Tag Archives: Reading

African American Slavery and Disability in the American South

African American Slavery and Disability Book Cover

Reading with My Ears Book Review

For many years I have been curious about the life of the disabled slave. My first exploration was learning about Blind Tom, the Georgia slave who was never emancipated. But that was not good enough and I wanted to learn more. Through digging a little deeper, I found a book at one of my favorite libraries, Bookshare.   The book is titled, African American Slavery and Disability: Bodies, Property, and Power in the Antebellum South, 1800–1860 by Dea H. Boster. The summary says that, disability is often mentioned in discussions of slave health, mistreatment and abuse, but constructs of how “able’ and “disabled” bodies influenced the institution of slavery has gone largely overlooked. This volume uncovers a history of disability in African American slavery from the primary record, analyzing how concepts of race, disability, and power converged in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The book was different than others I have read on slavery because it seemed more academic in tone but I thoroughly loved the historical context and the numerous real examples of disabled slaves. The book is broken down into three parts: Bodies, Property and Power.

Part I Bodies

This book shows slavery as a disability in and of itself. I never saw slavery in that light before but as I read the book the more, I saw what the author was saying. When you think of the word disability it means lack of control of a particular bodily function and the slavery of African Americans reflected that. One side said that slavery was best suited for African Americans because of their mental and physical state but then the institution of slavery debilitated them as well. Normal was viewed as controlled, healthy, moral, male and strong whereas disabled was viewed as the total opposite. Disability was considered a mark of dishonor except from war wounds.

Disabled slaves were used as the poster children to help eradicate slavery because many of the slaves became disabled from cruelty not from birth. Abolitionist used the testimonies of disabled slaves as part of their programs against slavery. Slaves would share about floggings, attacks by blood hounds and other bodily harms that caused them to become disabled. They would display their bodies during presentations or testimonies.

Another point under the part about bodies is that disabled slaves didn’t look at themselves as others did. Disability could come from mental, physical and sexual abuse. It could also come from unsafe work conditions, meager food and clothing, repetitive stress and punishments for infractions. They didn’t see themselves as week or useless. Much like today people with disabilities don’t see themselves the way society does. We view ourselves in a positive light and feel we have much to contribute. Disabled slaves would exhibit endurance and transcendence which was displayed in animal folktales. These stories displayed a weaker or powerless animal using their mental wit to overcome the more physically stronger one, like in Br’er Rabbit.

Soundness of a Disabled Slave

masters evaluated the soundness of a slave by three things: ability to perform manual labor, face value as a commodity and individual health. A slave’s overall health was low on the list and disease didn’t factor in on soundness, but things like epilepsy could because of its unpredictability. Poor diet, lack of suitable clothing and shelter caused disability. Rheumatism and blindness were mention often as debilitating conditions. Whippings were a form of punishment and didn’t render the slave physically disabled but it did have psychological affects whereas a branding was to totally humiliate the slave. Proper medical attention was hard because of lack of knowledge by owners, lack of compassion, or lack of medical doctors to provide care. As a result, slaves relied on each other or a conjurer or root worker for natural healing remedies.  This was a part of the slave’s identity and resistance.

Part II Property

Disabled slaves were sometimes labeled useless because of their inability to perform at peak levels. Their monetary value was decreased, or not able to be fully controlled or disciplined by their masters. Disabled slaves performed duties such as cooking and other house duties, nursing, child care, gardening and watching livestock. Owners wanted to get the most out of their slaves as humanely possible but slaves could negotiate as to how much of that labor, they could actually perform. You might think that duties of disabled slaves were light and less strenuous than an abled bodied slave but that is not true. For instance, the work of a cook was one of the most laborious because they had to rise early and stay late, prepare lots of meals, grind meal and gather firewood. Watching small children was also hard work for a disabled or elderly slave. Children ranged from small infants to 5 years old and a slave could be responsible for many children at one time.

Some disabled slaves were hired out and also learned specialized skills or trades because it made it easier on the body. If a disabled slave worked as a tailor or shoemaker, they could find some relief and still be found useful. The contributions that disabled slaves made on the plantation were important but owners viewed them as useless. This was evident in their printed records, journals, insurance policies and other documents. Unfortunately, this perspective still holds true today. People with disabilities add value and contribute greatly but mainstream society doesn’t always see, acknowledge or reward it. We are seen as less than and devalued solely based on our disability and therefore treated as such.

It was documented that some owners showed benevolence to their old and disabled slaves by allowing them to stay with their families as they aged and debilitated. But according to the author these examples are rare.   Disabled slaves received abuse and punishment just like abled bodied slaves. The most common was not completing an assigned task or duty. The idea of reasonable accommodation in the workplace was not a concept in the arena of American slavery.  Owners didn’t always take into account that a disabled slave would perform at a slower rate or that the task might be more difficult or complicated to do.  So, if a task was not done, regardless of disability punishment would be delivered. Depending on the degree of punishment some slaves died as a result. One would consider this murder although owners did not. Besides punishment disabled slaves suffered neglect. Many would get reduced food rations, no new clothes or poor shelter. Some slaves were even abandoned to fend for themselves getting no assistance from family or the slave community.

Disabled slaves were also used as part of medical experimentation.  According to the author the most well-known procedures that were done were on slave women. It was understood back then and even today that African-Americans feel less pain making them better candidates for medical experimentation. Doctors would perform surgery without anesthesia, test remedies and use disabled slaves in medical hospitals and schools for educational purposes. These were ways that an owner could recoup the cost of a disabled slave since the slave couldn’t perform hard manual labor.

Documenting Disability  for Estate Planning and Sale

A stack of four books on a table with one book closed next to a cup of coffee and saucer.

Since disabled slaves were property it was important for owners to document their disability for estate planning and sale. Owners had to walk a fine line with being honest about a slaves mental and physical condition but not sharing too much or the slave might not be saleable.  They were documented in slave records with their particular kind of disability or if they were aged. Records would show slaves labeled as “gets fits”, “blind in one eye”, “hand injured”, “old Betty” or Old John”. They also gave them names of endearment such as “uncle” and “auntie” to indicate that the particular slave was aged. At the time of sale slaves were thoroughly examined to help determine retail value. Tests for hearing, eyesight and physical movement were performed. Slaves were required to disrobe to inspect their bodies for burns, scars and injuries. Scars from whippings were scrutinize more severely as a sign of a difficult or unruly slave. Bad teeth were a sign of poor health. Slaves were asked questions about their overall health and disability along with the examination. Owners would give a guarantee or warranty of health during the sale but, of course, there was no true absolute guarantee that a slave was totally healthy or sound.

To prepare a disabled or older slave for sale many owners would go through great lengths of disguise. Grey and white hair would either be plucked out or colored black to create youthful appearance. Scars, urns and injuries were greased over. Slaves were strongly encouraged and/or threaten to answer questions quickly, cheerfully and with a smile on their face. Some slaves were given large portions of food prior to sale and/or better clothing to wear. Slaves were aware of the transaction taking place in their sale and sometimes would hide or embellish their disability if it would help prevent their purchase, punishment or separation from family. One thing I found interesting    about this whole thing is that disabled slaves saw the lower value placed on them as a benefit because if ever it came time to purchasing their freedom, they knew the price would be more obtainable than an able-bodied slave.

Part III Power

Many times disabled slaves would use their disability to negotiate or manipulate their bondage. They were not totally powerless. By over exaggerating their condition the slave could get out of hard or uncomfortable work duties while still being in good favor with their owner. Many owners relied on medical doctors to help treat their disabled slaves. They did not rely or trust their slaves with the diagnosis of their medical condition. This feeling was mutual as slaves would sometimes hide their physical ailments and seek treatment among themselves. . .  Regardless doctors treating disabled slaves on a plantation was quite a lucrative business. Doctors could make multiple visits and administer various remedies, surgeries or treatments.

Some owners decided to forgo medical attention for their disabled slaves and allowed the condition to linger for months and even years.  It was directly connected to the financial value of the slave. The relationship between the owner, doctor and slave was a complicated one. Owners wanted their slaves cured and back to work. Doctors wanted financial compensation, good reputation and remedies that worked. Slaves wanted relief from pain and suffering. Yet many times these outcomes didn’t always happen in the way that was satisfying for everyone.

Another aspect of disabled slaves’ power on the plantation was faking or malingering their disability. A slave could embellish their pain or discomfort, tipping the scale to their advantage. Female slaves were more likely to fain their medical condition because it was directly connected to their reproductive ability. As a result, owners and doctors took their pleas of pain more seriously. Female slaves might complain of menstrual pain. She might fain repeated miscarriages to gain sympathy, lighter work load or more food rations. Additionally, a female slave’s ability to reproduce was directly connected to the soundness of the plantation and its owner. If a female slave was treated well by her owners then there would be no reason for multiple miscarriages or abortions. In some extreme cases a slave would intentionally injure or mutilate themselves to become disabled to get out of work, prevent a sale or removal from family. All of this was an important method of resistance however small.

This Was an Emotional Read

This was an incredible book and it took me a minute to read through it. I got quite emotional as I read the various examples of disabled slaves. My feelings ranged from distressed to anger to amazement. Slavery is a difficult topic already but reading about disabled slaves was even more trying. But I have no regrets because I took this journey willingly and am glad for it. I am grateful  for their examples of strength, endurance and resistance.

Being an Introvert Helps Me Survive COVID-19

Wall of Book Shelves

Reading with My Ears Book Review

Although a vaccine for COVID-19 is on the way this pandemic is not over by a long shot. There are still a lot of unanswered questions that we have to deal with. As for me I am trying to learn as much as I can about the vaccine. I am still wearing my facemask. I am still practicing social distancing and sheltering in place. This all leads me to something very interesting I have learned about myself over the past year. This new but old discovery is that I am an introvert. I sort of kind of knew this about myself for awhile yet when this pandemic struck and we had to shut down I found myself really being okay with it. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my days when I get a little squirrely but for the most part, I am fine with being quarantined at home.

I spoke to a fellow blogger, Steph McCoy over at Bold, Blind Beauty, about it. As I shared my thoughts and feelings, she commiserated with me and recommended a book for me to read that would help me figure some things out. Of course, I am a book lover and at home, so I got time to read, right? This was right up my alley.  So, I downloaded the audio version of The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths by Marti Olsen Laney and got to learning more about myself.

Summary and Goals of the Book

Before I share with you some of the key points, I gathered from the book, let me give you a quick summary from Bookshare. “At least one out of four people prefers to avoid the limelight, tends to listen more than they speak, feels alone in large groups, and requires lots of private time to restore their energy. They’re introverts, and here is the book to help them boost their confidence while learning strategies for successfully living in an extrovert world. After dispelling common myths about introverts-they’re not necessarily shy, aloof, or antisocial–The Introvert Advantage explains the real issues. Introverts are hardwired from birth to focus inward, so outside stimulation-chitchat, phone calls, parties, office meetings-can easily become too much. The Introvert Advantage dispels introverts’ belief that something is wrong with them and instead helps them recognize their inner strengths-their analytical skills, ability to think outside the box, and strong powers of concentration. It helps readers understand introversion and shows them how to determine where they fall on the introvert/extrovert continuum. It provides tools to improve relationships with partners, kids, colleagues, and friends, offering dozens of tips. Finally, it shows how to not just survive, but thrive-how to take advantage of the introvert’s special qualities to create a life that’s just right for the introvert temperament, to discover new ways to expand their energy reserves, and even how, when necessary, to confidently become a temporary extrovert.” After reading that detailed summary, I knew this book was for me and was a great suggestion from my friend. Now that I have finished the book, I am ready to share the little gems I learned with you about being an introvert and how it is helping me survive COVID-19.

As I was reading there were three goals the author wanted to achieve:

1. Determine if you are an introvert or not

2. How to understand if you are

3. How to nurture your valuable introversion

I Am an Introvert

After reading through the first couple of chapters I realized pretty quickly that I am an introvert. Some of the characteristics are that we have ongoing dialogue with ourselves; and we think too much. Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts and feelings in their head. Yep, that me, especially at 3 a.m. in the morning. That is when I get my best writing and blogging ideas. Who knew?

"Quiet Tea Time" by Kirinohana is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I also realized that it probably started from my childhood. Funny how so many things in life come from when you are a kid. As I thought back to those days I remember before my siblings came along, I spent a lot of time alone and by myself. Playing solitary games and reading books. Two memories stand out specifically. The first memory was selecting toys from the Sears Christmas Wish Book that I could play mostly by myself. Some kind of way I already knew as an only child that I needed to do that. Second memory is winning the summer reading contest in the 6th or 7th grade and feeling bittersweet about it. I was glad that I won but sad that I had time to read all those books. I realized   that I needed to spruce up my life with some other activities besides reading.

Socializing as an Introvert

I have even seen it in my friendships and romantic relationships. I enjoy hanging out with friends but only for a while then my energy starts to go down. Before the pandemic if I was at a get together, I would set a time for about an hour or two because that was about my limit. Not that I didn’t like the people I was with I would just get tired and want to go home. Now with the men in my life, I tend to date guys who are very outgoing and charismatic. I figure it’s that old saying that opposites attract. But sometimes it would get stressful and complicated because the guy I was dating was ready to roll but I was winding down. I would want a quiet night at home but he would want to hit the town.

I also noticed it with crowds especially after I went blind. I don’t care for large crowds anymore because of the sensory overload and sometimes I feel a little bit anxious. No large auditoriums. No mega stadiums. No large crowded and busy malls. Small groups work best for me. This has come in very handy during the pandemic because there is less chance of spreading the virus if I stay in a little group.

Even better if I stay home and that is what I have done the bulk of the time.

Working as an Introvert

A couple of years ago I made a career change and started working from home. I am a freelance writer and blogger–a quiet and isolating type of work life. I am self-motivated, set my own schedule and don’t need supervision. Unbeknownst to me this job shift complemented my introversion.  Then the pandemic came and we all had to stay home. So, I am reading online about people having to work remotely while I was already doing that. It was a lot of change for people and I felt empathy but I personally was not struggling with it. I began to question why and now I know why. Being an introvert has not only helped me with my overall career but also my blogging during this pandemic. I have written multiple blog posts about how people can successfully work from home. Many of those posts were ideas that came from my personal experience along with research and keeping up with trends.

Final Take Aways and Last Thoughts

The final take-aways are pacing myself and taking on extrovert skills. The last couple of chapters of the book were encouraging and reaffirming as they delt with self-esteem and self-confidence. It is okay to be an introvert. That there is nothing wrong with me and the way I move in the world. I really felt good about that because I have felt that my behavior was not always supported. The author took time to explain pacing and energy levels, how they work and how to restore them. I use to think that taking long naps and cuddling up in my bed to read all the time was a bad thing. But after reading this book I see that it is a part of being an introvert. That it is a part of restoring my energy levels and especially since I have a sleeping disorder. This is called nurture your nature.

But there are times when you will have to take on the skills of an extrovert. I have done that many times in my life. I have friends that would even argue me down with the writing of this post to say that I am not an introvert because I am so friendly, talkative and outgoing. Yes, those things are true but I do them because the situation warrants it. If I am at a gathering or event, I will get out of myself and engage with people there. I will not be a wall flower. I will put my best foot forward, smile and be a Chatty Pattie. I now realize that takes a lot of energy and that is why I stay for a short time and leave. When I get home, I go straight to the bed or sofa to rest. 

This book has been a confirmation for me. I can identify who and what I am. I am able to take better care of myself. As they say knowing is half the battle. Now that I know that I am an introvert I can use this to help me survive COVID-19.

It’s the One Year Anniversary of Triple E

A pink birthday cake with a shiny gold #1 candle on top

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, Triple E and I am so excited!  I have been a professional blogger since 2013 but rarely did I speak on topics that I was passionate about or in my own voice. Many of my friends, family members and colleagues would read my work and encourage me to write my own blog. They would encourage me to write my own stories. But at the time I was juggling several balls in my life and the time was just not there to do it. It wasn’t until last year when a door opened and I walked through. So, I took my skills and talents and created something of my own and did it for myself. There has definitely been bumps along the way, and that is to be expected, but it has been a wonderful journey so far.  

As part of my creativity, I called my blog Triple E as a play on my name Empish. I wanted my blog to be about something special. Something significant. Something that people would read and be impacted by. I didn’t want it to just be some words on a screen that added no value.  So, I developed this mission statement:  The purpose of the Triple E Blog is to Educate, Empower and Enlighten you with news, stories and info about the blind and visually impaired community using my life as a focal point.

I also decided to blog about once a week. Knowing my life and schedule a weekly post was a commitment I could handle. I thought about you, my readers. We all get overloaded with content all the time and I didn’t want to add to the list. This schedule became my sweet spot. Last year I came very close with about 51 posts and I know this year I will be able to meet it with no problem. Knock on wood! Crossing my fingers! Pray to Jesus!

Now that I am entering my second year, I have some new things I want to add to Triple E. One of them is around my love of books and reading. If you have been reading my previous post, and I hope that you have, you know this is one of my favorite pastimes. Moving forward I have created a category for book reviews called Reading with My Ears. I plan on doing a review once a month. I am pretty excited about it and have some great reads lined up already. Other new developments you will just have to wait and see because I won’t spill all the tea here!

Last year was just the beginning of this blog. This year will be a great continuation of meaningful post about my life, that will educate, empower and enlighten you. I look forward to the journey and you coming along with me.

Year 2020 is a Wrap!

Fireworks Display

Well, y’all the year 2020 is a wrap! And boy what a year it has been for all of us. Who what have known all the things that happened this year? Wild fires, hurricanes and floods, police brutality, racial tension, distressing elections and of course the big kahuna COVID-19.  I struggle sometimes just to remember what happened last week with so much going on! I am not going to sit here and write one of those top-10-year-in-review type blog posts because you can easily go online and read that already. But what I am going to do is make a meager effort to do a mini recap of some of the things I blogged about here on Triple E.

I started this blog in January of this year and I was able to successfully write a blog post on a regular basis. My goal was to write a post weekly. I didn’t quite make it but I came very close with 50 published posts and with 52 weeks in a year that is not bad! Actually, that is a major accomplishment with all the craziness going on, managing this blog on my own and having a visual disability. So, I am going to pat myself on the back for this one! Woohoo!

Empish and the Author, Noel Holston at Library Book Signing

One of my first post focused on reading and books. I attended a book signing at the library about a man who experience deafness. I was so taken by his story I not only went to the signing, chatted and took a photo with him afterward, but wrote a book review called Life After Deaf. This one post led me to write many more during the year on this topic of books and the devices I use to enjoy them.  I even connected Black History Month with a book I read on Haban Girma who was the first deafblind black woman to graduate From Harvard. One cool thing about blogging is that you can revise, revamp and reprint old post from the past. I did that a couple of times but noted it specifically when I reposted a review on the March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis to honor him when he died this year.

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

Besides my love for books and reading, watching movies runs a close second. Before the coronavirus caused the theaters to shut down, I would go to the movies a couple of times a week. But all of that changed in mid-March and I settled for watching movies at home only. Even when my AMC theater reopened, I decided to not go back and I shared why in a post.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

I have been able to watch movies at home thanks to accessible technology. I wrote several posts this year on how important  this is from being my own tech support to the anniversaries of the ADA and GAAD.

 

The biggest technology change for me this year has been using Zoom videoconferencing. Prior to the coronavirus I used Zoom for one of my monthly book clubs but my usage increased tremendously. This year I started using Zoom for telemedical appointments, exercise classes, socializing and volunteering. I have been Zooming all over the place this year! Unfortunately, all my technology experiences were not positive and I hit some major road blocks. I struggled with depositing paper checks with my bank’s mobile app and my advocacy efforts didn’t provide any relief. I aired out my frustrations here on Triple E. Although I didn’t get a satisfactory resolution from the bank, I was able to from the issuer of the checks.

I felt okay about that and I realized during this COVID-19 crisis that my mental and physical health were more important than ever before.  I wrote about managing my anxiety,  exercising and strengthening my body at home, maintaining good eyecare, wrestling with my lack of sleep, and grieving during a pandemic. Due to all that was happening I made more efforts to keep a positive attitude and pursue happiness in the small things.

Empish Working in Home Office

Now it is time to say goodbye to year 2020. To let go of all that transpired this year and look ahead to the new year. I am excited about the possibilities of what this next year will bring. I have set more goals for Triple E. Writing more interesting stories about blindness and visual impairment. More reviews on books that I have read.  More of my views on current topics, technology and much, much more. So, stay tuned! I look forward to the journey and you coming with me. Let us all have a Happy New Year!

Audio Description Podcast on Current Events and News Gives Me Visual Perspective

Empish Using an iPhone

I am sitting on my sofa watching the 6 p.m. evening news. The reporter stops the broadcast for a news break about a bombing, police shooting, natural disaster or terroristic attack. The reporter gives all the relative information, i.e. the when, what and why. But the scene is all visual and I can only speculate what is actually happening. Since I have some visual memory and imagination I can kind of piece things together but as the years go by and I spend more time on the blind side of things my memories are fading. Certain things I don’t remember anymore and are getting hard to recall. Sometimes when I ask friends and family, they are hesitant to describe the imagery because it is disturbing and painful to watch so I don’t ask often. Other times I refer to newspapers and magazine articles for assistance because this print medium must “show not tell” in its description.

Well, I don’t have to totally rely on any of those things anymore. I can listen on my iPhone to a weekly podcast called Talk Description to Me. The two hosts J.J. Hunt and Christine Malec discuss recent events and topical issues to explore the content of important images, and help place healthy descriptions in their cultural context. Their dialogue is lively, witty, colorful and enjoyable. J.J. is a sighted man and a professional audio describer while Christine is female, blind and curious about all-thins visual.

This podcast launched in July with an intense and sobering description of the killing of George Floyd. Prior to this listening I had not had anyone describe his death for obvious reasons. It was a hard one to hear but I wanted to get a full understanding of exactly what happened to him and the huge national and international reaction. It all began to make even more sense to me after listening to this episode. I went on to learn about the uniform of a current police officer. I realized how much things have changed since I went blind. That officers no longer look like they did when I was a child nor when I could see. Their uniforms have a more militarize look to them. This also helped me put the pieces together with the reactions and protesting that has been going on. Things became clearer and made more sense. I also realize that being blind has kept me somewhat ignorant too my surroundings even though I am not living in a cave with no WIFI. I watch the news, read the paper, books and magazines. The world is incredibly visual and images are so powerful.

Next were the vivid descriptions of the recent explosion in Beirut and the past attacks on September 11th. I remember my roommate at the time trying to describe to me the airplanes flying into those buildings. No matter how she tried I still couldn’t get a clear visual of what that totally looked like. I really struggled with it. But this podcast helped immensely not just with the actual attack but the aftermath and memorial.

Now, I know this podcast sounds like doom and gloom. You might think, “Why in the world would I want to listen to this sad and traumatic stuff?”  Well hold on. Not all descriptions on the podcast are disturbing or triggering. Other episodes focused on social media like Facebook and TikTok; or sport teams and consumer products like McDonalds and Uncle Ben’s rice. A recent episode was on Halloween which described the creative costumes like a Zoom call screen and the coronavirus. I thought how incredibly innovative people are in the midst of a pandemic. We are all trying to keep some level of normalcy in our lives.

Empish Holding Replica of the Capitol and Surrounding Buildings

Even though J.J. and Christine are based in Canada they have objective conversations on American issues and topics. They did a couple of episodes on our presidential election. One described this non-scalable fence around the White House. I knew about some kind of fence but I was taken aback when I heard about this one. Apparently new physical barriers were put up around election day. I remember when I took a vacation trip to DC and visited portions of the Mall. So much has changed since then. They also described one fence that was coated in protest signs. They. discussed current jerrymandering maps. Images of long lines to vote with social distancing. J.J. described photo essays of poll workers and voters. They read the headlines of national and international front pages with their images.

This podcast is so full of information yet richly entertaining. Presented in a respectful and unbiassed way. each time I listen I walk away learning something new. It brings a fresh perspective to current news trends and keeps me abreast. I look forward to each new episode where the “visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description-rich conversations.”

Review of For the Benefit of Those Who See

For the Benefit of Those Who See Book Cover

In a few days the month of October will end and so will Blind Awareness Month. I read this book where the author deals with her fears and curiosities about the blind and embarks on her own journey of blind awareness. The book is titled For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind by Rosemary Mahoney. According to Barnes & Noble  here is a quick overview of the book:  In the tradition of Oliver Sacks’s The Island of the Colorblind, Rosemary Mahoney tells the story of Braille Without Borders, the first school for the blind in Tibet, and of Sabriye Tenberken, the remarkable blind woman who founded the school. Fascinated and impressed by what she learned from the blind children of Tibet; Mahoney was moved to investigate further the cultural history of blindness. As part of her research, she spent three months teaching at Tenberken’s international training center for blind adults in Kerala, India, an experience that reveals both the shocking oppression endured by the world’s blind, as well as their great resilience, integrity, ingenuity, and strength.

I appreciated her boldness and honesty when talking about a topic that people can be uncomfortable discussing. People really do fear the blind which has been on-going for a long time. Initially she was afraid and unsure about teaching at the school. This was partly due to her own fears about blindness in her own life. She indicates that she was already not a well-adjusted sighted person and was born inpatient and annoyed. But over time she adjusts and learns a lot from the blind students she teaches.

While teaching in the program, she talks about the isolation, fear, ignorance and hostility toward her students. She gives vivid details about how the surrounding community reacts to the school as well as the stories the students share about their experiences back home. But what is interesting is that these same things happen right here in the United States today. The United States has some of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, yet bblindness is still among the most feared physical disabilities.

I enjoyed reading some of the historical misconceptions about the blind she researched for the book. The blind has been thought of as idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics with supernatural powers. One of the most persistent misconceptions about the blind is that it is a curse from God for transgressions making them not just dangerous but evil. I could totally relate because I have experienced all of this and much more. There have been times when my intelligence was challenged or where I was perceived as either being very close to God having more spirituality or totally removed from God and cursed.

As humans we fear what we don’t understand or cannot relate to. Blindness can be something that is unconceivable and hard to imagine. Out of our five senses, vision is premium providing endless amounts of information. Facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a huge part of how we interact with each other. So, if a person is blind how do you interact? How do you have a conversation? How do you share common experiences? How do you connect?

Because we depend so heavily on our vision, we can’t even phantom how to live without it. People sometimes overload me with questions about my life as a blind person. How do you get dress? How do you put on your makeup? How do you cook? Do you work anywhere? If so, what kind of work do you do? How do you travel? Do you live alone? Do you have children? And the list goes on and on. People are naturally curious and fascinated at how we live our lives. They just can’t imagine that we are able to function and live a happy, normal and prosperous life. 

With that being said the perception of the blind can be that we are amazing, inspirational and super heroes. This is a form of ablism. I am just a regular everyday person like most people. I get stressed out at times. I laugh at a funny joke. I worry about the environment. I cry watching a sad movie. I have good and bad hair days. I live my life much like everyone else. We have to be careful that in our desire to esteem the blind we don’t go overboard that it becomes insulting. She says, “I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring.” I personally appreciate this comment and think it can apply to all people; sighted or blind.

This was an interesting read. What are your thoughts on this topic?Why do you think people fear the blind? Can anything be done about it? If so, what? Let’s discuss and help change the negative thoughts and attitudes about blindness. Share your ideas in the comment section below.

Hadley Provides 100 Years of Remote Learning to the Blind Community

Empish Reading Braille

For a century the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired has provided remote learning to the blind community. This is an enormous accomplishment. Even more so in the midst of COVID-19 where distant learning, sheltering in place, social distancing and remote access are becoming the new normal. According to their website, the mission of Hadley is to create personalized learning opportunities that empower adults with vision loss or blindness to thrive at home, at work and in their communities. Well, I can attest to Hadley’s mission because I have personally benefited from their instruction. I am going to share my experience, but first let me give a little history on the organization because again 100 years is a long time to be in existence and knowing the back story is important.

History of the Hadley Institute

William Hadley, a former school teacher, lost his sight at 55 and loved reading. He wanted to learn braille but was frustrated with finding a teacher so he taught himself. Along with an ophthalmologist and neighbor, Hadley found a way to share his love of learning with others who had lost their vision too. So, in 1920, the Hadley Correspondence School and the “braille by mail” curriculum launched.  The very first student, a woman in Kansas, had also lost her sight later in life and wanted to continue reading. She mailed her lessons to Hadley, and he corrected and returned them along with encouraging notes. This was the beginning of the close instructor-learner relationship that is a trademark of Hadley learning today.

Ways I’ve Benefited from Hadley’s Instruction

I too was one of those who lost vision as an adult. I learned braille previously at a vision rehabilitation center but realized too late that I didn’t have a good solid game plan on how to implement it beyond the alphabetic code. I learned braille because that is what I was supposed to do and I saw some immediate benefits such as labels for my Music CDs, spices for cooking and metal labels for my clothing. I was not thinking about reading braille books or magazines. Outside of that braille was just a vague thought in the back of my mind. As a result, my reading and writing skills stayed on a rudimentary level; much like a kindergartner at school. So I contacted Hadley to take a braille course and began my journey back to braille. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t finish my course however I accessed other learning tools from Hadley.  The next course I took was on LinkedIn where I went through the modules online to complete my profile and then connected with my instructor. Once we connected, my instructor gave constructive criticism on my LinkedIn profile that was helpful. Another Hadley course was on the keyboard. Over the years my typing and keyboard skills had gotten slack and sloppy. I was making several key punch errors. This course helped me get reacquainted with the home row and other important keys, practice proper posture and slow down my typing for accuracy.

I love a good informative and entertaining podcast. Hadley offers Tech It Out is an hour long, monthly call-in discussion group; but I listen to it afterward as a podcast. There I have learned about all kinds of technology for home, work and entertainment. The very first one I attended we discussed grocery shopping and food delivery apps.  So many people joined in the conversation and that was long before the pandemic! Other podcast topics have been on accessible small kitchen appliances, using tablets, watching audio described movies and learning about streaming services. Their most recent topic is accessing tech support for your devices.

All of the remote learning I gained from Hadley was at no cost, at my own pace and from the comfort of my home. They are a non-profit organization and receive donations to provide these services. I applaud Hadley for the work they have done and have no doubt they will continue to be successful in educating the blind for many more years to come.

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Every Day is Book Lover’s Day for Me

Today is National Book Lover’s Day but every day is book lover’s day in my world. If you have been reading my blog or know me personally you know full well how much I enjoy reading and I couldn’t let this day pass without saying something, right? Of course not. And it being the weekend makes it even sweeter because I can truly relax and get into a good book or two. Honestly, I usually am reading at least one or two at the same time. One on my NLS talking book player and the other on my iPhone.

I have loved reading books since I was a child. My enjoyment began with my parents reading to me bedtime stories from the Golden Book series, which were short stories printed in a hard-bound book with gold trim on the binding. During my middle school years, it was Classics by Charles Dickens and contemporary fiction by Judy Blume. Once in high school and college I was introduced to African-American novels by Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Richard Wright. Even after losing my vision I didn’t quit reading. I did try reading braille for a while but found the process stressful and laborious. So, I stopped with just the rudimentary skills learning my numbers and letters. Today I dig into a good read in audio format.

The ability to escape to another place or time, learn something new or improve my life comes from reading books. Another benefit is the soothing effect and stress relief I gain from reading. Life can get busy and there is lots to do and many things to distract but sitting still and reading a good book slows me down, gives me some peace and helps me to be calm. I encourage you reading this blog to take time today and every day to read a book.

March Trilogy Book Cover

Review of NLS Graphic Novel the March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis

Editor’s note:  Civil Rights icon, Congressman John Lewis passed away on Friday, July 17th from pancreatic cancer. Many news reports, articles, blogs, podcast and conversations are happening right now about this incredible man and the major accomplishments he made to push the needle forward for equality for everyone. As a resident of Atlanta, I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak on more than one occasion at disability and/or social justice events. A couple of years ago I wrote a book review for VisionAware on his graphic novel titled The March Trilogy.  In celebration of his life I am reprinting it here.

The March Trilogy as a Graphic Novel

I don’t typically read graphic novels, as a matter of fact this book that I am reviewing is my very first one. For those that are not familiar a graphic novel is a written story presented with cartoon-type drawings in a panel format. They are similar to a comic book but much longer and with more text. I have been told they are very popular and many people love to read them.  Well, the Library of Congress/NLS record their first one titled The March Trilogy by John Lewis. Although Lewis has published an autobiography in the past, the idea to make his story a graphic novel came from the time he was 15 years old when he first learned about Martin Luther King through reading a comic book on his life.

I was excited to read this book because it was about the life of US Congressman John Lewis.  He is not only an icon in the civil rights movement, more popularly known for his beating while trying to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the March to Montgomery in 1965; but he is an outspoken politician in my hometown of Atlanta. These reasons made me even more interested in reading this book.

The overall story of Lewis’ life was educational and fascinating.  Without giving too much away, I learned so much about his life that I didn’t know and was inspired by his passion and zeal to create change despite some incredible difficulties.  His childhood growing up with parents who were sharecroppers gave him firsthand exposure to racial inequality. He attended college while participating in sit ins at lunch counters and bus boycotts.  Then he later extended his civil rights activities into a career in politics.

Challenges Reading a Graphic Novel

 Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

But after I downloaded the book and started to play it on my NLS talking book player that is when the challenges and some disappointment began. The first thing I noticed is that my mind began to wonder from the story and I had to rewind my player. I realized that I was doing this not because the story itself was not interesting or that I was tired, sleepy or distracted but because I was having a hard time figuring out when the description of the graphic started and stopped. Terminology and phrasing such as “zoom in”, “zoom out”, “next panel”, “we see”, “in the frame”, “the next three panels show” give you an indication that the reader is describing what is in the panel and then going back to the text but if you are not listening carefully you can miss it. It is done very seamlessly. This is not necessarily a bad thing but just an observation. For years I have tuned my ears and my brain to read an audio book and thought that I had become quite proficient but reading this graphic novel challenged my audio reading ability. I had to really pay attention in order to visualize the scene and pictures in order to keep them separate from the actual text. There were times when I thought maybe I am trying too hard and should just let the story flow and not be concerned about it. Perhaps that is the way to read an audio format of a graphic novel?

The second challenge I had with reading this book was the detailed audio description. I love audio description and have written about it many times here on the VisionAware site but in this book, I found it to be a little overwhelming. The description of the illustrations was very detailed and lengthy. I shared my thoughts with a sighted friend who had a printed copy of this book. She listened to the NLS version and we reviewed it together. She understood my concerns and thought that in some ways the descriptions could have been shorten. But perhaps that is just personal preference. Some people like a lot of information when it comes to audio description and some like less. 

On a positive note. I did appreciate the sound effects of the reader that were made within the audio description. That did bring the book to life more and made the story even more interesting. For example, when John was a child, he had to feed the chickens on the farm. The reader actually makes clucking sounds as John is doing this task. Some other sounds are phones ringing and an alarm clock buzzing. The reader also changed the inflections in his voice which I also enjoyed.

But despite these enhancements I have to conclude that a graphic novel is probably not my type of book to read. I found the story itself to be a good one however the illustrations to be a distraction. It was just too much for me to digest in an audio format and it took away from the overall story I was trying to read and enjoy. But perhaps you will read this book and have a totally different experience.

Photo of Helen Keller

My Favorite Quotes from Helen Keller

Today is Helen Keller’s birthday. She was an icon in the blind, visually impaired and deafblind community. She was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing her to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, is now a museum and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day”.

This incredible woman overcame and accomplished so much during the course of her life. So in celebration, I want to share some of her famous quotes  that I like from her book To Love This Life: Quotes by Helen Keller. To start my most favorite one is, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I realized that shortly after losing my vision that I had to take “the bull by the horns” and jump into life. I realized my own mortality; that life was too short and that I might only get one chance to do the things that I wanted. It is amazing that a disability brought me to this decision. Looking at Keller’s life also inspired me as well. I first read about her when I was a little girl and was amazed that a woman who was deafblind could accomplish so much. She learned how to read and write. She graduated from college. She traveled all over the world. She met famous and important people. She fought for civil and human rights. She co-founded Helen Keller International, an organization initially for blinded WWI soldiers. She was outspoken and a feminist. She did not allow her disability to keep her from enjoying the fullness of life or participating in it. Her life was truly an adventure! I model my life the same. Continue reading for more of my favorite quotes.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

“I think the degree of a nation’s civilization may be measured by the degree of enlightenment of its women.”

“True teaching cannot be learned from text-books any more than a surgeon can acquire his skill by reading about surgery.”

“I cannot but say a word and look my disapproval when I hear that my country is spending millions for war and war engines—more, I have heard, than twice as much as the entire public school system costs the nation.”

“Personally I do not believe in a national agency devoted only to the Negro blind because in spirit and principle I am against all segregation, and the blind already have difficulties enough without being cramped and harassed by social barriers.”

“The woman who works for a dollar a day has as much right as any other human being to say what the conditions of her work should be.”

“I am younger today than I was at twenty-five. Of course the furrows of suffering have been dug deeper, but so have those of understanding sympathy and inner happiness. Whatever age may do to my earthly shell, I shall never grow cynical or indifferent—and one cannot measure the reserve power locked up in that assurance.”

“The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people towards them.”

Now that you have read some of Helen Keller’s famous quotes are you motivated, inspired or encouraged by her life? Did you know about Keller before now? What do you think about her and her contributions to society? Share your thoughts and feelings about Keller in the comment section below.