DIALOGUE Articles

Blind Ambition

by Christopher J. Lynch, Los Angeles, California

New Challenge

By this point in my life, I thought I understood the meaning of the word “challenge.” After all, I had been active my whole life and had climbed numerous peaks, including Mount Whitney and Mount Kilimanjaro. But those past glories quickly faded when I met a group of brave individuals who taught me in a few short months what I had spent an entire lifetime trying to learn.

The goal was Mount Baldy. At 10,064 feet, it was the highest point in Los Angeles County and the third highest mountain in Southern California. I had climbed it at least a dozen times before and had led over 50 people to its trademark iron sign at the rock-strewn summit. But those were people with a full inventory of senses. Leading a group with little or no sight over rutted trails and past steep drop-offs to a summit almost two miles above sea level would dramatically change the equation.

My contacts at the Los Angeles Braille Institute were able to provide 14 adult students who wanted to make the climb. They had varying degrees of visual impairment, from the totally blind to those who just barely met the definition of legal blindness.

In addition to the wide disparity in the magnitude of their impairment, the students also came from a variety of backgrounds and had lost their sight in unique ways. Odette lost her sight from a rare blood disease while giving birth to her daughter. Melissa lost hers as a result of rheumatoid arthritis, Demetrius from a botched cataract surgery. Joanne (aka “Jo-Jo”), was the only one to have been born blind.

The First Hike

After receiving “Sighted Guide” training from the Braille Institute, several volunteers and I embarked on our first training hike on April 17. We had three months to train for the Mount Baldy summit in mid-July.

The first hike was Chantry Flats/Sturtevant Falls, a benign family hike of three miles with nary an elevation gain. I had done this trail at least half a dozen times before, but it looked foreign to me now as I saw it through different eyes. A rut in the middle of the trail could force you dangerously to one side or another; a tree root served as a tripwire to a face plant; every rock was a potential twisted ankle.

I could sense the tension in both the volunteers and the students that first day. How would the blind students respond to their sighted guides? Would the guides be up to the challenge of leading the students safely? How would the students, familiar with the perils of city streets, fare on the unforgiving terrain of a trail? Would we have arguments, hurt feelings, or worst of all–injuries?

The first mile or so was tentative; the guides were hyper-vigilant and the students, unfamiliar with their new leaders, remained on guard. Slowly though, a thaw began. From my position up front, I could hear the chattering increase.

We went a little more than three miles and made six stream crossings that day without incident. The highlight was a grand 60-foot-high waterfall at the turn-around point that the students could both feel and hear. More importantly, relationships were beginning to form between the students and guides. Trust would be an important factor as the trails got steeper and more treacherous.

Preconceptions about blindness were also beginning to break down. One of the sighted guide volunteers remarked, “Wow. I expected them to all be very sad and bitter about their situation.”

Solstice Canyon And Beyond

Over the next several months, we completed more training hikes of ever-increasing difficulty: Solstice Canyon–three miles, 300 feet elevation; Sycamore Canyon Falls–five miles, 500 feet elevation; Mishe-Mokwa Trail–six miles, 1,000 feet elevation; and Icehouse Saddle–seven miles, 2,700 feet elevation. On July 3, we set out on the hike that would determine whether or not we were ready for Mount Baldy. We would climb Mount Baldy’s little brother, Mount Baden-Powell.

Named after the founder of the Boy Scouts, Mount Baden-Powell stands just to the north and west of Baldy. At 9,407 feet and with four miles of switchbacks, it would be our toughest hike to date.

The apprehension at the trailhead that day was running extra high as it would be a make-or-break for many who had come so far in just a few short months. I reminded them that this trail was climbed the same way as every other one we had conquered–one step at a time.

The words of encouragement and the hard work of the past several months paid off, as seven hours later, we stood atop the summit. The students were ecstatic, as it was the first time many of them had ever climbed a mountain. We were only 600 feet below the summit of Mount Baldy. In two weeks, we would be climbing it.

Mount Baldy–July 17, 2010

The big day had finally arrived, and we milled about the trailhead in the early morning light waiting to take off. Before us was over seven miles of trail and over 4,000 feet of elevation gain to the summit.

I had chosen the Backbone Trail to take us to the summit and back. It was the longer of the two main routes to the top, but not as steep, and therefore, safer. We arrived at the Mount Baldy ski lodge about four hours later. Distance and elevation-wise, we were now at the halfway point. It had been an easy walk up a fire road to get here. The trail would get tougher and narrower over the next three-plus miles to the summit.

The Backbone Trail is aptly named as a good portion of it travels along the spine of the mountain. The trail is only three feet wide in some spots with steep drop-offs on either side. One spot, in particular, had me very worried. The trail narrows to only two feet and has a wall on one side and a steep cliff on the other. We went through one pair at a time, with the students tracing their hands on the wall to keep as far away from the cliff as possible.

Four hours later, we stood atop Mount Baldy, tired and winded but thrilled and proud as could be. There were tears of joy from both the students and the guides. Mark, one of the blind students, had lost his mother only two weeks prior and carried her picture with him to the summit.

We arrived back in civilization at 7:30 PM–3 hours after we had started–and reveled in our collective victory with a well-deserved meal at The Baldy Lodge Restaurant. The huge table was filled with students and guides, 28 of us in all. Most of us had never met before this endeavor, and yet we came together and united for a common goal. No one’s life would ever be the same after today. Because, in the end, it wasn’t about a mountain, it was about people.

A documentary film is being made about the Mount Baldy climb. You can view and hear a trailer at www.baldyfortheblind.com.

Should I Call Hospice?

by Phyllis Campbell, Staunton, Virginia

I knew they were coming, those words that launched us on the last stage of our journey–a journey spanning five years from my husband’s first elusive symptoms to the diagnosis of lymphoma, through chemo, transfusions, and finally, to this day

“I’ve done all I can,” Dr. Ambika said in his quiet voice.

“Should I call hospice?” I tried to keep my voice steady. I think I succeeded.

“Think about it, and let me know,” he said, taking Chuck’s hand, and then coming to touch my shoulder.

In such a situation, it is often hard to make an unemotional decision. I’m sure he knew what our decision would be, but he also knew that that decision would have to be ours.

So we explored the possibilities together. A nursing home would be expensive and, unless forced to, I knew I couldn’t send Chuck away to spend his last days among strangers, especially since transportation would be such a problem for me. Home health? A possibility. Hospice? I knew little about hospice, except that many people sought help from them, but what was the cost? What services did they offer? Could I do my part?

I went online, then called the hospital where Chuck had received treatment. The nurse I spoke with was professional, yet warm, assuring me that they would give me whatever help they could. I left word with Dr. Ambika’s nurse so that he could give them the information for a nurse to visit and talk with us. In less than an hour they called and set up an appointment at our home.

She explained that their services would be absolutely free, with Medicare paying and no extra expense coming to us. They arranged for an aide to come daily to help with Chuck’s bath, shaving, and linen change, and they would have helped with light cooking and laundry, but I was pleased to be able to do that. A nurse visited twice a week, checked his health and medications, and made changes where necessary. Someone was on call day and night, seven days a week, in case of an emergency. A social worker made regular visits giving practical advice and comfort. A chaplain was also available if requested.

The word “hospice” dates back centuries. Usually associated with monasteries, it was a guest house of sorts, offering medical attention, food, and shelter to travelers, often pilgrims on their way to a holy shrine. Today hospice offers much the same things, giving medical assistance and emotional shelter to those traveling toward that final earthly destination we call death. This journey, too, is filled with dangers, fear, loneliness, and despair. And like the comfort given by the hospice of old, our modern hospice reaches out, offering the same things.

Although hospice was the right decision for us, it might not be for everybody. Think carefully and take a good honest look at yourself, your abilities, your physical and emotional health, and your finances. This situation won’t be easy whatever you decide. It is sometimes grueling, heartbreaking work, especially if you opt to keep your loved one at home. Realize that although this may sound like a noble, even romantic thing to do, it isn’t. Are you prepared to give medications? Are you prepared to change adult diapers if necessary? Hospice is there to support you, but they aren’t there 24/7. Are you physically and emotionally able to bear the strain? Do you have friends or family to help?

Remember, you can probably do many things you never thought you could. If you feel unable to do some of the physical things that may become necessary toward the end of the journey, talk to the social worker. Hospice has a list of competent caregivers who will assist you, but you must be prepared to pay for their services, although Medicaid can assist those who are eligible. Your social worker can help you get in touch with the proper agency.

Medications? You will be given a box, the comfort box, containing medications that you will need to keep on hand. If you have a problem, the nurse on call may instruct you to go to the comfort box and give the appropriate medication. Obviously, you will need to be able to identify it, and although she/he will give you directions, it’s a good idea to know what the label says. Be prepared to make note of any instructions the nurse feels need to be different from those on the bottle. This could be a stumbling block, but it is easily remedied.

Enter our old pal Pen Friend with its labels. The nurse can easily record the name of the medication and instructions on the little label, which can then be attached to the appropriate bottle or package. I am an avid Braille user, but this was a faster and more practical solution for me because the nurse could have name and instructions done almost in the time I could have started to write.

There was only one thing that I had to have done for me–I couldn’t fill the morphine syringes. These could be prepared, a number at a time, so that I always had them on hand. These weren’t for injections, but to be placed under the tongue. I also knew I couldn’t possibly face that last vigil alone. The social worker assured me that when the end was near, they would send a vigil team to watch with me. I had no close friends in a position to share this with me, and my nearest relative able to do so lives about 12 hours away. My only sister is in a nursing home, so although she’s here in town, she couldn’t help.

As it happened, my niece and her daughter, who is a respiratory therapist just out of college, were both able to take time off and walk with us on the last steps of the journey as that blank wall became an open door.

Would I advise anyone else to go the hospice route? Absolutely! For me at least, they made what could have been an unbearable experience into one that gave my husband dignity for his last days and left me with the feeling that I had done all that I could. They provided excellent medical care and advice about such practical things as what to do if he fell or had to be transported to the hospital. There were so many little things that never would have occurred to me until they came up.

How to contact hospice? My best advice is to ask your hospital. Almost without fail, they will be working closely with a hospice chapter in your area and can probably connect your call directly to them.

What single piece of advice would I give in working with hospice? Work closely with your nurses and social worker and if you have a concern, discuss it honestly with them. Don’t be ashamed. They aren’t there to judge you; they’re there to help. If your blindness presents a special problem, tell them about it. Be prepared to do your job, and they will help you find a solution or find someone who can help.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. What would I do differently? The major thing would be, I think, to bring in help at night sooner than I did. I was my husband’s sole caregiver, except for an aide who came daily for about an hour. The rest of the time, day and night, I was alone. I did get help at night for the last few weeks, but to say that I wasn’t exhausted would be an untruth of monumental proportion.

I hope fervently that you are never faced with such a situation, but if you are, like the pilgrims of old, you can find care and comfort with hospice.

EDITOR’S WELCOME

by B. T. Kimbrough

Fresh Eye Contact

Sometimes, I feel that books about life as a blind person are a little like pizzas. Generically speaking, they’re easy enough to find, but if you’re particular, it is unusual to locate one that leaves a lasting impression. So it is noteworthy to report the publication of two fresh and compelling books about the “blindness experience”–one of them written by someone who is fully sighted.

Rosemary Mahoney, a veteran writer with books to her credit on several non-fiction subjects, has produced an unusual and provocative documentary based on her experiences as a sighted volunteer teacher of blind students at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs in southern India.

The book is titled FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO SEE. It’s the story of a keenly observant writer who became interested in the experience of blindness during a routine interview assignment, and later decided to accept a volunteer job which would throw her into daily contact with a group of English-speaking blind students from several different countries.

By her own admission, Mahoney is someone who views her eyesight as just about the most precious commodity anyone could have. The job gave her an opportunity to focus her formidable attention on figuring out how the blind students she met took in the world without eyesight, and how so many of them seemed fulfilled, and even happy, without the thing Mahoney considers life’s dearest possession.

In contrast, Sue W. Martin’s book OUT OF THE WHIRLPOOL is the compelling story of a once-sighted woman who crashed headlong into blindness while attempting suicide. Among other things, Martin’s candid account gives us a rare look at the rehabilitation experience through the awareness of someone who later joined the profession. Martin’s fascinating journey also provides more than a little insight into those provocative questions that are also the focus of Rosemary Mahoney’s book: How do people who can’t see truly take in the world and make fully informed judgments about it using just their remaining senses? Is it possible that life could be truly fulfilling without the possibility of sight?

Of course, those of us who have little or no sight already have our own answers to these questions, so we will not experience the suspense and conflicting emotions that are in store for sighted readers of these books. And yet–it is fascinating to view this reality of blindness through the prism of other people’s experience, especially if their accounts are painfully honest and their stories skillfully told. Authors Martin and Mahoney are certainly equal to the challenge. Both writers have put enough of themselves into their stories to make the reader feel a sense of contact with a genuine, and often vulnerable, narrator.

Mahoney had no idea that a full-length book would grow from a magazine assignment that took her to Tibet to interview Braille Without Borders co-founder Sabriye Tenberken. When she started the 16,000-mile round trip, Mahoney also had no special interest in the subject of blindness and admits in the book that she felt a small sense of discomfort at the prospect.

As she describes her visit to Braille Without Borders in the second chapter, it is clear that her encounters with the blind children and with Tenberken kindled a lasting spark of writer’s curiosity. Being a person who values eyesight above her other senses, Mahoney was fascinated to see that the residents of Braille Without Borders were not utterly absorbed with feelings of loss and depression. She perceived the zest for life and sense of competence flowing from Tenberken and wondered from whence they came.

Four years later, when she was given a chance to be a volunteer English teacher at a new agency Tenberken and her partner had established in southern India, Mahoney jumped at the chance. FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO SEE is her effort to share the sense of respect and admiration she acquired from spending time with blind people “to get to know them; to find out how they think; to see how they live in the world …”

Mahoney’s book is available as a commercial audio production from Hachette Book Group and as a Talking Book download on the NLS BARD website featuring the author’s extremely engaging narration. But do not expect a comfortable or tranquil reading experience. With her keenly honed powers of observation, Mahoney never lets us miss an off-putting mannerism or a pair of strange-looking eyes. At least she exposes herself as well–fully describing her own many awkward or otherwise humbling moments, which she might easily have omitted.

Considering that it never leaves the subject of eyesight and its absence, the book offers a surprisingly varied landscape. Intermingled with thoroughly researched chapters on the historical evolution of attitudes about blindness, and interesting theories about why people who regain sight late in life have trouble learning to interpret shapes and facial expressions, Mahoney shows us many incidents and conversations in order to allow the reader to develop some of her sense of familiarity with her blind companions. In effect, she seems to see herself as a witness–testifying to the understanding she came to have about how we take in the world, relate to each other, and generally approach life in nonvisual ways.

I can see how an intelligent sighted reader might well share the author’s curiosity about the finer points of getting on with little or no sight. But what about a blind reader? I think the blind or low vision reader may well be curious about the observer. Personally, it was fascinating to me what details jumped out at her about her subjects and what conclusions she reached about those details. I often disagreed with her, but it was interesting to learn what she thought. I’ve often wondered what a keen sighted observer was thinking during a meal or a conversation, and Mahoney’s observations are among the few direct clues available.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily commend this book to the attention of a newly-blind reader or one who is highly concerned about the judgments of sighted companions. For them, Mahoney’s opinions might well lead to an unfortunate increase of self-consciousness in some social situations.

It is clear that Mahoney believes she is sharing something extremely positive about the general outlook, coping strategies, and courage-under-adversity she observed during her time in Tibet and India. Still, I was frequently annoyed, and sometimes angered, by her tendency to judge appearances, people and situations, as if the power of sight made it appropriate for her to do so. And yet, to be fair, I must admit that, especially during my youth, the possession of keen listening skills often led me to make similar judgments about people based on what I heard them say and how they said it.

If there is a disturbing thought associated with publication of this book, it relates to the fact that many sighted readers might be unduly influenced by Mahoney’s judgments, feeling that sight gives her added credibility. It is hard to imagine a blind writer receiving similar attention for writing a similar book, no matter how compelling and authentic it might be.

If not for its entertainment value (and it is certainly spellbinding at times), consider reading Mahoney’s book as an act of community awareness: This is what a potentially influential writer is telling the world about us. Valid or not, this is what many may accept as an enlightened view about living with blindness. As the old adage has it, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO SEE: DISPATCHES FROM THE WORLD OF THE BLIND is available from the NLS BARD website as DB 77851.

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Sue Martin’s book would be easy to dismiss with a polite nod if it were a work of fiction. As a memoir, it is both a spine-chilling read, and a potentially significant contribution to our professional literature.

The author pulls no punches as her story takes us from her growing sense of emptiness and depression–“As I contemplated what I had made of my life to this point, it felt like what I imagined a whirlpool to be … ,” to the solitary lake house where a single gunshot seemed to lead to respite and silence–“I held my breath; I squeezed my eyes shut; I clenched my teeth; I pulled the trigger.”

But life goes on, with a shocking difference–total blindness. And this is where Sue Martin’s courageous story takes a turn that must be surprising to those who believe blindness is the worst thing that can happen. “The desire for life became a fierce burning flame in my being.”

Of course, there are many difficult moments in the days that follow, and her blindness brings intense feelings of loss and grief. But there are no fresh thoughts of ending her life, only concerns for what to do next.

Suddenly, Sue Martin is a client of vision rehabilitation services, forced to relearn hundreds of tasks she once took for granted. As she later told a podcaster, “Somehow, the necessity to learn how to do almost everything in a new way is what pulled me out of the depression.” And this is only the beginning of a compelling story that takes us through many a struggle to towering triumphs and humbling failures.

I believe that Martin’s courageous life story holds special value for future practitioners in the rehabilitation field. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I’ll say that Sue goes on to become a rehabilitation counselor. The awareness which goes along with that career informs her account of being a client. This client reports her thoughts and feelings as she tells about her encounters with the system. I would think this perspective would be extremely valuable to professionals who usually have no way of knowing what their clients think or feel.

OUT OF THE WHIRLPOOL is available both as an audio download and a conventional print volume from the author’s website www.outofthewhirlpool.com. A significant advantage of the audio version is that it is narrated by the author, who told a podcaster that she handled all of the audio production herself using the sounds of a screen reader heard quietly through an earphone as an audio prompt. The audio download costs $17.95. The $22.90 price of a print copy includes the cost of shipping.

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Five things I learned while working on this issue of DIALOGUE:

1) Under an agreement between GW Micro and Microsoft, users who have a licensed copy of Microsoft Office dating from 2010 or later can obtain a free version of the screen reader Window-Eyes. (Read more in WHAT’S NEW AND WHERE TO GET IT.)

2) According to a new study, blindness and significant visual impairment have become much less common in 50 countries over the last 20 years.

3) Dave Power has been designated as the new President and Chief Executive Officer of Perkins in Watertown, Massachusetts. (Read more about items two and three in DID YOU KNOW?)

4) The word “hospice” dates back centuries. Usually associated with monasteries, it was a guest house of sorts, offering medical attention, food and shelter to travelers, often pilgrims on their way to a holy shrine. (Read more in our cover story, SHOULD I CALL HOSPICE?)

5) The wisdom of employing blind workers to provide customer service over the phone has been confirmed hundreds of times in Federal agencies. Lately, a regional nonprofit in New York State has been contracting with the federal government to bring these kinds of opportunities to some workers who don’t live anywhere near the US capitol. (Read more in WORK MATTERS.)

Do you have an idea for an article for DIALOGUE? Is there a topic you would like to write about but aren’t sure how to get started? Please let us know. I hope you enjoy this issue, and until next time, thank you for joining us in DIALOGUE.

B. T. Kimbrough, Editor

btk@blindskills.com

Charles Abbott–Man on the Right Track

by Peggy Chong, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Charles Abbott was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in December 1864, to William and Lizzie Abbott, the youngest of at least twelve children. His family can date their roots in Somerset, Maryland, back to the late 1600s when his ancestor, John Bounds, moved there from Virginia.

At about age eight, Charles went blind from an undocumented illness. He was sent to the School for the Blind in Baltimore where he learned the skill of piano tuning and also studied music. The illness that blinded him may have also taken the lives of his parents, as they both died near the time when Charles lost his vision. As a result, the Abbott siblings were split up and went separate ways.

When Charles was 15, he moved in with his brother-in-law, William Taylor, only 17 himself, who was working on a farm as a servant. Charles stayed with William that census year and most likely attended school during the winter months.

In 1890, Charles traveled across the country and took a job at the Iowa College for the Blind. He taught piano tuning classes in the industrial area. In 1895, about the time the college stopped focusing on full-time instruction for blind adults, Charles moved to Black Hawk County, Iowa.

Charles became locally well-known as the totally blind man who worked as a musician and a piano tuner in the towns of Webster City, La Porte, and Iowa Falls. He was an enthusiastic, intelligent man who made friends easily wherever he traveled. Charles built his own house in Iowa Falls, just north of the (then) Ellsworth College, and by 1904, he owned it free and clear.

Charles earned his living as a piano tuner by traveling with his tools by railroad from town to town by himself. Other than asking for directions of passers-by from time to time, he walked the streets without assistance. When he had some extra money, he would place an ad in a local paper, but many times, he just left a handwritten flyer advertising his services on the board at a local post office as was the custom at that time. To organize his appointments, Charles had customers leave messages with a friendly shop owner or at the post office in a particular town. When he got back to town, Charles checked in with his local contact and then he walked to customers’ homes or businesses. He would either tune the piano that day or make an appointment to do so while in town or on his next visit.

If Charles arrived early when he traveled to a town where he had arranged a tuning appointment, he used the extra time to drum up other business for himself by going door-to-door, networking with those he knew in town and just asking around. Sometimes, this might result in a concert at a local church or meeting hall netting a few extra dollars. Charles’ excellent memory enabled him to remember the street layout in many communities as well as where the residents lived and some details about their lives. Abbott also taught violin, mostly to students in the community where he lived. His classes were advertised in local papers and, at times, teaching was a big part of his income.

In late December of 1903, Charles went to the train depot in Webster City, where he was working at the time, to board the midnight train to his home in Iowa Falls, a trip that he had done many times by himself. He purchased his ticket and waited for the train.

At midnight, the Illinois Central train pulled in and Charles started to board. A conductor stopped him and asked if he was blind and if there was any sighted person traveling with him to take care of him.

Charles responded that, no, there was no one traveling with him, but that was not a problem. He was quite able to travel by himself and had done so hundreds of times. The conductor declared that there was a rule on the Illinois Central Railroad that a blind person could not travel alone. He would not let Charles board the train.

No matter what Charles said, he was unable to convince the conductor to let him on the train that night. There was no one at the depot or on the train who knew Charles and would vouch for him. So he went back to his hotel for the night.

The next morning, he told many of his friends in Webster City what had occurred the night before. He still needed to get to Iowa Falls. A friend of his said that he would help, but he could not take the time to ride all the way to Iowa Falls and back. So the two men set out to the train depot to catch the noon train, with his friend pretending to be in charge of Charles. Charles bought their tickets, and they boarded the train. Just before the train pulled out of the station, his sighted friend jumped off the train. Charles proceeded home to Iowa Falls.

Charles could not let the matter of the “rule” drop. Immediately, he telegraphed the Illinois Central Railroad office and asked if there really was such a rule about blind people being unable to travel without a sighted person. He received a telegram from the railroad, saying that, yes, indeed, there was such a rule in place. The rule was over a year old, and that the railroad had every intention of enforcing it. The home office wholly supported their conductor in refusing to allow Charles to ride unattended.

This harsh rule would cause Charles Abbott and other blind people who frequently traveled alone great hardship. As an independent piano tuner, Charles could not afford to pay the travel costs of a sighted person to accompany him everywhere he went. After all, he had been traveling across the state and around the country by train for many years, mostly by himself. He had never had an accident or fallen on a train. To ban him from riding just because he was blind was wrong.

So Charles hired an attorney, D. C. Chase of Webster City, to file a lawsuit in district court against the railroad. The Waterloo newspaper for July 21, 1904, reported that Charles won his case, and the rule had been dropped. He and any other blind person could now ride Illinois Central trains without an accompanying sighted person. In addition, Charles was paid $100 to cover the expense of having had to bring a sighted person along on his railroad travels before the court’s decision. The article also documented that he got a special pass to ride the trains for free as part of the payment for the embarrassment the railroad had caused him, as well as a substantial monetary settlement of an undisclosed amount.

By the end of 1906, Charles had turned inventor. Not only did he teach music, tune pianos and perform at many functions, but he, like many of his neighbors, raised chickens. When Charles needed a non-visual way to regulate the heat in the pens so that his flock would thrive, he designed a heater regulator. The device had a bell that sounded when the temperature was falling too low or rising too high for the chickens’ well-being, and he filed for a patent on it in 1907.

Charles Abbott passed away in January of 1924, and his obituary appeared in many Iowa papers for weeks after his death. It was said that he was still working as a piano tuner right until the end of his life.

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References include the following local newspapers: THE CEDAR RAPIDS EVENING GAZETTE; WATERLOO DAILY COURIER; WATERLOO DAILY REPORTER, RENWICK TIMES, SPIRIT LAKE BEACON, SEMI WEEKLY IOWA STATE REPORTER, and THE UNION REPUBLICAN.

Be Our Guest! Working in the Hospitality Industry

by Empish J. Thomas, Lithonia, Georgia

The hospitality industry is a field where you can meet new and interesting people on a regular basis, where having a strong work ethic is a plus, and where you can make a nice income. These are some of the reasons George Robins, of Nappanee, Ontario, decided to follow this career path.

Born with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and congenital cataracts, he nevertheless found ways to work early and often. “I always worked from the time I was eleven. I started with a couple of paper routes, cutting lawns in the summer and shoveling snow in the winter,” he recalled. “During high school I worked part-time in a grocery store and on local farms. Upon graduation of high school in a commercial course, I began working for Stedman’s Five and Dime department stores in several towns in southern Ontario.”

During his childhood, Robins had enough vision to attend school and work part-time. It was not until his twenties that his vision began to decrease. “When I became registered blind, I was given the opportunity to work for Cater Plan, a division of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) in Toronto. I worked in cafeterias for several months and was transferred to Stelco Steel in Hamilton, Ontario. Here the blind employees worked in tuck shops, places similar to American vending stands, which were adjacent to the food service take-out outlets located in buildings around the property,” said Robins. “After that, Cater Plan offered me the opportunity to attend Centennial College in Scarborough, Ontario, with a job during the summer and a full-time job upon completion. The course was hotel and restaurant administration, which laid the groundwork for my future.”

After finishing his coursework, Robins continued with Cater Plan and moved up to management. There he ran a 24-hour coffee shop with a staff of five other visually impaired people under his supervision. During this time, Robins’ vision continued to decrease, but he still had enough sight to do the bookkeeping and other administrative tasks. “I used a fluorescent desk lamp, magnifiers, calculators with bright numbers, tape recorders and dark markers for ledger entries and ordering,” he said. Later on, he would have a sighted staff person handle this while he used a tape recorder to take care of the purchasing.

After several years working with Cater Plan, Robins figuratively saw the writing on the wall and began thinking his way toward another area of hospitality. “CNIB was phasing out their Cater Plan division, so in 1989 as they were winding down the business, my wife Sylvia and I decided to quit our jobs and make a big change,” he said. “We knew for several years that my job was being phased out and Sylvia thought a change out of the city would be good.”

They decided to search for the right business to purchase, and they found what they were looking for. “The Napanee Motel was the perfect fit, and the price was right,” Robins said. “To make the down payment, we sold two of our three houses. The motel was in a small town with everything within walking distance or a short cab ride, as neither of us drove.”

In July 1989, Robins and his wife opened for business. The following year, to draw more of the local people, they set up a 14-foot French fry trailer and put it in front of the motel. This trailer was equipped with sinks, a deep fryer, potato chipper, refrigerator freezer and two service windows. In Canada, these trailers are very popular and can be seen frequently in mall parking lots, parks and busy corners. “I ran it from lunch until evening,” he said. “By doing this we got to meet more of the local people, as the motel business dealt with mostly out-of-towners.”

The motel had eight rooms and was open for business seven days a week. It was hard work for Robins and his wife, who did the majority of the work themselves.

They had a daily routine where they cleaned out the rooms together, which made things go more smoothly. When the guests were gone, Robins would take a laundry basket and go from room to room gathering towels and bedding. Since each room had the same number of these items, Robins would just do a simple calculation to be sure nothing was missing. Next he would gather all the trash cans for emptying and glassware for cleaning. His wife would do the laundry and, once it was done, they would both go back to the room and lay out the fresh towels and bedding for the next guests. “She would check for any messes and missing items before we replaced the towels and made the beds,” he said.

“When the rooms were made up, I would do the office work while Sylvia went through each room with the cleaning materials and vacuum.” The office work included keeping the books, reservations, check-ins/check-outs, ordering supplies, dealing with invoices and so forth.

“To assist with my work in the office, I used a computer with JAWS and a talking calculator. A scanner connected to the computer made paperwork possible,” said Robins.

When the Robins’ were not working at their motel, they volunteered in the community. One such opportunity was an annual summer yard sale, for which they would give free use of their motel parking lot. In addition, Robins served on the Kingston CNIB Board of Directors and also spent six years directing the Napanee District Chamber of Commerce.

After 18 years, the Robins’ sold the motel and retired. But they continued volunteering at a local radio station. They had a two-hour on-air slot every Sunday evening, playing rock-and-roll hits from the 50s and 60s. On this request and dedication show, Robins was known as “Rockin’ Robins,” while his wife and her sister were the “Tweeties.” The show ended on a sad note after seven years, when Sylvia died in an auto accident.

Today Robins still volunteers as a career mentor with the American Foundation for the Blind’s CareerConnect website, and enjoys the multiple gardens at the home he shared with his wife.

When asked whether he would recommend pursuing a career in the hospitality industry, he said, “The hospitality industry can be very rewarding and there are many jobs to be had. The amount of comfort and enjoyment you get from your job may depend to some degree on the amount of vision you have, be it in a small motel or a large hotel. For example, if you have to do a lot of walking and navigating from place to place like a bellhop does, you might prefer a different position. Most small and medium-size motels are usually family-owned and operated while large hotels are operated by a corporation.”

He also added that it is important to be aware of accommodations and current technology for the blind. “If the hospitality industry is your interest, having the accommodations you need and being compatible with your working partners are two critical keys for promoting success.”

Braille Works: A More Readable Place

by Toni Lechowicz, Schenectady, New York

One evening in 1993, someone handed Lou Fioritto a braille menu that changed his life. At the time, Fioritto and his wife, Joyce, were about to have dinner at Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Fioritto was fascinated–not just by the content, but also by the way the menu was put together. “I’d never seen one before and was very interested in how it was done.” He told Joyce, “I would have given it a table of contents (and) put it on smaller paper with a plastic comb binding to make it easier to handle.” Joyce said, “Why don’t we do it?”

Lou, who had worked for the IRS and the corporate world for over 25 years, had been laid off by a business forms company and was now looking for work. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that producing braille material as a business venture was a sound idea.

Two retired executives from Service Corporation helped him set up a business plan. The Ohio Rehabilitation Commission for the Blind provided some money to buy equipment. Lou and Joyce borrowed the rest of the money they needed to get started. Today their company, Braille Works, is a significant producer of materials for blind and print-disabled persons with over 7,500 customers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

In the early days, the business occupied the basement, dining and living room of their suburban Cleveland home, with the couple working long hours–whatever it took to get the job done right. The company started by producing braille materials for non-profit organizations serving the blind. Breaking into the business of restaurant menus required time and patience. Lou and a friend went to the public library and photocopied pages containing the names and telephone numbers of corporate offices from THOMAS’ RESTAURANT CHAIN DIRECTORY, which Joyce recorded so Lou could call them. Responses to those early calls were not encouraging. Then, they got a break in the form of a rush order from Applebee’s. “We got the order, because the company they hired did not produce the menus on time. In fact, that’s how we got a lot of our braille menu business,” Lou recalls.

“Applebee’s wanted 800 menus in twenty days and we weren’t sure we could afford to buy the braille paper. But we did it! We had only one braille embosser, no burster, and a hand-cranked binding machine.”

Despite these limitations, those early braille menus featured a table of contents, an acetate cover with comb binding, and smaller 8-1/2 by 11-inch paper. The smaller paper size is easier to stand up in a menu rack, takes up less room on the table, and is cheaper to ship.

One day while reading one of his own menus at a restaurant, Lou noticed the menu was hard to search and skim by categories. As a result, he started putting a blank line before and after every new heading; for example, “Chicken Entrees.” Blank lines and indentations were also added to set off individual items. This made it easier for braille readers to cruise the choices on the menu while engaging in table talk with other diners.

Today Braille Works has Bob Evans, Outback Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday’s, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and TGI Friday’s among their many customers. At first, braille menus were only about ten double-sided pages, but with the increase of menu choices today, the size has grown to sixty or seventy pages–100 if calorie counts are included.

In 1995, Braille Works added large print. It is placed in the same volume as the braille menu, positioned in the front on white paper using one font for easy reading by low vision readers.

In 1997, Braille Works received a major contract from the National Council of Independent Living for cassette narration and production. Soon, Braille Works expanded into many other audio contracts. Today, audio and text CDs have replaced cassettes for the distribution of conference materials, insurance documents, government agency brochures, and credit card and bank statements.

In 1996, the Fiorittos moved to the Tampa Bay area and built a house with the business using two rooms and one side of their garage. In 2001, they built another house with a 1,800-square-foot building adjacent to it for their increasing workload. By 2007, there were eleven employees to move into a 3,500-square-foot structure built on commercial property. In 2012, the employee count was up to 53, and a 9,000-square-foot building was added nearby to provide space for further expansion.

Having taken full advantage of the proprietor’s option to locate the business for his convenience, Lou walks the two-tenths of a mile to and from work with his white cane every day. These days, he works roughly a six-hour shift, focusing on sales and management. Joyce works 2 or 3 days a week. The employees are grouped into teams for braille, large print audio/text CD’s, printing, binding, and shipping.

Braille Works uses a variety of marketing strategies including blogs, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Because there is more competition today, as the price of production equipment falls and potential demand keeps rising, Lou and his sales staff sometimes meet in person with prospective clients on a one-to-one basis. Lou says, “We want to keep up with the constantly evolving technology focusing on more business from government contracts, sales, financial institutions, our repeat customers and, of course, restaurants.”

The company does not employ the Free Matter privilege when ordering pallets of braille paper or shipping out completed jobs. Lou says, “Free Matter for the Blind is a privilege for us to receive materials for the blind; I don’t want to abuse the law. We are not an agency for the blind. The only exception is when Braille Works produces menus for the Schwan Food Company and sends them directly to blind customers. In this case Schwan’s signed an agreement taking full responsibility if liability issues with Free Matter should arise.”

Lou feels thankful and blessed at the dramatic success of the business with its steady growth over the years. But he doesn’t appear to be taking continued success for granted. A customer found a mistake when receiving 600 large print menus. Lou replaced the whole job immediately at no expense to the customer. He concludes, “This is how we run our business. We treat people the way we want to be treated, always keeping in mind Braille Works’ trademarked motto, ‘Making The World A More Readable Place.'”

Can Your Medicine Bottles Do This?

by B. T. Kimbrough and Marja Byers

Doctor’s Orders

Those of us with limited vision often find ways to harvest the information from food and over-the-counter medicine labels when we really need to. Many of those ways involve help from sighted family members, friends or neighbors. But what happens when our packages contain prescription medication and arrive with customized print instructions that we would prefer to read for ourselves–without necessarily sharing the information with anyone else?

If lack of privacy is the most significant disadvantage associated with blindness or low vision–and many of us believe that it is–the difficulty of getting private information about our prescription medications is long overdue for attention.

The United States Congress took a step toward addressing this problem a year ago when it passed the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Safety and Innovation Act, which is scheduled to go into effect on the first day of 2015. The law requires that blind and low-vision patients must receive instructions they can read for themselves when they buy prescription medications either directly or via mail order.

The legislation itself did not stipulate what does or does not constitute an accessible format. That issue was left with the US Access Board, which held a series of meetings last year with interested parties, including consumers and major players in national pharmaceutical sales, such as Walgreen’s, Walmart and CVS. The Access Board produced a set of guidelines, or “best practices,” designed to serve as blueprints for actual accessible solutions that pharmacies can offer to blind and low-vision customers.

Now, as days grow short before the new law takes effect, there are actually three accessibility solutions available to drugstores and pharmacies in the US. This article will provide some details about these products, the available information about what retail pharmacy is offering them, and how they can be obtained.

NOTE: The overall plan calls for print enlargement solutions as well as audible ones, but these will involve more adjustments to current labeling practices than development of new labeling products. This article will focus on new alternative labeling solutions which have actually achieved product status.

What Goes On the Bottle

Talking Pill Reminder is the accessibility solution offered by Walgreen’s drugstores. It’s a plastic disc about an inch across and about three quarters of an inch thick and comes with adhesive stickers to secure it to the bottom of a prescription medicine bottle. It has two buttons. The control marked with one dot is for playing and recording information with a maximum of 30 seconds of recording time. The button marked with two dots sets a beeping reminder in adjustable intervals from two to 24 hours. Talking Pill Reminder is the only product in the field so far that involves voice recording of information.

Once the order is prepared, the pharmacist would record all of the needed instructions which would fit in the 30-second window, and then attach the device to the bottle before shipment. Operating instructions are provided in both braille and print. The Talking Pill Reminder can be included at no charge for medication orders over $25; for smaller orders, the device costs $9.99.

A company called AccessaMed offers the Digital Audio Label, which is designed to be permanently attached to the medication bottle with a hyper-strength sealant. Participating pharmacies will obtain a special docking station for about $20 which connects to the store’s label-generating computer. At the pharmacist’s option, text from the finished label will be sent to the Digital Audio Label and converted into an audio file using a synthetic voice which has been licensed from AT&T. The pharmacist can use check boxes in the software to control the speed at which the text will be spoken and whether any of the words will be spelled as well as pronounced. The labels reportedly cost the retailer about $3 apiece. It is expected that participating pharmacies will offer the disposable Digital Audio Label at no extra charge with the walk-in or mail order purchase of subscription medication.

The developer with the most experience in this area is Envision America, which has offered a medication accessibility solution for at least ten years. The heart of the Envision America system is a computer application which converts a finished print prescription label into an electronic file which can be stored in an area of a few centimeters. The stored file is conventional electronic text decoded by a product called ScripTalk Station, which is designed for long-term, no-cost loan to the blind or low-vision consumer. The retrieval technology uses a weak radio signal or RFID to transmit the data once the ScripTalk Station is placed on top of the bottle whose label contains the RFID code. Participating pharmacies pay about one dollar for each disposable “talking” label, though the start-up costs are reported to be close to a thousand dollars.

Those Devilish Details

The ScripTalk Station is the only device in this group to offer volume adjustment and an earphone connector for private listening. None of the products offer the user the option to control the speed of playback or to scroll back and forth within the information. All three offer a simple start/stop control which is combined on a single button. Talking Pill Reminder stands alone in offering an alarm to help with multiple doses that need to be spaced within a single day. ScripTalk Station is the only product to offer data retrieval in multiple media. Because the electronic text stored in the RFID can be transmitted to a computer, it can be displayed in hard copy or refreshable braille, which would be essential if the user is deaf-blind.

The Talking Reminder is unique in that it is reusable. Once the original medication is gone, the reminder could be detached from the bottle and associated with other medications so long as there is someone available to record the essential information. The recording and speaker are of marginal quality, but with a little care and adaptability, a serviceable recording could be made to supply necessary information when it’s time to take the medicine and no sighted help is available.

Your Mileage May Vary

You know those phrases of disclaimer that come at the end of radio commercials–“Some assembly required. Sorry, Tennessee!”–well, there are quite a few special circumstances to bear in mind when shopping for medication that you will be able to handle independently. For openers, we don’t know of any pharmacy that offers multiple accessible solutions. The alternative is to learn something about every accessible solution and then find out which one your store of choice offers. If their solution doesn’t appeal, you might decide to go for a pharmacy that offers a solution you prefer.

Some outlets may offer no solution at all, in which case they are in technical violation of the new law as of January 2015. Bring that matter to the attention of management, and do not hesitate to talk up the accessible solution that sounds the best to you.

What We Know So Far

Walgreen’s (over 8,600 stores in all 50 US states) has an exclusive relationship with the source of Talking Pill Reminder. If you are arranging for a mail order, there is a phone number you need to use to ask for the Talking Reminder at the time you order your medicine. The number is 800-345-1985; ask to speak to a customer advocate. If you are a walk-in Walgreen’s customer, contact the store pharmacy manager to find out if there are any Talking Pill Reminders in the store. When we checked, many local stores had at least one of the units, and their managers were aware of the product’s purpose, but a few stores were out of the loop, so to speak, and their managers only caught up when we brought the issue to their attention.

The Digital Audio Label had not been officially adopted by any national providers by press time. There was some talk of a pilot program among some Target outlets, so you might check with your local Target manager if you are interested in the Digital Audio Label. For later information about pharmacies that use the Digital Audio Label, contact Chad Hazen of AccessaMed at 360-773-0060.

The ScripTalk Station is offered for mail orders through CVS Pharmacy and Walmart. There may be some local in-store availability, so check with the local pharmacy manager at your nearest CVS or Walmart. You will need to arrange with Envision America for the free loan of a ScripTalk Station. The toll-free number to do that is 855-773-2579. That same number should yield information about how you could arrange for CVS or Walmart mail orders in conjunction with the ScripTalk hardware and labels.

Whichever numbers you call, be prepared for the possibility that you’ll be asked for documentation of need, that is to say, written proof of limited sight. Those with a handy copy of a “limited vision” statement from a doctor or even a well known agency in the field may get a quick pass, depending on how motivated the gatekeepers are to hold down demand for the new accessible solutions. Surely, over time, the process of proving need will become routine and standardized as corporate executives come to realize that checking credentials costs money, while selling accessible medicines generates revenue.

Bottom Line

The bad news is that the current situation in accessible medication labels is a jumble of complexity and rapidly changing restrictions/opportunities. The good news is that the new legal mandate offers a financial motive to providers that will, one day, open a new window of opportunity for consumers to read the label as easily as they can locate the bottle itself.

It IS a Job to Get a Job

by David Block, Ardmore, Pennsylvania

If you think that most blind and visually impaired people learn to live independently at a young age, if you think they are always prepared to face the outside world after high school, then talk to Jack Reuben, a teacher at Overbrook School for the Blind (OSB). He will set you straight.

When Reuben began teaching at OSB seven years ago, his perceptions of blind and visually impaired people were not quite so enlightened. “I didn’t know how challenging it was to have that kind of disability,” said the fully-sighted Reuben. “I just thought, ‘You learn braille, go to school, you’re just like everybody else.'”

He realized he was wrong. “I was surprised by the high unemployment rate among the blind and visually impaired. It’s at 70 percent.” He also grasped that many visually-impaired children in public schools don’t learn how to live and travel independently. “An itinerant teacher would visit you, bring you large print or braille books.” (Some blind and low vision public school students also receive orientation and mobility.) “There’s not much beyond that,” said Reuben.

Six years ago, Dael Cohen, Overbrook’s Coordinator of Transition Services, sought to improve this situation, at least for some students who are enrolled at the Philadelphia school. He implemented an independent living program for OSB high school students, with Reuben serving as a primary instructor. The average number of students enrolled ranges from eight to ten. These students live, eat, and sleep at White Hall, located on OSB’s campus. As part of the program’s curriculum, students receive intense orientation and mobility training, job coaching, meal planning–they learn to shop for groceries, cook, and budget.

According to Reuben, there are similar programs in Washington state and Texas, but the students in those programs were already living in school dorms. “Our students are moving from being day students to an intensive residential independent living program.”

The effects are sometimes dramatic. Reuben recalled one student who seemed independent before the course began, but soon everyone learned the truth. “That student’s mother did everything for him. She did his laundry, cleaned his room, made all his doctor appointments for him; she drove him everywhere. He had no idea how to negotiate the world as an adult. We had to teach him how to boil water, how to use a washer and dryer. He eventually learned all those skills.”

This year OSB’s independent living program will be 24/7 Monday through Thursday, with students going home for a three-day weekend. Reuben explained that, prior to this fall, the Independent Living students had to complete all their work on the same bell schedule as the other OSB pupils. For this school year, all of Reuben’s students will have their classes at White Hall, and the school’s bell schedule will no longer apply to them. “Now a student can work from, let’s say, noon to 9:00 PM,” said Reuben. “Before, the students only had to plan and prepare their dinners. Now it’s also breakfast and lunch.”

Students with further educational ambitions will have the option of taking a college course at Delaware County Community College in addition to their OSB classes. Other changes to the program this year include more staff. Reuben will no longer be the sole person staffing the program. There will be an additional teacher, six supervised para-instructors and a part-time nurse.

Of course, teenagers will be teenagers–blind or sighted. In some ways, Reuben’s students are like other teenagers in taking for granted that there is some kind of automatic transition between going to school and having a job. If it works as it is intended to, the newly-expanded Independent Living program at Overbrook will help its students realize that life is about more than just showing up. It’s about creating a great first impression and about showing initiative while knowing how to ask for appropriate accommodations–” because they don’t always understand that it IS a job to get a job.”

For more information, contact Jack Reuben at the following email address: jreuben@obs.org.

The Magic of Touch

by Bob Smithdas

Recorded from THE REPORTER, published by the Industrial Home for the Blind, Brooklyn, New York, with permission of the author.

Back in the days when I was attending the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in Pittsburgh, we had a teacher of woodwork who was a crotchety perfectionist. In order to please him, everything had to be exactly right–corners had to be absolutely square, planing had to be done precisely to the line, and drilling had to have hairline accuracy.

I entered this man’s classes when I was 12 and in the fourth grade; I was in them until I was 16 and beginning my freshman year of high school. During all these five years, I never undertook a constructive project, not even such a simple one as a bookrack. Before I could do this, Mr. Schroder said, I would have to learn to saw and plane absolutely straight, so I spent most of my time in an effort to cut scrap lumber with the utmost precision.

It was a frustrating experience, always hoping to no avail that I might be promoted to building a cabinet or some other piece of furniture. Yet it held hidden dividends. Eventually, when I went to Perkins School to continue in high school, I found that I was one of the best woodworkers in the class.

There was an even greater reward. Because I had to feel the fine lines marked out on the wood for so long a time, my sense of touch became markedly acute. My awareness of good workmanship was much increased; I could appreciate fine designs and symmetries. As I grew older, I seemed to acquire a tactile sense that helped me identify many articles just by touching them, not having to “feel” them out thoroughly.

Once I went to a tobacconist’s shop on Nassau Street, where I was shown a pipe that was said to be perfect. The shopkeeper told me it had no flaws of any kind. I ran my fingers over it, and at the base of the bowl, I felt a tiny pit, scarcely distinguishable. I told the man the pipe was slightly marred. He took it and stared at the spot I pointed out. Still he could see nothing amiss. Then he got a magnifying glass and at last discovered the blemish in the briar. He tried to buff it out, but this only made a shallow depression where the pit had been.

The sense of touch, like that of sight, is developed by continuous exposure to new experiences. And the world of touch can be an amazingly varied one–full of different shapes, textures, consistencies, and other details.

I am fond of shopping in large stores or specialty shops where I enjoy “looking” at everything. Whether it is cut glass or fragile china, carved wood or wrought iron, I always find something to interest me and hold my attention.

Mr. Schroder may have seemed unduly harsh as a disciplinarian in my early years, but his unalterable insistence upon the perfection of small details has definitely added immeasurably to my appreciation of the “fine things of life.”

Making Room for Five

by Kathy McKinsey, Lakewood, Ohio

When we were first married, my husband, Murray, told me that he would like us to have two biological children and then adopt one with special needs. I had always wanted to have as many children as possible, so I was glad to agree.

Rebecca was born shortly after our third anniversary. That was almost 24 years ago. I have a clear first memory of her arrival a little after five o’clock on a Wednesday evening. As I held the newborn on my chest, a bunch of friends from church came to visit us in the hospital after Bible study.

“She looks just like you,” everybody kept saying to Murray. “Don’t worry, Kathy,” a friend joked. “They change a lot in the first year.”

Murray worked as an occupational therapist, and I was in graduate school when Rebecca was born. I took a semester off, then went back to finish. A few months before I graduated, Murray suggested that we have our second baby right away, before I started back to work. Sarah was born when Rebecca was sixteen months old.

As I was lying in bed with the newborn Sarah in my arms, the doctor who had delivered both girls sat beside me and said, “Well, Sarah, you look just like your sister–which means you look just like your father.”

Sarah was born in January, and Caleb joined our family in December of that same year. But let’s back up a little. Since college I had been involved with a children’s home mission in Taiwan connected to my church. Before I became pregnant with Sarah, we received a newsletter from the Taiwan mission, mentioning a little boy who happened to be blind. Murray suggested that maybe we could adopt him, and we wrote a letter to the couple who ran the home. As months flew by, we found out I was pregnant. I graduated, we moved closer to Murray’s job, and we forgot all about it.

When Sarah was less than six months old, a letter finally arrived from Taiwan. The couple there said that they had several wishes for the family who would adopt the little boy and, of all the families who had asked about adopting him, we were the ones who satisfied all those wishes.

I can remember Murray crying as he read that letter to me. The little boy had a Chinese name, but since he was only two, we had the opportunity to choose an English name for him. For the next few months, we talked non-stop to Rebecca about her new brother, whom we called Caleb.

When Murray picked up Caleb and brought him home to me, I took him in my arms and said, “Caleb, I’m your mama.” When Rebecca woke from her nap, I asked her, “Rebecca, who is this?”

“Caleb,” she replied. At that moment, our new son was almost three, Rebecca was two, and Sarah was eleven months old. We were done having children, right?

When the kids were four, five and six, our minister spoke one Sunday morning about how much helping we could do if a bunch of families in our church each adopted a child who needed a home. Murray took no convincing; I took little. We contacted the county agency that dealt with adoption, and just for fun, we also contacted the home in Taiwan.

The folks in Taiwan said they had no babies who needed adopting, but there was an older boy, about 12, who had been abandoned. This adoption took a little longer since Ping-Hwei was older. The workers there wanted him to visit us first before they started adoption proceedings to make sure we–and he–really wanted this.

I remember the first day Ping-Hwei walked into our house to join our family. He went straight to the kitchen, pulled the handle off the faucet on the sink, and said something to us in Chinese. We all had a lot to learn.

I knew we were done now. Four kids was definitely enough.

About six months after Ping-Hwei came to be with us, we received a Christmas card from friends at the home in Taiwan. They mentioned that they had a new baby who was blind and needed a home.

Murray said nothing. I said nothing. A couple weeks later, I said, “You know, maybe we could adopt that baby.” Murray just smiled.

I tell Benjamin that God definitely wanted him to be in our family. By the time we called Taiwan, they’d already started adoption proceedings for the child they’d told us about in the Christmas card. But there was another baby boy, just three weeks old, also blind.

If we had called them right after we got the card, we might have that other little boy in our family. Instead, that June, almost exactly one year after Ping-Hwei arrived, Benjamin, not quite six months old, joined us. One of the delights about adoption, according to Murray, is that the husband gets to have morning sickness as well, but I told Murray not to expect any more children as Father’s Day presents.

Many people had questions about how I managed, but Murray completely trusted that, even though I am blind, I could care for the children. For nine years, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom and primary caregiver. I am so grateful for the gift my husband gave me. What an adventure it’s been!