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Why I Give: A judge who is blind looks back on a lifetime of learning

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired, Disability Type, Giving

Judge Hafer at his deskRetired Judge William Hafer from Indiana has been a Learning Ally member for nearly half a century.  Hafer, who is blind, has been regularly donating to the organization for many years, inspired with gratitude for the volunteers who produce the audiobooks he continues to enjoy. We met up to learn more about his fascinating life story of giving and receiving.

What difference has Learning Ally made in your life?

In September 1967, I transferred from the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia to my local public high school. At Overbrook, all text books were in braille. There was also a large library of braille books. These resources were not available in public school. The result was my transition to live reading and recorded books. The largest source of the latter was Recording for the Blind (RFB),  later Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), and now called Learning Ally. In those days, books were recorded on plastic records and reel to reel tape.  By the time I graduated from law school, 1982, the records and reel to reel tapes were gone, replaced by four-track cassettes. Now, of course, computers and digital recordings are standard. Black and White Photo of Volunteer Recording BookThe large number of books recorded by Learning Ally volunteers played a major role in my ability to get three college degrees, pass the Illinois Bar Examination and enjoy my retirement. The collection, and the knowledge that new books could be recorded in a timely manner, reduced the headaches and logistics of competing with sighted colleagues in the classroom. Do you have advice for others about overcoming challenges? Challenge is an exciting aspect of life. Whether the challenge is obtaining books in a usable format, finding your way to a new location using a white cane or dog guide, or participating in an activity for the first time, you will feel better for making the attempt. Not obtaining the books, traveling to a new location or participation in a new activity likely reduces confidence. One never knows what he/she might be missing. Let me give three examples: Photo 26 tapeFirst, in my two years of public school and first two years of college, I worried that I could not memorize music in a choir with all sighted folks. However, in my third year of college I got up the courage to try. It worked very well. I have been in a number of choirs and choruses who performed major classical choral works: Messiah and Israel in Egypt by Handel, Creation by Haydn, Elijah by Mendelssohn, etc. Just think how much enjoyment I would have missed without the courage to try in the first place. Second, in 1994, I was appointed as a United States Administrative Law Judge. I had never used a computer. A screen reader was as foreign to me as a space capsule. My trusty portable electric typewriter was still going strong. Admittedly, many of my sighted colleagues were in the same fix. Competing with sighted colleagues on equal terms has been very important to me. So, the challenge: learn to use a computer and open all the doors technology provides. Eventually, my effort was crowned with success. For many years before I retired, I edited my decisions, drafted for all judges by writers in the office, typed instructions for them, rather than using a hand-written form, and did a great deal of research in the Social Security Act, Regulations and other documents used by judges. Failure to learn these skills would have resulted in an inability to do my job as a Judge in a competent manner. And third, even though I have retired, there are still challenges to overcome. As I write this, I have not yet learned how to use VoiceOver on the iPhone and iPad. I have training materials, though they remain unused so far. The ability to learn is there, but I have to develop the will to start.
The books recorded by Learning Ally volunteers played a major role in my ability to get three college degrees, pass the Illinois Bar Examination and enjoy my retirement.
Why is it important for people with disabilities to have access to literature? Access to written material is essential in this modern world. The population served by Learning Ally is no exception to this requirement. Hand Reading BrailleBraille is a wonderful thing. I learned it at age 4. Of course, there were no Braille displays in those days. Braille materials take up a great deal of space when produced in book form. The World Book Encyclopedia produced in 1959 required 145 volumes, each between 2 and 3 inches thick. Imagine one of those in a college dorm room. Then, think of all the books used by a student in college or professional schools. Braille, in book form, is not a viable option. Nevertheless, people who cannot read in a normal way should have access to the same materials as those who can. Now that I am retired, I read a great deal. My reading has included a large number of books from Learning Ally. At last check, my online bookshelf has 152 titles.
I suppose the donation can best be described as a way of saying thank you and giving something back. To my mind, Learning Ally is eminently worthy of significant financial support.
REVISED-LALogo_Stacked_Tag - CopyLearning Ally is a national non-profit that serves people like William who have print disabilities. If you would like to contribute, visit LearningAlly.org/Donate.