8. I knew that Black deaf people had their own version  of sign language, called BASL. But  one fact I didn’t know  was during the oralist period  they were better communicators. White deaf people were forbidden to use sign language and to speak only. So, sign language teachers  went to segregated Black deaf schools and taught them sign. This resulted in them learning how to communicate better.

These are just a few of the facts I learned from reading True Biz. Learning something while being entertained   was enjoyable. If you are curious about deaf culture  and love a good story, I highly recommend  this read.

Making Accessible Origamis: How Folding Paper Stimulated My Brain

White origami crane

Accessible Origami Class Offered

For some years now I have been interested in taking an origami class. I would see them advertised  all the time at my local library. But thinking they were probably not accessible I didn’t  pursue it until recently. The American Printing House for the Blind offered a virtual weekend origami class  via Zoom. When I saw this opportunity I knew it was time  to satisfy my curiosity and learn something new.

Surprise by Mental Benefits

Well, I was not disappointed. Not only  did I learn how to make origamis but how to stimulate my brain in the process. And what a surprise! I had no idea that taking an art class  would do so much to energize my cerebrum. It has been documented, tasks that challenge our minds strengthen our brains. Now, before I get to all the wonderful mental benefits I acquired let me pause  and explain  what an origami is  and how things work.

What is an Origami

An origami is the Japanese art form of folding paper. When the paper is folded it creates either one- or two-dimensional objects. These  objects can go from simple to the most complex depending on the numbers of folds. Typical origami objects are cranes, flowers, boxes,  airplanes, boats, fish, rabbits and dogs.

Woman folding colorful paper with her hands to make an origami object

Since I was taking a beginner class the instructor kept it simple. In other words, no complicated  animals or other objects. During the 90-minute class I made two origamis. The first was a corner bookmark and second was a snack cup/pocket similar to the containers for fries at fast food restaurants. As I was creasing and folding my square piece of printer paper, it  slowly dawned on me the mental benefits I was gaining from this class.

1. Mental Concentration

First was mental concentration. As I listened to the instructor, I had to pay close attention  and focus on what I was doing. Making origamis are  not to be done while multi-tasking. You have to focus on the direction of your fold, when to tuck or pull,  when to crease or rip. You can’t be checking your social media or email, talking on the phone, or doing some other mind-numbing task. You need all hands-on deck. Literally and figuratively.

2. Persistence and Patience

Second was persistence and patience. Like two peas in a pod,  these two traits  are needed for successful  origami creation. I quickly noticed the need to pace myself  and breathe. I could feel some slight frustration creeping in as I was making my corner bookmark. I struggled with visualizing  what the instructor was saying causing me to not understand her instructions. Then I fell behind  and needed her to repeat the directions. fortunately, she was very encouraging, stopping to be sure everyone  was understanding and not wanting anyone left behind. I  was comforted by  that gesture and it motivated me to keep going.

3. Problem Solving

Third was problem solving. Making origamis are similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. You got to figure out where the pieces go. As you fold and tuck  the paper; the  pieces slowly slide together producing  recognizable artwork.

4. Perfectionist by Nature

Forth was the wild card. I am a perfectionist by nature and this class exposed it. Yet it supported my creativity. It  challenged me to aim for excellence not perfection. See, I wanted my design to be exact. I wanted it to be perfect but it wasn’t. The instructor told us to crease the paper and bend it back and forth  to make it easy to rip off. This was excess paper we didn’t need. I followed her directions but when I ripped off the extra paper it was not smooth. The edge was jagged, not perfect.

I realized what was happening. This was my first attempt at making origamis. I needed to relax and just enjoy the process. I told myself this is an art class and remember to have fun.

Ready for a Brain Boost?

Need  a brain boost? Looking for a mental challenge? Want to learn a new  artistic craft? Consider creating origamis. It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month  and why not explore this historical and cultural activity. You can learn more about accessible origamis  by reading this blog post written by my instructor. Also , if you are a Facebook fan  check out the group called Accessible Origami Project.

First Paralyzed Athlete Competes in Archery at the Olympics

woman sitting on a chair helping her young son shoot a bow and arrow

Even though archery is one of the oldest sports in existence, it is still practiced  and played today. In recent years it has increased in popularity  and  is observed on May 14, the second Saturday in May-National Archery Day . In honor, I’m sharing about a woman who was disabled and very talented in archery. Her name was Neroli Fairhall and she was the first paraplegic athlete to compete in the Olympics. I initially heard about her listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Womannica. I was so intrigued I’m retelling her story. Hopefully  after reading this post, you will feel the same. So, let’s get started.

Riding Horses and Accident

Neroli was born in 1944 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since childhood, she was very physically active   and rode horses Even competing in local horse-riding events. But that all changed in 1969 when she was in a motorcycle accident. As a result, she  was paralyzed from the waist down. She was 25 years old and it seemed her life and career was over. I could definitely relate to this experience because I lost my vision at 25 as well. When you go through a traumatic experience  it can definitely appear that  things are over for you. That all you knew and understood  comes to a crashing halt. But this is not the end of the story.

Archery Becomes New Sport

Neroli reinvented  herself and tried a new form of athletics. She got with Eve Rimmer, who was at the time New Zealand’s most famous disabled athlete. Eve was paraplegic too and encouraged her to try shot put. Neroli realized she could still participate in sports. She discovered she had the aptitude and personality for archery. In order to participate one must be focused and calm under pressure, have a good eye, And  a competitive spirit. She had all the above.

First National Championship

In 1976, Neroli competed in her first national archery championship and placed third. Three years later,  she was on the New Zealand national team. Just one year after that, she was at the Olympics, winning her first national title.

Although a historic accomplishment Neroli never made it to the archery range. No one from her team did. Led by the United States, 66 countries, plus New Zealand, boycotted the Moscow-hosted Olympics in protest of the Soviet-Afghan War. Neroli was heartbroken. But she quickly regrouped  and  went to the 1980 Paralympics in Holland. She won a gold medal and set a world record in the double FITA rounds, an intensive form of target shooting.

Competing at Brisbane

In 1981, Neroli won her second national title, and was named to the New Zealand team for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. It was the first and only time that archery was included in these Games. And Neroli was the first disabled athlete to have ever competed in any event. She competed in the double FITA. The four-day event begins with each archer shooting 144 arrows. This means 36 each at four different distances. The top 24 competitors then enter a grand round. Nine arrows, at each distance. Winner takes all.

Older man in wheelchair practicing archery
Older paraplegic man in wheelchair aiming with bow and arrow on archery training

On Neroli’s first day at Brisbane, she fought with the wind, finishing twelfth. But she persisted, and the next day, pulled herself up to fourth. The third day, she was third. The final day there was a standoff between Neroli and Janet Yates, a teenager from Northern Ireland and the favorite.

Janet Yates led. most of the day but  began to crack under pressure during her final 3 shots. Neroli stayed calm. After much deliberation  and a recount, It was determined by officials Neroli won the gold medal.

Made the Olympic Team with Challenges

In 1984, Neroli’s Olympic dreams finally came true. She made the archery team. But being the Games’ first paraplegic athlete proved hugely difficult. First, her steel wheelchair set off multiple alarms at airports and competition venues. Resulting in an inspection of every part of her chair even the air-filled cushion she sat on. Second, reporters circled her , each trying to get the scoop on her historic appearance. Finally, her execution was lacking. Neroli finished 35th in a field of 47. Perhaps  this less than stellar performance  was partly due to the little support for disabled athletes  competing internationally.

More Olympic Competitions and Final Years

Still, Neroli would go on to compete in four Paralympics, five world championships, and win a total of five national titles. A shoulder injury halted her final Olympic attempt in 1996. During the final years of her career, Neroli coached elite New Zealand archers, and served as an administrator for disabled sports. Neroli died in 2006, at the age of 61.

Max Cleland Has the Heart of a Patriot While Surviving His War Wounds

A man sitting in a wheelchair with one missing arm and missing legs. He is being fitted with a prosthetic arm by a medical technician.

Day Remembering Vietnam War Veterans

When I think of veterans November  comes immediately to mind because of Veteran’s Day. Or Memorial Day coming up soon in May. But I was surprised to see a national observation for veterans on my calendar. March 29 was National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

After I saw this commemoration pop up, it immediately made me think of two things. First was my father who  was a Vietnam War veteran. He was not a fan of this war and rarely spoke  about it. He passed away some years ago  and I wonder  his thoughts on such an observation. Second Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam War veteran and Georgia politician. He died in Nov. 2021. His book, “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove,” has been on my list to read. I thought there is no time like the present. This national day of observance  was the push I needed to read and review  his book.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

In the forward Cleland speaks directly to brothers and sisters of war. Those who are trapped in the memories. To those overwhelmed, coping on their own and struggling with what we have done and what has happened to us. To those left hopeless  and confused about our lives. He says, “It does not make us victims, it makes us veterans.”

Cleland was born and raised in Georgia. He lived  in the same town I reside in today. There is even a street named after him in the downtown district of the city. His father was in the navy during WW2 and he had other family members who served in the military. He was a  captain during the war. He   signed up for more time in the war because he felt he had to do his part.

War Injury and Rehabilitation

The day he was wounded by a grenade explosion was April 8, 1968. Eight days after President Johnson called for an end to the war. He came back from Vietnam missing three limbs (right arm and both legs)  and was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors were not optimistic  about his future, but through the bonds he formed with other wounded soldiers, and through his own self-determination, he learned how to be mobile and overcome his despair.

As I read about his rehabilitation journey, I learned some new things about amputation such as the importance of knees. When he first tried to get artificial legs  there was resistance because he had no knees  and you need them to bend   for walking and climbing stairs. They are the key to balance  and mobility. During that time, they were made of wood and very heavy.

The doctors told him he would need crutches to use the wooden legs. But with one arm that would be nearly impossible. Yet, Cleland was determined to walk again and did everything required to do so. He did walk with those wooden legs until he was upgraded to plastic ones with knee support. Later on, the stress and exhaustion, especially  during the beginning of his political career,   caused him to go back to using a wheelchair.

He shares openly and honestly about his rehabilitation. For example, trying to get dressed using only one arm. He struggled with buttons on his shirt  and putting on pants. It made me think about a recent episode of The Shark Tank where a contestant pitched her business of accessible clothing for  people with disabilities, specifically amputees.

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

He shared about the differences in treatment between Walter Reed and the Veterans Hospital. He was released from Walter Reed and had to  continue at the VA Hospital. At that time, they were not prepared to deal with Vietnam veterans  as most patients were  from the Korean War or WW2. Additionally,  he says that 80% of patients were there for health problems unrelated to war  . As a result,  he felt lonely  because he couldn’t connect to the other men  as many of them were veterans from a different generation and also heavily medicated.

Reading his story, I could relate to the feeling of loss. Cleland talked about how  his feelings of safety, security  and sense of self were gone in a heartbeat. Although I didn’t become disabled because of war it did happen pretty quickly  and traumatically. My life was turned upside down.

Leads VA and PSD Revealed

Cleland  takes his artificial legs  and goes home to become the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Next, President Jimmy Carter appoints him head of the Veterans Administration. He believed his mission was “to care for those who have born the battle.”

He recognized the lack of funding for veterans  yet always plenty for war. Nine million served in Vietnam,  from Aug. 4, 1964, to May 1975, with millions of them wounded and injured. There was a push to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PSD) not just physical injuries. Living on hyper alert takes a toll, seeing death firsthand takes a toll, and killing takes a toll. In 1978VA psychiatrists finally admitted that PSD existed. and became an official psychiatric diagnosis. Meaning that veterans could get treatment and financial benefits. Years later he would benefit from this decision as he too delt with PSD.

At 40, he became Georgia’s youngest secretary of state. During his time in office, he appointed the first Black assistant secretary of state. He opened the process and registered 1 million voters. He was secretary of state for 12 years  but was not fulfilled politically.

It wasn’t until he became U.S. Senator. that he accomplished his dream. Battling a smear tactic  causing him to lose his seat and 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, Cleland was pushed to the edge. Depression and PSD surfaced during this time. He was dealing with deep depression  and seeking  therapy and better medications. He went back to Walter Reed  for help.

Seeks Therapist and Help for Depression

At Walter Reed he was thrown back into Vietnam as he saw wounded veterans  coming back from the battlefield. He was deeply distressed and moved by what he was seeing  as the signs were so similar to what he had also experienced many years before.

A woman in a wheelchair along side another woman working with her on a computer

Despite all of that, he was able to get help for his depression and PSD. He found a great therapist  and medication that actually worked effectively. He learned how to reconcile  his past with his present. To remember who and what he was before he went to Vietnam and became disabled. Reclaiming that part of himself was a big part of his healing. He learned to find a new sense of himself at last.

I got quite emotional as I read Cleland’s memoir. I thought about all he went through. All  Vietnam veterans went through and probably still do. All my dad went through. Even in some ways how much things haven’t change since then. But also, how much  it has changed. I realize the goal is to keep going. To not forget the past but to look forward to the future.

Blind History Lady  Shares How a Black Blind Teacher  Educated Her Own

Headshot of Peggy Chong

Editor’s Note:

In honor of Women’s History Month, I contacted the Blind History lady, Peggy Chong, to share the story of Emily Raspberry, a Black  blind woman who became a teacher  for the blind and visually impaired. This blog post is a reprint from the February 2022 issue of the Blind History lady monthly email. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Vision Loss and Early Schooling

Emily Raspberry was born December 12, 1915, in Alabama. Emily came down with the flu at age four. When Emily recovered, she was totally blind.

Her mother sent her to public school with her older brother. However, no accommodations for a blind and Black child were possible. So, Emily listened and participated in class orally, not learning to read or write. Finally, Emily was sent to and enrolled at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind in the fall of 1926. Although Emily was homesick, there was so much to learn. In only two weeks she mastered the braille code and read all 130 books the school owned. A new world opened to Emily. She had a glimpse of the sighted world and she wanted to be a part of it. Emily’s teachers were impressed with her quick accomplishment of the braille code and placed her in the upper class. She studied hard to cram in several years of learning into her first year.

Death and Separation From Family

Red and white roses on a casket in the back of a white hearse on a bright sunny day

Emily returned home on May 22, 1927, finding her mother gravely ill. She was home only a few hours before her mother died. A funeral was planned in days. After the funeral, Emily was told she would live with her half-sister, in West Virginia. During this time, Emily experienced a range of emotions. She felt the joy of returning home to show how well she could learn and be successful as a blind child. To the shock of  her mother’s death. To the heart-wrenching separation from her family.

Education and Decision to Teach the Blind

Emily was enrolled in the West Virginia School for The Colored Blind almost immediately. She found they had twice the braille books in their library and magazines in braille. Emily threw herself into her studies. She found her classes were harder than in Alabama. Unlike other schools, West Virginia held unsegregated classes including both for the deaf and the blind students. The boys had one dorm and the girls the other. There were no separate dorms for the blind and deaf students. Rooms were crowded, sometimes three or four boys shared a room that would have been considered small for two.

There is no record of when Emily graduated, but it is believed to be either 1932 or 1933. She went to college afterward and enrolled at the West Virginia State College for Negro’s in Dunbar. At the end of her first year of college in 1935, she knew she wanted to be a teacher in a school for the blind. Her hope was to share her love of reading and literature to open the world for other blind and colored students to the possibilities of the outside world. She graduated in 1938 and continued classes through the West Virginia State College, enabling her to become a certified teacher of the blind. She received her master’s degree from Hampton University.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

Emily started as an academic teacher in the primary grades at the West Virginia School for the Colored Blind in 1940 in Institute (Clarksburg), West Virginia. She taught reading and writing for the blind kids and deaf children in her classes. When the school for the white, in Romney, and the school for the colored combined in 1955, she was one of only three teachers from the colored school that made the transfer. Not all the colored students from Clarksville transitioned to Romney. The staff at Romney were friendly but Emily did not mix socially. For at least the first year, Emily took a room in the student dorms as did the other single teachers. As a single woman, and the only Black faculty in the blind department, she may have felt out of place.

Innovative Teaching Style

Emily was innovative in her teaching style. When she recognized a spark, she assigned a poetry lesson for spelling class to bring out the creativity of the students. The children were encouraged to write a poem including all of the spelling words for the week. In her braille classes, she taught the students to work with a slate and stylus, while other teachers used the Perkins Braille Writer. She incorporated listening to the radio into her classes to ensure student’s interest. Lessons were assigned to write about what they heard on the radio. The eighth-grade class in 1956, wrote a quiz show based on the show, “The Big Surprise.”

Emily supervised school trips to watch plays or listen to concerts. For years, Emily had season tickets to the Cumberland Classical Musical Series. Each year, she paid season passes for four students who had an interest in music. She took the students to the concerts by bus or driver. When an interesting movie, mostly historical films such as “Man of All Seasons,” was premiering she would ask students to accompany her. She paid for their tickets and treated the kids to their own box of popcorn.

popcorn in a movie theater style square package with movie tickets in the background

A memorable year was 1967 when she was chosen to supervise a student teacher. Emily was honored and proud as the student teacher was a former blind student. In 1969, Emily taught health. Most likely not her favorite subject, but she entered the class with the same enthusiasm as her English classes, even though textbooks were more than twenty years old. One assignment was to make up word puzzles relating to their health lessons. When the project was over, the best questions were put into an article for the school newspaper, “The Tablet,” to show how much her students learned that semester.

Travels and Experiences on Vacation

Emily frequently took the Greyhound bus to Washington, DC for vacation. When a student of hers also rode the bus, she would talk to them about their schoolwork or family. In class, Emily mentioned her travels to DC commenting on the friendliness of the hotel staff and sadness that the maids were paid so little. Other summer vacations were never wasted. She took classes at Harvard. In 1961 she worked as a proofreader for Perkins Braille Press. Vacations meant visiting exhibits at the planetarium, museums, or attending concerts usually in Boston. At one concert, she spoke briefly to Senator Edward Kennedy, who was also attending. Their meeting was exciting for Emily, and she shared the news with her students about her encounter with a man who would make history. There were also trips to attend conventions of the AAWB of which she was a member.

Retirement and Death

She retired at the end of the 1977 school term and moved to Boston. Emily kept in touch with some of the Romney residents. They wrote to her in print, and she answered them in print. She died September 12, 1988, in Vermont.

About the History lady

Peggy Chong is the author of more than a dozen books about “Blind Ancestors” who have made a difference. Her monthly email list to her followers highlights another “Blind Ancestor.”  She wrote the history column for Dialogue Magazine, “The Way We Were”.

In 2016, Peggy launched “The Blind History Lady” project. This project has to date published thirteen books, detailing the lives of what she calls her “blind ancestors” who quietly made a difference in the lives of the blind men and women of today. Each book highlights their struggles and triumphs as blind people and highlights the normality of their lives and how each person was an integral part of his/her community as a normal citizen.

Peggy’s goal is to have the history of the average blind and disabled person taught—not just to the blind and disabled themselves, but to those entering into professional fields where their jobs will impact people with disabilities. Blind people historically held regular jobs and pursued professions that are the same as professions occupied by people without disabilities. These blind individuals performed exceptionally well, setting examples for others. By understanding what the blind and disabled have achieved in the past and knowing the history of the contributions made by people with disabilities to our country, our society will be much more willing and accepting of the disabled.

For more information and to subscribe to her monthly email list contact the Blind History Lady at theblindhistorylady@gmail.com.

The Personal Librarian: A Story of Power, Passing and Progression

The Personal Librarian Book Cover

Book Summary

The Personal Librarian  by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is an excellent read in honor of Black History Month. I read it a couple of weeks ago and then attended a virtual discussion with one of the authors that was literally amazing.

According to Benedict’s website this historical fiction book is a remarkable story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation. In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage, letting her pass as white. Her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

My Thoughts Plus Spoilers

After reading this book I realized how much of American history I still have left to uncover, explore and learn. I never knew anything about Belle or her story. And what an incredible story! So, here are my thoughts with spoilers. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to hear the juicy details bookmark my blog and read later. In addition, I am going to share about the author discussion with Victoria Christopher Murray. She spilled a lot of the tea about Belle, elaborating on parts of the book that were true and parts that were fiction. For this review I will break the book up into three sections: power, passing and progression. There was so much to unpack but the three elements that were the strongest centered around the incredible power of J.P. Morgan, Belle and her family’s ability to pass, and the progression that Belle made as a career woman in a male dominant environment.

Power of J.P. Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan, more commonly known

as

J.P. Morgan was an American financier and industrial organizer. He was known as one of the most powerful banking figures during his time. Morgan financed railroads and helped organize U.S. Steel, General Electric and other major corporations.

Portrait of JP Morgan

In 1871 he formed a partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel and 24 years later it was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Company. This firm became the forerunner of the financial giant JPMorgan Chase. Morgan used his influence to help stabilize American financial markets during several economic crises, including the panic of 1907. However, he faced criticism that he had too much power and was accused of manipulating the nation’s financial system for his own gain. The Gilded Age titan spent a large portion of his wealth gathering a vast art collection. Morgan was one of the greatest art and book collectors of his day, and he donated many works of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His collection, the Morgan Library, became a public reference library in 1924.

Belle’s Passing as White

Belle and her family had been passing as white and living in New York for many years before working with J.P. Morgan. When they first moved there from Washington, DC, her father, Richard Greener, was a part of the family but when Belle’s mother, Genevieve, checked them off white on the census report her father was done. He had been a fierce civil rights advocate and believed racial change could come through activism and legislation. Her mother thought different. Passing has always been a sticky subject in the Black community because of its implications. The act communicates a person is better than other Black folks. That they look down on others and the community. It communicates that a person is using their lighter skin tone to gain the advantage in a way that darker skin people will never be able to do.

But what I found interesting in the story of Belle and her family is the passing had to do more with pure survival than anything else. Belle was immensely proud of who she was and where she came from. She didn’t deny her family or her legacy. Her family passed because of fear and the dangerous racial climate at the time. Her mother was distressed by the death threats she and her family got when they lived in South Carolina. Her father was working as a professor and the Ku Klux Klan had threatened to lynch him, his wife and two small children if he didn’t leave. So, they left and never returned. Belle’s mother never forgot that time and later shared it with her as a reason for passing. She was also worried about the increasing lack of opportunities for advancements for Black people. In her mind passing was a way to get a head and gain some kind of equal footing.

However, passing paid a high cost. You had to give up your family, friends and any connections to your past. Belle had to give up her relationship with her dad, who she was very close to, and extended family in DC. She also refuse marriage and children because it might reveal her true identity. There was also the regular stress, worry and fear of being found out. Thus, being cautious was critical to survival. Belle had to watch how she carried herself. How she handled her day-to-day activities. For example, her mother strongly warned her to not give eye contact to a Black person. This advice was to remind her to act white because white people didn’t pay attention to Black people in social settings.

Progression Of Belle’s Career

Wall of Book Shelves

When Belle got hired to be J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian this was a huge step forward in her career. Not only would she be working for one of the most powerful and richest men in the country she would have the salary and prestige to boot. Belle was working during the time when women were fighting for the right to vote and women didn’t work outside the home. Her status and position immediately went up when she started working on his collection of art and rare books. But Belle didn’t take that for granted. She knew that she still had to work twice as hard to prove her worth and value. She was also the main financial provider for her mother and siblings. Belle was a woman in a man’s world and she didn’t forget she was Black. So, she learn several foreign languages, how to be flirty, outgoing and engaging. She upgraded her wardrobe and style. Morgan introduced her to high society and made her a part of his immediate family. She learned how to negotiate shrewd art deals and stand out at auctions. By the time Morgan died in 1913, Belle had established herself as a force to be reckoned with. In his will she was guaranteed employment for one year along with a substantial monetary amount of $50,000. But Belle ended up working as his personal librarian until her retirement in 1948.

Talk with Co-author

After reading Belle’s amazing story I attended a discussion with one of the authors via Zoom. It was hosted by Book Nation  by Jen. During the conversation Victoria Christopher Murray talked about the writing process, where the idea of the book came from, and details about what was fact and fiction. I especially enjoyed her comments about how Belle became known as a Black woman in the first place. Apparently, Belle’s plan was to never have her racial identity revealed. But some of her father’s old documents were found decades later uncovering that secret. Another interesting fact is the Morgan Library will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2024 and during the celebration her office will be on display as well as letters from her long-distance lover revealing more details.

Why I Loved the Story of a Blind Adulterous and His Deceitful Wife

Wall of Book Shelves

Reading with My Ears Book Review

How long can a husband who is going blind keep that fact from his wife? Can a Sighted Spouse Deceive Their Blind Partner Based on Vision Alone? Is it possible to commit adultery with a woman who is also your legal wife? What happens when the two meet and the truth is revealed? The book “Lady Folbroke’s Delicious Deception” by Christine Merrill addresses these questions and so much more.

Here is the overview by Barnes and Noble: Emily married the love of her life and hoped that he would learn to love her. Instead, he upped and left their country estate for London. Suffering the snub with dignity, three years on Emily has had enough! Confronting her errant husband, Emily sees that Adrian, Earl of Folbroke, has been robbed of his sight and doesn’t know her at all! Emily longs for her husband’s touch. If she plays his mistress by delicious deception, can he finally learn to love his wife?

Loved the Blind Main Character

Okay, you got the gist of this romance novel. Now, let me tell you why I absolutely loved reading it. And I am going to try really, really hard without giving away any spoilers because I want you to read and enjoy it too. So, here goes. The overall reason I loved the book was because of the blind antagonist, Adrian. I have read a lot of books over the years and rarely do I find a blind main character, especially one that is like a regular human being. Let me explain what I am talking about. Many times, people who are blind are portrayed in stereotypical ways. We are the super crip accomplishing huge feats that even sighted folks can’t do. Or we are like little angels that don’t sin or do anything bad. Or we are like Casper the Friendly Ghost hovering in the background like window dressing but have no real purpose or importance. Or we are asexual and either we don’t have/want sex or are not seen as sexually attractive. Are you getting my meaning now? I sure hope so because I am out of examples.

Struggles with Going Blind

So back to Adrian, the wayward husband. He abandons his wife and moves to the city. Why does he do this? Because he is going blind and can’t face the music. This is very realistic and true. Our society puts so much shame on becoming disabled. Many of us who go blind as adults have a real tough time dealing with it and then society, friends and family might not react well to the news. There is fear, shame   and anger when you are going blind. This story was way back in the day and it wasn’t like he had a support group, therapist or someone to call who understood what he was dealing with. So, he ran away.

Then the next thing he did, which a lot of us in the blind community do, is Fake it ‘til you make it. Adrian acted like a drunken fool and spent time around unseemly people as a way to deal with his situation. He pretended he could see when he couldn’t. He avoided his true social connections, family and of course his wife because they would see right through his charade. He acted this way because he was depressed and saw no future.

Process Blindness in a Positive Way

But in other ways he was processing his blindness in a positive way. He had started to use a stick (official white canes would not be developed until much later) to travel and get around. He got directions and remembered how to get to places he had been to before his vision decreased. He was also learning how to use his other senses. Merrill gave several good examples of this with his smell and hearing. Even his sense of touch was explored with touching clothing and body parts. This is a romance novel after all! You got to have some sexy love scenes and they were displayed in vivid description.

He was also figuring out his food plate which is a huge deal for us blind folks. Certain foods I don’t eat in public, like spaghetti with tomato sauce. Just a bit too messy! He wrote letters with a special writing guide. I have one similar and used quite often in my early days of vision loss.

I appreciated Merrill’s focus on Adrian’s resistance to connecting to the blind school yet wanting to help blind people. I totally understood this concept. During that time, the school for the blind only focused on vocational training whereas Adrian was an educated man. He had also been in the military and was a lord. This school wouldn’t have worked for someone on his level. yet, when he came across a blind woman who was begging on the street he offered to help her beyond just giving money.

Wife Decieves Blind Husband

Adrian is my blind hero and why I love this book. But his wife, Emily was interesting too. Once she discovers he can’t see and doesn’t recognize her she plans to deceive him. On the surface this seems cruel. But remember he left her in the dust for 3 years and has been committing adultery. So, girlfriend is doing a little payback! Deep down she loves him and wants to help him regardless of his vision problem. Lots of times when a person becomes disabled the marriage can fail because adjusting is difficult. Many times, the disability reveals problems and issues that were already there and hadn’t been delt with in the marriage. Such as the case in this story.

This novel of love and romance is a real yet sweet one. It was published in 2011 so I am sure it is available everywhere. I found it at my local library as an audiobook and listened to it on my Hoopla app. For my blind and visually impaired friends, it is available through the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. If you are looking for a story with complicated characters that are not one dimensional with some drama going on along with hot steamy  romance, this book is for you.

My Blindness Protected Me From the Full Grief and Horror of September 11th

Spray of White Funeral Flowers

For years I have said little to nothing about the September 11th attacks. Keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself for the most part. Not because I didn’t care or have empathy for all the people who suffered and died. Not because of the seriousness of the attack and later our involvement in a war. Rather it is because September 11th was such a visual event and being totally blind I struggle to have a connection to it.

Let me explain what I mean. First of all, this is not a blog post about where you were when x y z b happened. It is more about how my blindness protected or kept me from fully participating in a national, universal experience. This event was one of the first times I realized how my blindness separated me from other people. That I was different. In some strange, weird way it protected or kept me from entirely engaging in the pure devastation of the day. I was removed from it because I couldn’t see it. I was not able to totally share in our collective grief and horror.

Lost Vision Right Before September 11th

My father had passed away a few years before and I had gone totally blind in 1999. So, it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with grief, pain and suffering. Losing my vision and only 2 years prior was a real traumatic event and not one to shrug off easily. Therefore, I felt that my feelings of sadness and empathy were there and available. Still, something was missing.

Can’t Visualize the Attack

My roommate at the time attempted to describe the event. I had no visual memory of the Twin Towers only the Statue of Liberty. She positioned my hands as two tall buildings standing side by side. Then she took one of her hands and pushed it into one of mine to simulate one of the planes crashing into one of the towers. Yet, after all of that I still didn’t quite get what was happening. How do I visualize two tall skyscrapers falling down? How do I understand people jumping and falling out of buildings to their death? How do I visually process a large airplane flying directly into a building? How do I visualize a building collapsing into itself? And then the huge cloud of debris and dust that went up into the sky coming back down to cover everything and everybody on the ground. I could not visualize any of this no matter how hard I tried.

Book and Podcast Finally Help

It was years later when I read the fictional book title “False Impression” by Jeffrey Archer where one of the main characters was in New York on September 11th. The author vividly described the scene and action. The character was in one of the buildings in the staircase coming down. She escaped only to get caught up in the cloud of debris. Then I got it! The buildings falling, the people jumping to their death, and the cloud covering people on the ground. Things began to make sense. And all from reading a fictional book years later! Who would have thought?

It happened again last year when I was listening to the Talk Description To Me podcast. They did an excellent episode on September 11th. They described the day but more importantly they described photos. The one that is sealed in my memory is of a Black woman, named Marcy Boarders, who was covered in so much debris it was hard to identify her race until she wiped her face. She was called the “Dust Lady.” She was just covered from head to toe. It was just that awful. I could actually imagine this beautiful and distinguished woman in her nice business suit coated in filth and dust. As they described her appearance my heart sank. I was deeply saddened for what she and many others went through. Then to find out later she died from stomach cancer was terrible. Again, I got it. The images really sank in and I understood the gravity of the situation although many years later.

Speaking Up at 20th Anniversary

Now, we are here at the 20th anniversary. After all this time I feel I can say something about this day and not feel so disconnected. I can join in on the conversation when people recollect and share their stories. Yes, my blindness did protect me but I do understand better what happened from a visual perspective. It has taken time but knowing this helps me to be more mindful, empathetic and caring to people who experience loss on this day.