by Michael Byington
When invited to review this rather amazing book, I first hesitated a bit. Given the target publication for the review, it will be read by blind and low-vision people, many quite capable and successful, all over America and the world. My thought was, "Why would a bunch of blind folks be interested in some blind guy telling his life story?"
Most of us who are blind or severely visually impaired probably feel we have had some unique life experiences, and that we should write them into a book. The difference between most of us and Peter, though, is that he actually wrote the book. Additionally, Peter is not just another blind guy who has had some life experiences from which others may learn, and which may have entertainment value. Sight or blindness notwithstanding, Peter is a highly experienced and intuitive management consultant, an experienced social worker, and a musician and composer who has great talent and considerable credits for his artistic accomplishments.
He has the credentials to write cogently and at length on any of these subjects in addition to, or instead of, his blindness and his dog guides. The extraordinary nature of his now-published memoir is that he has woven all of these themes together in an artful, entertaining, and educational manner.
Many memoirs take the "I was a child, then I was a teenager, then I was a young adult, and now I am however old" format. This often gets boring, and gives the reader a "why should I care?" attitude. Peter avoids this through creating what I would call an "events tapestry." He tells various stories from his life, in various sections of the book, and within them, he flashes back to other stories from other times that are relevant to the main themes of the section. The result is that one is not left with the impression of "Now Peter has told about his life" as much as "These are informative and thought-provoking comments on the structure of effective organizations, the successful training of dog guide teams, how to get along with bosses and deal with blindness in the workplace, and about falling in love."
The book covers such issues as blindness and family dynamics, how blind adults may relate to children, job interviewing tips, and theories of public education for those who are blind. It does so in a manner that is so subtle and well crafted that the reader may first think, "That was a good read about Peter, his remarkable family, his dog guides, and the way he met his equally talented, creative and brilliant wife." A bit more reflection makes the reader realize that he has been enlightened concerning effective management, orientation and mobility for the blind, how dog guides are trained, and a myriad of other issues about how people who are blind often cope with everyday life.
The guide dog school from which Peter has received several excellent dogs is Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Guiding Eyes seems to have a penchant for graduating guide dog users who are also extraordinary writers. Stephen Kuusisto, a graduate and former employee of Guiding Eyes, wrote "Planet of the Blind" in 1995. In that best-selling memoir, Kuusisto articulated his experiences as he moved from being visually impaired as a child to being totally blind. Peter Altschul has followed up with an equally well-penned volume, discussing his life experiences as a person who was born totally blind. While he has done that competently, he has gone miles further. The book is an informative and essential read for anyone working in management consulting, community organizing, orientation and mobility, rehabilitation, social work, customer service, or job placement. It is also a pretty uplifting read for many of us blind or severely visually impaired folks, who will likely finish the book thinking, "I could never write my story that well, and will probably never get around to doing so at all, but I am surely glad that Peter did. Getting the information out in the way Peter has accomplished it is good for us all."
"Breaking Barriers: Working and Loving While Blind," by Peter Altschul, is published by iUniverse Books, Bloomington, Ind. It is available through iUniverse.com (hard cover, soft cover, and e-book format); Amazon.com (soft cover and Kindle); and Borders.com (soft cover). Please contact Peter through www.peteraltschul.com if you want a copy of the book as a braille-ready file (BRF).