The Culture of Blindness

When my friend Diane Croft suggested that I come to NBP’s 86th Annual Meeting, my response was an immediate 80 percent “fabulous Idea,” mixed with 20 percent apprehension. 

I am a frequent attender of annual meetings. For someone who is both blind and has impaired hearing, such gatherings can be concealed land mines of discomfort and self-doubt. 

Where’s the bar?

Where’s the food?

And, of course, the most burning question:  Who’s here? 

The minute I arrived at the registration table, all apprehension melted. 

Like its amazing collection of braille products, NBP is rich in the culture of blindness.  One staff member swept me into the reception, describing the food, the bar, and the recognizable people as we entered. 

Every time one conversation ended, it seemed, another NBP person was at my side asking, “Do you want food?  Wine?  Would you like to talk to [this person or that]?” 

The one thing, in other words, that is most difficult for a blind person to do – look around – was rendered inconsequential.

Then, there was the meeting itself. 

Diane Croft presents Judy Dixon with NBP's 2013 Volunteer Award

Diane Croft presents Judy Dixon with NBP’s 2013 Volunteer Award

Paul Parravano, Brian MacDonald, and Diane Croft each presented with warmth and eloquence (and did I mention brevity?).  We celebrated together the work of NBP and the recipients of the 2012 Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize.  We heralded consummate advocates and volunteers—Judy Dixon, the Delta Gamma Foundation, and the State Street Corporation’s Disability Awareness Alliance — and felt connected to them all. 

We were connected because National Braille Press has a clear vision of both purpose and intent.  It is not just an organization that promotes braille.  It is a collection of human beings who love and respect blind people.  They “get” the “culture” of blindness, and made me, a braille reader, forever grateful that they do what they do. 

The Internship – this tale is not a comedy

When I was a junior at Boston College (BC), I had applied and been accepted at a Top 40 radio station for an internship.  I had hosted a radio show at BC for 2 years by this point and had done well in my production classes.  At my internship interview, the people from the radio station met me and realized that I was blind.  They didn’t know what I could do or how I could do it and they didn’t seem willing to take my suggestions.  After that initial meeting, they said they would call me back.  They never did.  Surprised?

The following semester, a professor mentioned that Jack Clancy, of Burclan Productions, would at times take interns from BC for his video and audio production company.  I called Jack, we scheduled an interview, and reeling from not hearing back from that radio station, I said to Jack, “I also want to let you know that I am blind.  Is that a problem?”  Jack answered me with a quick, “No, I don’t see why it would be.”

I learned a lot in those weeks at Burclan Productions and I went on to take video production courses at BC.  Yes, you read that correctly – video production courses.  And I got A’s.  Ok, I didn’t run the camera, but I did put together some compelling story lines for the videos.  After I graduated, I began to work in the non-profit field.  Those non-profits often needed videos to tell their stories, and I called on my friend Jack to help out with these productions.  He did so, with my input on how the story should be told.  He loved my storytelling ideas, my interview style, and how I imagined the opening sequences for each video.  Together, we created some impressive videos for some deserving non-profits.

I believe the reason Jack didn’t need convincing those many years ago when I applied to be his intern is because he really believes in blind people.  He believes that blind people can do any kind of work and excel at it. This includes professional fields that are often thought of as “visual.”  Jack and I have taught each other many lessons since I first interned for him 16 years ago.  One of those lessons was that to tell a story, the most important thing is to have a vision, not the use of your vision.