Dr. Grace D. Napier
Today we hear so frequently about how this hardware or that software makes life workable for visually impaired professionals. This article, by contrast,
attempts to demonstrate how low-tech teachers of my day were successful professionals without today's concept of technology. Young visually impaired individuals
today seem to think that 1's demands would be impossible to meet without present day technology. Let me tell you otherwise.
In 1940, when 1 entered college, 1 had an old braWllet (a distant predecessor of the Perkins. The lines sometimes ran together. The bottom line wrote 'crooked.
It functioned like a Mack truck. I used it only in the dormitory. I also had a portable manual typewriter that lacked some valuable keys, namely, plus,
equal, subscript, superscript signs and the hand-controlled half-line space. I had to roll up the plate approximately halfway, hold it steady with one
hand while pressing the desired key with the other hand in order to insert the umlaut for German and other necessary symbols for mathematics. In fact,
in public high school, I did all my final copies of algebra for two years on the typewriter.
Also absent during college years was the tape recorder. I had no audio textbooks except what the Library of Congress network could provide, primarily only
books in literature courses. This was prior to the organization of Recording for the Blind, Inc. I had a battery of human readers to read aloud my textbooks. i took notes, but never had opportunity to read a chapter a second time. Such deprivation forces
visually impaired students to concentrate during the first and only reading of assignments.
In class, i took all notes with slate and stylus. How many visually impaired students can even proficiently operate slate and stylus today should their
cassette recorder fail them?
Have you ever written research papers on a typewriter? It is vastly more difficult than doing the work on a computer. To do footnotes, I first had to prepare
the footnote without contractions and capital dots on the r and then count cells to determine how many typewriter lines that material would occupy
so that I could know when to end text on the typewriter page in order to begin the footnote(s). Furthermore, i could not proofread my own material; so
the paper was submitted with typographical errors, I am sure. This fact encouraged accurate typewriter skills. Furthermore, I never paid a professional
typist to type a paper for me, except my doctoral dissertation.
Do you know how to guarantee that your bottom margin on a typewritten page will be the same distance from the bottom from page to page? I used a
sheet as a backing sheet. The backing sheet protruded to the right of my typewriter paper. Near the bottom of the sheet, I previously had written
a line of hyphens. So as I approached the bottom of my typewriter page, I checked on each line to determine whether i felt the hyphens
just appearing. That was my signal to write no more on that typewriter sheet.
Do you know how to prevent submitting a formal and important paper from being blank in spots or even for several pages because of a ribbon problem or because
of the accidental setting of the typewriter on stencil? Can you imagine the horror of hearing your professor say, "I could read only the first three pages
of your paper. The remaining pages were blank!" To prevent that from happening, i used carbon paper for everything i wrote. So if the original were damaged,
at least I had a carbon copy on file to replace it in an emergency.
i had very few textbooks in , transcribed by volunteers working with slate and stylus. College professors often did not know soon enough to help
me have a transcriber start or even complete a book before the course began. Consequently, the transcriber was usually behind where my course was focusing.
Or, worse yet, he might have the first five chapters in available to me, but the course began with Chapter 8. The American Printing House did not
yet have its file giving information about which hand-copied books were already complete and their location for borrowing or which titles were in progress.
The National Association did not yet have its capability of copying from masters. The American Printing House for the Blind was not authorized
to prepare college-level textbooks from its basic budget.
I did not always have an ideal place to work with a reader or benefit from others' awareness of how a blind student's needs are different. At one university
on the graduate level, my reader and i were standing by the card catalog. I whispered to her which words to look for: author's name, topic, title of book.
The librarian rushed over to us, scolding, "Stop talking. I 'quietly explained that I was suggesting words for my reader to search for to find appropriate
material for my studies. She was unimpressed. In Fact, she made more noise talking to us than we had made. When we found something to read, we asked the
librarian where we might work in order not to disturb anyone. Her response was, "That's your problem, not mine; but you cannot take the book out of the
library!" My reader and I sat on a very busy street with persons passing us up and down. (This also demands absolute concentration!)
At another university on the graduate level, my reader and i looked for a place to work without disrupting other students. When my reader saw a sign reading
EMPLOYEES ONLY, i said, "Let's try it!" It was a lunch room with a table and chairs -- very appropriate for our needs. Because it was midmorning, i thought
that our being there would not interfere with employees' lunches. We were no sooner seated at the table when a librarian rushed in and evicted us. Her
"solution" was to evict a medical student from his study area with flimsy walls so that my reader and i could work there. This happened every time that
i used that medical library for a research paper. The same student had been evicted several times because of me, I learned later.
As a teacher, i had no Thermoform machine; consequently, I had to make x number of originals for specific lessons. I once taught one introductory college
course which commonly had between 250-60 students in my section, with other faculty members having similar sections during the same quarter. Because of
the size of the class, we administered objective-type tests. I employed a student not taking that course to hand-score them by using the key. When the
student completed that task, he/she read all the names and grades to me for my file. After four such tests, I had to compute final grades with
mean, mode and median to establish A, B, C, D and F final grades. I had ten or eleven sheets containing students' names and four test scores. Without
a talking calculator, I had to go down each column of those 250-260 scores! At the bottom of a column, I might have to carry 157 to the next column, for
example, doing each column in a similar way until I had the total sum! As arduous as it was the first time, I checked my work by doing it in reverse to
assure myself accuracy. Then my reader would enter final grades onto the official grade forms as I dictated each.
For mobility, I used Seeing Eye dogs -- now marking my fifty-fifth year with these guides. When I received my first dog in 1940, the only other option was
a human guide, because cane travel was not being taught. The long cane technique had not yet been devised in 1940. Only blinded military personnel were
being taught cane mobility during World War II. Civilians were not taught until the 1960's. If agencies for the blind supplied canes at all, they were
very short. Furthermore, no instruction was provided in the most efficient or safe use of the short cane.
In 1967, I purchased my first Perkins r, in 1974 my Optacon, Later, additional equipment: Versa , Apple IIe computer, Epson printer, talking
clock/watch, calculator, Versa dictionary, Franklin Electronic Language Master Special Edition (dictionary, thesaurus, etc.).
The above-mentioned career barriers are only suggestive of other problems caused by either lack of appropriate technology or unaccepting attitudes. Nevertheless,
those hurdles were successfully overcome. Because of them, I firmly believe that I am a more resourceful, resilient, more persevering individual and professional,
meeting challenges with determination and creative thinking than I might be had I been born only twenty years ago with so many assistive devices at my
disposal. Even today, I hear young visually impaired college students complain about how tough it is to be a blind student. I must admit that I do not
commiserate with them!
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