LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, Jan. 7, 2010. Letters are limited to 300 words or fewer. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

In Reply to 'President's Message: Technology and Independence?'

I agree wholeheartedly with Mitch Pomerantz's assessment on our reliance of technology. My computer allows me to do things I could never do independently when I was younger, and it allows me to do some things more quickly or more thoroughly than I once did. I enjoy taking audio books with me. They greatly reduce the boredom while waiting for transportation.

The blindness market is small, so devices are expensive. It behooves us to be selective. Computers crash. Batteries die. It takes a backpack to carry all of the "stuff" we think we need. And sometimes the dog destroys a charger or something. High tech is wonderful -- but low tech served us well for generations and continues to do so if we will but allow it.

I recall a young man with whom I worked a number of years ago whose laptop computer was stolen. He often missed appointments because he didn't know how to keep track of them without his computer. He couldn't remember assignments or keep track of his bank account or phone numbers. He had always relied on his computer and, when he didn't have it, he was lost. His independence was stolen right along with his computer.

My suggestion is that we integrate low-tech and high-tech skills to make ourselves maximally efficient, even when high-tech fails. I'm not sure sighted folks do that very well. But that's no reason for us blind folks to let our low-tech skills fail.

-- Nancy Johnson, Topeka, Kan.

I'm responding to the "Technology and Independence" President's Message in the December Braille Forum. Although I agree that society as a whole has gotten dependent on technology, I need to say -- with pun fully intended -- that for blind people it depends on the situation. The examples cited regarding cell phone gadgetry and GPS support the president's point very well. But how about these examples?

My husband has been diabetic since age 2 and has neuropathy in his fingers which does not allow him to read braille. I've been a huge advocate of braille and gave my husband a hard time during our courtship about his inability to read braille. That is, until I watched him struggle to read one word on a label. People called him illiterate because of his inability to feel bumps as an alternative to seeing a page. However, with the computer and talking books, he's probably one of the most intense readers I know. Because he can't read braille, does that make him dependent?

And let's talk about those talking books. Despite the explosion in technology, they've been around in one form or another for a long time! Is the argument that we are more dependent because someone is reading it? I love braille, but aren't we also just as dependent on someone to produce readable and accurate braille in the books and magazines we read?

How about that new bill reader which some think is pesky? I'll be very happy not to take one more electronic gadget to read my bills whenever only accessible bills are in circulation. But until then, I'm looking forward to being in control of my own money without the possibility of someone being dishonest with me. We will still have to fold or organize money as we do now, unless one really isn't interested in saving time and has the compunction to read the bill each time it is encountered.

So although the point about maintaining skills is well taken, I think each individual has to evaluate for him/herself what uses of technology are or are not independence. This leads to my final point. I know of another blindness organization that would be happy to evaluate each individual's independence skills. They've infiltrated state agencies for the blind and have taught sighted people to make such judgments using their so-called philosophy of blindness. They even set up centers where they make money with staff-assessed evaluation and improvement of attitudes and blindness skills. I think there are enough quasi-independence police out there, and I want to caution ACB members not to add to their numbers.

-- Rebecca Kragnes, Minneapolis, Minn.