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Sunday, 10 October 2010

Accessible-Tech Pioneer Helps Blind, From Mainstreaming & Talking Computers to Music Scholarships

Twenty-five years ago, few of us had computers. Those who did were, primarily, playing games. Mindy Fliegelman Jacobsen (57, Brooklyn), however, was seeing grand possibilities. She realized that computers with screen reading software would revolutionize opportunities for blind Americans. She persuaded the state of New York to incorporate computer training into their rehabilitation program. Now, she is helping young blind performers. Mindy, a professional singer who also teaches voice, is on the Board of Directors of the volunteer-run nonprofit Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind (PAD, NFB).

Blind composer/arrangers, recording engineers and broadcasters rely on sophisticated software programs. Music programs are not always accessible with the screen readers used to create documents, do e mail or surf the web. The interfaces which bridge the gaps and training to use them are expensive.

Mindy helped create the Mary Anne Parks Performing Arts Scholarship. Her leadership was also crucial in launching the "Sound in Sight" CD, a multi genre compilation of eighteen original tracks and covers, all donated by blind recording artists.

Blind from birth due to Retinopathy of Prematurity, Mindy is a true pioneer. She was part of the first group of blind children to attend public school in Miami. She is practiced at ignoring other people's low expectations of her. At age nine, she sang in her first quartet. As a high school junior, she was the first blind member of her local SING OUT cast (a branch of UP WITH PEOPLE). She later founded a cast in Tallahassee, FL. In 1978, Mindy became the first blind woman ordained as a cantor.

As a music education undergrad, her professors insisted that she never lead a chorus. Many are delighted that she ignored them. With Mindy as director, her local SWEET Adelines chorus won first place in the regional's small chorus division from 1994 through 1996.

An avid knitter who still teaches computer to blind people, Mindy says, "I enjoy introducing technology to blind and visually impaired people and watching renewed hope fill their hearts and dreams."

"I also work with senior citizens who are losing vision," she continues, "I attempt to help them out of their depression and motivate them to learn the skills that will enable them to enjoy their lives again."

President Dennis Holston invited Mindy to speak at PAD's 2006 convention. Afterwards, attendees persuaded her to run for the board. In 2008, Holston appointed her to one of the board's permanent seats. Mindy is also First Vice President of the NFB of NY.

Seventy percent of working-age blind Americans are unemployed. Just ten percent of blind kids are taught Braille, the only tool offering blind people true literacy. Nonetheless, there are blind lawyers, chemists, engineers, mechanics, teachers, journalists and so on. Many within the NFB, including Mindy, believe the reason for the disparity is social attitude. PAD hopes that bringing more blind entertainers into the mainstream will improve public understanding and acceptance for all blind people.

Donna W. Hill is an author, singer/songwriter, speaker and avid knitter. A publicist for the Performing Arts Division, National Federation of the Blind, she fosters understanding of & improved opportunities for blind Americans.
A breast cancer survivor who found both tumors herself, she promotes self-exam. Hear clips from "The Last Straw" at:


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