Braille Monitor                                               December 2013

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Strong People Cannot be Defeated

by Dolores Reisinger

From the Editor: Dolores Reisinger is a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, and these are the remarks she delivered at the affiliate's 2013 convention:

Dolores Reisinger at the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa’s state conventionThe popular American author, Danielle Steel, once wrote: "Strong people cannot be defeated." Perhaps her words can be applied to all of us here today. They certainly express my point of view and reflect my experiences.

I am a native of Brazil and grew up in a city that today is the most important industrial complex in Latin America. Sao Paulo City has a population of over twenty million people, and it is the leading car manufacturing center of Latin America.

I was six months old when my parents learned that I was blind as a result of the atrophying of my optic nerve. They were not rich, and they didn't have college educations. However, they didn't give up; they didn't lose confidence. Of course they knew that I was blind, but they also knew that I was a normal person, capable of learning through my remaining senses and, above all, using my mind. I was allowed to grow, not only physically but mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. My parents taught me very valuable and important lessons. They were very strong people. Therefore, they were never defeated.

Years later I left home and went to a special school for blind children. It was a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. They played an important part in the development of my positive attitudes toward life during my early years. After my elementary and secondary education was completed, I spent four years at the University of Sao Paulo State, where I graduated with a master's degree in history. I taught in Brazil until 1968, when I was invited by the US State Department and the International Federation of the Blind to come to America for two months in an exchange program. The purpose of my trip to this country was to visit and observe schools and rehabilitation centers for blind Americans. The following schools and agencies serving the blind were on my schedule: the American Foundation for the Blind, the Jewish Braille Institute, the Library of Congress, the Hadley School for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, and the Iowa Commission for the Blind in Des Moines.

While at the Commission I had the opportunity to visit with the director, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the staff, and students who were taking training at the Orientation and Adjustment Center for Blind Adults. My future husband, Jack Reisinger, was one of the students taking training at the orientation center.

When my exchange program ended, I had to return to Brazil. The country was politically ruled by the army. There was no freedom of the press; there was no freedom of speech. We were not allowed to conduct public meetings and could not voice our opinion. Thankfully I managed to leave the country. However, the generals remained in power for almost sixteen years until 1985 when the nation finally held democratic elections.

The army domination of Brazil began in 1963 and ended twenty-two years later. During that period a whole generation of children grew up under a very oppressive military regime. College students, teachers, lawyers, political leaders of the congress, and other professional people disappeared overnight, and they were never found. Popular Brazilian singers who tried to express their sentiments through music were exiled. They were sent to France and returned to Brazil only when democracy was reestablished.

So in 1969 I left Brazil and flew back to this country, where I decided to live and to work. Later I learned that my Brazilian degree was not completely recognized in the United States. I went back to college at the University of Northern Iowa, where I obtained my teaching certificate and a master's degree in Spanish.

I taught languages in college and Spanish at Columbus High in Waterloo, and then in 1976 I went to work for the Iowa Commission for the Blind as a vocational rehabilitation teacher. For more than eighteen years I worked with blind people in eleven counties. I helped them in acquiring the skills of daily living so that they could retain their independence. I also helped them understand that blind people, given an opportunity, can overcome the inconvenience of the loss of sight and that the real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. Instead, it is the misunderstanding and the lack of information which exist. The real problem of blindness is quite often caused by public attitudes, misconceptions, and social prejudices.

Dolores demonstrates a Braillewriter to three children at a Meet the Blind Month event.After having worked for two decades for the Iowa Commission for the Blind, which is now the Iowa Department for the Blind, I finally retired. For the last eighteen years I have done volunteer work for the City of Cedar Rapids. I was a commissioner for the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, and in this volunteer activity I read and discussed with the director of the commission the cases for which I was responsible. On October 15, 2012, a White Cane Safety Day proclamation was signed and presented to me by the mayor of Cedar Rapids, Ron Corbett.

I was on the task force for the Help America Vote Act in Linn County. Our task force looked at machines from three vendors: Election Systems and Software, Diebold Election Systems, and Sequoia Voting Systems. I was a presenter at classes held for precinct election officials to make them aware of the needs of people with disabilities and tell them how to address questions and problems that might arise at the polls on election day.

I have helped with the teaching of English as a second language at Kirkwood Community College, where I have taught Portuguese. Quite often I speak to groups about blindness and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Since 2006, Meet the Blind Month programs have been presented to the public in eastern Iowa.

March 2012 marked the beginning of my ministry at All Saints Parish. I serve as a lector in front of the congregation, and I'm also a member of the Shawl Ministry.

I must conclude my remarks by saying to you that, if you have determination, you will succeed in your endeavors; if you have courage, you will face the problems of life, and you will find ways of solving them; if you are strong people, you will never be defeated, and you will see that your dreams will become reality.

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