The Braille Monitor                                                                      _______        October 1997

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Diane Johnson displays one of her floral arrangements
Diane Johnson displays one of her floral arrangements.


Floral Designer in Training

by Ladonna Jean Whitt

From the Editor: One of the most exciting truths about membership in the National Federation of the Blind is that one's notions about what is possible for blind people to accomplish are always expanding. I have always felt insecure and vaguely apologetic about flower arranging. When I give a dinner party, I mentally pull up my socks and tackle the cut flowers with the desperate hope that I will not disgrace myself with the centerpiece. Without considering the matter very deeply, I have always assumed that a blind person could not be expected to do very well with creating a group of flowers in a visually pleasing way. I humbly stand corrected. Moreover, I have just expanded my garden for next season and have made a solemn vow to master the art of flower arranging. The following article will explain my enthusiasm. Here is Ladonna Jean Whitt, a floricultural technician in the Division of Horticultural Technologies, which is part of the Agricultural Technical Institute, at Ohio State University. She will introduce you to Diane Johnson. This is what she says:

Let me introduce you to Mrs. Diane Johnson, a non-traditional student at Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI). Diane is not only a student but also a wife and mother of four who is a part-time employee. In addition to this, somehow she finds time to serve as the President of Phi Theta Kappa (an honorary organization)and the FTD Club (a student floral club).

Diane is following a lifelong dream to be a floral designer. She told me she has had a passion for flowers since she was a child. Like other non-traditional students, Diane was concerned about how well she would do returning to school as an adult. Would she be able to find her way around this large college? Diane's determination to succeed in floral art was backed with encouragement from friends and family. The only unique thing in this situation is that Diane is legally blind with only a small amount of vision. Applying her ingenuity, she is learning to design floral displays with non-visual techniques.

Basically Diane designs fresh and silk arrangements by seeing with her hands. If you watch her design, you can see her hands float in and around the flowers, her fingers feeling the textures, shapes, and forms. It is wonderful to watch her in the creative design process.

As summer begins, Diane is ending her first year at Ohio State ATI. She recently completed the required ten-week internship at a local flower shop, where she worked 400 hours (forty hours per week). To find a shop that would accept her as an intern, Diane went to every flower shop in town--not once, but twice, and sometimes more. She ran into so many "no's" that she decided she would offer to work without pay for two days before asking the flower shop to pass judgment on her ability. Her perseverance paid off. One employer agreed to give her a chance. Diane was hired as an intern.

I am Ladonna Whitt, a floricultural technician in the Horticultural Technologies Division at Ohio State ATI in Wooster, Ohio. Working with Diane during her first and second quarter was a real pleasure. Diane convinced me that she could do floral design within the first week. I had no problem understanding Diane; what I had a problem with was the number of people who told Diane and me that she had an unrealistic goal. I had seen what she could do.

When we were thinking through the alternative techniques Diane would use in place of the usual sighted techniques, I called Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, 800-638-7518. Several good ideas came out of that long-distance brainstorming session with JOB director Lorraine Rovig.

What Diane and I did was to start off with a Brailled color wheel that we made together. She continually went over the color wheel to memorize the primary and secondary colors. Next she listened to the lecture on color which explained about complementary, split complementary, and analogous colors. With this as the background, she added a mathematical system to put it all together. Then she labeled her flower bins for the flowers sorted for her by her sighted co-workers. With this method she knows exactly what effect she is creating in her pieces. Some of these pieces were so large that the tallest flowers or accent foliage were above her head when displayed on an appropriate table or sideboard.

Diane said she continually goes over the color wheel to ensure that she is error-free in her choices. Mixing colors together for the arrangements is a real challenge since she has never seen color. A co-worker takes a few minutes at the beginning of Diane's shift to tell her the colors of the flowers; then she chooses the ones she wants to use.

Diane has discovered that she can move easily around the flower shop and classroom. Dealing with her co-workers and the public is not a problem either. Her caring personality, willingness to learn, and sense of humor make everyone feel comfortable around her. Diane has found that her employer and fellow employees can work together with her to develop a system in the shop to deal with her disability. Her boss and co-workers have discovered that the things they do to help her cost them very little in time or effort. I'm delighted to report that Diane's employer was so impressed by her floral designing that she offered her a job after Diane completed her internship. After three quarters Diane is already a success in her field of study.

Diane's career choice proved to be appropriate for her. She and I give you this story because Diane hopes it will encourage other visually impaired or blind persons to follow their dreams in any field. Currently Diane works part-time for Green Thumb Floral in Wooster, Ohio, and she continues to take classes toward her degree. As much as her time allows, she has offered to correspond with others who would like to know about her alternative techniques for floral design. Please ask Miss Rovig, director of Job Opportunities for the Blind, for contact information--(800) 638-7518.