Shining a Light on the Life of Alex Bartkowiak

By Lana R. Grasser

Nowadays it appears as though most people, engrossed in a fast-paced society, miss out on the little things in life—the daily sunrise and sunset, light shining through the trees. Alex Bartkowiak, however, always notices when someone enters the room. He cheers up when rays of sunshine beam through his bedroom window. Alex strives to absorb the world around him, and he is legally blind. Upon entering the Bartkowiak household, I was greeted by Alex’s sister, Rachel, and his mother, Maureen. Even with extremely limited vision, Alex was able to tell that I had arrived and greeted me with a friendly wave and big smile. You may be thinking that Alex was aware of my arrival as he heard our greetings, but Alex is also completely deaf. This combination of deaf-blind is due to CHARGE Syndrome, a genetic condition that 21-year-old Alex was born with. Often tricky to diagnose, persons with CHARGE Syndrome are typically recognized by variance in the usual ear shape.

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How a Blind Author Opened my Eyes

By Andrea Zuchora

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race; it’s to test the limits of the human heart.”

–Bill Bowerman, University of Oregon track and field coach (1948-1972), co-founder of Nike, Inc.

It might be a self-fulfilling prophecy effect, but as a runner, this quote from Bowerman rings especially true for me. One of my favorite things about running is the discovery of what my body can accomplish; so far, I’ve run three half marathons and a myriad of shorter distances, from 5ks to 10ks. Personally, running is as much a mental exercise or pursuit as it is a physical one. I often find that the clarity of mind produced during a run has an incredible ability to dispel the haze surrounding problems in my life, and I’m able to see different solutions.

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The Blind Cook: Christine Ha on Creativity Inside and Outside the Kitchen

Christine Ha may be most famous for her victory on the third season of MasterChef in 2012, but her artistry extends beyond the kitchen. She holds an MFA in creative writing and serves as the fiction editor for the literary magazine Gulf Coast, blogs regularly on her website The Blind Cook, and maintains an active presence on various social media. After being diagnosed with an immune condition in 2004, Ha underwent progressive vision loss over several years, but her creative achievements have only continued to expand. With a recipe book under her belt and a continuous stream of artistic and public engagements, Christine Ha lives in a multifaceted world marked by diverse artistic passions. Here, Craig Pearson speaks with Ha about the roots of her creative interests, her path to success, and how she manages to keep so many pans in the fire.

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The Legend of Moondog

by Phil Olson

Louis Thomas Hardin wrote poetry, composed music, invented a series of instruments, was signed to a multitude of record labels, and conducted orchestras before royalty. He achieved acclamation in Europe and gained fame when musicians like Janis Joplin covered his work. He was one of the most well-known figures in New York City from the late 1940’s to 1972. From these descriptions, you’d think Hardin must have been a very rich and powerful figure, right?

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Interview with Geerat Vermeij

Dr. Geerat Vermeij is a professor of geology at the University of California at Davis, with research interests in marine ecology. Widely published and respected in the academic community, Dr. Vermeij has received prestigious awards including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal, and was named a National Ambassador for Braille Literacy by the National Federation of the Blind. Craig Pearson speaks with Dr. Vermeij about growing up blind in a sighted school system, balancing cutting-edge audio technology with Braille, and discovering one’s academic passions.

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Alex’s Great State Race

by Erin Surge

You’d have to live under a rock to have not heard even a little something about the rivalry between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. However, we mostly hear about the nasty pranks and childish insults thrown between the two. (I mean, really, how many articles about the stake thrown into the middle of Spartan Stadium by a Wolverine must we share on Facebook?) Something much greater than any of that was happening on October 24th, 2014.

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Braille, Beads, and Accessible Art: A Conversation With Two Multisensory Artists

Becca and Peter Khalil are lawyers by training who have, most recently, joined forces to create Beadtography, a craft business specializing in accessible mixed-media art. This husband-wife duo combines photography and beading to create unique pieces of art that feature Braille poetry to engage all on the visual ability spectrum.

Before creating their business, Becca and Peter were both invested in issues surrounding visual impairment. Becca has raised and socialized guide dogs for the blind since she was in the sixth grade, and has raised more than 20 puppies in training. She has volunteered as a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guide Dogs of the Desert, and Guide Dogs of America, for which she currently serves as one of the Vancouver, WA/Portland, OR area volunteer group leaders. Peter has had keratoconus, a degenerative corneal condition, since high school. During this time, he has had to adapt to visual distortions, variations in visual acuity, and a number of different treatment methods, the most recent of which was a corneal transplant. Peter’s efforts to adapt to a chronic vision condition have made him a passionate proponent of accessibility in all aspects of life.

In this interview, Craig Pearson talks with Becca and Peter about the inspiration behind their artwork, their creative process, and Braille itself.

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Interview with Israel Antonio

Israel Antonio is a five-time Boston marathon qualifier and a Paratriathlon USA National Champion. He is also an accomplished writer, playwright, and screenwriter with wide-ranging interests in performance and the arts. After losing his sight at 14 years old, Israel has continued to set high goals and challenge both his own limits and the assumptions of his fellow athletes. Craig Pearson talks with Mr. Antonio about running with guides, the value of a creative community, and what it means to be a blind screenwriter.

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Interview with Jim Gashel

After the September debut of the KNFB Reader app, a smartphone application that enables users to take photos of printed text and listen to immediate audio playback of recognized words, the tool was hailed as a “game-changer.” Indeed, the app represents another incredible leap forward in accessible technology, which has seen character recognition and text-to-speech tools evolve at a pace that has in many ways reshaped the landscape for people with low vision.

Jim Gashel, the national secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, has been at the forefront of these advances. His collaborative efforts with tech entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil led to the formation of KNFB, which has spent years developing and preparing the KNFB Reader mobile app for the market. Below, Craig Pearson discusses with Jim how changes in accessible text-to-speech devices have created a more inclusive and connected environment for individuals across the visual ability spectrum, as well as what’s next on the horizon for real-time mobile technology.

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Interview with Maribel Steel

Maribel Steel is a writer, speaker, blogger, mother and vocalist. She lives in Melbourne, Australia and has been legally blind since the age of seventeen with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). She says her passion is to write and dispel some of the myths held by others about living with a disability – and shares her life experiences through presentations and insightful short stories. Exceptions editor-in-chief Craig Pearson spoke to Ms. Steel about her background and her inspirations.

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