Braille Monitor                                                                                                        July 2004

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Story of a Paperboy

by Dan Ryles

Dan Ryles
Dan Ryles

From the Editor: Dan Ryles is a member of the first generation of blind people who actually grew up quite naturally absorbing the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and learning the skills of blindness as they went along. The following story is proof of the positive results of such opportunities. The story appeared in To Reach for the Stars, the twenty-fifth in our Kernel Book series. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:

Dan Ryles grew up in the National Federation of the Blind. He started attending meetings of the National Federation of the Blind at a young age, and his mother was active in our organization for parents of blind children. When he got to the point of wanting a bit of extra cash, he decided not to let his blindness stop him from being a paperboy. Here is his story:

I have been blind since birth, but this affected my childhood very little. My family was very supportive. I was encouraged to be curious about things, to explore the environment, and to get out and have fun with other kids. I was not held back by any undue concerns for safety. Sledding, building a tree house, climbing trees, engaging in pillow fights, wrestling, playing on the monkey bars, and riding a bicycle (usually a tandem, or two-seated bike) were all a part of growing up.

As the years passed, I started to consider how I might get more discretionary cash. Like most other children, I wanted money to buy candy bars and cassette tapes, go to movies, and other such things. When I was twelve, my brother Tom and I decided to split a paper route. This posed certain questions. How would I know which houses to deliver to and which ones to pass by? When collecting money at the end of the month, how would I keep track of which houses I had collected from and which ones I hadn't? How could I keep track of the checks and different denominations of money that the customers paid me? For that matter, how could I guard against anyone short-changing me?

But all of these questions were secondary to the fact that I wanted some money. In order to earn that money, I would just have to find a way around any problems that I might encounter. Going without the money was not an option. So, with that in mind, I contacted James Gashel, a member of the National Federation of the Blind. He is blind himself and had a paper route as a boy.

One of the many benefits of being a member of the National Federation of the Blind is that you have ready access to a nationwide network of blind people from all walks of life. If someone tells you a blind person can't do something, the odds are very high that somewhere, at some time, a blind person has done it or is doing it.

The odds are also high that such a blind person is a member of the Federation. In fact the individual may have learned how to do the activity in question from another blind person in the Federation. That's the nature of our organization: we share experiences, problems, and solutions. So, after consulting Mr. Gashel, I simply found ways to do what was required of a paperboy. I memorized which houses were on the route and which houses weren't. This didn't take long.

As a side note I might add that we lived in Anchorage, Alaska, at the time, where winter lasted the majority of the year. Snow covered the ground, and that snow was often piled very high as a result of being cleared off the roads and pushed to either side. Since it had always been like this, why should it bother me any more on the paper route than it did while walking home from the bus stop? I had good cane skills. The driveways were usually shoveled or plowed to permit access by cars. Because of this it was easy to tell where the driveways were.

With my mother's help I Brailled the receipt cards for each subscriber. Once this was accomplished, keeping track of which customers had paid and which ones hadn't was no problem at all. When customers paid me, I tore off a receipt slip from their card. When they gave me cash, I asked which denomination was which, and I kept them in separate pockets of my wallet, putting the checks in a Ziploc bag.

Although I could not immediately verify that a particular customer was giving me the cash he or she claimed to be giving me, I would know I had been short-changed when I tried to use the money later. Was there a certain degree of trust involved? Yes.

To my knowledge I was never short-changed. Most people are honest. Of course all it takes is one who is not. There are devices that have a voice chip in them to tell you what bill you're holding. If I were to get a job as a cashier, I would probably want to get such a device. Meanwhile it makes sense to take what precautions can be taken. But as I said, most people are generally honest.

We kept the paper route for nine months. In no way did Tom assist me with my half of the route; we were both just as eager to deliver our halves and get out of the cold. This would have taken longer had he helped me with my half as well as delivering his half.

In May of 1987 we left Alaska for Seattle. A year and a half later Tom and I got another paper route. He delivered the papers Monday through Thursday, and I delivered them Friday through Sunday. Eight months after that Tom decided he didn't want to be a paperboy anymore, so I took over his half of the route.

This meant I was making twice as much money, which provided twice as much incentive to keep the route. I also wanted to keep each customer as satisfied as possible; more satisfied customers meant more tips at the end of the month. Tom complained that he never got tips, claiming people gave them to me because I'm blind. For all I know, he may have been right, but I wasn't about to turn down extra money for that reason. I worked just as hard as he did.

I continued doing the route for nearly four years after Tom quit. Over those four years I met a few interesting people on the route. In addition I saved up enough money to buy a very nice stereo and an extremely high-quality musical keyboard. Both of these things I still enjoy to this day.

As I mentioned earlier, I was not raised to be held back by any undue concerns about safety, and I am very glad for this. I was not taught to be afraid, at least no more than other children. When a child is born blind, he is not afraid of things because of his blindness; this fear is taught to him by others, much to that child's detriment. There is no real evidence to support the idea that blind people (children and adults alike) are injured at any greater rate than sighted people. The idea that blindness causes greater injury to oneself or others is a widely held assumption, but it is simply not true. I challenge anyone reading this to find any actuarial or statistical evidence to the contrary. But, as Dr. Jernigan (the former president of the National Federation of the Blind) so often said, we accept the attitudes of others and do much to make those attitudes a reality. But I was taught to believe in the problem-solving abilities which we all have.

I'm not sure my mother knew how to overcome certain things related to the paper route, but she knew that I would figure it out. After all I did want that money at the end of the month, and money can be a powerful incentive.

Today more paper routes are being done by adults in cars, and I think this is sad. Having a paper route gives an adolescent some experience with what it's like to run a business. It teaches you not to spend more money than you have, how to work with people who are not always easy to work with, and the necessity of going to work regardless of how you feel or what the weather happens to be like that day. These lessons are just as important for the blind as for the sighted. Having a paper route also lets you experience the satisfaction that comes from honest toil and knowing that the money has been earned, not charitably given. This is something that is more often denied to the blind than to the sighted.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We of the National Federation of the Blind are changing what it means to be blind. Some of the changes are dramatic: a new center being established or an important bill finally being signed into law. But more of the changes are far less dramatic: a blind woman getting an unrestricted childcare license or a blind person teaching class in a public school--or a blind teenager having a paper route.

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