Issues Facing People Who Are Blind Deborah Armstrong

Our special guest will be Debee (pronounced Debby) Armstrong, who is the alternate media specialist at De Anza college in Cupertino, California.

Debby has held a variety of interesting jobs, including training court reporters in computer aided transcription and supporting early Braille displays under Windows 3.1 at TeleSensory. In the early 1980s she wrote the fourth screen reader for the IBM PC. In the nineties, she was the technical support lead for the OmniPage OCR program and at the start of the 21st century she served a brief stint at a Dot Com writing spyware.

In her spare time, Debee loves cooking, knitting, reading, gardening and taking online classes. She's a dedicated volunteer for Norcal golden retriever rescue and Maxwell, her current working guide, is her sixth guide dog.

What Debby didn't write in her bio was that her most difficult job was training me on the IBM PC in the mid-80's when I was working at Pacific Bell.

Debby wrote in an e-mail that she is concerned that the ADA sometimes hurts us as much as it helps. She stated that she works for a large community college in Silicon Valley. "We have beautiful California weather for most seasons, and the 112-acre campus is a great place to get exercise. Despite this, our blind students don't walk anywhere. There's a shuttle for the physically disabled that delivers people to classrooms, so blind students have door-to-door transportation. They arrive on Para-transit, get whisked to class, then back to the disabled students' services office where they passively wait for Para-transit to take them home. I myself use the special shuttle when I'm headed to a meeting in an unfamiliar building and I also use Para-transit to get to work on time. But I frequently walk all over campus, eat in the cafeteria, chat with students and faculty and take the bus in the evenings to run errands or go out for fun. It's important to use services for the disabled, so they'll be available when you need them, but I'm concerned that our young people have become so dependent. They often have been assisted by aides throughout high school and use notetakers in college as well.

Some of them even require a scribe for exams who both reads the test out loud and writes down their answers. This happens, despite us having a modern computer lab, fully equipped with access technology. I prepare textbooks for the print-impaired, and blind students are encouraged to use the service. I believe it's completely fair for our office to scan and proofread a thousand-page textbook for a student, but many of them bring me single-page class handouts to scan as well, simply because they are daunted by the prospect of learning to scan materials themselves. Of course, we do have blind students with extra challenges, like advanced age, hearing loss, cerebral palsy or simply they are newly blinded. It's crucial our accommodations are what a particular individual needs. My fear though is that accommodations become a problem when they hinder a person's ability to cope with the world effectively. Everywhere these people go, they communicate that they are handicapped and will always require special services. Instead of society spending money on Braille and O&M instruction, access technology training and independent living skills, we fund ever more "services" to supposedly level the playing field.

students are not out and about, socializing with their able-bodied peers the way I did in college. They aren't mastering the freedom of reciprocity: "I'll help you with your math if you can phone me tonight and read to me everything the teacher put on the board. For another example, I often prepared lunch for my study group when I was young, and my buddies loved my clean comfortable apartment to hang out often offering to read to me in exchange for the grub.

Are we raising a generation of blind people who will always need scribes, readers and guides? Maybe this is why 70% of our working-age adults are unemployed.."

This program should certainly bring about an excellent discussion of our thoughts on questioning ourselves as to whether we are going forwards, backwards or keeping the status quo in our ability as person who are blind or visually impaired to further their efforts in being accepted as an integral part of society and aiming towards lowering the unemployment rate.