The Braille Monitor                                                                                               January, 2004

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Blind Run TV Show Illustrates Capabilities of the Nonsighted

by Stacey Palevsky

Teresa and Loren Wakefield
Teresa and Loren Wakefield

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Tuesday, October 21, 2003, edition of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Not by accident, the paper went up on NFB-NEWSLINEŽ on the opening day of the Iowa affiliate's convention, which was held in Waterloo. An editor from the paper made a presentation on the convention agenda, and this Courier staff writer also wrote a story about NFB-NEWSLINE, which was published the day before the convention opened. The community television program which is the subject of this story was described in detail at convention by the chapter members who produce it. It is clear from what the reporter writes that these Federationists have done an excellent job of conveying their message of hope and possibility to the community. Here is the story:

Her hands glide along the camera's smooth black surface. Sally Ripplinger memorizes the slope of the handle, the location of the zoom wheel. Through her headphones she hears the show's director give the one minute warning. Her back straightens. She instinctively looks straight ahead but cannot see what her camera tapes. Ripplinger is blind.

On this Thursday afternoon the Black Hawk chapter of the Iowa Federation of the Blind records its third public television show, "I'm Blind, So What?" The show's core purpose is to educate the sighted viewers and others who are blind.

The interview based show also is meant to illustrate the capabilities of the blind. It airs at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays on channel 17.

The show was the brainchild of Fransesca Soans, director at Waterloo Public Access, who happened to meet Loren and Teresa Wakefield. The blind married couple operate a vending machine business and tend machines in City Hall, where Soans's studio is located.

While in Washington, D.C., Soans saw an art exhibit by a blind photographer, inspiring her to try to recreate the concept in Waterloo. She then approached the Wakefields about doing their own television show.

"I know it's unusual, because TV is a visual medium and they cannot see," Soans said. "But for a healthy democracy we need truly diverse perspectives. And these people's stories are not available through mainstream outlets."

The Wakefields saw this as a collaborative opportunity for Federation members. The couple recruited Peg Brandt Zea, Laurie Marsch, and Ripplinger for their team. All were born blind or lost their sight during childhood except Brandt Zea. She cannot drive because she is legally blind, but she can see enough to get around without a cane.

"We're like brothers and sisters," Marsch said of the group, who have known each other since high school. This camaraderie is particularly evident during the show's hour setup.

Marsch and Ripplinger take a break to chat briefly. Loren Wakefield, who is the show's interviewer, talks with Brandt Zea about potential questions for his guest, Barb Weigel, a project specialist for the Iowa Department for the Blind.

Meanwhile, Teresa Wakefield gingerly climbs a stepladder. With the vocal guidance of Soans's assistant, Dave Hammer, she locates each peg to hang the set's tapestry. When the sighted Hammer notices an additional nail is needed, he switches places with Teresa.

Loren jokingly asks why his wife is making such a ruckus. The petite Teresa, clad in a sweatshirt that says "Braille Readers Are Leaders," laughs and swears it's not her making the noise. "Most people don't think the show is done by us," Teresa said.

"But it actually is. We're all involved," Brandt Zea added. "Everything you see and hear was done by blind people."

The introductory music is played by a blind pianist. The oil canvas landscape that hangs on the set was painted by a blind artist. And except for a little guidance from Soans and Hammer to focus and angle the cameras, the show is led by these five people.

"The biggest change was the way the controls were taught. We couldn't just point to a button," Soans said. "But they're so used to dealing with limitations of a sighted world, I knew they would have suggestions."

The group adapted well. They learned the equipment by touching the cameras and soundboard. Instead of pointing to signal the beginning and end of a program, they use a small plastic clapper to signal the host.

"Technology doesn't have to be limiting. This show is a testimony to the abilities of the blind," Soans said. Blind technology has improved over the years and has made life better for many. All five have a voice activated computer program in their homes and are looking to get the costly program donated for the studio's computers. Their goal is to need even less sighted help.

The team is proud of the precedent it is setting. When Teresa presented "I'm Blind, So What?" at the Federation of the Blind's state convention, many people asked how they could start a show in their town.

"Blindness is only a characteristic," Loren said. "I know a lot of sighted people who lack self confidence—they're afraid to try, afraid they might fail. But you've got to go out there and make yourself do it."

The team embodies this philosophy. Teresa spearheads a national program called "Braille Is Beautiful" in the Hudson schools. Loren plays the drums in his church band. Marsch bowls in a blind league; their team's name is the Gutter Sweepers.

"This show reinforces to us that if you want to do something badly enough, you'll find a way," Marsch said. "The public will see we're just like anyone else. We laugh, we cry, we have families."

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