by Jan Bailey
From the Editor: This article is gratefully reprinted from the fall 2015 issue of the NFB of Minnesota’s quarterly publication, the Minnesota Bulletin. Here is how Editor Tom Scanlan introduced the article: Editor’s Note: Jan is a retired counselor for State Services for the Blind. She serves as our Rochester Chapter president and a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.
There is a plethora of technology in our world today, and it is certainly important in helping blind people to become employed, but often the simple low-tech solutions are never thought of.
When I got my first job, I was a college student, and the job was splicing movie film in the darkroom. I was one of the first people hired, so we started out working on fake film to practice, but when the real film came in we had to prioritize the processing of the film, first doing the one-day film, ending with the film that would go back to a small town drugstore where they promised the customer to have their film back to them in a week.
These films were labeled on a card on the inside of the box of film, and my boss soon called me in. He said they liked me, told me I did a good job, but said they would have to let me go. When I asked him why, he explained that they couldn’t ask another employee to get my film for me, and that the A film had to be done first, then the B film, and then the C film. Since I couldn’t read the cards, I had to go.
On my own I had begun to realize this was going to come up, so I started thinking about a solution in advance. I explained to my boss that the system he had in place was time-consuming and ineffectual, but I told him that in a nice way. I explained that, since we were in the darkroom, a blindness technique would work much better. I told him people were wasting a lot of time taking film off the conveyer belt, going to the front of the room, removing the card, picking up the flashlight, moving away from the film, turning on the flashlight to read the card, and then, if the film wasn’t an A film, they would have to turn off the flashlight, put the card back into the box of film, put down the flashlight, pick up the box of film, and try to remember where they got it off the conveyor belt. I told him it would be much easier if he would buy three one-hole paper punches for the people out front who prepared the trays of film for us. They could write on the card for the people out in the light, but for us they could punch holes in the card: one for A, two for B, and three for C. I suggested they make a space between the punches so that people who weren’t used to doing things tactually could easily feel these holes. He loved it, adopted my technique, and I kept my job. My technique was faster too, because we could just go up and down the conveyor belt, feeling the cards without removing the trays of film. It was a major time saver, and everyone continued to use it long after I left.
The next job I had was as a social worker in a nursing home. One of my jobs was to make quarterly case notes on all the residents in the nursing home. At that time I used a typewriter since this was in the late seventies and before the advent of the personalized computer or word processor. I knew I could type the notes, but I had to figure out a way I could recognize my own sheet in the chart and how I would know where I had left off in my typing. I did a search and found some paper that was perforated in four places. I simply put this paper into the typewriter, typed the first quarter’s notes, and put it in the chart. When it was time to do the next quarter’s notes, I put the same piece of paper back into the typewriter and went down to the next perforation. The charts were in numerical order at the nurse’s station, so I never had a problem finding the correct chart. Since this paper was perforated, I was able to find my sheet very easily, because I could easily feel the perforations.
My next job was as a rehabilitation counselor at State Services for the Blind, where I worked for thirty-one years. I had a client who wanted to be a dishwasher, but after his work evaluation his job coach told me that he couldn’t be competitive as a dishwasher because he wouldn’t be able to walk across the room carrying a stack of clean dishes to put them away. I suggested that he place all the dishes on the cart (probably more than the average person could carry) and then pull the cart behind him as he walked across the room using his cane. He was successfully employed as a dishwasher at a large hotel.
I had another client who was going to work as a station aide in a nursing home, and he too was working with a job coach. He filled water pitchers, made up and delivered bedding packets, and took the residents down to their meals. They were going to let him go because they wanted him to signify that each resident had eaten their meal by marking their names off a printed list they gave him. He couldn’t read this list, and no one could figure out a solution. We met, and I asked him how many tables were in the room. He said there were fifteen tables. Four people sat at each table. I asked him if he knew who sat at each table and where they sat, that is, what side of the table they sat on. He said he did. He could read very large print and could read Braille, but not fast enough. I asked him if he could read very large numbers. He said he could. So I suggested his wife could make up fifteen cards on 5-by-8 cards. She would number these cards one through fifteen, then draw four circles in magic marker on the card, and then fill in the names of the residents. She would put these fifteen cards in order on a large ring. Then, since he knew where each person sat, he would simply make an X on each of the four circles and hand them in. After three days of this they said he didn’t have to keep doing that, but it saved his job.
Too often I see people deciding that a blind person can’t do a job because of one small thing, when just a little ingenuity could save the job. In the lingo of the day they call this thinking out of the box, but in my day we called it using your brain and being flexible enough to come up with alternative techniques.