We honor here members, friends and supporters of the American Council of the Blind who have impacted our lives in many wonderful ways. If you would like to submit a notice for this column, please include as much of the following information as possible.
Name (first, last, maiden if appropriate)
City of residence (upon passing)
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Other cities/states/countries of residence (places where other blind people may have known this person)
Date of death (day if known, month, year)
ACB affiliation (local/state/special-interest affiliates or national committees)
Deaths that occurred more than six months ago cannot be reported in this column.
It is with great sadness that we write to let you know that our colleague and friend, Janet Barlow, passed away quietly on Sunday, August 1. Janet had always been very private about her health. We don’t think anyone but her closest family knew that she was failing. A couple of weeks ago Janet was enjoying a week on Tybee Island with her husband, Doug, and their three daughters, Jen, Bekah, Tisha, and their families, a gift she had given to all of them each year, for many years. While there, she weakened suddenly and dramatically. Janet spent her last days at home in Asheville, cared for by Doug and the girls.
Janet’s contributions to the field of visual impairment are almost incalculable. Janet spent many years in the practice of orientation and mobility (O&M), on the street, teaching vision disabled people to travel independently, most notably at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta. Her practical experience prepared her well for her next career, researching techniques to make the built environment more accessible to vision disabled travelers. Janet was President of Accessible Design for the Blind (ADB), a small research organization started by Beezy Bentzen. Under Janet’s leadership, ADB became well-recognized for human factors research related to environmental access. Major topics that Janet investigated included accessible pedestrian signals, roundabouts, and tactile walking surface indicators such as detectable warnings and guidance surfaces. In 2017, together with Diane Fazzi, she wrote “Orientation and Mobility Techniques: A Guide for the Practitioner,” a manual for the teaching of O&M, now used as a textbook in university programs preparing O&M specialists. Janet was also the first author of two chapters in Foundations of Orientation and Mobility, the authoritative textbook on the theory, research, and practice of O&M. She authored many papers and was a sought-after speaker at conferences and workshops.
Few individuals have had as profound of an impact on a profession as Janet, and hardly any have had such impact on two. In addition to O&M, Janet’s impacts on the transportation engineering profession have arguably been at least as profound, albeit less celebrated and recognized. For well over two decades, Janet has attended countless meetings and conferences – often listening for hours to the conversations and discussions of committees and panels, only to speak up at the right moment to draw attention to the needs and civil rights of persons with disabilities. Those comments were often celebrated, sometimes dismissed, but always had an impact! Janet participated in countless national and international meetings of the Transportation Research Board and its various committees, the Institute for Transportation Engineers, the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and many state and local events. Her impacts live on in the written words of journal papers, research reports, and guidebooks, as well as in the memories many in the two professions have of Janet, her passionate debates, and her field demonstrations to countless professionals of accessibility challenges under blindfold.
Janet was a tenacious and deeply knowledgeable advocate for people who were blind and visually impaired. She was a mentor, a role model, and a leader, and we will miss her dearly. She cared deeply about so much and so many of us, consumers and professionals alike, in transportation and in the blindness field.
We all leave holes in the lives of others when we pass. Janet leaves a crater in two professions, and in the lives of professionals throughout the United States and in fact the entire world. At the same time her monuments are making streets and sidewalks accessible across the United States and Canada. Janet’s competence, knowledge and work ethic were legendary. Her joy and passion for her chosen work and for her family and friends were a fire that warmed so many of us. Her contributions will live on, and we will miss, remember and celebrate her as we travel through the environment that she helped to shape.
Janet was a true friend to those who knew her. As more details on ways to honor Janet’s life become available, we will share these with anyone interested.
— Beezy Bentzen, Lukas Franck, and Bastian Schroeder
Verle Keith Wessel
Verle Keith Wessel of Homewood, Ala., devoted husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and counselor, died April 15, 2021 at the age of 77. Verle was born in Princeton, Illinois on Oct. 17, 1943 to Irving and Marie Wessel. He was married to Linda Helm on April 3, 1971 at Deerfield Presbyterian Church in Deerfield, Ill. He and Linda recently renewed their commitment to one another in celebration of their 50th anniversary. Though totally blind from age 4, Verle never let his disability get in his way.
After graduating in 1962 from the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, he received a bachelor of science degree in secondary education (1967) and a master of education degree in counseling and administration (1969), both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He then devoted his 34-year career with the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services to helping other blind and visually impaired individuals as a rehabilitation teacher, counselor, and eventually, working for the Bureau of Blind Services as an assistive technology specialist. He also served on the Braille Authority of North America as a member of one of the committees that produced the 1994 revision to the American braille code.
He served in many roles on the board of the Illinois Council of the Blind and was active with the American Council of the Blind. He received numerous awards and recognitions for his service to the blindness community, and was an inspiration to everyone he met.
Though passionate about his work, Verle was even more committed to his family. He loved spending time with his wife and son, and later, with his two grandsons. After the birth of his first grandson, he and Linda moved to Alabama to be close to his son’s family. He loved traveling, reading, music, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, and the Chicago White Sox.
He was known for his humility, warmth, and compassion, but he will be most remembered for his sense of humor. Verle was preceded in death by his parents and sisters, Jean Scott and Carol Rocke. He is survived by his wife Linda, son Keith Wessel (Sarah), grandsons George and Benjamin Wessel, and brother Norman Wessel (Mary). Memorial gifts for Verle may be made to the Illinois Council of the Blind, PO Box 1336, Springfield, IL 62705, or to Savoy United Methodist Church, 3002 W. Old Church Rd., Champaign, IL 61822.