by Tamara Kerrill

Creating custom-made jewelry is not a common occupation. It requires a particular artistic talent. It does not, however, as we of the National Federation of the Blind and as the following story (reprinted from the Miami Herald) show, require eyesight.

In 1985, Janet Caron walked cautiously toward the Trevi Fountain through the streets of Rome. Her failing sight made the trip difficult, but she was determined to toss three coins into the cascading water.

According to Roman tradition, if a visitor tosses coins into the famed fountain, she is assured of returning.

"I stumbled to get there. I was heartbroken," she said. "I was in tears as I threw those coins over my shoulder and people were looking at me. I was losing my sight, and I truly thought that I would never get back to my beloved Rome."

She also never thought she would lead a productive life again. She was wrong.

Today, Caron, who lives in Pompano Beach, makes exquisite jewelry from scratch.

"When I first lost my sight, I couldn't believe it was happening to me," Caron said.

She said doctors are at a loss to determine the cause of her blindness. "But once something like this happens, you really realize how capable blind people are," Caron said.

Caron began creating jewelry two years ago to satisfy an artistic craving.

Her tiny apartment is filled with colorful bags of beads from Italy, Africa, China, and other distant places. Caron also makes her own beads from raw clay, which she glazes and fires in a kiln at a Pompano Beach ceramics shop.

The colorful chokers and matinee lengths are combinations of ivory, hand-blown glass, painted porcelain, jade, and other special materials. She finds the beads at various thrift shops. Caron tests the authenticity of the beads' material by rubbing them together and running her fingers over them.

She takes her cache of colorful creations to some local art fairs, like the annual Christmas show at Coral Ridge Mall.

Caron's biggest triumph as a blind woman, however, took place two years ago when she hesitantly boarded a plane bound for Rome, the city she had visited regularly before she became blind.

"I fell in love with Rome," she said. "I love the European way of life. I thought I would never get back there again. In 1990, I went back, and I did very well. I got off the plane, and I just broke into Italian. I stayed for a month."

Caron has been back to Rome three times and plans to keep on going every spring. Her necklaces have even gone on sale at the American embassy.

"My life is very full now," she said. "Blind people may have lost their sight, but they haven't lost their intellect."