My e-reader is a constant companion during commutes, airplane rides, and even lying on the sofa or in bed. Lightweight, fitting easily to hand, and with a screen that glows in the dark after the spouse says "lights out," the little thing is a window to anywhere my mind wants to go.
The device weighs the same no matter how many books I squeeze onto it; best of all I can read them all with equal ease by enlarging the screen font as big as I want.
That counts most for me as a visually impaired person.
For me seeing anything in detail literally is a headache. I was born with a rare neurological problem, for which there's no fix. Practically no public signage is legible to me. I never was able to play team sports. The teenage right of passage of getting a driving license? No way (though I was required to attend the non-driving part of driver's ed).
Throughout my growing up no one ever helped. The schools I attended "mainstreamed" me-meaning I was completely on my own; no public school I ever attended provided any useful assistance. I never was able to read a blackboard. My parents tried workarounds, but nothing worked.
"Wear glasses." "Sit in the front row." "Stand next to the blackboard." These were the standard responses from teachers and administrators. They didn't understand that glasses and sitting in the front row helped not at all, or that standing next to the blackboard was a non-starter for a self-conscious adolescent.
"You're not blind, are you?" the teachers would demand in a tone that to me sounded sarcastic. "How many fingers am I holding up?" my classmates would taunt, and then switch the number before I could answer.
A gym teacher in elementary school would pretend to pitch the ball to me, and I would swing the bat, just hoping I would hit it. That was amusing …. I wondered to myself, isn't there an option to standing on this baseball diamond? Apparently there wasn't. I didn't know how to advocate for myself, and my parents-despite their best efforts-had little luck either.
Everyone has some irritating problem for which he or she must learn to compensate. And learn to compensate I did! Having honed my skills at auditory learning, I excelled at language and became a writer and editor. Not being able to drive I became an avid cyclist (though I hate it when I fail to see branches or some potholes until it's too late). My wonderful spouse has done far more than her fair share of chauffeuring. Computer technology has been a godsend. With ageing my vision has improved a little.
I experience annoyances, but thankfully in no way am I disabled. But I think of the people whose problems are beyond irritating: they're blind, or deaf. Or both. They're missing limbs, or have organs that fail them. They have cognitive or mental deficits. They and their loved ones experience difficulties-emotional, financial, practical-that seriously impact their quality of life.
I got to thinking about all this as February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month, a time when our Federation and federation system recognize and increase awareness of the needs, strengths, opportunities and challenges of people with disabilities in our Jewish community and throughout North America.
I think back to my lonely struggles at school, and then feel grateful for the support of JUF, my employer. How important it is that our entire community is working to address the issue of disabilities.
Of course people with disabilities can't confine their challenges to an arbitrary chronological boundary; they face them all the time. Thankfully, thanks to your support through JUF, our Jewish community is there to help whenever the need arises. If you or a loved one needs advice about how to deal with a disability issue, Jewish Child & Family Services is there to help. Email email@example.com, visit www.jcfs.org, or call the one-stop, toll-free access number, 855-ASK-JCFS (855-275-5237).
It's a little like having an e-reader; hopefully it helps put a big solution in your hands.
Jewish Child & Family Services is a partner in serving our community, supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.