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This Day in My History


2000:
  Stuff and Nonsense
2001:
  Moving On
2002:
 "Doing" Hollywood
2003:  Onward and Onward
2004:  Alice Thru the Looking Glass 


 

SHEILA's BLOG

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I also love to run.


FUNNY THE BLOG

"Mail Call"
"The Kindness of Strangers"


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Mail Call


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Pepper


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G-WIZ, REVISITED

16 September 2005

I originally ran this entry in the year 2000, the first year of this journal.  I want to run it again because I've just learned that Georgia has suffered a stroke, is in a coma, and is not expected to live.  For those who missed this the first time around, you need to "meet" this special lady:

georgia.jpg (8179 bytes)"I remember blue, but I don’t know green," Georgia Griffith told me three years ago.

Georgia’s an amazing person. I’ve been working for her now for about three years, since shortly after I met her in San Francisco. She had come for a meeting of Braille readers and Walt and I were her guests at the banquet. She was obviously the queen of the gathering, as people flocked around to talk to her.

It’s not easy to talk to Georgia. Not only is she blind, she’s also deaf. She was born blind, nearly 70 years ago, at a time when blind children were kept home or sent off to special schools for the disabled. However, Georgia’s parents wanted more for her. She was treated like other children, did her chores around the house, and played outside with her friends, under the watchful eye of her sister, Bernie. She even learned how to ride a bike around the streets of her small town.

When time came to go to school, her parents insisted she attend regular schools and following graduation from high school, she was the first blind graduate of Capital University of Ohio, from which she graduated in 1954, a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, with a major in Music Education. Georgia has been given IQ tests that are so far off the charts her IQ can’t be measured.

Following her graduation, she set herself up as a music teacher (she was not deaf at this time). She had learned how to play 13 different instruments and was the organist at the family church. Music became her life and her road to independence.

And then tragedy struck. She developed an infection which so severely damaged her ears that she lost her hearing. She went through a brief period of depression, where she wanted to withdraw from the world. She was taken to live with the mother of a friend of hers, who refused to let her give up. She put her in contact with the Library of Congress, which hired her. Georgia became the country’s only Braille proofreader of music. a job she held from 1971 to 1987. In this capacity, she communicated with people all over the world and taught herself to read 13 different languages fluently ("I can read four or five other languages but not as well," she modestly explains). During this time, she also volunteered to transcribe all 9 Beethoven symphonies into Braille because she felt blind children should know the glory of playing Beethoven. She was living her own motto: "To give is to live."

ggpic150.jpg (4911 bytes)When budget constraints brought and end to her job with the Library of Congress, a fund was set up to buy her a computer, a Braille keyboard (a "Versabraille") and a modem with connection to CompuServe (this was back in the DOS days before Al Gore invented the Internet ). It took her a little time to figure it out, but it was her window to the world. "I was able to read a newspaper for the first time," she says, proudly.

In no time she was an expert of computers and with the ability to connect with other users around the world, she was given a part-time job working for CompuServe as an Information Specialist ("...on the computer, no one can tell you're blind," she says). She set up a database for the handicapped, not just the visually impaired, but designed to serve people with any handicap. It was a place on line where someone with a handicap could come with computer problems, and Georgia would find the answer for them. She also established seven of the most popular discussion forums on CompuServe and supported herself running these forums. She was even able to hire a small staff.

When things began to get visual, we feared for how Georgia would cope with the Internet. The learning curve wasn’t quite as intuitive as it was in DOS, but she’s now zipping along the Internet with the best of them.

dewine1.jpg (8846 bytes)Her office looks like a command center. She has several computers (and even a monitor, if sighted people need to use her computer), as well as a Braille printer. She crawls around on the floor feeling cords and attaching this and that with a speed which belies her inability to see what she’s doing. The walls of her home are lined with pictures of herself with luminaries like General Colin Powell, with whom she was honored by her home state of Ohio; Senator Mike DeWine, whom she met in Washington DC when she was a special guest of the Smithsonian, which was giving her an award for her work in the field of information technology for the handicapped, and letters from several presidents commending her on her many honors and awards, including being named to Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. She even appeared on Larry King Live, with Al Gore, at the start of the Clinton presidency.

This "Helen Keller of the Millennium" is an amazing woman. To have a conversation with her, you either sit by her side and draw letters in her hand (she will answer you by speaking, since she was able to hear for 40 years, and so is still able to speak), or you sit at a keyboard which is connected with her Versabraille. You type your questions or comments, she reads the Braille characters which pop up on her reading strip, and then she answers you by speaking to you.

She says she wakes up each morning with a song in her head and sings it to herself all day. She giggles wickedly, tells terribly corny jokes and she used to make a terrific pizza, before the infection affected her sense of balance and made her unable to walk steadily (she mostly crawls around her house and uses a wheelchair when she goes out).

Georgia’s view of life is summed up in a piece she wrote in which she says, "With a happy attitude and friends to help you, you can do whatever you genuinely want to do in your life."

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When Jeri was doing summer stock in Ohio many summers ago, Walt, my mother and I flew out to see Jeri, but spent 2 days and a night with Georgia.  It had been my intention to write a book about her and I did several interviews, including one with Georgia herself, but I ran into a brick wall with a crucial interviewee and felt that I wouldn't ever be able to get the information I needed.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

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From a Good Housekeeping article.
Georgia is reading on the braille strip of her Versabraille
while a visitor types on a regular keyboard.

 

 
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