Carol M. McCarl–Called Into Publishing

by B. T. Kimbrough

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some portions of this profile of the magazine’s late publisher appeared in previous issues of DIALOGUE.

Looking back on that life-changing phone call from DIALOGUE Founder Don O. Nold in August of 1990, Carol McCarl said that it came as a complete surprise. She and Nold had never discussed DIALOGUE’s future, and she had never been asked to serve on its board or editorial staff.

At the time, McCarl was seven years into the publication of her own magazine, LIFEPRINTS, in addition to a full-time teaching position at the Oregon School for the Blind. She didn’t remember Nold’s exact words when he asked her to take control of the struggling magazine from which he had retired ten years earlier; but McCarl clearly remembered exactly how he explained why he was so sure that his idea would work. “I know you can do it because you’re already publishing a magazine.” And she never forgot her initial response: “I said, ‘Well, that would be the point for me NOT to do it, in that I am teaching and already have two jobs.'”

When that phone conversation ended, McCarl thought, “I have to find somebody else to do this. It’s too big a job.” She went so far as to make contact with the Hadley School for the Blind. But Hadley officials told her that the Illinois correspondence education provider could not help because the school had no experience with publishing.

As McCarl continued to ponder Nold’s proposition, there were all kinds of reasons for saying “no.” Her tiny creation, Blindskills, was virtually running out of her home, and it was tightly stretched just to keep publishing LIFEPRINTS, a magazine for blind and low-vision students and their families. Her teaching job at the Oregon School for the Blind often demanded extra time, and she had just applied for a job with the prestigious teacher training program at Portland State University.

There was only one reason for her to consider taking on the huge task Nold was offering her. “DIALOGUE was my favorite magazine, and I didn’t want it to stop.”

Of course, that was not the first time Carol had realized she just had to find room in a busy teacher’s schedule for publishing a magazine. Back in the 1980s, she had made a courageous decision to publish a magazine for students without knowing where the resources to do the job were going to come from. Thirty years later, in 2013, she told me about the moment of decision that caused her to literally remake herself into a publisher.

“I was teaching blind students in three counties in Oregon. I had a little third-grader named Janet who was learning braille. One morning when I was there with her she was sitting to my right reading her book in braille, and she reached over and felt my book and she noticed it was braille. She felt my hand, and she jumped into my lap and said, ‘You read like me!'”

That was when Carol decided to create LIFEPRINTS, a magazine featuring successful role models of real blind people describing how they made things happen. Blindskills became the nonprofit entity that organized the necessary fundraising and record-keeping, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For five years, beginning in 1990, Blindskills published both LIFEPRINTS and DIALOGUE–a remarkable achievement for an organization much smaller than the original DIALOGUE, which had its own standalone headquarters building in Berwyn, Illinois. During four of those tumultuous years, she was still a fulltime teacher for the Oregon School for the Blind, a position from which she retired in 1994.

Career Path Timeline

1955: Graduate, Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped, Janesville, Wisconsin

1955-1959: B.S. Elementary Education, Edgewood College of the Sacred Heart, Madison, Wisconsin

1959-1960: M.S. in Special Education, Boston University

1960-1964: Itinerant teacher of blind children K-12, Waterbury School District, Waterbury, Connecticut

1964-1970: Teacher, elementary grades, Oregon School for the Blind, Salem, Oregon

1970-1973: English and typing teacher grades 7-9, Oregon School for the Blind

1973-1983: Itinerant teacher for K-12 in Marion, Polk, and Yamhill Counties, Oregon

1983: Founded Blindskills, Inc.

1983-1994: Instructor for high school students and supervising teacher for Portland State University students, Oregon School for the Blind

1983-1995: Publisher, LIFEPRINTS

1990: Publisher, DIALOGUE

1994: Retired from teaching

1995: Combined the content of LIFEPRINTS and DIALOGUE to create DIALOGUE: A World Of Ideas For Visually Impaired People Of All Ages

2007: Retired as Executive Director of Blindskills, while remaining as Publisher of DIALOGUE–a position she held until her passing in May of 2019

In Her Own Words

For the May-June issue of 2005, Karen Lynn Thomas, who served as editor of DIALOGUE for several years, interviewed Carol McCarl about the challenges and rewards of being a publisher, and about her career in general. Except for an interview I recorded with her back in the 1970s, this may have been one of the few occasions when Carol answered questions for DIALOGUE, rather than asking them. Here are a few excerpts from that 2005 interview:

Q: What did you want to do when you were a child growing up?

A: I always wanted to be a librarian. I liked books and I liked to read, but I realized that might not be a good thing for somebody who doesn’t see very well because maybe I wouldn’t get jobs in that field. I enjoyed playing teacher when I was a little kid, but I might have been trying not to be a teacher because my mother was one. When I got into high school, I figured it out that I really would like teaching. I liked being in school, so I thought I could be at the other side of the desk.

Q: How have your childhood and family experiences affected who you are personally and professionally?

A: I believe that the best place a person can grow up is on the farm where there are jobs to do and things that cause you to feel needed and have success. In our home, we had to help clean, do dishes, and hang the wash out on cold days. Chores like feeding the calves were needed and with my parents, you had to do a good job. They didn’t say, “You can’t do that.” They would just say, “Here’s how you do that.” They showed us how to do things and were proud of our accomplishments. That caused us to have high standards. We were expected in our family to excel and do our best.

Q: What previous job best prepared you for this one?

A: I was motivated by my students who were blind and attended public school. They just didn’t have any blind role models. There needed to be somebody to try and explain the abilities of blind children and their potential. I dive into things without really being prepared. My own life prepared me. I survived going off to Boston as a farm kid from a rural background and poor family. I always figured if I lived through that year, got my master’s, and didn’t get run over by the MTA, I could live through anything.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to achieve what you’ve achieved?

A: You don’t pick a career because somebody tells you that’s what blind people do or you can make a good buck with that job. Instead, you ask yourself if you are comfortable even thinking about doing that and do you find yourself drawn to that career. You have to like what you’re doing. You also have to know if you have an aptitude for your pursuits. You shouldn’t be afraid to change course if you feel you’re being guided in a different direction.

Accolades and Accomplishments

Happily, Carol McCarl’s efforts did not go unnoticed in the blindness field and her adopted home town of Salem, Oregon. In 2006, she received a Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind. The following year, she was honored as a Community Partner Hero by a prominent Salem civic organization.

She also had tangible, measurable accomplishments, the kind that she knew could make a difference in people’s lives. For instance, she lived to enjoy the publication of more than 100 DIALOGUE issues that would never have existed without her intervention. She had the satisfaction of knowing that DIALOGUE more than doubled its life as a magazine due to her efforts. When the original publication ceased in 1990, DIALOGUE was 28 years old. When Carol read through the articles for this issue, she was helping to begin the 29th year of DIALOGUE’s new life under her leadership.

Beyond mere numbers, it was the content that she delighted in. As we finished work on the Winter 2018 issue, the last one we completed together, she told me DIALOGUE was still her favorite magazine. And anyone who knew Carol at all well would know she wouldn’t have said it if she didn’t mean it.