Archive for November, 2013

Reader’s Forum – Week of November 18, 2013

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.

Terri wrote:

In the November 11th Readers Forum, Lucia wrote about the importance of persons who are blind or vision impaired asserting their rights as other groups have done, and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Lucia, for your well thought out and written comments on that topic.

In addition, I would also like to thank George and Patricia, both of whom wrote me personally with questions about the Sprint phone I discussed in last week’s issue.

I am always eager to hear from fellow readers either personally, in the Reader’s Forum or both.


Elaine wrote:

I would like to comment on the article about songs that mention the word blind or make reference to blindness. There are many different kinds of blindness such as intellectual blindness and spiritual blindness. The song by the Teddy Bears that was mentioned has nothing to do with physical blindness or blind people. The song has to do with mental understanding. The girl in the song is saying that someday this guy she loves will understand that he was meant for her. I think some blind people give sighted people a bad impression more than the lyrics of any song.


Bob Branco wrote:

I would like to respond to those readers who put their trust in self-driven cars. My concerns have nothing to do with distractions, the human element, or drivers who would rather text. My concerns have to do with the imperfection of a machine that we have to put all of our faith and trust in. Bridget is absolutely correct! How do we find this car when we leave the shopping mall? It could be the twenty-fifth car in the tenth row of sixty-one cars in a parking lot, or maybe it got a ticket because it parked in a handicapped place without a placard in the windshield. Does the car have a mind of its own when it sees a parking lot or the adjacent side street, and how would the blind passenger know where to go in order to enter the building unless he’s told or is able to program the car to park where he wants it to park? That can be extremely complicated because every single destination has a different parking plan, and we may not know some of these parking plans to begin with. I believe that if you put two cars on a road, one self-driven and one not self-driven, the self-driven one will more than likely crash first, simply because it has fallible parts. If humans wouldn’t text while driving, consume alcohol before driving, or daydream or sleep while driving, they would be as careful with cars as we all want them to be, and I would trust those situations a lot more. Any circuit could fail at any time without advanced warning. At least if you are with a human who texts, is drunk, or wants to fall asleep, you would probably know about it.


David wrote:

Educating the Nonsightless: It was said in the November 11, 2013 issue that “we can complain or we can see the sick humor and do our best to educate even in adversity. It is our choice. Let us choose wisely without eyesight and demonstrate a little insight.” While I concur with these sentiments, I do not think that while suffering a migraine one should be expected to endure sick humor and play the “let’s educate the public” game. I used to think that with the efforts of the more vocal members of NFB and ACB aided by the rapid dissemination of information on the Internet, we’d soon have a 100% saturation. This is sadly not the case! I don’t feel that my efforts have done any good. I sometimes read in church using braille materials. I have spoken to school classes about guide dogs (when I still had one, that is.) I have patiently explained about talking computers and suffered through the most trying of questions and feel it’s like plowing the sea. It seems no one listens to explanations of how I perform daily tasks. They usually want to know if I was born blind. I was not. That seems to make them feel better. So I know what red or mauve is. Woohoo! I can’t mystify them with echo-location abilities. I’m not that good a bat. I don’t have magical hearing. My other senses did not suddenly become preternaturally keen! Drats! I grant it’s not easy being blind. It’s not something I’d have chosen, but it is doable. I think there are too few blind people as a percentage of overall population, and each has a different skill level, so we may never hit a tipping point that will cause a saturation of knowledge in society. Some blind people are extremely successful and others struggle. I’m not sure what makes one succeed and another fail. It’s not college GPA. Perhaps, knowledge of braille, travel skills, sighted spouse, luck. Just not sure. I suspect brains. I suspect that the IQs for the really successful ones run higher on average than their sighted counterparts or maybe they are more proactive, manipulative, …

Self-driving Cars and Faux Independence: I refuse to be beaten up by the independence meme. I am not a bad person if I need help. I think the interdependence model is best. So many independent types just get help in a catch-as-catch-can manner. I don’t really care to wander around the airport and eventually snag a bystander. Yes, it’d be a good time to educate the public again. But when I’m traveling, I really don’t have time to play teacher or hear how amazing I am just to be out breathing and walking. I won’t muddle along in a crowd as is the fashion at some of the conventions in a manner described by one blind nerd as Brownian Motion. I won’t have a sighted colleague talking to me en route to anywhere while I frantically ask questions to keep him or her talking so I can tell myself I walked here myself to avoid committing the Lèse-majesté of sighted guide! I think self-sufficiency is good. I wonder about the liability of these self-driving cars. If one causes an accident, who is at fault: the blind driver, the manufacturer of the equipment, both, neither? I’m sure the ambulance chaser lawyers will have plenty to say on that one. I’d hate to be at the wheel when things go wrong and depending on my limited sight to try to fix them in the split seconds before a major smash-up. I love my friends, might even like to drive them places, but don’t want to be responsible for injuring them. I’d hate to entrust their lives to technology. We all know how flawless it is, how great voice recognition is, how perfectly the GPS gives directions, and how hacker-proof it all is. I’d be curious what the Freakonomics guys might say about this scenario. I’ll let the blind daredevils out there beta-test or is that test drive this amazing automotive technology. It’s just so new. I think of early aviation and the accidents and the steep learning curve. Self-driving cars just sound too good to be true. I have been around long enough to recall how the rapid advances in technology were hailed as magic for the blind and how everyone would have jobs. I’m older and more cautious now. It’s too hard to find qualified techy types to help you. When you do find someone, he or she often assumes you have more knowledge than you do and can become impatient when you don’t catch on quickly. It must be nice to be a tech genius and make a mint from an expensive piece of niche-market software. I wish I could. There are opportunities out there, but one must be very creative to extract benefit from them. Out-of-the-box thinking doesn’t hurt either or mega-networking.


Tammy wrote:

I am writing because I feel like Christmas has gotten way too commercialized. Some department stores and discount stores have announced they are opening an hour earlier this Thanksgiving. Therefore, those employees can’t spend time with their families. I think the best way to put a stop to this before it becomes an all day thing is for people not to show up at the mall or any other store that chooses to do this. I would like to know your comments on this.


Eric wrote:

In response to Bob Branco’s op-ed piece, “Are We Hooked On the Computer?” The answer is an emphatic yes. Right now, (November 11), Kari Steele, voice over image voice for KOST 103.5 radio, and midday air personality, uses a computer to load songs. What if the computer went down? Well, there is backup. Not so much of a problem solved! Unless you have to use the CD player!

I recently had to make a trip to a semipro football game. The computers were down at Omnitrans Access Services in San Bernardino. There was an incredibly long wait, to find out where my driver was. I had taken the Metrolink Inland Empire-Orange County Line into San Bernardino. My ride was for 6:00 P.M. I had called to let them know that I was ready at 5:20. It wasn’t until 5-35 that I got Dispatch. The GPS wasn’t working, so she
couldn’t ascertain where the driver was, because her computer was down. No offense, but they were poorly unprepared. She, (the Dispatcher) should have, immediately, sent a taxi out to get me. There was no one at the Train Station who was going over to San Bernardino High School. Luckily, I got picked up, but after 6:50!

The GPS also failed me again on November 7. I was headed toward Orange County, also on Metrolink; this time, I used the Orange County Line. I was ready for my 6:40 trip to Glover Stadium for a high-school football game between Anaheim and Katella High Schools. When I called Orange County Access Services, I was told the GPS was not working. I was offered a taxi, not by OCTA, but by passers-by. I declined, because my trip costs $3.60. I got picked up an hour later but my trip was on the house. Free! And
again, no one was going over to Glover Stadium.

Now if paratransit services had backup plans, not going so far as to strand passengers, then we would be better off. But without a computer working? That is ridiculous folks!


Joyce wrote:

Several years ago I badly sprained my ankle. When I was in the emergency room, my ankle, which was very badly swollen, was examined and subsequently xrayed. The doctor came to me, said it was not broken, and added here are some crutches for you to use. I was with my Seeing Eye dog, and said: doctor, if you can show me how to use crutches with my dog I will be glad to try. His response was to walk out without another word. The nurse asked me what I planned to do and I suggested a support cane, which she got for me. That worked fine. Many years after that I broke two bones and dislocated my ankle. I was pleased to receive very good treatment that time at the emergency room.


Roy wrote:

While reading the article about the emergency room visit the only thought I had was that this story had to be made up. I’ve been totally blind all my life and have been to the ER several times and at several different hospitals around the country and I have never, ever, ever been treated like that. I’ve always been treated kindly and patiently and have never been mistreated or made fun of because of my blindness. If this is a true story that is the ER visit from hell.


Jean wrote:

After reading about the emergency room experience I think it is time to circulate this again. It is not the greatest training video ever, but it certainly addresses some of the more obvious (to us) issues. Send it to EVERYONE you know – sighted or blind, in the medical profession or not.


James R. Campbell submitted a poem, titled “Good Night America”:

Good Night America, how are you?
You don’t know me, I am one of your native sons.
I am one of many with a thousand questions,
That we must answer for ourselves.

Go quietly amid the day’s leftovers,
That remain after the Thanksgiving feast.
This day was once ours,
A time of rest and respite.

But the ads in the sales papers
That come from near and far.
Have lured you away from what matters most,
The simple pleasures in life

The holidays were once a time set aside,
For simple pleasures with family and friends.
If we honored this tradition for one year,
Then, for that year, we would regain what we have given up all too willingly.

Go quietly amid the day’s leftovers,
And if you choose to line the pockets of the giants.
At least, remember those who lack,
What money can’t buy this holiday season.

Contributor Marilyn Brandt Smith – Thanksgivukkah

What are you doing Thanksgiving eve? Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincide this year. Some enterprising folks see this as a commercial opportunity, but in my mind, that’s not all bad. A lady designed a t-shirt in her mind while waiting in traffic on her way to work. A nine-year-old dreamed up a turkey-shaped menorah, and with the help of the Kickstarter Internet fundraising platform, he got that ball rolling. I love my friend Robert’s Yiddish expressions and his stories of being misunderstood and sometimes misunderstanding students and teachers in his mostly Christian school in Brooklyn. So I decided to embrace the present opportunity for the blending of cultures and traditions.

First I bought a “Star of David” shaped Bundt cake pan. Sure, I’ll make a cake, but I’ll also make my southern corn bread. I also bought some “Star of David” earrings. Do I dare wear them to my strict Baptist in-laws’ Christmas dinner?

My son Jay studied the menorah lighting rules with great diligence, and hopefully we’ll get it right, starting the eve of Thanksgiving, and running for eight nights. Ours is electric of course, but it’s beautiful. Jews in Jerusalem before the time of Christ needed to rededicate their temple after it was desecrated by the Greeks. Oil for that purpose was in short supply – only enough for one night’s burning. More had to be consecrated, and that required eight days. The oil lasted eight days. The eight candles on the menorah represent the miracle.

As I read stories about the holocaust, I have always wondered and hoped, had I been there, I would have helped with the resistance – hiding Jews and helping them to escape. This all presumes, of course, that I wouldn’t have been whisked away because of my disability – many people were. Today’s issues are different, but they are still about intolerance throughout the world.

Yes, we bought dreidels, too. We will spin them for the chocolate coins in gold foil bearing the old symbols. Let’s hope we can get better at it in the next two weeks. The stuffed dreidel that plays music, “I Have a Little Dreidel,” has raised symbols, but it’s more a decoration than the wooden ones we will probably use. It sounds like a fun game.

This new twist on Thanksgiving and an introduction to the holidays makes me smile. According to the Jewish calendar, this shouldn’t happen again for nearly 80,000 years. Next year, the last day of Hanukkah is December 23. I hope we do it again.

Contributor James R. Campbell – How Much Our Healthcare Has Changed

Calera, Oklahoma, a small town that lies just across the border from Texas. May, 1944. A family in this small town rises, as they would on any other morning. But this was to be no ordinary morning. My cherished Aunt, who was ten years old at the time, was having trouble maintaining her balance. She wanted to go to school to take a test. My Grandmother took her to see Dr. Sawyer instead. He was the physician who cared for the family for many years.

When he examined my Aunt, he found that both eardrums had burst due to an infection. He admitted her to the hospital in Nearby Durant, Oklahoma.

He met her anxious parents in the hall. “Mr. Campbell.” He said. “I will do what I can here, but if there is no improvement, I may have to send your daughter to Dallas for further treatment.” My Granddad looked at the doctor “We don’t have the money to take her to Dallas.” He said. Dr. Sawyer looked at him and said, “don’t worry about it. If she needs to go to Dallas, it will be taken care of; I will see to it, personally.”

October 24, 2013, Odessa, Texas. I was informed by Dr. Usha Kurra, my health care provider, that my insurance carrier, Care Improvement Plus, was demanding a colorectal screening. They had advised me that they would pay for the procedure. When the big day came on October 29, we were surprised to learn that the co-pay would be 225.00.

What has changed?

The answer depends on who you ask. There are those who will tell you that the change is due to the cost of liability insurance doctors pay because of malpractice suits, others will tell you that it is because of the cost of our developing technology, and others say that it is because of the greed of the industry.

I had a man named George Sanchez come to my house to sell me a policy on November 30, 2005. He told me that the health care industry was better off financially than the oil tycoons and the movers and shakers in the high tech industry. I don’t doubt it for one minute.

But I would like to put this forward for consideration. The greatest change in health care between 1944 and 2013 can be owed to the fact that we as a society have handed responsibility for our health care to Big Brother in Washington. We let our representatives and the lobbyists for the health care industry make our decisions for us, instead of leaving it up to the communities, as was the case with my Aunt in Oklahoma in 1944. What is the result? Higher premiums and co-pays, more regulations, higher drug costs, and a health care system that is out of control to an extent that the average person can’t understand, let alone work with any of it. The solution is for the people to take it back, take it away from the government and take care of it themselves, in our local towns and cities. How this can be accomplished is a matter of thought, but if we pull together, I believe it can be done.

Finally, I received a letter from Medicare on Saturday; I have been advised that I need to switch plans. Care Improvement Plus has been rated below average or poor for the last three years. Given recent events, I am not surprised, and neither is my family.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Bring On the Christmas Music

About two weeks ago, I was very pleased to discover that two local radio stations in my community began playing Christmas music around the clock. Though this decision wasn’t met with full support by the general public, Christmas music brings more spirituality to my life when I listen to it, the same kind of spirituality that many of us in this society need.

For example, there seems to be a growing trend away from religious activities. Catholic masses aren’t as well attended as they used to be, and, in some cases, Churches either have to merge with one another or unfortunately close their doors. There also seems to be less personal contact because of the strong addiction to texting and other available visual resources that go with today’s modern technology.

Many of the Christmas songs that we hear offer a positive aura which, at the very least, puts our lives into perspective. This music reminds us of joy, happiness, family, giving to one another, and how we should pray, be grateful for all that we have, love one another, and appreciate who we are with. Other Christmas songs put smiles on the faces of young, impressionable children who, given today’s dirty music, need another resource to neutralize that influence. For those of you who think that it is too early in the season for Christmas music, don’t criticize it. Just change the station! There are many other radio stations, television stations, cable channels and satellite outlets which continue to offer non-spiritual, secular, and the filthy rap music that some people have come to love. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather hear songs about the birth of Jesus than songs about gangsters who serve as role models or those instructing us how to perform sexual acts. With all the school shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings, the brutal murders we hear about, the decreasing desire for Church, and the increased disrespect that some of us encounter, we should hear Christmas music year round.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – What if?

For a young child, “what if” lends itself to a number of possibilities like, “What if I didn’t even have to go to school? I hate it and don’t want to go.” An adult scenario might be: “What if my husband and I had never married because I married his best friend?”

The “What If” statement I will be focusing on in this article is one which historians have considered and written alternate histories accordingly: what if President Kennedy had never been shot on Friday, November 22, 1963? An extension of that scenario is, “what if the 35th President of the United States had still been shot, but had survived his wounds?”

Probably anyone who was alive on that fateful Friday knows where he/she was when getting that news and what he/she was doing when American and World History changed forever. Because the Overbrook School for the Blind had a Reading Readiness grade which followed Kindergarten, I was a ten-year-old third-grader. That Friday afternoon I was in a class which bored me to tears when my principal announced over the Personal Address System that everyone was to report to the auditorium. As I quietly entered, the organ was softly playing “Jesus Savior, Pilot Me.”

“Oh, my,” I murmured, not wishing to be heard and chastised. Once we were all quietly seated, the organist stopped playing, and the Principal, Mr. Kauffmann said, “at one this afternoon in Dallas, Texas, the President was shot and pronounced dead.” While my reaction was to be both numbed and stunned, many of the older girls began to cry. We prayed the Our Father and school was dismissed for the weekend.

In an E-mail a friend recently forwarded, I was given five historical perspectives on how various events might have played out had Kennedy lived.

A Japanese documentarian posits that Vietnam would never have escalated into the war being so vividly portrayed on American televisions as the 1960s progressed. Just two weeks before his death, J.F.K. had plans in place to remove military advisors by 1965.

Jeff Greenfield, a political analyst who authored a book and wrote in the Dallas Morning News about that troubled time suggest that we would have moved closer to meaningful dialogue with Cuban ruler Fidel Castro. This possibility was based on Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and “Bay of Pigs.” Furthermore, Kennedy is alleged to have stated that one should not trust that just because someone is a military man that he knows a “damn” about what he is doing.

On a more personal level, many who were closest to Kennedy were well aware of his extramarital affairs. Not only were these being prepared to be revealed two weeks prior to the Presidential assassination, but also some unsettling allegations about Lyndon Johnson having taken kickbacks and having obtained money in ways less than stellar. None of this was readily reported, however, given how shaken and traumatized America already was. Speculation is that the President and his brother Bobby, then U.S. Attorney-General, would have used all of the power at their disposal to keep that information from getting out.

Two final history revisions are that George Wallace would have become President in 1968, in part at least because the Civil Rights Act would not have passed, and that the second President Bush would have lost his bid for office in 2000. It motivates one to wonder how history would have been impacted 50 years later. It’s a given, however, that such a question can never be answered. Few, if any, would debate that what happened on that clear Dallas day 50 years ago this Friday forever changed the course of history both in America and in the world.

Sources: Jeff Greenfield who wrote about this topic in the Dallas Morning News, and Koji Matsutani: Virtual J.F.K.: If J.F.K. Had Lived: a 2008 documentary about the President’s planned withdrawal from Vietnam.

Tell us in the Reader’s Forum how you might envision an America in which J.F.K. was either never shot or had survived his wounds.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Post College Part 2

Finally after a year and a half, I found a job at a small insurance company. This was my first full time job. I was hired as the Office Manager for the company. This gave me a chance to learn some professional skills and work in a good environment. Some of my responsibilities included taking phone messages, completing computer tasks, keeping the office organized and helping others in the office. The job lasted a few months because the company got bought out by a large insurance company and all of my job responsibilities changed. I did not have the necessary background to continue at the company. I could have gone to school and received all the necessary training, but, I didn’t want to spend my time selling life insurance policies to people. I left the job at the end of the year and began a new job for the new year.

I found this new job as a telemarketer for a commercial collections company. At first, this seemed like a very exciting job. I figured that since I liked talking on the phone, this would be a natural decision for me to do phone and customer service work. Unfortunately, I quickly began to hate the job. I had to make calls to small businesses to convince them to use our collections services. Typically, 85 to 90% of the calls I made didn’t get me any responses. I hated this job so much that I would think up excuses on Sunday afternoon so that I didn’t have to go into work on Monday mornings.

Finally, I decided to leave the job. I handed my boss my letter of resignation and was surprised to hear his response. He said “I will pay you to come in each day and find a new job for as long as I can afford to have you hear. You can’t just go home with no job. Someday, someone else out there will be smart enough to realize that you have an education, which means you have the ability to think, make important decisions. This person will look beyond your eye condition and hire you. I believe in you and I won’t let you leave this company without another job lined up.” I will never forget when he said this to me. For the first time, I knew I had found an employer who was fair and honest.

A few weeks later, he came to me and told me about a new business that had opened in the area. The company was being run by a gentleman and his father. The owner of the company, he explained, was legally blind. The company sold products to people who were legally blind, just like me. I called the company and spoke to this gentleman. A few days later, I visited the company, met that gentleman and had an interview with him. I began to work there at Vision Dynamics two days before Thanksgiving and stayed employed there until the end of 2005.

While at Vision Dynamics, I met many people who experienced blindness and low vision who were just like me. I was their store manager. My responsibilities included waiting on customers, helping them find products and solutions for their daily struggles, keeping a clean, neat environment, teaching people to use computers with adaptive software and running a Summer Camp program for children.

After so many years of thinking that I was different from everyone else, I saw firsthand at my job how so many other people were losing their vision and looking for answers to questions like, “How will I read my daily mail, how will I pay my bills, how will I prepare meals, how can I keep my independence? I began to realize that I was not alone, I had the same issues and there were products and services out there that could help me. This was a huge turning point in my life.

I began to take the bus to and from work each day. Even though my father was happy and willing to drive me to work, I decided to take a step towards doing things on my own. The bus worked out well. After about a year of this, I found my first apartment and moved in with a roommate. By observing other people I met at work, I would learn to do things on my own. I learned to cook by using the kitchen products I had sold to other customers. I bought a cane and used it to help myself each day. I began to teach other people how to use computers running screen magnification or screen reading software programs, just like the ones I used to ring up daily sales! I learned that my life was not any different than anyone else’s life. I could do everything that everyone else was doing, the difference was, I would do things using different equipment or different methods but the end result was, I was getting the job done.

After living in an apartment for two years, I bought my first home, a 3 bedroom townhouse. I moved into it alone and continued to embrace my independence. After several months, Whitlee, my first guide dog arrived and I learned how to become independent outside of my home.

Feature Writer Roger Cicchese – The Day the Music Died

It was a typical Friday afternoon in late November, just a week prior to the eagerly awaited Thanksgiving holiday. At the time I was in the seventh grade and in three weeks or so I’d be celebrating my twelfth birthday. Early in the afternoon we got really hot and sweaty in gym class during the first two periods. I was really exhausted when the bell finally rang, signaling the end of our weekly exercise in physical education. Somehow I never felt more educated after those double doses of teacher guided running, jumping, falling down, and being yelled at, for 90 minutes.

As I emerged from the lower regions of the boys locker rooms and came racing up the stairs, too fast, like so many rowdy junior high boys, I heard a sound that just didn’t make sense. I was frozen cold in my tracks because the sound was one that totally demanded and consumed my attention like something you never want to hear, especially when you are a kid. The sound was a woman sobbing. I followed the sound. The sobbing was somehow familiar in a way. The woman’s voice seemed recognizable, even familiar. Though I’d never heard her cry or sob before and I hope never to hear that again. I was lead to the large and cavernous science lab where we had our weekly classes and many other students were schooled in biology.

When I arrived I found my science teacher sitting alone at the front of an empty classroom with a small television nearby. It was tuned to the local NBC affiliate where a reporter was providing emerging details: “The flash from Dallas, Texas… President Kennedy has been shot,” and shortly thereafter: as I stood there spellbound, he announced: “The president is dead.”

I attended a residential school for blind and visually impaired students during the 50’s and 60’s and the school didn’t have a public address system to coordinate situations such as this with students and staff. So we were kind of on our own. Needless to say I was speechless at the news. I recall drifting out of the science lab as if in a dream, not knowing what to do next. It felt as if my world was falling apart. You see, the previous year I had acted the part of President Kennedy in a sixth-grade stage play and even got to do my young imitation of his famous Boston accent for the part. Until his untimely passing, my favorite comedy record was “The First Family” presented by Vaughn Meader, another Kennedy mimic.

The rest of that Friday afternoon recollection is strange because teachers acted like nothing had happened. Classes went on as usual. Most students were aware of the events unfolding, but teachers seemed to feel that keeping us busy was more important than helping us cope or talking with us about what was occurring.

Finally the school day ended and transportation arrived to take me and a few of my mates home to our families. As we rode together we imagined various scenarios of what we’d do to the person who had done this terrible thing to our beloved president. Each cruel and terrible punishment we came up with was worse than the previous one.

As you can imagine, the next several days were spent camped out by the television or by the radio. I was so enthralled by this history in the making I not only listened all day, but at bedtime I plugged in my earphones and fell asleep wearing the news coverage into my troubled young dreams.

The events of that time 50 years ago in November 1963 forever changed my life. The changes had little to do with politics. It was then that I determined that some time during my life I would work in radio news. I realized that even an eleven-year-old boy could cry for a perfect stranger. I came to understand that we learn about history, not only from books, but sometimes we get to live it. Once in a while we even get to make history ourselves. Most of all I realized that a person who does not have the sight of his eyes had perhaps started to develop what would eventually become insight.

I agree with the song writer of “American Pie,” Don McLean, that November 22, 1963 truly was “the day the music died.”

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – In Tandem Bike

For various reasons, we were unable to tandem bike ride this spring, and I truly missed it. Additionally, it was a tremendous blow when we learned that the charismatic leader of the then Achilles Tandem Bike Program, Mr. Artie Elefant, had passed away. It seemed so sudden to us as we had no idea he was ailing. We were stunned into silence before we began sobbing. My last sweet memory of him was his playful antics as we completed the Summer Streets Bike Ride. As I stood cooling off, I felt cool water dripping onto my head and down my shoulders. There stood Artie, wickedly grinning. I shrieked, but, of course, ended up laughing. How could I have known it would be the last time I would see his smiling face? We thought surely the tandem program had died with him. Thankfully, we were wrong.

Ms. Ayesha McGowan and Mr. Matt Molina, dedicated captains, took on the Herculean task of reviving the program in Artie’s name. Obtaining new bikes, sponsorship and captains, they got the program rolling again.

Maria and I were asked to do some promotional videos and pictures for the newly-named In Tandem Bike website ( To my knowledge, we are no longer affiliated with the Achilles program.

A charge went through me as I read the email that the Tandem program would be reborn. It would take time to recruit captains and contact stokers but it would happen. Finally, on a chilly October morning, there we stood, waiting at the familiar Engineer’s Gate in Central Park. How exciting to hop on a new bike and once again go whizzing around the park in all its Autumnal splendor. In addition to new bikes and captains, we now must sign insurance forms each time we ride. My captain is an employee of a group of our most keen supporters. Little did I know that I’d soon be visiting their offices.

Googling Maria and I, Ayesha learned that we sing as the MaLyn duo and invited us to perform at an inaugural event for the program. Coincidentally, it would be held at the offices of the aforementioned captain in the New York Times Building. What floor? 44?! From the moment I heard the number, I went into freefall and panic mode, so much so that on the night of the event, I grabbed Maria’s new guitar instead of my familiar Fender. Somehow I kept myself together as we rapidly ascended in an elevator without buttons. Guess one could say I literally rose to the occasion.

It is my hope that this vital program continues gathering participants and popularity and that it engenders the spirit of camaraderie and wellbeing that Artie intended.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A Car of Her Own Part 2

When Jan pressed the start button on that sunny, warm, July morning the female British voice did not sound clear with its clipped accent. The almost inaudible voice asked Jan’s next destination, mileage and speed. Slowly articulating each phrase she said, “Leominster mall. Nine miles. Thirty miles an hour.” She pressed the go button. There was dead silence. With shaking hands she grabbed the braille manual, reading the entry “When car fails to function.” “Immediately cancel commands when your car fails to start.” She did that, repeating the commands. She was relieved when the car purred to life.

Halfway to the mall the car began slowing to a crawl. The wobbly sounding female voice incessantly repeating, “Low battery needs charging, “An impatient driver yelled, “lady get off the road if you can’t drive!” “My battery needs charging,” she said, “do you know where the nearest charging station is?” “I have no idea,” he said driving away. “Where is the nearest charging station in Leominster?” She asked. “50 feet from your destination,” the increasingly dysfunctional voice replied. The car came to the charging station. After she plugged it in the car informed her that it would be charged in 60 minutes.

“After the morning you have had let’s go to that café you’ve been talking about,” James said. As they walked through the food court, he commented, “don’t those cinnamon rolls and coffee smell good?” “Yes that’s why I like this place,” she said. After ordering iced coffees and hot cinnamon rolls, they sat in a comfortable booth and began talking about the eventful morning.

“You did a great job,” he began. “You remained composed when the car gave you problems. You did an excellent job at solving them and educating those ignorant drivers,” he said. “I purposely under charged the car’s battery as part of your entrance test,” his calm gentle voice reassuring her. “I suspected that after looking at the manual,” she said. He paused, saying, “someone is getting our attention.”

“Oh hi Jan, it’s great to see you,” Jenn said. “This is a surprise, meet James my driving instructor,” Jan said. “I am glad to meet you,” Jenn said. “It’s nice to meet you Jenn,” James said “But we have to leave; this hour has flown by, the car is fully charged.” “Goodbye Jenn call you soon,” Jan said as they went towards the car.

It drove to her apartment on 544 Market Street. With his gentle smile, James said, “congratulations, you have passed the entrance test.” He handed her a certificate and conditional license. “I can’t believe it,” she said as he guided her hand to sign both the license and certificate to drive. “You are one of my best students, he said. “The next part of your instruction, is navigating larger cities. Next Friday you will be traveling to and from Marlborough. Until then, enjoy the experience of driving around Leominster and Fitchburg. Keep a journal of your trips. Send the documents to me. Keep your license and certificate with you. If police stop you, show them. They have the training center’s and my phone number.”

Standing there, she felt happy and liberated. Like her sighted friends, she could go anywhere and no longer had to depend on taxis or vans. “Have a great week, I’ll be looking forward to your emails,” James said. “See you Next Friday morning.” he said as he got into a taxi to go to his next lesson. “Have a great day,” she said, feeling a sense of contentment and peace about her new life.

Part 3 coming soon…

Feature Writer John Christie – Advocates for the Disabled Try to Improve the Mental Hospitals Throughout the World

Mental Asylums live on in some parts of the world. For instance, in Guatemala City, Donald Rodas, a man in his late twenties with paranoid schizophrenia murdered his parents a year ago and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. He was charged with the crime. At the hospital, he roamed the halls freely and saw patients charged with crimes mixed in with ordinary patients and the developmentally disabled. He also sees patients who don’t take their medication and are beaten and placed in a barren isolation cell. Women also sell their bodies for as little as a dollar to afford the basic necessities.

The United States began emptying out its vast asylum system in the 1960s. While it was in existence, it was filled with abuse and neglect. It emptied out 90% of the people who lived in the institutions and had them go into a community based care system. However, the funding for community based care couldn’t match the influx of people coming out of the institutions. This led to the widespread problem of homelessness and jails and prisons for the mentally ill.

However, in much of the world, the warehousing of the mentally ill is more the norm than the exception. They live in dirty, overcrowded wards and electroshock treatment is given without the patient’s consent.

Disability Rights International based in Washington, D.C. is trying to change all this. For instance, Paraguay reduced its mental hospital population by almost half by setting up group homes for these people. 130 countries have also ratified a treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities. This treaty states that the disabled should not be segregated from society. This treaty also states that countries should move from centralized asylums to community based care.

Through a lot of pressure, Guatemala has pledged to have a pilot program of group homes for the mentally ill and disabled. They will also reduce the mental hospital population by a significant amount in two years. A global effort will also take place throughout the world to reduce the population in these hospitals. If that doesn’t work, human rights law will be used to compel action.

The mental hospitals weren’t all that bad in the United States. Patients got to know other patients and there were activities for the patients during the day. In addition, they were also fed well. Patients also kept up a garden for the individual hospital. The patients from what I heard were treated well.