Life Without Sight
By Amelia Arthur, Emmy Cohen, Emily Herman, Ashira Naftali-Greer, Robert Wells Jr.
When most people wake up in the morning, they get out of bed, brush their teeth, wash their face, and go to eat breakfast. Finally, they head out the door to start their day. A person with all five senses, can complete these tasks with ease. For a blind person, this would require the use of a guide dog or cane. At 9th and Walnut in Philadelphia, there's a place dedicated to making these tasks much more accessible for the blind and visually impaired. The Associated Services for the Blind (ASB) has been making independent living for the people without sight a reality for 27 years.
According to Derby Ewing, Director of Human Services for ASB, "[ASB provides] vision rehabilitation, which gives people concrete skills to live independently in their homes...cleaning, grooming, managing money and traveling." According to Ewing, sixty-eight percent of their clientele are sixty years and older, meaning that the ASB must take even greater strides to serve its clients.
Blind & Beyond
Patty Lariccia is a certified visual rehabilitation specialist for the ASB, who teaches people how to function on their own at home without a sense of sight. Lariccia understands that the people she helps are usually lonesome and scared. "Most of the time, they're the only visually impaired person they know," she says.
David Goldfield, who is also visually impaired, works as a computer instructor for ASB, teaching his students the skills needed to be effective in the work place. "We teach them to use computers so that they are computer literate," says Goldfield. This is critical seeing as how computers are now a part of everyday society, and most working people are expected to be up to date with their technological demands. Goldfield uses a special software developed by NVAccess called NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) that speaks every word, letter, and sentence, and also enlarges characters on the computer screen.
Besides the physical and technological assistance, ASB also offers help on a sentimental level through various support groups such as the Latino support union known as Favorito. Favorito helps its members assimilate into modern-day American society, by giving them services such as English lessons, reading and writing braille, and nutrition tips. William Martinez Jr., a member of Favorito, benefits from services at ASB, which help him become a part of the community. "I like the young adult group to go on a trip or activities...they help us a lot," says Martinez.
Being one of the five largest braille printing presses in the United States, ASB manufactures books in braille that are sold worldwide. ASB also has various contracts with publishing companies for whom they create books and pamphlets for the blind. Some of their clients include corporations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Philadelphia International Airport, as well as local companies such as the Walnut Street Theatre and SEPTA.
Utilizing public transportation in a bustling metropolis can be difficult, but for the visually impaired it can be even more stressful. SEPTA meets with the ASB and its members several times a year to make sure that the public transportation services are accommodating for its sightless passengers. This hand-in-hand partnership greatly benefits the blind community of ASB.
The Walnut Street Theatre is a local playhouse that works with the ASB to assist the blind when they desire to view a theatrical performance. Andrew Terranova, the marketing director for the theatre, has worked with the ASB on many occasions when entertaining the blind customers. Terranova himself does voice overs during shows, describing what is physically happening to the sightless audience. The theatre also orders playbills from the ASB's printing press in braille. Additionally, the Walnut Street Theatre allows sightless patrons to handle the garments of the actors and actresses performing before the show to get a feel for the ambience of the performance. "We have loyal customers that expect a certain type of service," said Terranova.
ASB works for the betterment of the blind and visually impaired community, but the values preached through ASB are not always embraced by the larger community. Lariccia feels that she is treated with respect and is always helped when she needs it. "I find people to be friendly and very helpful." But, Martinez disagrees. When speaking about his experiences with everyday people in public, William expresses the lack of care he has endured. "They walk over my cane, they see it but they ignore it. They see that I am blind and they ignore it" says Martinez.
The ASB's mission statement declares, "Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ASB) is a private non-profit organization created to promote self-esteem, independence and self-determination in people who are blind or visually impaired...," However, many people, even blind or visually impaired individuals, do not know about the services that ASB provides. Living without vision can be strenuous, but with ASB, living does not need to be a constant struggle.