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. 

Behind the Lens

Twenty-some years ago, a fair-haired young man climbed the steps to 88 St. Stephen Street with a proposition. He had recently opened a photography business, he explained, and he was doing quite well. The pay was good, mostly commercial work—portraits of CEOs, corporate images for annual reports, commercial shots for advertising copy, and the like. He said he had been so lucky, he wanted to give something back. He saw NBP’s sign out front. Do you need any free photography?

Cover of 'iOS Success'.  Photography by Webb Chappell

Cover of ‘iOS Success’

Free? Not even lunch is free. I was lucky enough to be in the office that day, to take advantage of Webb Chappell’s amazing offer. I think his first assignment—this was the mid-80s—was to photograph one of our customers using a personal computer with speech at Honeywell. This was cutting edge. More recently, Webb did a promotional photo for Stir It Up!, NBP’s cookbook for blind children, and just last month, he shot the book cover for our newly released iOS Success: Making the iPad Accessible.

And so it continues—now approaching three decades—the two of us heading out on shoots, not knowing what might transpire behind the lens. We grew up, our kids grew up, and Webb kept his pledge to “give something back.” On a recent volunteer assignment, Webb brought along a new fair-haired assistant, his son Julian. My goodness, the last time I saw Julian, he was a child. I asked him, Did he know the story of how his dad got involved with NBP? He didn’t (and from the look on Webb’s face, I’m not sure he remembered either). As I retold the story, my voice breaking up with emotion, Julian learned something about the man his dad is. And I got a chance to give back.