Connection and Collaboration

For the past several years, being a blind person in the academy has seemed like a very lonely, and often discouraging road. I was able to find a few stories about blind professors online, but I had difficulty finding any in real life. Faculty and students at my university were supportive and willing to help, but no one (including myself!) was well acquainted with the particular problems of blindness or how to address them. 

A couple weeks ago, however, in a crazy series of events, I suddenly began to find the blind academic camaraderie I’ve wanted. My wife Kristin, who is an interaction and usability designer, decided on a whim to attend an accessibility even in San Francisco, hosted by Cordelia McGee-Tubb. The event was great, and while she was there, she fell into conversation with Jennifer Sutton, an accessibility consultant who also happens to be something of an expert on Braille, and also happens to be blind (go see what she does on Twitter or on LinkedIn). Kristin took her card, and told me I should get in touch with her.

So I gave her a call, and I couldn’t be more happy that I did. Jennifer was generous with her time and resources. In a phone call and a number of subsequent emails, she connected me to blind scholars and academics in a variety of fields—a professor of linguistics at Rice, an English professor at Berkeley. Through these connections, I found an email group of blind academics. There are smart blind people doing great academic work in practically every field imaginable—English, history, art, psychology, human computer interaction, you get the idea.. They share knowledge and advice freely, and I have already learned a great deal from this group.

Perhaps most important of all, she connected me with a small group of people who are working to increase access to biblical language study for people who are blind. They have transcribed the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and some other original language documents into Braille. Now they are working on scholarly research tools, grammars, and other ancient language materials. 

Check out for more information, and this blog post in particular to see the current state of the project. My skills at Braille pale in comparison to theirs, but I hope to contribute to this work as I improve.

It’s been exciting and slightly overwhelming to realize how many other talented blind people there are out in the world and in the academy. Those I have met are kind, generous, and resourceful. They are determined to succeed and eager to help others do the same. They have thought through and worked around many of the difficulties associated with academic work, and they are happy to give advice and encouragement. Of course, there will still be many challenges in my future, many problems left to solve, but the task feels a little lighter.

9 thoughts on “Connection and Collaboration

  1. I have no doubt you’ll be operating on par with these #coolblindpeople in no time! For now, I’m so glad they are trailblazing and encouraging you!

  2. That is so cool to connect with community. There was a time when walking at Fuller Seminary I thought it was time for me to move on. However, I went for a walk and thought: this is your grass, these are your buildings and THESE are your people. It was a comforting and uplifting feeling that will always last. Onward and upward, Eric.

  3. Thanks for the link, Eric! That lonely feeling is certainly familiar to a lot of us who have traveled this road, especially in biblical/theological studies. Welcome aboard the journey! Btw, I would love to add that list info to Night-Light if you would send it to me. The more connectivity we have out there, the better we all do.

  4. Would love to read guest posts! So awesome that there are people in so many different fields, interdisciplinary conversations are the best. Can’t wait to read more.

  5. I just came across your blog and was happy to stumble upon it. I’m a blind Ph.D student as well, and have recently started developing a list of others who are blind/low vision and either in the process of obtaining a Ph.D or who already have one – with the hopes of establishing a network of some kind. But it sounds as though there is an email list of this nature out there somewhere? … Please provide details! I’ll follow yu on twitter

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