How to Integrate Blind People into Your Office

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 2 (Fall 1998)

George Ashiotis and Ike Schambelan, with help from TBTB Review by Sarah Lutman

May 29, 1998, 116 pages, Theater By The Blind (TBTB), 306 West 18th Street, New York, New York 10011, 212-243-4337, ashiotis[at]panix.com

How to Integrate Blind People into Your Office was prepared for the New York State Council on the Arts by Theater By The Blind (TBTB). Released in May 1998, this report is one of the most uplifting to have crossed our desks. It is a simple, straightforward account of blind people in the workplace, what they can and cannot do, and how to help make your own workplace a welcoming place for blind employees. TBTB is a small but growing theater company that employs both sighted and visually impaired actors and staff. The book documents how they work together.

Of special interest is a description by Associate Artistic Director George Ashiotis' of "What I Do and How I Do It." Ashiotis describes losing his sight, and then tells how he functions today. Here is a section from his description of "How I Do It" that tells how he uses a computer:

The next…is perhaps the most used piece of hardware; the all and powerful modem. Where would I be without it? A blind friend and company member, Peter Mikichick, recently said that the Internet was as important and significant a discovery for a person who is blind as braille. Since more documents, and I use the term ‘document’ in the loosest possible way, meaning a body of writing, are destined to be produced in an electronic format than are likely to appear in braille, I'd say that the Internet may be an even greater breakthrough. Don't get me wrong, I love braille, and as an actor, I can't conceive of learning a part through any other medium. I certainly wouldn't want to have to decide between the two and hope that I am never pressed to do it. But I can have both. In fact, I can get on-line, surf the net, follow a series of links till I find what I'm after, download The Tempest, braille it out [Ashiotis had previously described his braille printer and later describes his screen reader], and spend many enjoyable hours in the company of Prospero and Ariel. What could be better! Well, if you really want to know, being cast in the role of Prospero would not be such a bad ending to this little scenario.

The report is published in both Arabic letters and in braille. One section consists of personal statements by company members that describe how they “read” or otherwise deal with print material. Appendices contain resource information such as service organizations for the blind and visually impaired, information on funding for assistive technology, sources for synthetic speech and optical character recognition systems, information about magnification programs for computer screens, sources for closed circuit televisions, and places to purchase braille technology.

When George first arrived on the scene in 1982 and we started slowly to grow, there were hardly any young, independent, mobile, visually impaired actors and there was hardly any assistive equipment. In a way we were preparing a company to meet a developing technology and a social tolerance, an opening up, an acceptance that we didn't even know would come. Now they exist and they are the beginning of a growth we think will be as surprising to see in five years as it is to see the technology, personnel and acceptance that are here now and did not exist 15 years ago... Focusing on seeing the positive achievements rather than the difficulties, the joy of victory over obstacles rather than the daunting effort, is the true futuristic vision. There's light at the end of the tunnel. We see it.

Sarah Lutman