Carol M. McCarl

Over the years, Carol has often been honored for her work in the blindness field by the press and the local community. Here are a few highlights:

2006 Migel Medal Award Winner

Carol M. McCarl, the winner of the 2006 Migel Lay Volunteer Award, is the founder and Executive Director of Blindskills, Inc., an Oregon-based nonprofit that distributes information to visually impaired people and their families. She was the founder and editor of LIFEPRINTS, a magazine for youth and young adults with vision loss and in 1990, she became the editor of DIALOGUE magazine. She has 35 years of experience teaching visually impaired students in Connecticut and Oregon and serves on the boards of several blindness organizations. The Migel Lay Volunteer Award will be presented at the 2006 Annual Conference of the American Council of the Blind.

The 2006 M.C. Migel Medals were presented on March 4 during the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. The AFB Migel Medal–the highest honor in the blindness field–was established in 1937 by the late M.C. Migel, the first chairperson of AFB, to honor professionals and volunteers whose dedication and achievements have improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. (March, 2006)

The 2006 Professional Award Recipients are Kevin Lessard, former Director of the Perkins School for the Blind, and Rachel Rosenbaum, President of the Carroll Center for the Blind.

Community Partner Hero

Carol McCarl has helped visually impaired people for more than three decades.

The Salem woman, blind since birth, is the founder and executive director of Blindskills, a nonprofit organization that distributes information to visually impaired people and their families locally, nationally and in Canada.

She was the founder and editor of Lifeprints, a magazine for youths and young adults with vision loss, and the editor of Dialogue magazine, which is available on cassette, in 18-point print, in Braille, via e-mail, and on computer disk.

Earlier this year, McCarl received the Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor bestowed to anyone working in the blindness field. (From the Salem, Oregon, STATESMAN JOURNAL, September 7th, 2006)

A Distinguished Career in Teaching and Human Services

An Interview with Carol M. McCarl
from DIALOGUE, May-June 2005
by Karen Lynn Thomas
Austin, Texas

Founding an organization and publishing an international magazine, in addition to teaching and being a wife and mother, has kept Carol M. McCarl busy making the world a better place for 45 years. We talked with her about her life and career to gain insight into her accomplishments as a person who was born with limited eyesight, which was gradually reduced to light perception as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. Carol attributes her success to the positive outlook she was born with and the high expectations her parents always had for their children.

Carol has two grown children of her own, Janey Ray and Pete Derouin. Janey and her husband Jim are the parents of Stephanie Elise, age 18 months. Jim was recently elected president of the board of directors of Blindskills, Inc. Pete is a major in the Army National Guard stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. In addition to being a grandma, Carol enjoys dancing, traveling and volunteering in her community.

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 did you get your first job?

A: During college, I was asked by the supervising teacher of the preschool summer program at the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped to work as her assistant.

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: At what point in your career did what you’re doing now become your goal?

A: It just evolved. I just thought I would start a magazine that would be for the teenagers and the college students, so they would have some way to know about resources and have some career role models. That was the point. I only meant to publish a magazine.

Q: Did you have a mentor?

A: Two. One was my mother. She didn’t know she was being a mentor. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse, and on Sundays, she would get the worksheets ready for her students. I would always want to go with her and pretend I was the teacher. I would sit at a desk and write, making believe I was doing my preparation like she was. The other person who really made the difference was my own second grade teacher, Miss Peterson, who was also my supervising teacher during my student teaching. She really put me through the paces of the things I needed to be able to do. There were just great opportunities to learn. I have always loved music and the music teacher, Mr. McCarthy, was an example to me too. To see those accomplished blind people let me know that I could succeed. I was offered a scholarship to go to Boston University from an instructor and I thought that was the direction I should go.

Q: What courses in college proved helpful to you in your career?

A: English, of course, including literature and the classics. I think the whole college experience taught the discipline that’s required to manage when you have to listen to everything on tape. I didn’t have a single braille text and that was terrible. Completing courses in which you have no interest teaches perseverance. It helps you prepare for life, because life hits you with a lot of adversity. If you haven’t been dealing with challenges along the way as a young person, life hits you harder.

Q: Have you ever had a career setback?

A: I don’t think so. I went off to college and then off to teach and that was that.

Q: Has anyone ever given you a major break?

A: When I got my master’s degree, I applied all over the country to public schools because I already knew how the residential program worked. I had completed the teacher-training program at Perkins and I was offered a job there, but I wanted to try the itinerant system. I sent letters all over the country and I kept getting letters back that said, “No, we don’t want a blind teacher.” On my last day in Boston, I had a call inviting me for an interview with the superintendent of public instruction in Waterbury, Connecticut. That day, when my dad came up to my door after driving a thousand miles from Wisconsin, I greeted him with, “We have to go to Waterbury before we go home.” Monday morning I interviewed with Mike Wallace and I said, “You know I’m blind.” He seemed to think there was nothing better than a successful blind adult teaching a blind child. I think he accidentally hired me. He gave me a chance because he hadn’t connected with the other superintendents around the country who were not hiring blind people. Mr. Wallace gave me an unusual opportunity to design a new program to serve visually impaired students from K-12. My plan included the requirement that children in kindergarten through the fourth grade learn reading, writing, and arithmetic along with compensatory skills in one classroom with me in the morning. In the afternoon the children were with their primary level teacher and classmates down the hall. I instructed students from fifth through twelfth grade in the afternoon, meeting with them in their neighborhood schools. I traveled to six schools each week. The system worked well and was continued for many years after I came out to Oregon to teach.

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 washout 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 we’re proud of our accomplishments. That caused us to have high standards. We were expected in our family to excel and do our best.

Q: Would you describe a typical workday?

A: I collect the mail from the post office, listen to voicemail messages, and check the e-mail. Tisha and I then look at the calendar and prioritize projects for the day. We decide which fire we’re going to put out today. We sort and log manuscripts. We process new subscriptions and renewals. We write grant proposals and thank-you notes to donors. We answer callers on the toll-free helpline and assemble packets of information to send to them. Some days there are speaking engagements. We prepare for a support group, board, and other meetings.

Q: What skills are important for you to do your job well?

A: The major skill is the people skills and the perception I have for what is needed. It’s a gift to be a good listener and be able to assess the meaning of what you hear in order to solve problems. It’s important to be resourceful and have good networking skills in the community. It also takes good writing and speaking abilities.

Q: What tools enable you to work the most efficiently?

A: Technology when it works. The computer, JAWS, Duxbury and the braille embosser, in particular, are important for my job. I have a brailler at home and at work. I always have my slate and stylus in my purse so I can take notes. It’s my pencil and I don’t have to worry if it’s charged.

Q: What do you find the most challenging in your work?

A: Being a small organization, you never know what your day is going to be like. A problem with the computer or a couple of phone calls can throw your day way off from what you thought you would be doing. There’s the time management factor and then there’s the fundraising, which is so vital for a nonprofit. Funds have been really tight the last four years due to the economy.

Q: What is most rewarding?

A: The help that we provide to people. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs this rewarding in that you know you are needed and that you have helped. We’re here to distribute information to visually impaired people and their families to improve their lives. That’s our mission and when you can be a part of it, it feels rewarding.

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 luck 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.

Q: Are there professional organizations, trade journals, and networking opportunities you would recommend?

A: For teaching, it would be good to have a membership in a teacher’s association. Students will find student memberships in associations and organizations like Future Teachers in high school and college helpful. For working in nonprofits, research local resources. Every community has an agency that supports nonprofits and that can provide information about starting and running a nonprofit in your state.

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: Elementary grades, Oregon School for the Blind, Salem, Oregon

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

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

1983: Founded Blindskills, Inc.

1983-1995: Publisher, LIFEPRINTS

1990: Became publisher of DIALOGUE magazine

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

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