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Winter 2005 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

There Are Saints All Around Us

Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: Dr. Hatlen talks about people involved in the lives of children with visual impairment.

Key Words: News & Views, blind, deafblind, professionals, family

As I write these words, it's still two weeks before our Winter Holiday at TSBVI. And, although you'll be reading this after the holidays, I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

Santa Claus is everywhere right now. And I think about this image and what he means, especially to children. That leads me to remember his original name—Saint Nicholas. I wonder why Nicholas is a saint. I wonder how "Saint" became "Santa." Then, my constantly wandering mind began to think about the "Saints" in my life. With apologies to those of you who believe that sainthood is reserved strictly to people whom organized religions give this honor, I'd like to share with you my saints (I'll make the distinction by not capitalizing the word).

My friend Tom is a saint. He began teaching visually impaired students in Berkeley, California, in 1959. He retired around 1992. Tom is one of the most creative and dedicated professionals I have ever known. His skills in working with blind and visually impaired children are legendary, and he was often urged to return to school, get a doctoral degree and become a university professor. Even I, one of his close friends, pleaded with him to move into other endeavors in his professional life. But Tom would just smile and say, "No, I'm where I want to be, helping young blind children learn and grow." And so this very talented man stayed in the classroom, enriching the lives of many, many students, and, in turn, being enriched by them. I have so many memories of Tom with his students, and my life, too, has been deeply enriched by him. Tom is a saint.

Betty Brudno was a Braille transcriber when I first met her in 1957. I never knew what brought her to Braille, but she was a saint. She was among the leaders who founded the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH). She served as its first president from 1957 until 1959. Transcribers of Braille, large print, and audio recordings became an essential part of the success of early inclusion in California. They agreed to almost impossible tasks with very unreasonable deadlines and always came through. In my memory, Betty was "CTEVH." She was the heart and soul of Braille and large print transcribing. Betty was a saint.

Bob Dasteel was a saint. He owned a company called The American Thermoform Corporation. They built huge, industrial-sized vacuum-form machines, and they were highly successful. At one time in history, my teacher colleagues and I were trying desperately to develop a product that would produce short-run Braille. We needed two or three copies of a book, not 100 or 1,000. The American Printing House for the Blind couldn't do short-run books. I remember putting three pages of lightweight paper in a Perkins Brailler in order to produce three copies of the same material. If you've ever transcribed, you can imagine the results. Then saint Dasteel came along with the idea of making a small vacuum-form machine that would reproduce plastic copies of paper Braille. Most of you know the rest of the story—The Thermoform Machine revolutionized the production of Braille and tactile graphics. Well, Bob Dasteel didn't stop with the invention. He exhibited at every conference I attended for many years. Bob was always there in person, and gave freely of his time to anyone working with blind students. Bob was a saint.

Margaret was a saint. She was the parent of a child blinded by "retrolental fibroplasia" (now known as ROP). As soon as her son was diagnosed, she began reading anything she could find on blindness. She sought out experts in child development and education and asked the right questions. She refused to even entertain the thought that her son would be very different from any other child. She convinced her local district to begin an inclusive education program, and soon there were 16 blind students attending an elementary school, among them her son. Saint Margaret knew what she wanted, knew what her son needed, and in a quiet, persuasive, and informed manner, managed to convince others of her son's educational strengths and needs. Margaret was a saint.

I have many, many more saints. I am surrounded by them at work. I am in the presence of one whenever I meet a parent. So, you see, Saint Nicholas, you have a lot of company in my life.

Who are your saints? Have you told them so?

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010