Braille Monitor June 2008
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by Barbara Loos
From the Editor: Barbara Loos is a frequent contributor to these pages and a longtime Federation leader. In the following simple story she demonstrates the way in which we often work together to bring hope to those who need it:
I have always been fascinated by networking. As an AmeriCorps member, my web of partnerships is flourishing. Here is an example.
My job in AmeriCorps with the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska (NFBN) includes teaching blind senior citizens to use the computer with speech output. On one occasion, while I was working with an eighty-five-year-old gentleman, he got a call from a man at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI), our state’s agency for the blind. My student had been in touch with the Commission after returning from receiving a computer and initial training from Heinz Veterans Hospital in Chicago. In the course of the conversation my student and the man from the Commission discussed a talking computerized version of cribbage that Ian Humphreys, a retired programmer from Australia, had created as part of his Blind-Gamers series. The man from NCBVI said he would email it to both my student and me. On a previous visit he had tried unsuccessfully to install it on my student’s computer and then asked if I would try. I did, but to no avail.
My student has more than a passing interest in cribbage. As a sighted person he was a champion player and has inspired many others to compete in the game. Although he is losing his sight from macular degeneration, his enthusiasm for life is palpable, and I left that day determined to give him a shot at Blind-Gamers Cribbage.
One of the best things for my job has been the NFBN’s purchase of a laptop computer that I can take to my various work sites. After my initial visit to the gentleman mentioned above, I not only received the game from the man at NCBVI, but I installed it on the laptop from a USB drive onto which I had copied the files. After reading the directions, I tried the game a couple of times, losing badly to my computerized opponent.
On the next visit to my cribbage-playing friend, after answering his questions on other subjects, I asked him if he wanted to try the game. He greeted the opportunity with his customary gusto. Since his own computer is a desktop, I connected a standard keyboard to the laptop using a USB cable so he wouldn’t need to learn different key commands. I gave him directions for entering the game and for initiating play. Then I stood by and watched a pro at work. The fact that the cards showed in rapid succession caused him momentary confusion when he read them using the left and right arrow keys, but after the second or third round he seemed only slightly bothered when the first card’s identity was repeated after all had been named initially. The computer won the first two rounds, as I remember it, but by the end of the third my student was gaining ground. Although I found the quaint expressions like “One for his nob” and “Two for his heels” amusing, my student was clearly more interested in overtaking his virtual foe. As his score mounted, he did chuckle upon hearing the rhyme “Twenty-three, eight's a spree” just before he selected an eight with the up arrow and pressed Enter to play it, scoring thirty-one.
When his score topped 100, he rubbed his hands in gleeful anticipation. And
then it happened. Instead of the computerized laughter and “Bad luck. I won
the game” that I had been accustomed to hearing, applause and congratulations
issued from the computer.
My favorite memory of that event will always be my student’s exuberant “Aha!” upon completion of the game. I’m glad I am part of the network of AmeriCorps, NFBN, NCBVI, and Ian Humphreys, all of whom partnered to make that aha moment for a blind Nebraskan possible. I know that this experience, added to similar successes, will eventually equal my student’s understanding that it is respectable to be blind. That will help him win, not only in the game of cribbage, but also in the game of life.