The Braille Monitor                                                                                               __May 1997

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Pride Costs: Hiring Readers Pays

by Patrick A. Barrett

From the Editor: The following essay first appeared in the Winter, 1997, Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. The Metro Chapter conducted an essay contest in 1996, and this piece was the winner. Pat Barrett is a long-time Federationist and a leader wherever he goes. Here is what he says about the value of readers:

Why use readers? When I was in college, I more or less made the decision not to use them rather than considering the possibility of doing so. At the time I was dating my wife Trudy, who is blind and used readers. She encouraged me to use them too. Trudy knew how much time I was spending at the special resource room at the library using the Visualtek machine to read books that had not yet been recorded.

I was getting books from Recordings for the Blind. I knew Braille, but at that time I felt I was too slow at reading it to apply it to college work. I told myself that I had reading covered.

Trudy kept insisting I try readers. I finally relented. She gave me the name of one of her readers who did well. The person did. I got the assignment read in less time than I would have using the print enlarger, experienced no eyestrain, and had time to take Trudy out--a heck of a deal.

Pride prevented me from recognizing the real value of employing readers until years later. All of us grow up with the formidable conviction that it is better to see, even a little, than not to. Five senses are certainly better than four. The strong emphasis placed on relying so much on a partial sense of sight eclipsed my consideration of more efficient alternatives. I regret to admit that this partial--and I know I speak for others of you out there--has mentally put down totals for having no sight and depending on readers. Puffed up with pride, we unwittingly blind ourselves to better ways of doing our reading. The truth is the totals had it covered all along.

Ten years after college I was working at an independent living center in Idaho. I had had two long-term jobs before this one and had not used readers. But, working out reasonable accommodations for that job, I requested readers in preference to a print enlarger. I cannot recall what made me make that commitment. Perhaps it was having friends and role models in the NFB who did their jobs successfully and efficiently using readers.

I enjoyed the flexibility and lack of eyestrain using a reader with 20/20 vision. Depending upon what needed to be read, my assistant could read verbatim, scan, or skip material. I have hired readers on the job ever since. I also apply synthesized speech, Braille, large print, and the enlarging machine--only if a reader is not immediately available. Using readers has helped me become more informed about the best alternative for a given facet of the job.

Enrolled as a student at BLIND, Inc., in 1994, I realized that the python of pride had not been pried
sufficiently loose. Pam Iverson, my life skills teacher, urged me to complete the class goal to start using a personal reader at home for mail and other print. My main concern was the intrusion into my privacy. But like Trudy, Pam kept at me until I agreed. I can honestly say now that, after employing readers for the past two years, I would not be without them. Examples of personal reading made easy are the none-too-brief government documents, bank statements, information from our landlord, and handouts connected with our church classes and jobs. Also there are my daughter Raeann's school papers, reports, teacher's notes, and field-trip permission slips. What has worked best for Trudy and me is to find a reader who can come the day after the school material arrives home with Raeann because of the short turnaround time needed for that material.

Sharon Menlove is our current reader and has worked for us for two years. We met Sharon through our church and knew her to be responsible. The privacy issue has never been a concern. Just as if I had been hiring her on the job, I let Sharon know what the job would entail and how she would do it. I have been flexible. If there is a day when she cannot come and if she lets me know a day ahead, we can reschedule. If something needs to be read immediately, I arrange for a substitute.

As of this writing, I am looking for work. [He found it as a salesman for a drug company.] I have hired a second reader, Doug Christy, who had worked with me on my previous job at State Services for the Blind. Doug has read Job Service handouts, filled out job applications, and helped with library research on employers. It has paid off. In a recent interview I was told that I knew more than most applicants about the company.

Another matter that is somewhat related to readers is customer service. I cannot believe that I was so stubborn as to spend forty-five minutes or more trying to find two items in a store by myself! Trudy cannot believe that I have cast my pride aside and now routinely ask for customer assistance.

More often than not, the clerks know the store better than the customer does. Not only do I now ask for customer service at stores, but I more readily ask for the server's help in reading menus at restaurants if a Braille menu is not available.

Relying on readers and customer service saves time. All of us complain about not having enough hours in the day. Hire readers and enlist customer service personnel, and you will find that you are buying time to do fun or productive things. The alternative is to waste time feeding your pride. Which investment gets the greater return?