The Braille Monitor                                                                                               January, 2004

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A Labor of Love

by Lee Frazier

Lee Frazier
Lee Frazier

From the Editor: The following article is reprinted from the May 15, 2003, issue of the Pathfinder, the publication of the NFB of Louisiana. Lee Frazier is the president of the Lake Area Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana. He and his members are busy helping blind people throughout their community and, in doing so, changing attitudes about the capacities of blind people around the Lake Charles area. Recently his chapter members were asked to serve as advisors and active participants in building a public park in Lake Charles. Here is Lee's story:

While attending a community meeting, four Lake Area Chapter members were introduced to the concept of a new public park. We volunteered to go to a nearby city to visit a park that had been built in the past few years. While following the tour through the playground, we were invited to climb a set of steps about twenty feet high, without knowing where we were headed. Six children were behind us, wanting us to hurry. We arrived at the top to find no way out except to slide down a twisty tunnel slide. So with cane in one hand and notebook in the other, down we went, only to come face to face with a television camera and lots of laughter.

While returning home, the four of us discussed the notion of placing Braille signs in our playground. But before we could raise the idea of Braille to anyone, we first had to get involved in the planning and designing of the playground. One chapter member sat on the accessibility committee and made sure all children would be able to play. Then another chapter member joined the special needs committee and helped design a history wall that could be examined by touch. As members of these committees and now friends with everyone, including the directors and engineers, we asked about installing Braille.

We weren't surprised to hear that no one had any knowledge of Braille and wanted to see a sample. So with a crash course in Braille and a lot of patience, we built a sample Braille sign saying "playground" and shipped it to New York for approval. In twenty years of designing and building these parks, they had never been approached with the idea of Braille for blind children. Our committee gave unanimous approval when we were asked, "Would you be willing to help build signs for other parks if people wanted them?" The answer was yes, yes, and yes.

When park construction began, city officials didn't know that we had already started on the Braille signs three weeks earlier--all seventy-six of them. The problem with building the park was that they didn't have enough crew captains, so in we stepped again. The captains had to work a mere three four-hour shifts a day which added up to twelve hours a day, with two lunch breaks. The hours were long, and trying to keep up with four or five crews a shift was really challenging. Nearly the entire chapter turned out to soap all the wood screws, carry water and cold drinks, hold wood as it was being cut and shaped, and even operate the chop saw when the captain said, "chop!"

Our chapter members helped to build this two-and-one-half-acre park and a three-story tree house in ten days. The news media had a blast with blind people helping put a playground together. The final touch was installing the Braille signs. Upon the completion of the project our work received local, state, and national recognition. In September 2000 we completed one of the largest public parks ever built, and we are proud to say this park contained the latest in accessibility for everybody.

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