by Marc Maurer


Marc Maurer is now in the full flower of his Presidency

of the National Federation of the Blind. Both he and his wife

Patricia are totally blind, but this does not interfere with

the raising of their two children, David and Dianna. If the

realization of the American dream means a full life of

satisfying work and busy activity, the Maurers qualify, and it

is not a passive life. Here is how Marc describes one of his

joint projects with the children:

Raising children is challenging, and for me at least, it

cannot occupy all (or even most) of my time because--like so

many other parents--I spend a major part of every week on the

job. This, of course, creates tension; but both the raising of

the children and the requirements of other work must be done,

and each of these activities is entirely worthwhile.

There are two children in the Maurer household--David,

who is twelve, and Dianna, who is nine. My wife Patricia and

I are both blind, but our children are not. We the blind

parents of these sighted children have many of the same

problems and frustrations that all parents come to know.

How can we provide our children a decent education? How

can we teach them to be independent? How can we teach them to

be honest and open and upright? How can we teach them to

recognize that there is danger and skulduggery in a sometimes

wicked world and that they must approach unfamiliar situations

with sufficient caution to avoid trouble? How can we teach

them responsibility? How can we teach them to be joyous and

free of fear? How can we teach them to embrace the exploration

of new things and to be aware of wonder and the splendor of

living in a world that, with all of its problems, can be

glorious and generous and exciting? How can we get them to

take out the garbage and do the dishes and pick up their


We have owned a house in Baltimore for many years. Last

summer the back porch roof began to leak. I asked a contractor

to give me an estimate for repairing it, and he said that he


But after a month, the estimate had not come, and I began

to wonder whether I would ever get it. Perhaps it would be

better, I thought, if I did the work myself, and I also

thought that this was an opportunity to give my children David

and Dianna a little education of a practical kind.

Sometimes my children appear to be more interested in

television and less interested in physical exercise than is

good for them. In fact, they are sometimes downright

lackadaisical. This is especially true of David.

The work that I do is frequently administrative. This

means that my children do not often see me doing physical

things. Although they don't say it (and they are probably

unaware of the tendency), they occasionally avoid physical

effort unless it is in the form of a game such as skating or

basketball. I must find a way to help my children understand

that physical exertion is enjoyable and productive. Maybe we

could fix the back porch roof together, I thought. They might

learn something about the value of work, and they might learn

how to put on a roof.

The first step was to climb onto the porch to assess the

extent of the needed repairs. We found a hole straight through

the shingles, and there were rotten places in the planking

underneath, which would have to be replaced. Precisely how

much of the roof could be saved would depend on what we found

when we began tearing into it.

We started demolition early on a Saturday morning with

the dew still on the grass and the sun beginning to warm the

earth. The first point of attack for our hammers and crowbars

was the hole in the shingles. Underneath these was rotten

planking. Our crowbars lifted a large portion of the roof, and

away it went, exposing even more rotten wood. Another piece of

roof was pried loose and dropped to the back yard. But there

was still more deterioration. After awhile, we decided that it

would be harder to fix the roof than replace it, so off it


Perhaps we should have anticipated the problem. The

shingles and planking were not the only damaged portions of

the structure. Several of the two-by-fours which had supported

the roof had rotted almost all the way through. I began to

feel most uneasy. I had been walking on a roof with a hole in

it. When we took the shingles away, the boards underneath were

rotten. When we took the rotten boards away, the rafters had

also rotted.

There I was--standing on rafters, wondering whether they

would hold my weight. What about the support for the rafters?

Not only did I feel anxiety for myself, but my children

were with me. Of course, they weigh less than half as much as

I do--so maybe the rotten two-by-fours would support them, but

I didn't really want to find out. We tore out the boards and

headed for the lumberyard to get more.

How does a blind person cut two-by-fours so that the

angles required for a pitched roof come out right? Measuring

the length of a board is no problem. A tool called a click

rule is used for measuring. This is a piece of threaded rod

inside a metal sleeve. The threaded rod has one thread for

each sixteenth of an inch. When you push the threaded rod out

of the sleeve, a little spring clicks against the threads to

hold the rod in place.

The threads on one side of the rod are milled off except

for one thread each half inch. By feeling the half-inch

threads it is easy to count the number of half-inch lengths.

With this tool measurements can be made to within one-

sixteenth-inch accuracy.

But how do you ensure that the angles are right? I don't

know what other people do, but this is what I did.

A sliding bevel square has a handle with a piece of

slotted steel in it. The piece of steel can be set at any

angle to the handle. The two pieces can be held rigidly at

that angle by tightening a thumb screw on the square. I got

out the sliding bevel square and put it on the roof to measure

the angle at which the rafters met the exterior wall of the


With the sliding bevel square set to the proper angle, I

put a straightedge on my two-by-four to guide the saw to make

the cut. We were using a portable circular saw--the kind that

you see on a construction site. The frame around the blade on

such a saw is about ten inches long and eight inches wide. The

blade is perhaps two inches from one side and six inches from

the other.

I measured the distance between the saw blade and the

edge of the frame and clamped my straightedge on the two-by-

four with enough space between the straightedge and the end of

the board so that the blade would cut the length I needed.

David and Dianna observed what I was doing and asked

dozens of questions. David wanted to operate the saw, and I

reminded him about the safety rules. He took the machine in

hand, and the saw blade bit through the two-by-four following

the desired angle. When we put the board in place, it fitted

snugly, and we hammered the nails home.

With the two-by-fours installed, it was time to begin the

sheathing process. We used four-by-eight-foot sheets of

plywood to form the underlayment for the roof. Four-by-eight

sheets of plywood are fairly heavy, and my helpers David and

Dianna each weigh less than eighty pounds. We wrestled the

plywood sheets up the ladder and onto the rafters.

As soon as the first one was fastened to the two-by-fours

with epoxy-coated nails, I felt a little better. There would

be no more walking on open rafters. We would all still need to

pay attention--so that we wouldn't fall off the edge. But at

least there was footing.

Along about noon, we knocked off for lunch and a little

rest. The day had turned into a real scorcher. The temperature

on the ground was approaching the mid-nineties, and the sun on

the roof seemed hotter yet. We were all hungry and thirsty and

covered with grime. There was dust in our hair and down our

necks and all over our clothes.

We scrubbed as best we could and sat down for the

sandwiches. The job was far from finished, but we had

completed the demolition phase and were well into

reconstruction, and we felt good about it.

At the beginning of a job there is the excitement of

discovery and the newness involved to keep a guy interested.

As the project goes forward, the "new" wears off, and

determination is needed to persevere to the finish. I was

proud of David's work during the morning, and I appreciated

Dianna's helpfulness.

David had been with me on the roof using a hammer, a

crowbar, a saw, or some other tool all morning. But I wondered

at lunch if his energy, his willingness to take direction, his

interest, and his enthusiasm would flag during the afternoon.

The effort during the morning had been steady and demanding.

David had stuck with it, followed directions, remembered

safety precautions, and been anxious to do his part. But I

knew his muscles would be tired when we resumed in the


We took a break for a few hours to rest a little and let

the sun get farther west so that there might be a little shade

in the yard. About three thirty we went back to the job.

We finished the sheathing and started sealing the roof

with tar paper. A good seal requires overlapping the tar paper

a lot. So, there were many, many sheets of tar paper to cut

off the roll and tack into place.

As we worked, I was reminded that tar paper gets hot when

the sun shines on it. I told David how the pioneers on the

prairies of the midwest had used these same materials (pine

boards and tar paper) to build shelters against the sun, the

rain, the cold, and the snow.

After the tar papering was finished, we put on the

shingles. A row of shingles is nailed to the edge of the roof

with a little overhang to give the roof an edge. The second

row of shingles overlaps the first. This continues until the

entire roof is covered. Each shingle must be lined up, nailed

down, properly overlapped with its neighbors, and not damaged

in the process.

Hot weather is good for roofing; it helps the shingles

create a good firm seal. When they get hot, they get soft, and

they mold to the roof and close any openings. But a good hot

shingle can become so soft that it is easily ruined. We picked

a good day for it, but the handle of my hammer was wet with

perspiration during the afternoon and evening hours. As the

sun struck the roof, the shingles reflected the heat, which

seemed to boil up around us.

The final step was to cover the edges of the shingles

where they met the wall of the house with roofing tar to

ensure that there would be no leaks. It was late when we came

to this part of the job. David asked what was to be done and

requested the chance to do it. With the tar brush in his hand

David put the finishing touches on the roof. We cleaned our

tools, picked up the trash, and congratulated ourselves on a

job well done.

Two days later, it rained hard. We stood on the back

porch under the new roof--no leaks. The roof was tight, and we

were dry. Each of us took satisfaction in watching the rain.

Blind people often find it difficult to get jobs.

Sometimes we haven't been able to obtain proper training. Even

when we know the techniques to be used, the opportunity is not

always available because employers occasionally feel that they

would not be able to do the work if they were to become blind.

Because of this experience, I value work more than I might

have if it had always been easy to get. But this is not the

only reason I like it. Good work is its own reward--worthwhile

to do and productive for the worker and the community.

In the National Federation of the Blind, I learned that I

should not sell myself short--that I have talents which can be

used to help make the world a better place. This understanding

has served me well, and I am doing my best to pass it on to my


We must be prepared to be independent and stand on our

own. But we must also recognize that we need the help and

support of our friends. The only way to get it is to be

willing to give that same help and support to those who need


This is exactly what we are doing in the National

Federation of the Blind. This is what we are teaching blind

Americans to do in every corner of our land. This is the

education that I hope I can pass on to my children--along with

a tight roof and no leaks.