We Really Should Say Thanks

by Tom Mitchell

As I write this, I’m on a train from Sparks, Nev. back to Salt Lake City. I’ve spent nearly a week, as many of you have, at ACB’s 56th annual conference and convention. But I attended no general sessions. I spent a good deal of my time helping with the production of braille materials that abound in every one of our conferences. The average attendee has no idea how much braille is turned out each year. This year, we used 4 embossers that produced literally thousands of pages. One of these was the Juliet 120, a new machine that produces braille at the rate of 120 characters per second. It sounds more like an angry metal monster chewing up its food than the kind of embossers we’re all used to. And this year, as Forum editor Sharon Lovering said: “It worked like a champ.”
But as I listened to it chucking away, I couldn’t help but think of the people who produced it; the imagining, the planning, the testing, re-testing, and manufacturing that went into that one machine. I have no idea how many hours of work went into its production. But I’m certain that there are a lot of people to thank. And as I thought of that, I thought of the many things I’d seen at the conference: a pair of glasses with a camera that shows a person many, many miles away what’s in front of the wearer, allowing safer and more independent travel. Or the other pair which has a processor with an earphone which reads through an electronic voice what the glasses see. Or the new Victor Reader Trek, which combines the functions of the Victor Stream with the Trekker Breeze. Or some beautifully designed jewelry with braille words and sentiments. Oh, I could go on for pages.
But all of these things require imagining, planning, testing, re-testing, and manufacturing. Now, I’m not naive enough think that these things are produced by people who want to make the lives of blind people happier, more independent, and wonderful. Many are, especially the people who think these things up. But they must be manufactured, and for everyone involved a living must be made and a salary paid. Nevertheless, the people who do all of this, I believe, really do set out to do a good job, one of which everyone who participates can be proud. And though so many of these things cost more than many of us can afford, they’re there. And so are the smaller things: slates, styluses, the paper on which to write, signature guides, tactile measuring cups and spoons, tactile cards and games, watches, both braille and talking — you could probably look around your own home and find a myriad of things made for blind and visually impaired people that you use every day and take for granted.
And so, it seems to me, since this is the Thanksgiving season, that we ought to be thankful for all the things that can make our own personal world, for the personal worlds of the people around us, better and more satisfying, and to thank whatever deities we each believe in — if any — for the things we have, and for the fact that we don’t live the lives blind people lived in the past.
Just a thought for the Thanksgiving season.