Sometimes I get myself into trouble. I tend to say, “Yes” much too readily. At least that is how I used to operate. I confess to being a serial volunteer at libraries, hospitals, civil liberty groups, social service organizations, Senior Citizen Centers, AARP… I’ve learned a lot about human nature, including my own, during these stints. People are people, with or without disabilities. Some are nice some are not.
The one group, to whom I have remained loyal for more than 50 years, is the local association for services for the blind. I started by reading newspapers live on air and recording books. I’m still doing some recording, except I can do this from home with the software they provided.
Now I’ll tell you about the most amazing person I ever worked with. The director of student services at the local Community College asked me to help a new college student who had been blind since birth. This was not a teenager. She was a married woman, who wanted to return to school to be a good example to her six children. How could I say “no” to that?
By this time, I had retired from my full time career. The campus was not far from my home and, Mary (not her name) already knew how to get there by bus. Two to three times a week; I met her on campus; taught the routes to her classrooms; copied notes from blackboards (to be recorded later); and made diagrams on the desk with sticks, blocks, and rubber bands, etc. to duplicate the diagrams on the blackboard in science classes. At home, I recorded textbooks, book lists and school notices. Math class (algebra) was the most challenging. Ultimately, I taught her most of it myself. All of this was happening before we had some of the wonderful adaptive devices available today. The school gave me authorization to administer her tests. Never, not even once, did she try to cheat! During testing, she did not expect me to give her hints. I asked her the questions and wrote down the answers as she spoke them to me. For the algebra test, which took ages, I explained the problem. She created an equation, which I wrote down. I read her equation back to her and she told me the next step…
During those two years, she never missed a class and never gave up in spite of many difficulties. Her husband left her – he did not want an educated wife and her teenage children got into all kinds of adolescent trouble. She handled it all.
I could not have been happier when I was invited to her graduation from this 2-year community college. By then she knew how to use a computer and had been accepted into a 4-year school to continue on her path to becoming a teacher.
We spoke occasionally during the next few years. Her life was going well. She graduated with her BS in Education and got a job. Her kids were OK. She was about to be a grandmother.
Not all of my volunteer experiences have been as gratifying. As I said before,”People are people”.