Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Celebrating Women's History Month

March 11, 2021 American Printing House Episode 25
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Celebrating Women's History Month
Show Notes Transcript

APH is celebrating Women's History Month with a brief history of the origin of Women's History Month, followed by a look back at the pioneers and then a look at women who are currently blazing the trail for future generations.

Podcast Participants (in order of appearance)

  • Mike Hudson 
  • Dr. Sandra Lewis
  • Paul Ferrara
  • Mike Wood
  • Nabiha Mujahd
  • Tai Tomasi

Additional Links 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to change makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Sara:

Hello, and welcome to change makers. My name is Sara and today APH is celebrating Women's History Month. And before we get into the interviews, let's talk about women's history. Overall Women's History Month is a celebration of the often overlooked contributions women have made to history, culture, and society. It initially began as a national week-long celebration in 1981 and expanded to a month long celebration in 1987. So today, we're talking about the pioneers and today's leaders in the field of blindness, and we will also have a check-in with Partners with Paul. First up, let's talk about the pioneers who paved the way, we have APH Museum Director and expert of all things, historical Mike Hudson. Hello, Mike, and welcome back to Change Makers. So we are celebrating all things, women. And before we celebrate today's trailblazers, we need to honor the pioneers that came before. So tell me who are the women that made an impact in the community of blindness and visual impact?

Mike:

I don't even know where to start , from the very beginning. Uh , this has just been a field where , uh, in , uh , women have been such a crucial part and I have a list that goes a mile long. Okay. So let's start back in the , in the 18th century. Okay. And Austria with a lady name, Maria Theresia von Paradis. Have you ever heard of her?

Sara:

No, that one's new to me.

Mike:

Okay. So , uh, uh, Maria Teresa , uh, she's born in , uh, in Austria, in Europe, of course , around 1759. She loses her vision when she's a child. She is the daughter of very wealthy parents , uh, nobility. In fact, they are in Austria. And so she's raised with all of the advantages that, you know, wealth gives you. So she had the , uh , the , uh, good fortune, unlike so many other people who are blind and visually impaired in the 18th century, that her parents believed her and gave her all the , you know , uh , a quality quality education. So she grows up to be quite an accomplished opera singer. And at the age of 16, she sets out on a tour of Europe performing for all of the , uh, the Royal courts. She's a smash hit in Paris, France. She goes over to England. She sings for King George, III, which we here in America know from the American Revolution. And , then , as her fame starts to fade a little bit, she returns to Austria becomes a well-known composer , and spends the next 20 or 30 years or so , as a very successful composer. Composing , a concertas and operas and that sort of thing. And then , uh, in her fifties, she , uh, opens a music school in Vienna and spends the last years of her life , uh , teaching music. So why is that important in the 19th, 18th, 19, before that if you were visually impaired, you were generally considered to be cursed by God. So Maria Theresia von Paradis is a great example of a young lady who is blind, who demonstrates to everybody that with a few advantages, a few accommodations, a few extra tools that you could accomplish, great things. Um, now let's, let's stay in Europe. Uh, actually it's come into , into the 20th century. Uh, there's a lady named Elisabeth Freund who , is a college trained , economists and political scientists . She also happens to be Jewish and she lives in Germany during the time of the Nazis. Her husband is a well-known industrialist, but because he's Jewish in the 1930s , he and his wife, Elizabeth have their jobs are stripped away from them. Uh, Elizabeth has to , work as at a laundromat , as menial labor because that's all that folks that were Jewish could get in Germany at the time. They managed to get their kids out to the United States in , 1941, but they themselves are not allowed to leave. Eventually , uh, they get on one of the last ships that leaves Germany before the war really swings into full force. She gets away to Cuba by 1944. She and her husband have rejoined her children in America by strange coincidence. Elisabeth Freund has a great-grandfather, whose brother is a guy named Julius Reinhold Friedlander, he's the guy who founded the school in Philadelphia that we now call Overbrook. So using this tenuous connection, Elisabeth Freund , uh, shows up at the , uh , school for the blind in Philadelphia and asked for a job. Now, bear in mind, she has no background whatsoever in teaching kids that are visually impaired, but she totally reteaches herself becomes a very well-known , uh , teacher of the blind and visually impaired. She actually developed a product at APH school back in the 1950s called theFreund longhand writing kit. It was a kit she developed to help kids learn how to write and published a number of other things, but just an amazing lady. Uh, just another amazingly who had to overcome incredible obstacles to , uh, to try and make an impact. Then , uh, Sara, we've got all the amazing talking book narrators that have worked at APH, starting with a lady named Terry Hayes Sales , who was a contract singer. First in Chicago and then , for WHAS here in Louisville in the 1930s. In 1938, she became the first woman to record talking books for the American Printing House for the Blind, and went on to read for the next 50 plus years, recording over 800 titles. Then of course there's Mitzi Friedlander, who was the first young lady to graduate from the UFL , College of Theater or School of Theater School with a theater degree. She joined APH in the mid 1960s. Mitzi would go on to read more talking books than any other narrator in the history of the national library service , um, and Mitzi , just an amazing lady. If, if she looked out , uh , when we would give tours, if Mitzi was down in her studio and she looked out and she saw that somebody on the tour was blind or visually impaired Mitzi would come out, she would drop everything, stopped her recording, and she would come out and personally greet the person Mitzi , just an amazing lady. Madelyn Buzzard has been down for 30 there for 30 or 40 years reading, still producing, just the most amazing , uh , talking books down there. And you probably don't know this, Sara, but if you, you have to be an Alto . If you're a young lady to read in the Talking Book Studio, because of strange things happens to our ears as we get older. And of course, lots of people that listen to talking books are older, but their ability to hear higher frequencies starts to go away. And so the only women that we've ever hired to read talking books are all beautiful Alto voices. That lower register that the Alto voice is just, it's just great. That's why all the dudes are all mostly basis. Then let's talk about Susan B. Merwin. Let's stay in Kentucky a little bit. Susan B. Merwin was a teacher at the Kentucky School for the Blind, which is right next door to us. And in 1912 , we had had a president, a superintendent at both the Kentucky School for the Blind and the American Printing House named B. B. Hunton and Hunton had gotten exhausted with teaching and leading APH. In 1912, he gave up his job as principal at KSP . And so Susan B. Merwin, she was his lead teacher anyways, steps into that role as principal at KSB becoming only the second woman to ever head one of the historic residential schools. The first was a lady in Wisconsin. Susan B. Merwin becomes the Assistant Superintendent at APH during this incredibly critical time where we were moving from a New York Point at Modified American Braille to a Standard English Braille code. That code was adopted in 1918. Uh, we called it Braille Grade one-and-a-half. And that's another story we can talk about later, but , B. B. Hunton, by this time was, he'd been in the job for almost 40 years. He was tired. He was old, he was suffering from a number of ailments and he just didn't have that oomph that it took to handle this change. And so Susan B. Merwin from her position as the assistant superintendent, pretty much is running the place. And one of the critical things that happens is that , APH , uh, has been living on essentially a $10,000 appropriation since the act to Promote the Education of the Blind was passed him 1879. So Susan B. Merwin and a number of members of our Board of Directors go to Washington. This was before women have the right to vote. Okay. And she has to stand up in front of the committee , uh, there , uh, in the House of Representatives and , uh, talk about our purpose, what we do, why we need this extra money. And it was Susan B. Merwin's elegant presentation for the committee that got the fellas , they were all men of course, to approve a $25,000 expansion in our budget. That money was critical to come back to produce the primers, braille cards, the key cards, all of them , the new materials that we're going to need to go out to the schools to introduce this new code . Um, and , the printing press was under a lot of pressure from the historic schools for the blind. We weren't getting it done. Uh, and it's , so Susan B. Merwin comes on at just the right time. B. B. Hunton dies in 1919, who is going to be the first superintendent. Okay , who's the person they're going to hire is Susan B. Merwin. So Merwin then becomes our first , uh , the first woman to be head the , uh, the , uh , American Printing House for the Blind and she makes all of changes , uh, new equipment. Um, she's the one that realizes that , uh, that the building really ends up make-over . I don't want to be stereotypical about, you know, women and what they're , you know, that sort of thing. But, you know, she comes in and takes this building. That's really fallen into disrepair and just starts a whole program of repairs and paint, and just refreshes everything up and , and instills us with a lot of new life. And she died of influenza, unfortunately in 1923 or , or her story would be a lot longer. And we would, we would know a lot more about her and what she was able to accomplish. Um , yeah . Now one more, one more story. Uh, and so , uh, there's a young lady named Martha Louise Morrow Foxx . She's born in , uh, North Carolina , uh, in the early 20th century. She , uh, loses her vision as a young lady. And at first she goes to the Governor Morehead School , uh, which is a segregated school because Martha is African-American and in North Carolina in that day, in all the Southern States. In fact, if you were black, you went to the colored department, right? If you were white, you went to the white department course the colored departments were underfunded and they were neglected. They got the second choice of the books and the materials , uh, when , uh, in 1917 Martha's family moves to Philadelphia. The school in Philadelphia, as we've already mentioned was the Overbrook School for the Blind. It was not a segregated school. And so that's where Martha actually graduated. She graduated from there in 1925. She aspired to, as a career, as a teacher, she went to Temple University there in Philadelphia and in , 1927, I think it was, she got a job offer from The Piney Woods School down in Rankin County, Mississippi. Mississippi was one of the only Southern States that did not have any school for kids that were black, who were also blind and visually impaired, they didn't even have a colored department at their school. Uh , and so the Piney Woods School down there, which was t he school for A frican-American kids, decided they wanted to create a program for blind students. And they hired Martha Louise Morrow Foxx to come in first to be the teacher. Then she was the principal and i t was Martha Louise Morrow Foxx down in Mississippi that just broke through so many barriers, u h, blind herself, u h, you know, proving to the people, the good people of Mississippi that, u h, kids that were African-American deserved a right, u h, to get an education, whether they were white or s ighted. U h, a nd, and Susan B. Merwin just was an innovator and a trailblazer. U h, and in 2000 she became the first woman of color to be inducted into Hall of Fame for Leaders a nd Legends of people in the blindness field. U h, and so we remember Martha with a great deal of fondness for her courage and her leadership, and I could go on and on.

Sara:

Wow, my gosh, it's just amazing. There are so many stories. There are so many trailblazers whose stories have not been told, and when you scratch the surface, it, you just, you're just stunned, you know, what they had to go through and what they faced and what the circumstances of the time.

Mike:

Yes. Well, whether you were blind or visually impaired and people thought you were cursed by God, or you were a woman and people didn't think that, you know, you should be trusted with responsibility or in our own time , uh, people of color , uh, even immigrants, often their , their abilities. They're not allowed to , uh, have not been allowed necessarily always to , uh, show their abilities. So all of these people had had barriers overcome. Um, and sometimes it, wasn't just your gender, all kinds of other prejudices that society has about what people are capable of. And so, you know , our whole goal is to change attitudes. I think about what is possible for people and , uh , remove those barriers and then let them fly.

Sara:

Okay. So you just talked about a couple of wonderful, phenomenal, amazing women. Is there anything that they all have in common? Was it the drive? Is it the determination? I don't ,

Mike:

I don't think , I don't think I know that any of them had, I mean, you know , I have 40 other stories Sara, that can tell you about other women. And so it's not like we're looking at four or five, we're looking at all kinds of women who , uh, who, who saw a problem and had skills and set out to do it set out to accomplish, to solve that problem. Um , in some cases, you know, it might be that they started out just looking for a job, right? They, they, they needed a job or in some cases , uh, in like in Maria Theresia von Paradis' case, she had a talent, she had a God-given talent and , uh, and she wanted to share it with the world. And so in order to do that, she was going to have to adapt , uh, you know, she, she had a specialized composition board that , that some people helped her develop so that she could compose music. Uh, there , there are obstacles to that and she had to figure out ways around those. Um, so I don't think there's anything that I necessarily have in common, other than their gender , uh, that they lived in different times. And so the challenges that they faced based on the way that society thought of them changed from time to time to time, certainly it's much easier today , uh, before a woman to , uh, follow her star. Uh, there were, there were, there were times of course, in our, in our history where women were expected to stay at home and take care of the family. And that's , that was the expected societal role. So how about this? I'll go with this, these people, these, these women, every one of them was not willing to accept the role that society had had chosen for them, but, but being a teacher was an easier , uh, that, that was easier , uh , for psych society to accept, right. They , they, weren't trying to be a rocket scientist, right. So being a teacher, taking care of children, nurturing children, these are all, all roles, but, you know, there's another way I didn't mention. Who's also in the Hall of Fame, the lady named Mary E. Switzer, who spent her entire career in government , uh, and , uh, rising all the way to be the head of what we call H.E.W. Health, Education and Welfare. And what was really important in this, in the 1950 1960s , in moving forward, a lot of the path breaking legislation that gave , uh, kids who are blind or vision impaired and adults , uh, the tools that they needed to, to, to overcome , uh, uh, prejudice.

Sara:

Wow. Oh my goodness. Okay. So you're with the APH museum. So, and you have so much knowledge, tell us, does the APH museum have any artifacts from any of these women?

Mike:

Yes, but if I'm going to talk about artifacts, I have to talk about the collection that we got last January, which was, and also talking about two women, we, haven't talked about kind of, kind of like the elephants in the room when you talk about women. So, so in January we brought the American Foundation for the Blind Helen Keller Archive to APH, and we are now cataloging it and inventorying it. And it's just full of amazing things that deal with the lives of these two incredible women, Helen Keller, social activist, author fundraiser, champion of the disabled champion of people with disabilities champion of people of color champion of civil rights and , and, and human rights. And then her teacher and Anne Sullivan , uh, an equally fascinating woman who a lot of people don't know was blind herself and , uh , went to the Perkins School and came from just desperately poor background. And one of my favorite things in the collection, the collection is full of amazing things. But one of my favorite things is a, a bronze casting of, and Sullivan's hands made in 1936. And it thrills me to know that if , if we ever need just a little spark of inspiration, that you can reach out and class pants with and Sullivan , uh, through the decades. But yeah, the collections will have their letters , uh , their photographs, all these gifts that they got when they traveled all over the world, which they did, they became peace ambassadors and , uh , went to every continent except Antarctica and , uh, just amazing collection. And , uh, it's , uh, it's, it's , uh, it's humbling to be trusted with these amazing artifacts.

Sara:

These amazing artifacts, can they be viewed online and how so if they can?

Mike:

Sure. So , uh, the American Foundation for the Blind before they , uh, sent their , uh, Helen Keller archive to us, they did this amazing project where they photographed and described every one of these things that's in the collection. And so you can go to, if you just in your, in Google, if you just Google Helen Keller archive, that will take you to a search engine, you can read all of these incredible artifacts. You can read the telegram that Helen sent to Adolf Hitler in 1938, when they were burning her books. You can see all these artifacts that we're talking about also on our website. First, you have the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends website, and there are a number of women, including Mary Switzer and , Martha Louise Morrow Foxx who are in the, Hall of Fame website and then our website ,, the American Printing House for the Blind's museum's website, which you can find at aph.org , has a collections search engine. And you can search through most of our collections and learn a lot more about many of these amazing and impressive women , uh , role models for us all .

Sara:

Oh my goodness. Mike, thank you so much for all that information. That is just truly amazing. I mean, it's always interesting and kind of just surreal to think about the trailblazers that came before us in the obstacles they faced and the times that, you know, the way the mentality was back then, and then we have artifacts. So you can see, you could see, you know, the telegrams and see their hands and, you know, and then to in today's world, it's just amazing. Mike, thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers.

Mike:

Thank you, Sarah. I enjoyed it ,

Sara:

You got so much awesome information, awesome information. We really appreciate it Up next. We're going to be learning more about today's trailblazers. As we continue our conversation about what's happening today. We have Florida State University's Professor and Former Coordinator of the Visual Disabilities Program in the School of Teaching Education, Dr. Sandra Lewis. Hello, Dr. Lewis , and thank you so much for joining us on Change Makers today.

Dr. Lewis:

Thank you, Sara. I'm delighted to be here. I'm very humble that I'm considering Change Maker.

Sara:

That's right. You are, and it's Women's History Month. So this is going to be a good one. So tell me, how long have you been in this field?

Dr. Lewis:

I actually started this field in 1977. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act had just been signed or the regulations had just come out. And it was an exciting time in this field when school districts and parents and agencies that provided services to people who were blind were redefining what their role was going to be based on this new legislation that promised so much in the way of opportunities for children with disabilities.

Sara:

And when figuring out what you wanted to do, what made you want to go in this field?

Dr. Lewis:

So , so that's a really, to me, that's an interesting question because I just, I have a paper that I wrote when I was in probably ninth grade , uh, when you were, when we were studying careers in the school where I was going to, where I was attending and, and I have a paper that I wrote that says you know, one of the careers I was interested in was being a teacher of the deaf or the blind, and it was all I have, I still have it, all of the outlines of, you know, what , what was the pay? What was this? Now this, I would have written this, like in the , um, gosh early, I would have written this in the 60's sometimes. And , uh, so it's been something on my mind for a long time, or it had been something on my mind for a long time. I had worked, I had worked for my father and he lived close to the courthouse where, where we were in Tacoma, Washington. And so when I wasn't busy with, at his, at the jobs he had for me, I would go to the courthouse and, and , uh , was amazed at the blind , uh, vendors who were working there as part of the business enterprise program. And I was really , like a lot of people, like totally enthralled at how they manage the job that they did. And so, as I was looking at career options, the idea of , um, working with these people who I presumed were all competent adults, I mean , would be all competent folks, just really , um, uh, interested me. And so I, I , um, I continued that interest for a long time , uh, and was kind of surprised when I got into the field to discover that to become a competent adult, requires a, a lot of hard work in advance of that. And , uh, so I was, I was a little , um, at first I , I didn't, you know, I didn't want to work with the entire range of children who were visually impaired and then discovered that in fact , uh , they all presented really interesting challenges and that that's what made this teaching really, really special. It wasn't the end result. It was working towards that end result. That was , uh, that particularly fascinated me.

Sara:

Where have seen some of your impacts come to life and how do you feel about making such a huge difference?

Dr. Lewis:

Okay. So I might argue with the premise of your question, but I'm not going to, it's been I'm I'm at the end of my career right now. I've been in the field, like I said, for nearly 40 years. And it's been a little discouraging to see that people and teachers are still dealing with a lot of the same problems that they were before. Employment of people with visual impairments is still low , uh, children with visual impairments still often don't have their needs met , uh, parents still struggle to, to get quality services for their children. And so it's been , um, that's been a little it's I look back and I say, maybe there hasn't been that much difference. And then I recall that, that , uh , there has been, there have been... Like all change it's it's slow, but over time it makes there are, there are significant differences that have occurred. Obviously a lot of there are a great many people today who are blind, who are , who are adults who hold good jobs and have good skills and participate in their communities. And I think that there are more and more teachers who, who believe that that's a possibility for most of the folks with whom we work as teachers of young children of children. I think a lot of that has to do with our recognition or the recognition of the people who came before me that, that they , these children, weren't just exactly like sighted kids who were blind. They were in fact learners with very specific needs that could not be met , um, through the typical kinds of education that we provide to sighted children. And so, so early in my career, well, when I was still a student in school , uh, Phil Hatland would talk about, you know, all the needs of children with visual impairment. And we would, we would make lists of them on the board and we would have to write about them and everything. And I left there totally convinced of that. If we wanted to make a difference in this, in the education of children who are blind and have low vision, that what we would need to do would be to not necessarily just focus on their academic instruction, but looking at the whole child. And so in almost all of the jobs that I've had, I've been able, I've made it possible to do that. So one of an early job, I had a mid-career job I had was working at the California School for the Blind in the Assessment Center there. And as we developed protocols for assessment, I was the TVI who was doing assessments of children. I decided that I would focus on each one of what has turned out to be the ECC, each one of those areas. And so kids just didn't get assessed in their math and reading and science knowledge, but across all nine areas of what , of the ECC. And so assessment reports that were written focused on each one of those areas. And it seemed, it seemed at the time it seemed, that's my part of creating some kind of change in the way other school districts were, were working teachers in school, local school districts were working with students and what parents knew about what children needed. And it was like a one child at a time, one teacher at a time kind of progress. But I would tell parents, you can't have an IEP that doesn't address all seven, all nine areas of the ECC, because if you're ignoring one area or delaying instruction in that area, then you're reducing the possibility that your child is going to be is going be the kind of adult you want them to be. While working at the California School for the Blind and Assessment Center, I first was able to kind of say , focus on the ECC. And then when I went to Florida State University, where I've been since 1993, I started to design the preparation of teachers around each one of these areas. And so when I started there, there were like five classes. People took to become TVI's. Now there are about 13 classes that they take, because you need to know how to teach compensatory skills. You need to know how to teach recreation and leisure skills. You need to know, not just that they need social skills instruction, but how do you facilitate the development of social interaction skills across the lifespan? Well , eight from birth to 22 among the children you'll be working. Students at FSU since the early 90's have known about the ECC and have directed their instruction as they can, as students around that. And I think a good, many of them have gone out and continued that as a TVI on this and O and M specialists working with children. So if , if I were going to say what impact have I had it would be in kind of spreading that word, that these children, yes. They're just like other kids. They , they feel pain. They need love. They have to , um, have what other children need, but they learn differently. And because they learn differently, their teachers need to use different approaches and, and teach them and , and directly teach much of what we want people to know as grownups.

Sara:

So it's not a one size fits all.

Dr. Lewis:

Oh, it is definitely not that . And of course that's what makes people in this field love it is that is that today is not going to be what you expect. It's going to be, it's certainly not going to be like yesterday or tomorrow . There's not a lot of boredom in this job at all.

Sara:

Okay. So you say you've been in this field for almost 40 years. So who are some of today's trailblazers that you see?

Dr. Lewis:

That's a , that's a really hard question to answer because there are , I mean, there are so many of them there . Um, would you say, when did she think that many of the parents who are out there dealing with the day to day challenges faced by their children, trying to get them in these days, try to get any kind of, you know, education given our current COVID crisis? Um, I would say that they continue as they were in the 1960's when , uh, or 1970 1960's and 1970's when 94, one , when idea was being passed. Um, the , uh, they still remain to me a really impressive group of trailblazers. And of course, right now we've got this whole group of parents who are trying to affect change in , in the prep preparation of teachers. And , um, to deal with youngsters who have more, more severe kinds of , uh , or complex visual impairments, like cortical or cerebral visual impairment. So I still think that parents are, are, have the potential anyway, well, each one in their own individual way as a trailblazer, but united, they have an incredible potential to change the field. Um, there are a great many recent graduates of university programs who are doing some incredible research and teaching in the field. I'm not going to name them because, because, you know, you would, I would forget there's a lot of them out there. Oh yes . And, and so I see them as, as have , I mean, obviously they're the ones that will likely be remembered over time. But also I know of folks who were doing TVIs and O & M Specialists who are just doing some really incredible work , uh, as they, again, and of course, this is my own bias as they are working with , uh, children after school and on weekends and over the summer to make sure that those youngsters have opportunities to experience the world in a way that makes sense to them that those youngsters are , uh, uh, not just getting to go to the football stadium and to know what a football stadium is like, but actually are getting to get down on the ground and move the football around, you know, who are out there, who are out there learning what it's like to work in a cafe , uh , cafeteria, people who are out there, making sure that students can set goals and achieve work towards them and achieve them. And to me, those people, I, I can't, I can't, I just can't tell you how impressed I am, that they have so many interesting novel ideas that are changing the lives of children. Again, just a few at a time. But , uh, it, for each one of those youngsters, those teachers, those O & M specialists, they're trailblazers, you know ,

Sara:

The the teacher's the O & M specialists and the parents, especially the parents, because I feel like the parents are the ones advocating from their child from day one day one .

Dr. Lewis:

The parents.... they're the ones who didn't, didn't choose for themselves.

Sara:

So my last question, what would you say to students thinking about going into this field?

Dr. Lewis:

Well, this is I ask , I give this spiel a lot as people call me, or as I talk to people in grocery store lines and say, they asked me what I do. And I say, Oh my gosh, I have the best job in the whole wide world. People who are thinking about going into this field need to know that in fact, it is the best job in all of education. It is the best job because you get to work with children, a small number of children. Usually I'm not talking about teachers who have case loads of 30 and 40 in general. A lot of our, our, our best teachers keep their caseload small because they know that they have an incredible responsibility to the children on their caseload to make sure that , um, their needs are met in order to keep them on the trajectory of success in life. And so our teachers , um, if people , for people thinking about this job, these teachers get to know families and children really well often working with the same , uh, family unit and child , uh , for several years, they, they get to teach the most interesting things. They aren't tied to a classroom or with a Blackboard, if you realize that children with visual impairment need to know everything, then y our, the world is your classroom. All you need to do is spend time walking down the street, exploring things that you encounter. You need to, you, you can go to a grocery store and, and talk about, I mean, you could spend days just teaching children about and fruits in one part of the grocery store. And you still would have a curriculum that is, you know, years long. And it's through those kinds of experiences where children are touching things, doing things, making things that they learn, not only about things in the world, but about themselves and about their strengths and weaknesses. And so the teacher gets to have this incredible, it's like the TVI and the O & M Specialist. And I'm sure this is true for people who work with adults, you have the key, the magic key that opens the door to learning for these kiddos that nobody else really gets. And so, and so , um, uh , the jobs are , um, they're challenging. They're , um, uh , sometimes frustrating, but most days people who are in this field go home feeling like they've made a difference in some child's life. And, and there's a lot to be said about feeling good about your job at the end of the day. And so , um, it's, it's , uh, you're always going to have a job you're always going to be , uh, uh, for most days you're going to feel satisfied at what you're at, what you're doing. And to me, that's, for a lot of folks that's more important than, than , um, big promotions. Yeah . Teachers don't do too badly in the pay department.

Sara:

So thank you so much, Dr. Lewis for joining us on Change Makers today.

Dr. Lewis:

Thank you, Sara. It was my pleasure.

Sara:

Up next. We're talking to more trailblazers, but first let's hear from our special segment Partners with Paul.

Paul:

Thanks, Sara. And welcome to another edition of Partners with Paul. I'm thrilled this time to have Mike Wood from Vispero who's the Accounts Manager, Education, with us today. Thanks for joining us, Mike. Hey Paul, thanks for having me super excited to be here. Most of you probably know that APH partners with Vispero and we offer student licenses for jaws, ZoomText, and fusion. Mike is going to talk to us about those licenses today and how they work. Tell us why should people buy ZoomText or jaws from APH?

Mike:

So, first off, the big thing is the support that APH offers. Uh , the other thing is you offer a special license. That's a portal based license. So it's an annual license of jaws and Zoom Text. So jaws is $90 a year. And Zoom Text is $80 a year. And you're able to purchase that via quota funds or purchase order or credit card directly from the American printing house for the blind.

Mike Wood:

They are one year licenses that are renewable upon expiration, and you can easily manage them through our freedom scientific licensing portal using just your email address, which makes it really easy. You don't have to remember a long, you know, authorization code or serial number. It's just linked right to your email address.

Paul:

Great. So how are these licenses different from the ones we offered previously?

Mike:

Yeah. So previously you had a suite license. So the suite license was $300 a year, and that was for four years. So you pay $300 every year for four years. And at the end of that fourth year, we then gave the student a home annual license. Um, you know, it was difficult to manage, keep track of how many years you were doing it and so on and so forth. So the portal license really makes it easy because like I mentioned, it's linked to the email address and you can easily move this license around. So with the suite license, it was difficult to move it to a different computer. So the nice thing with the portal is if, for example, the students in class , uh, they're using it on their school computer there, but then maybe they go home and they want to move it to a computer at home, especially during COVID right now, this has been a huge help. Uh , they could easily just log into the portal and activate that machine, that they're then on and easily then deactivate that machine and activate a separate machine a little bit later using that same email address and password for the portal.

Paul:

Sounds very convenient. Now you've talked about managing these licenses a couple of times. How exactly do you go about doing that?

Mike:

Yeah, sure thing. So when you purchase the license, you'll receive an email from APH and in that email, you'll have a link to click. You can either forward that license out to the end user, or you can manage it yourself. So a lot of schools I've found are actually having their it department , uh, you know, their techies kind of manage the licenses for the students. So you're just going to log in using an email address. And then once you're logged in there, you'll see the license code. Um, and you can activate that on any machine that you're on at that time. And you can also easily go in and check and see when that license is going to expire. So say you bought it on January one. You know, it's going to come up for renewal on January one in a year. So you'll also receive an email from APH saying, or from freedom scientific letting you know that that license is coming up. But if you want to know at any time , you can just log into the portal and check for yourself.

Paul:

Great. Thanks very much for joining us, Mike. Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it very much. Thanks to Vispero. We have a one-year license of your choosing jaws, Zoom Text, or fusion that we're going to be giving away, check the show notes, and you'll find a link go to that link, fill out the form. And one lucky participant is going to win that license. Thanks for listening to partners with Paul. And now back to you .

Sara:

Thanks so much, Paul. Right now, we're talking to one woman in the field who changed her career plans. After a chance encounter, we have Nabiha Mujahid who is the assistive technology specialist for VI and AIM Well as an APH Scholar. Hello, Nabiha welcome to change makers.

Nabiha:

Hello, Sarah. Thank you so much for having me.

Sara:

Okay. Now tell me this, looking at your background, you were a biochemistry major at Louisiana State University. So I'm going to assume you were planning to go into something different. What made you change your course?

Nabiha:

Yes. So at the time my brothers were already in college and they were doing biochem. So there was a sort of familiarity with the material, combine that with the fact that I had an interest in it myself, and it's essentially became the path of least resistance. So during my sophomore year, I started tutoring at Louisiana School for the Blind. Initially it was just a fascination about hot, about how I could teach very visual concepts to students who couldn't see, but really what made me stay was just the culture of the community and the challenges. It has its own language and unique art forms. And I just felt mesmerized by it. I mean, working with the visual impairment, trying to talk a little bit challenges and learning braille all helped me gradually change my course and looking back it's, it's funny how one small choice, like taking a new job can have such a consequential impact on your future plan. It, it certainly did for me.

Sara:

Wow. What a chance encounter. So you are the regional support specialist for the Louisiana instructional materials center. So what is it that you do there?

Nabiha:

I , um, there are many things , uh , that I do. I I'm the lead BI consultant in all things that's regarding assessable materials and trainings and technologies for all the staff and sports staff and families in the state and add LSPI as well. And in addition, I'm a transcriber. So I create braille books and our , our department is responsible for creating accessible materials for students across the state. And that was just a verbose way of saying that our department is the ultimate source of materials for our students. And , um, so when a teacher or a family member, anywhere in the state of Louisiana has any questions about how to create a, about how to teach a student who's blind or visually impaired, or they need access to a special tool, we step in and provide assistance. And also we , um, we've recently partnered with the Department of Corrections and our state APH Trustee, Bobby King . And I have been trying to build a successful Braille Prison Program, which could increase our state's capacity to produce bail books. So currently we only have two people in the state of Louisiana that have the certification to transcribe books, that's King, and I, and this program will allow for more people to become efficient.

Sara:

Wow. That's huge to get more people to do the braille transcription. So what does that like teaching braille transcription lessons?

Nabiha:

Well , um , in the present? Well , uh, in the beginning it was very intimidating. I mean, we went through a week of training at Angola Prison, just so that we could understand how to approach people who had been incarcerated for years and then create an environment of learning in the face of the challenges that they already faced. So we had to change the way we think and teach because of our demographic was completely different. We had to take something as fundamental as learning and teaching from , from the school and then shifted into a different setting, which presented many challenges in itself. But there, the commitment to learning and embracing braille is refreshing and they're so excited to be a part of the program and understand the importance of braille, it's, it's their way to give back to the community. I mean, what, what started as intimidating is now inspiring.

Sara:

Wow. Right. That's right. That's very true. So where have you seen your work make an impact and what does that feel like?

Nabiha:

Well, you know, this job is so different from, from traditional jobs where, when, where you can directly see the impact you're having. So when I was, when I was a teacher, I could see the growth and the progress of a student at the end of the day semester, an educational you're like I could see it. And that was my validation, you know, but sometimes you don't, you don't get to see the impact directly since our team is helping educate educators, get the tools necessary and making sure that they are ready to teach their students without a glitch. So sometimes we have to be content. When we see our students with the right tools. Sometimes we do work with students on an individual basis. So for example, just one quick example, two years ago, we had a student who was not getting any real instructions and someone got in touch with us. So we went down to Louisiana, that's where she was located and just provide the teacher with all the necessary materials. And , um , just talk to her. We had a game plan, we've been helping her out. And we recently, I recently talked to this student a couple of months ago and she's doing wonderfully she's. She is, she has become proficient reading braille. And we have also partnered with the state library where we build from this book and they have the reading program and we just bring all the books out for summer. And I feel, I feel elated about the generational impact we have when we provide the parents as well, who are blind with materials that help them raise their side of children. So for example, what I mean is we have parents who are blind, but they have sighted children. So when we give them the braille books, they are able to read to their site to children at night. So, so that they don't miss out on something many children experienced growing up, like, like I did.

Sara:

All right . So this podcast is focusing on the trailblazers for women's history month. And are there any trailblazers out there that you admire?

Nabiha:

Well, there are, there are many, a few that I don't know personally, like having grandma who's , who's a deaf blind advocate. She's also a Harvard Law graduate. She's a leading example that anything is achievable in life, despite your disabilities and Helen Keller, who was also a deaf blind advocate and an activist. And if you , if you look into her story, you would realize that it was her teacher who helped her reach her highest academic potential and her independency, but on a more personal level, mine students are the person that I admire and just like many TBIs and the parents across the state of Louisiana is Robin King. She's the APH Trustee and the Director of AIM. Um, she is just a beacon of hope and , and she is just, she's able to show great fortunate when our department is facing pushback and challenges. And we had, we had so many this year. And so she and I, we are working well. She is the lead, she's the lead influencer. She working on the braille standards for our state. She's also the founder of the braille prison program for Louisiana. And she , she's also trying to get the babies count for the blind. So we can, we can try to get, we can identify our kids as young as possible, and he's just so efficient and so steadfast , um, I'm greatly influenced by her.

Sara:

Okay. In what areas would you want to see more trailblazers?

Nabiha:

As far as the visual impairment community goes, we need more TVIs period. I mean, there's a shortage of teachers in America, and there's also a problem with burnout and both of these issues are greatly amplified in blindness field. So with more visual impaired students, all instructors are put under even more pressure. This has an adverse impact on the students' learning experience, as well as the teacher's health and ability to efficiently teach. There is definitely a need for trailblazers in this area.

Sara:

Looking back at your younger self, what would you tell yourself when you were thinking about going into this field? Or what would you tell some of the students today who are thinking about going into this field, but just are unsure or how, what would you say to somebody that's just, you know, curious about possibly focusing a career in this field?

Nabiha:

It's a field that is going to challenge you, and, but it is very rewarding. You providing a service that many, many people really need who otherwise would be completely cut off from having the opportunity to receive a quality education.

Sara:

All right. Well, Nabiha thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers. We really enjoy talking to you.

Nabiha:

Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.

Sara:

We're talking to another woman who is making an impact right here at APH, and that is our brand new director of accessibility, diversity and inclusion, Tai Tomasi. Hello, Tai. And thank you so much for joining us on Change Makers.

Tai:

Thanks so much for having me. I'm grateful to be here.

Sara:

Now tell me, tell me, what does it feel like to be the first woman in your position?

Tai:

Well, I want to acknowledge the great work of those who came before me, my predecessors. Um, there hasn't been someone in my exact position, but , uh, Maria , Doug got out , did a lot of great work on accessibility and as did the accessibility committee here at APH as well. So I want to acknowledge their , their wonderful work. Um, it is an honor to be in this position and to be a champion for accessibility, diversity, and inclusion internally at APH, as well as through our community outreach work that we'll be doing. Um, so we will position ourselves as accessibility, diversity, and inclusion leaders in the field of blindness and visual impairment.

Sara:

So tell me what obstacles have you faced during your career and how did you get through them?

Tai:

So, a lot of my obstacles have been because of community misperceptions about blindness and visual impairment. There is a stigma in the world just because people don't understand what blindness and visual impairment are about. And so that did cause problems in my career, as far as getting jobs and helping people understand my capabilities. And so I think what, what really helped me was resilience and also finding mentors and mentorship , uh , finding those blind, visually impaired people who have been there before and how they worked through those situations was very , um , influential in my career.

Sara:

Looking back, is there anyone that you look to as a mentor or credit where you are today?

Tai:

There are a couple people. Actually, my mother is an amazing person. She adopted 27 children from all over the world. She's a single woman and then it has never been married and she did that on her own. So she was my first influence as far as resiliency and just doing what you want to do with your life, no matter what people say, she encountered a lot of obstacles in doing that because people thought, Oh, a single woman can't take care of all of these children and all of that kind of thing. And she did , um, adopt a culturally diverse family. And so she really encouraged me to embrace my identity and she did the same for all of my siblings. Uh, and then also I learned of Cara Dunne-Yates as a child. Uh, she was a blind attorney athlete, Paralympic athlete, and , uh, just an advocate, an overall amazing person. She was the first president of a college class as a female blind person. And she just did a lot of amazing things in her life and she was a great inspiration to me.

Sara:

Wow. Now think, think back, what advice would you give your , your younger self or to the younger ones out there listening?

Tai:

I think it's really important to live an authentic life and to accept yourself. I know that I lived, I had difficulty in my childhood because I wasn't able to embrace my blindness and I had varying levels of vision, but I still felt very isolated. And I think it helped me so much when I could just accept that. Even though I'm different, these are my identities. I have multiple different identities and it's okay to be myself. And along with that, you know , it's okay to not feel okay, but also to find people to support you because you're not alone. And I definitely was fearful of embracing my intersectional identities, but embracing those actually led to a much happier life, even though I was very afraid of embracing those and living authentically,

Sara:

That is so true. And especially in today's world, especially with the younger ones, the younger ones need, you know, I it's , it's a hard, it's hard as a, as a young person in today's world with all the social media. And I feel like people are trying to be something they're not, but when you just say, you know what, I'm going to be, who I am. And you finally reached that happiness that's been alluding you. So

Tai:

Yeah, it truly was a much happier existence after I had just decided I was gonna be,

Sara:

There you go. Just be yourself . Be yourself. You younger ones out there listening, be yourself. You're the only one who can be yourself. Nobody else can be you. So Ty , thank

Speaker 5:

You so much for joining me today on change makers. Thank you so much for having me and we hope you have enjoyed today's podcast. It was full of historical change makers and current change makers . And hopefully this podcast inspired you to be a future change makers. So be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.