Join us for our new fall fundraiser
October Adult Program Schedule
October 2014 Schedule
Date: Thursday, October 2
Time: 10am-12pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 12:15)
Event: Not Exactly Breakfast Club
Description: We’re going to be visited by a group of students participating in a class on disabilities in literature who would like to learn more about blindness. We’ll have pastries and such available. There will be activities that you all can help with and there will also be an opportunity for you to be the experts during a Q & A session.
Date: Tuesday, October 7
Time: 10am-12pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 12:30)
Event: Apple Picking Location: North Andover, MA
Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your own purchases.
Description: Some people like to pick their apples right from the trees, while others like to just pick them up in the farm stand. Either way, this is the trip for you! You can choose either option or just come along for the ride. We’ll buy the first round of cider and cider donuts, everything after that is your responsibility.
Date: Thursday, October 9
Time: 11am- 2 pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 2:30)
Event: Lunch at Shelagh’s Restaurant
Location: Nashua, NH Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your lunch
Description: Come and enjoy an Italian lunch. Shelagh is very excited for all of you to see her restaurant. She is hoping that her staff will learn how to serve blind and visually impaired customers. Come help teach them.
Date: Tuesday, October 14
Time: 10am-12pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 12:15)
Event: Trolley ride and River Walk Location: Downtown Lowell
Cost: Free Description: By request, join us for a fun trolley ride and stroll along the Merrimack River. We will go back to the office (approximately 11 AM) for a demonstration of the AutoMark voting machine given by Eda Matchak of the city of Lowell.
Date: Thursday, October 16
Time: 10am-12pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 12:15)
Event: Breakfast Club
Location: LAB office
Description: Join us for a delicious breakfast cooked in the LAB office. We’ll be having breakfast sandwiches! After we eat, those of you that can stay, we will make the center pieces that LAB will use for the Dining in the Dark fundraiser.
Date: Tuesday, October 21
Time: 10am-12:30pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 1:00)
Event: Trader Joe’s
Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your own purchases.
Description: By request we’ll be visiting Trader Joe’s in Nashua. Bring your lists!
Date: Thursday, October 23
Time: 10am-12pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 12:30)
Event: Breakfast Club Location: Vic’s in Lowell
Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your own purchases.
Description: Time to head to Vic’s for a delicious breakfast.
Date: Tuesday, October 28
Time: 10am-12pm (Suggested Road Runner pick up 12:30)
Event: Amy’s Crafting Corner
Cost: Free Description: Join Amy for her first crafting corner day.
Date: Thursday, October 30
Time: 10am- 12pm(Suggested Road Runner pick up12:30)
Event: Annual Halloween Party Location:
Free Description: Who doesn’t like a good Halloween party? We’ll have snacks and games and tricks and treats. Feel free to wear a costume if you’re so inclined.
Steven Roberts: Our Weather Guru and Prognosticator Extraordinaire
By Suzanne Wilson
You’ve heard it a thousand times: if you don’t like the weather here in New England, just wait five minutes and it will change. While that is definitely true, there are experts out there who can predict, with a great deal of accuracy based on scientific knowledge, whether it will rain or snow, be sunny or cloudy. Some of these pundits work for the government; others grace the local evening news. But there is one whom we can proudly claim as part of the LAB family. His name is Steven P. Roberts, published author and meteorological maven. Back in May, Steven had a chat with LAB’s Jim Barrett, during which they talked about Steven, his love of all things meteorological and his recent literary accomplishment.
Steven did not become a weather buff overnight; in fact, it has been a huge part of his life even as far back as when he studied at the Perkins School for the Blind. “I’ve been interested in the weather since I could walk and talk and look out the window,” Steven explained. When TIC radio came to Lowell in the 1990s, he was encouraged to share what he knew with their many listeners. He recalls that the first storm he ever covered on the show that he entitled “Weather Wisdom Weekly” was the memorable Hurricane Bertha.
Obviously, the show struck a chord with many people, because it wasn’t long before Steven was inundated with requests to write a weather book. Although he was reluctant to take on the daunting task at first, he somewhat jokingly told our own Dorothy Donovan that if she could come up with the title, he would write the book. You guessed it: about a week later, she called him with the perfect one, The Whys and Whats of Weather. “I got bagged,” Steven said, laughing. And although it has been a while in the making, with a concentrated effort over two academic years, this 400-plus page compendium of weather wisdom is certainly worth the wait.
On Prizes and Partnerships: What’s New at LABBy Suzanne Wilson
Vacuums are great when you’re conducting chemistry experiments or perhaps cleaning your rug. But everyone knows that people, and especially agencies, cannot operate in them and remain successful. In fact, one of LAB’s most compelling strengths is our willingness to collaborate with a wide variety of individuals, agencies and educational institutions in Greater Lowell. In March, we received recognition of this quality by being awarded the first annual 2014 Service Learning Community Partner Award from UMass Lowell. Our executive director, Elizabeth Cannon, sat down with Jim Barrett to discuss this accomplishment on a recent Talking Information Center broadcast.
During their conversation, Elizabeth talked about LAB’s outward-looking mindset. Our partnerships in Lowell stretch back for many years. One way to network with the community happens at a UMass Lowell breakfast, where decision-makers from local nonprofits have an opportunity to meet with faculty members who have students looking to get internship experiences in the area. The breakfast’s “speed dating” format gives everyone a chance to have brief conversations with many people. Then there is a larger block of time allocated for more in-depth conversations. It is at events such as this that the university’s instructors have gotten a chance to learn about the variety of exciting internship and volunteer opportunities available at our agency. As a direct result, several very productive relationships have evolved between our staff and promising young people in the community. In honor of that, Elizabeth proudly accepted the first annual 2014 Service Learning Community Partner Award.
“It was so amazing to get the award when there are so many wonderful nonprofits that work in the Greater Lowell area and to be recognized for our work with the students,” she enthused. “We get a lot of support from the students and it’s nice to be recognized, that the students realize that they had a good experience here.”
Focus on Multiple Sclerosis
By Suzanne Wilson
When Maria Martin was diagnosed with relapse-remission multiple sclerosis, the news was actually a relief. At last, after a long period of not knowing, she finally had a name to attach and a reason for the visual changes she had been experiencing. In order to share with others some of the important information she has learned throughout her MS journey, she conducted an interview recently for the Talking Information Center with Dr. Arthur Safran, a neurologist specializing in MS and a member of the MS Society of Greater New England who sits on its Clinical Advisory Committee. Also joining them was David Young-Hong, The MS Society of Greater New England’s Associate Vice President of Clinical Programs and Direct Services. It proved to be 30 minutes chockfull of information—with a liberal dash of inspiration as well.
First, it’s important to understand the definition of MS. It is a chronic, usually progressive disorder affecting the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord, not the peripheral nerves in the arms and legs). Although the cause is unknown, there is an immune system component.
There are several types of MS:
• Relapsing-remitting. This is characterized by an attack and then some level of recovery.
• Progressive. This form gradually worsens over time.
• Relapsing-progressive. This is a progressive illness interrupted by bouts of attacks from which patients make partial or complete recoveries.
• Secondary progressive. Characterized by a series of attacks and remissions which eventually evolves into the progressive form.
• Neuromyelitis optica: found mostly in Asia, this form of the disease does not affect the brain and is focused in the spinal cord and optic nerves.
Although it’s important to be aware of these different types, Dr. Safran stated that this should not be our primary concern: “The most important thing isn’t the kind of MS that you have, but rather what it has done to you and what limits it may produce. Those are measured by a Kurtzke Scale, named after the person who described it. . . . As an average, it takes about 25 to 30 years to develop what’s called a Kurtzke Scale Six, that is to say the point where someone might have to use a cane to get around.”
Bernie Petruziello: an Artist in the Moment
Written Suzanne Wilson
As children, one of the first things we learned about the classical music composer Ludwig van Beethoven was that he lost his hearing as an adult. What a hardship, what a burden, we thought. And while that is certainly true on one level, it may never have occurred to us that Beethoven’s deafness added an additional complexity and uniqueness to his later works.
Renowned Lowell artist Bernie Petruziello is a living example of how what might seem on the surface to be a career-ending loss can be transformed, over time and with patience, commitment and love, into an immeasurable gain. Our own Jim Barrett sat down with Bernie recently to discuss his fascinating life and the part that his art has played in it.
Bernie was born in January, 1936 in the predominantly Italian North End neighborhood of Boston. “It was a wonderful place to grow up in. It was very boisterous, noisy, everybody was a Caruso. It was a wonderful time. I really enjoyed it,” Bernie recounted with obvious pleasure. Part of a close-knit family and community, he had four siblings. As a boy, he strolled the winding streets and alleyways of the North End, noticing the fishing boats, butcher shops, the markets and the harbor. Although he might not have realized it then, these strolls were his first lessons in noticing and capturing in his mind the various scenes around him. Later in his life, it was these very skills that would gel to form the foundation of his art.
Even as a tiny boy of four or five, the urge to draw was a strong presence in Bernie’s life. Perhaps it was inherited from his famous artist Uncle Victor, known to many as the Michelangelo of the North End. Victor’s work graces the Hall of Flags in the State House and can be seen elsewhere in Boston as well. And yet, in spite of his fame, he took the time to become little Bernie’s mentor. They spent countless hours roaming the streets and galleries of Boston, discussing the visual details of the streets and architecture. They also went to the Boston Museum of Art and spent countless hours looking at the various paintings. “He would dissect them for me, tell me how to look at a painting, what to see in it, how the painter painted from left to right or right to left, how the strokes made the painting even more visual,” Bernie explained. “I learned an awful lot from Victor.” He began to focus on drawing the people and places with which he was most familiar, focusing on the North End in many of his drawings.
Other than receiving invaluable advice from his uncle, Bernie remained largely self-taught as an artist until high school. On a particular day, his class was asked to draw what they saw in a photograph of their choosing. Instead of following this instruction, Bernie drew a scene from out of his vivid imagination. When the teacher asked to see the photograph and he explained that he had none, she knew she had stumbled upon true talent. For the next two years, she mentored Bernie and helped him compile a portfolio to be used in applying to art school. Thanks to her support and to his hard work, he was accepted and studied at the Museum School in Boston where his uncle had gone years before.
His time at art school provided him with the opportunity to refine his skills. He also spent untold hours gazing at the many paintings housed in the museum, studying their technical details and integrating the knowledge into his unique style. While a student, he focused on graphic arts. Specifically, he did etchings on stone via lithography. The process consists of drawing the image backwards on stone, etching the stone with acid, placing a damp piece of paper on the acid-treated stone and running it through a press. In the end, the picture is right side-up.
Lithograph is only one of a wide variety of mediums in which Bernie has worked. He has used oil, water colors, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, and pencil mediums. Now that he is totally blind, he prefers working in acrylics, since they are easier to mix and they dry quickly.
Meet Suzanne Wilson
Written by Suzanne Wilson
Each month, we use the pages of this publication to share information that is of interest to our supporters, volunteers and staff, as well as to the blind and visually impaired community as a whole. It might be an interview; it could be a description of a special event that was held at LAB. This month, we decided to take a slight departure from the norm and begin a two-part series that gives you a behind-the-scenes introduction to two of the people who work to make this newsletter possible. This month, we spotlight Suzanne Wilson, our feature writer and editor. Suzanne was interviewed by Joe LeBlanc as part of the VOICE program curriculum.
Suzanne is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a mid-sized community in the southwestern lower part of the state. When she was born in May of 1964, she was three and a half months premature, weighing only two pounds and one ounce. In order to keep her alive and protect her fragile lungs, doctors placed her in an oxygen-rich, heated bed called an isolet, where she stayed for nearly three months until she was deemed strong enough to be discharged. As it turned out, the very oxygen that had saved her life caused permanent damage to her eyes. Consequently, Suzanne could only see light and shadows as a child and had no light perception by the time she was in her late teens.
She was part of a very small family. Although her sister was less than a year younger than she was, people often assumed that Suzanne was the younger of the two. As is typical of most siblings, they “fought like cats and dogs” but also supported each other in numerous ways. Nevertheless, her sister often grumbled that Suzanne’s disability was causing her to get all the attention.
Although Suzanne did not attend a school for the blind, she definitely benefited from specialized training, particularly in the early grades. She spent most of kindergarten and first grade in a “resource room” where she learned Braille and spent time developing the use of her other senses. With each succeeding year, she spent less time in this environment so that by the time she left the public school to attend a parochial one in fifth grade, she needed minimal help from a vision teacher. Although she did well with the academic aspects, her interactions with her peers were not as positive as she would have liked. Especially during middle school, she experienced numerous bullying incidents. “It was hard,” she explains, “because I didn’t feel like I had any allies with the adults, which is why I’m so happy now that there is all this attention being paid to bullying and stopping it and having kids alert authorities if things are going on.”In general, however, she enjoyed academics and was a good student. Her memories of her teachers are positive. One, in particular, came to mind: Suzanne had signed up for a world history class and was perplexed when, on the first day, the teacher told her to go to the principal’s office. When he arrived there after the class had ended, he explained in the kindest possible way that he did not believe the class was right for her and asked that she drop out. Suzanne refused, asking the teacher to give her a chance to prove that she could cope with all of the class expectations. He reluctantly agreed. At the end of the year, he apologized for his previous actions and told her what a pleasure it was to have her in his class.
New Beginnings at LABBy Suzanne Wilson
August is generally a month when life slows down. We bask in the sun at the beach, vacation with our families and do our best to get every last bit of fun out of the waning summer days. Here at LAB, however, we’re always looking for ways to keep things vital and exciting. We might be 90 this year, but we still like shaking things up a bit. So we decided to depart from the tradition of the August doldrums, and instead turn it into yet another excuse to have a party (with great food, of course), and some of our best friends and most loyal supporters in attendance.
What were we celebrating? On this day, August 22, 2013, we took the time to recognize the accomplishments of Joe LeBlanc and Alex Moore, who successfully graduated from our Vocational Opportunities in Communications Education (VOICE) program and the LAB partners in offering this program the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) and the Talking Information Center (TIC). In addition, we were honored to have as our guest, in his first appearance before a group of his future constituents, the newly appointed Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind, Mr. Paul Saner.
A lively crowd was on hand to congratulate the graduates and to meet the Commissioner. Guests included staff from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), the Talking Information Center (TIC), the LAB Board of Directors and staff, and several LAB adult program clients.
For Alex and Joe, this day symbolized the end of a challenging 12-week class that focused on many aspects of the communications field. The overall goal of the class was to assist students in enhancing communications skills that are ultimately transferrable across many occupations and jobs. During the three-month class, Joe and Alex got a comprehensive overview of radio broadcasting: how to book guests, research program topics, conduct interviews in a professional manner, and how to edit those interviews and form them into a final, polished product. During their time in the VOICE program, both students completed fully edited and interviews ready to broadcast across the state on TIC. Now that they have successfully completed VOICE, they will have a toolbox of skills at their disposal, skills that can be transferred to any number of vocations.
In addition to cheering for Joe and Alex’s success, the audience was anxious to meet and hear from the man who was inspiring so much buzz in the community. Who is this new Commissioner? Does he have the experience and understanding of blindness that is required for such an important position? To answer these and many other questions, Paul Saner stepped up to the microphone and introduced himself.
The youngest of five, Paul grew up in Northampton, MA. At age four, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative, hereditary eye condition. “My mother noticed that while I was very rambunctious during the day, at night I became rather docile. That led to the RP diagnosis. I’m the only one in the family to have RP,” Paul explained. “My vision was never a significant issue until my early thirties, with one exception: the night blindness. Frankly, high school and college years were tough years because I didn’t choose to disclose that I didn’t see at night. So I was socially not as involved as I would have in retrospect liked to be. I, to my good fortune, met my wife in graduate school. In 1991 at the age of 36, I was declared legally blind. . . I was not ready when I was declared legally blind, and I think very few people are without seeking the support and services of MCB and the extraordinary number of nonprofits in Massachusetts, including the Lowell Association for the Blind, that help leverage MCB’s efforts.. . I did immediately seek services, and I particularly got involved in support, and I sought out mentors, older people that were very successful as blind people.”
Paul’s diagnosis of legal blindness occurred during a period of transitions for him. His resume is long and impressive. His first professional position was with a small real estate company servicing investors who were purchasing interests in limited partnerships. The company grew from 11 employees when he was hired to a whopping 500 by the time he left in 1985.
In 1990, he took a job at Bank Boston and stayed for ten years, departing in 2000 as a managing director in the real estate corporate structuring group.
As the new decade began, it became clear to Paul that he needed to enhance his communications and independent living skills, since his central vision was deteriorating markedly. To this end, he attended the Carroll Center for the Blind’s Technology Center, where he learned touch typing and the use of screen reading and magnification software. In addition, he took classes in daily living skills.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Paul immediately put what he had learned into practice, not only in his own life but to help others. He became a volunteer teacher at the Carroll Center, passing on his own knowledge of touch typing and adaptive computer skills to many of the students. He hosted a retinitis pigmentosa support group in his home, became President of the Massachusetts affiliate of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and eventually joined the national board and the executive committee.
Paul also freely contributed his sharply honed corporate and management skills to the nonprofit sector, serving on the Commission’s rehabilitation council as well as becoming the Chair of the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library’s Consumer Advisory Board. In addition, he recently resigned from his position as Vice Chair of the Carroll Center’s Board of Directors in order to free up his time to assume his new position of Commissioner. In Brookline where he resides, he has served on the Board of the Brookline Community Foundation and is a representative at town meeting. Last but not least, he is on the Board of the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum and was instrumental in its inception and founding in 2011.
Without question, Paul brings an impressive skill set to his new role as Commissioner. Now all that is left to wonder is what his goals will be during his tenure. Paul’s answer is both definite and humble: “I’m not coming into this job with a specific agenda of this has to change, this has to go, this has to be added. So I’m going to be, over the next couple of months, laying out a longer term vision for the agency. I’m obviously aware of demographic trends and limited amount of SR (Social Rehab) funding for elders losing their vision, so that’s a particular area of interest for me. I obviously have been a successful byproduct of the vocational rehabilitation side of MCB. That’s vitally important work that we’re going to continue. I have been made well aware over the last couple of weeks of some of the new initiatives of the agency like the VOICE program, like the internship program. . . The bottom line is that MCB is here to support the thirty thousand blind folks in the Commonwealth, and I intend to do just that.”
As the event came to a close, the mood was buoyant. There was much to celebrate as we acknowledged Alex and Joe’s accomplishments. And there was also much to look forward to in the upcoming months, as Paul Saner learns about his new position and carefully implements improvements and enhancements.
We hope to invite him, as well as all of our other friends and supporters, back for another celebration of accomplishments in the near future. We are currently seeking applicants for the next VOICE class, to be conducted later this fall. If you are interested in learning if this program is right for you, contact your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. We hope to see you soon!
If you would like to listen to the recording of the festivities, just click on the link below to hear the TIC broadcast.
LAB Scholarship Winner Hits the Ground Running
By Suzanne Wilson
As any seasoned traveler will tell you, it is often the diversions and side trips we take that lead to our most meaningful discoveries. Cheryl Austin, this year’s winner of LAB’s George Zermas Memorial Scholarship, would definitely agree. In an interview which was recently featured on the July 19 edition of “Horizons,” our own Jim Barrett had the opportunity to speak with Cheryl at length about her life, her many accomplishments and the challenging course that lies ahead for her.
It all began conventionally enough. For the first eight years of her life, Cheryl spent an idyllic childhood in the suburbs of Rochester, New York. "I feel like it's different from the childhood that a lot of kids have these days,” she explained. “That was still the time when kids came home from school and just kind of ran out the front door into the neighborhood and didn't come home until things got dark and Mom was yelling to you that it was time for dinner. I really remember a lot of friends in my neighborhood and riding bikes in the streets, jumping rope in the driveway, making forts in people's basements, you know, kind of your typical childhood.”
Cheryl did all she could to downplay her disability. She was born with albinism, a genetic condition that results in reduced pigmentation in a person’s hair, skin and eyes. Specifically, the pigment deficit affects the eyes in three ways: lower visual acuity, nystagmus (involuntary movements of the eyes) and increased light sensitivity. In spite of the visual impairment that her albinism caused, Cheryl did all she could to fend for herself without the help of low vision devices. "Because I wasn't accepting of my own impairment, I probably didn't use some of the tools I should have. . . I didn't want to use magnification in the classroom but, for the most part, I just wanted to be a normal kid. . . like everyone else. So I honestly might have made my life more difficult than it needed to be. . . Then there's the flip side: I had a challenge and I knew I had a challenge, but I wasn't going to let anybody stop me."
This determination was the bedrock that formed the foundation for a string of successes for Cheryl. Due to her father’s career changes, she and her family left her childhood home at age eight and ultimately moved to the Bay Area in California. Upon completing high school, she obtained her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, where she focused on economics for the majority of her studies. As graduation approached, however, she realized that she did not want to pursue a career in that field. So she shifted gears and entered a three-year program in nutrition. After successfully completing an internship in San Francisco, she became a registered dietician.
When her friends began moving on and she had few ties that bound her to California, Cheryl decided to come back to New England to be closer to family. As a nutritionist, she has been employed at the Greater Boston Food Bank and at elder services in both Cambridge and Summerville. More recently, she worked in nutritional research at Boston University Medical Center and then at a public health research company in Cambridge called Apt Associates.
Without a doubt, Cheryl could have continued along this successful career path indefinitely. However, she started to believe that something was missing. Just as she had not felt the fire of commitment to economics, her research job seemed to lack a crucial element. "When I first started to think about making this career change into education, I had a long heart to heart with my husband about where our financial situation was and whether I could walk away from my well-paying research job that I really didn't enjoy all that much on a day to day basis. . . . It was a great environment, great people and we did great work, but it just wasn't my passion. I was trying to figure out what my passion was. . . He was incredibly supportive and there was an opportunity to take a teaching job at Arlington High School and he said, "Do it. Give them your notice and spend a year in the school and see if education is even for you.",”
With the backing of her husband, Jim, and the determination to find her true vocation, Cheryl took the position as a one-on-one assistant to a ninth-grader with autism during the 2011-12 school year. She spoke in glowing terms of the young man she worked with, and the experience affirmed her determination to pursue her career goal. The next summer, she took on a volunteer job at the Perkins School for the Blind’s summer sports camp. As a visually impaired athlete herself, she was particularly drawn to the idea of helping blind kids to get more in touch with their bodies and to embrace physical fitness. She made such a positive impression on her supervisor that she was offered a permanent position at the school.
These days, Cheryl works in Perkins’s outreach program. Most of her students attend public schools in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut and receive services from Perkins that address their visual impairment-related needs. "Our programs . . . run all the times that the regular school year does not . . . on school vacations and during the summer. We focus on something called the expanded core curriculum, nine different areas that have been determined as things that students with visual impairments need extra work in.” These areas include non-academic skills such as adaptive technology, social interaction, communication methods, career exploration, sensory efficiency, mobility and others. Each program weekend is based on a theme. This year, she is also supervising the summer employment program, which gives students their first taste of independence while still having adult supervision to fall back on. Program participants find jobs at Perkins or in the local community and live with roommates in their own apartments. Cooking, home and money management and orientation and mobility in the “real world” are the order of the day. While some participants are taking baby steps and others seem to leap quickly forward, Cheryl seems to love watching students come out of their shells in their own unique ways. It’s safe to say that she has definitely found her passion.
Cheryl has undergone another transformation as well. Gone are the days when she spent so much of her energy trying to hide her disability. "It's kind of come full circle. I accept it now, I talk about it now. And I have students who benefit from that and see me as a role model,” she elaborates. And what a role model she is: successful professional, motivated student of her new career as a teacher of the visually impaired, loving wife and visually impaired marathon runner. Yes, you read that correctly. Since first entering the Vision 5K race in 2005 with the encouragement of a co-worker, Cheryl has embraced the running lifestyle. Ironically, the only reason she chose to run in the visually impaired division of that first 5K event was because the event director encouraged her to go after the division prize, which he thought she was capable of winning. That day in her very first race, she came away with second prize. Since then, she has run several half and full marathons, including the Boston Marathon.
In ways both actual and metaphorical, one thing is clear: Cheryl Austin is definitely not standing still. LAB is excited to support her as she reaches high to achieve her next goal, that of becoming a fully qualified and certified teacher of the visually impaired. And while in many ways she has traveled a great distance from her suburban childhood, there are core values that remain unchanged. Cheryl, the intrepid traveler, continues to revel in her life’s journey and follow her dreams, wherever they may lead her.
LAB Clients Get the Latest Word on Technology
By Suzanne Wilson
Most of the time, LAB’s program for blind and visually impaired adults meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am until noon. However, we took a walk on the wild side and departed from the norm a couple of months ago on Friday, March 15. Why, you ask. Were we commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar? Were we having a pre-St. Patrick’s Day blow-out? While both of these are certainly legitimate reasons—particularly the latter—our departure from the norm had everything to do with our special guest, Gayle Yarnell.
If Gayle’s name sounds familiar to you, it is probably because she has been involved in the field of technology and reading access for blind, visually impaired, and print impaired people on the North Shore since the late ‘80s. Gayle is herself a regular user of numerous forms of assistive technology, including but not limited to the many services offered through the Braille and Talking Book Library. She is the mother of three grown children and the grandmother of four. If they hadn’t already known it, the 15 program participants who crowded into the office that morning soon learned just what an excellent speaker and fund of knowledge Gayle is.
The story begins way back in 1978, when Gayle moved to Massachusetts to take a job at Kurzweil, a company which produced the first reading machine for the blind. The inaugural models weighed at least 50 pounds and were anything but portable; however, they paved the way for the amazing technology of today. For about eight years, Gayle worked for that company, and then moved on to do technical support and then sales at Telesensory Systems, another giant in the field. Then in 1994, she took a leap and started her own business, known as Adaptive Technology Consulting, located in Salisbury, MA.
“I got to do things the way I liked and hire the people I wanted,” she explained. “It was a great company.” For the next 14 years, the business prospered and Gayle’s name and reputation for excellence became known throughout the North Shore.
All good things must come to an end though, and Gayle chose to sell her company to Perkins in 2008. It is now known as Perkins Products. Until the summer of 2012, Gayle remained as a part of the firm to help with the transition. Then opportunity knocked once again.
These days, Gayle has become an ambassador for the Braille and Talking Book Library by virtue of a grant. Thanks to this support, she is now able to travel far and wide throughout the North Shore to spread the word about the library’s various offerings. In some ways, it “has been a struggle,” Gayle conceded. Many of the senior centers, residential facilities, councils on aging and libraries that she approaches are hesitant to hear her presentation, probably under the mistaken impression that her goal is to sell products. In spite of these obstacles, she still manages to do about three presentations a week. In particular, she has found support groups for people with Parkinson’s disease to be receptive to this information. After all, the Braille and Talking Book Library provides materials and services not only to those with vision loss, but also to people who cannot read for other reasons, including learning and physical disabilities.
“The other piece that we really have been explaining to people is that everybody knows about the talking books . . . and the players. But they don’t necessarily know that there is a huge collection of large print books that are delivered in the same way through the mail at no cost,” Gayle stated. “And they don’t always know about Newsline.” As it turned out, some of our attendees were also unaware of some of these resources, particularly Newsline.
This free service enables subscribers to listen to magazines, newspapers and television listings read by a synthesized voice, either over a land line or mobile phone. Functions within Newsline enable subscribers to save their favorite publications, search by subject and skip by section, article or paragraph. In addition, the TV listings section describes what all local and cable channels are offering by time and date, also letting the subscriber know which shows are audio described.
Anyone listening to Gayle’s presentation will tell you that she is passionate about audio description, a technology that places verbalized description within a DVD or broadcast program. As a result, someone who is blind can understand nuances of action that are not spoken. “While you’re actually watching the process of the movie, it’s really nice to have it just be you and the movie and not somebody else deciding when they think it’s something they should tell you,” Gayle explained. To illustrate, she played a short segment from “Gunsmoke,” a well-known Western television series. Even in that two or three-minute clip, the added narration enhanced listeners’ understanding of the plot of the show without compromising the dialogue. The Braille and Talking Book Library offers its patrons the ability to borrow DVD’s with descriptive video at no charge, mailed directly to their homes. Hard copies of the catalog are available from the Library upon request. Alternatively, patrons can call and speak to a staff member to find out what is available. Selections are being updated on a regular basis. In conclusion, Gayle shared information about a resource called the Blind Mice Movie Vault, available free over the Internet, that enables members to download the audio portion only of described movies and television shows to their own computers.
If you would like to speak to Gayle directly to ask a question or schedule a presentation to your group, she can be reached at 978-973-7188 or at the Braille and Talking Book Library at 617-924-3434. All of those who attended her discussion were impressed by the depth of knowledge and understanding of the full spectrum of adaptive technologies available today. Chances are, this will not be the last time Gayle is asked to grace us with her presence and valuable information.
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