Braille Monitor               February 2024

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Tom Page: Musician, Audio Engineer, Mentor

Tom Page playing his guitar.Thomas O. "Tom" Page was born on December 28, 1972, in Gainesville, Florida, the first of three children born to Thomas L. and Leslie Page. His eyesight issues first became obvious when he was a toddler, around two to three years old, as he struggled with tracking in the dark. However, intervention did not come until he reached the first or second grade when he was prescribed glasses, which, he recalls, did not improve matters much. At the age of fourteen, “when I started wanting to drive,” he remembers, Tom learned his diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa.

Throughout his early education, Tom’s family moved a lot, residing in Florida, Kansas, and Illinois, among other places. Once diagnosed, he was exempted from school activities that seemed inappropriate to administrators (such as photography and sports) rather than being accommodated to participate in them. Although there was consideration of him attending a nearby school for the blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, when he lived in nearby Springfield, he decided against it.

Tom attended Wichita State University and earned a degree in experimental psychology. He then accepted a job at his alma mater as a statistics liaison. His journey towards adopting blindness techniques and becoming a Federationist began when, seemingly from one day to the next, he found it increasingly difficult to read job-related materials, even with the most powerful magnification he could access. “People had been telling me I was blind for years,” he says, “and I finally decided that maybe I needed to listen and figure out how it is that blind people survive.” He connected with a rehabilitation teacher named Donna Wood, also a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas. Initially, she visited him every two weeks at his home for one to two hours. During one of these visits, he recalls, she made it clear that he would never fully develop good cane travel skills with such limited instruction. She advised him to put on sleep shades and practice walking in his neighborhood. As time passed, he graduated to moving beyond his own block, crossing busier streets, and becoming a truly proficient traveler.

While Tom worked on his blindness skills, he also began his career in music following the end of his employment with the university. He formed a guitar duo with a sighted guitar teacher and friend, and they began to seek paid gigs wherever they could. Donna Wood, who had been encouraging Tom to investigate the Federation, shrewdly hired the duo, known as Grandpa’s .38, to perform at Federation meetings and state conventions. “She worked it pretty well,” Tom recalls with a chuckle. His involvement was further cemented when he won an NFB scholarship in 2004 while pursuing his master’s degree in interdisciplinary research methodology at Wichita State. Like many other Federationists, Tom says attending that national convention in Atlanta was a critical turning point for him. “I barely knew myself as a blind person, but suddenly I was fully immersed in the world of blind people,” he remembers. “It was quite an experience, and I decided I wanted more of it.”

Tom was elected to the Kansas affiliate board shortly after. He became first vice president when Donna Wood was elected president, and when her health no longer permitted her to serve in that role, he was elected to succeed her in 2013 and has held the position ever since. He was elected to the national board of directors at the 2023 National Convention in Houston, Texas.

Outside of his Federation involvement, Tom completed his master’s degree, but by that time his music career was allowing him to make a living, and in 2009 he was able to purchase a local commercial building to house his own recording studio as well. For the past several years, he has been touring with the band Haymakers, which has released four albums. The latest of these are Waconda Flyer, which contains primarily original material, and 100 Years of Hank, the band’s tribute to the legendary Hank Williams. Their website is www.haymakersict.com, and their music is also available on digital platforms. Many Federationists had a chance to enjoy their performance at the 2023 National Convention. Tom also makes recordings for other musicians at his studio, as well as occasionally taking other voiceover and audio engineering jobs.

While Tom enjoys leading the Kansas affiliate, serving on the national scholarship committee, and his new role as a national board member, he finds the greatest meaning through mentoring others. He fondly recalls recently celebrating the achievements of a young Kansan who graduated from a cooking program and secured her first job. “The big things we do are of course critically important, like advocating for systemic change at the national and even international level,” Tom says. “It’s gratifying and gives me a huge sense of pride in our movement when years of effort pays off in a big way. But what I really appreciate most are those small moments that demonstrate how we make a difference in the lives of blind people.”

Tom and his partner, Nicole Taylor, live in Wichita. His sister Katie is the associate dean of the architecture and design school at Kansas State University, and his brother Will works as an appellate attorney in New York. “As a musician, I guess I’m the black sheep of the family,” he jokes. But Tom is, in reality, pleased with where his life journey has led him so far, and his mentees and peers throughout the Federation are certainly enjoying and benefitting from his many talents.

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