Thursday, October 24, 2013

Writing Blind with Guest Author Katherine Schneider

When today's guest, author Katherine Schneider, offered to write a guest post about a theme I didn't have on my October list, I jumped at the chance. It's Disability Employment Awareness Month, and I asked Katherine to focus on her writing process. Most of us writers, and readers, are primarily visual in our work, but not all writers are. I find her writing process fascinating, and have to say that some of the life lessons she brings up apply to all of us! ~ Sheila

Being Twice as Good

By Katherine Schneider, Ph.D.

October is Disability Employment Awareness month. As a person blind from birth who is retired after a rewarding thirty year career as a clinical psychologist, I'd like to offer this rumination on a situation faced by minority group members whether it is a racial minority, a disability, or some would even say being female.
Growing up, I knew I had to be better than a sighted person to get a job. My parents told me "Don't act blind." In their eyes, overcome your disability, or be a loser seemed to be the only two choices. Statistics of unemployment or underemployment of people with disabilities show two thirds are un- or underemployed.
Simon and Garfunkel's song "I Am a Rock" was my theme song. In middle age, after proving myself to anybody I could find to prove myself to, I began to realize I wanted more. I wanted friends, hobbies, fun, and relaxation (whatever that was). I met some people with disabilities who weren't quite as far out on the prove yourself 24/7 continuum as I was and began to inch toward a more relaxed stance. In retirement, I'm a very active volunteer, but occasionally let myself say "no"! Twice as good has morphed into "as good as I choose to be in this situation."

My writing process involves writing the original manuscript in braille and editing as I type it out on my talking computer. Then I have a sighted person pretty it up, adding formatting like bullets that I’m not confident about. For my children’s book I hired a graphic designer and gave him ideas for each page, but let him do his thing. Then a friend described the pictures and we discussed a few that I questioned.

Negotiating about the image for the book cover is a fascinating process for me. On my first cover there’s a finger reading braille and the cover designer asked what color to make the nail polish on the fingernail. I hadn’t even considered that angle: a color to attract attention? A color that I might wear? (I don’t wear polish)!  Check out To the Left of Inspiration cover to find out how that was resolved!  The process of describing images I want really clarifies points in the text for me too I find. Asking for help to achieve results satisfying to my sighted customers is another way I achieve “good enough” without going crazy worrying about it.
Question for reflection: Where in your life do you feel you have to be twice as good and how do you cope with it without going crazy?
Excerpted and expanded from my forthcoming memoir: Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life.


Katherine Schneider, Ph.D. is a retired clinical psychologist and author of a memoir To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities and a children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold. In addition to writing and disability activism in retirement, she enjoys playing bridge and reading thrillers. She’s proud to have been partnered with Seeing Eye dogs for forty years. 

Here's Kathy and her beautiful guidedog, Luna


  1. Very nice post, Katherine. Thanks for bringing her to us, Sheila. I hear ya on the "needing to be twice as good" front. I'm 25 years old and have been legally blind my entire life. I've had to work harder than my non-disabled friends--no doubt. Then again, the super-active people tried to recruit me a few years ago, and I turned them down. I didn't want to live in the "all blind, all the time" world. So far so good with life and writing. :)

  2. Wonderful post, you would love my friend Tara who is a blind professional photographer!

  3. I am totally impressed with the motivation it takes to push yourself out of your comfort zone and reach for the stars. Having taught special education for years, I know how difficult life and people can be. Thanks for sharing how you write and congrats on having a wonderful guide dog. Service dogs are amazing and help many types of needs. Loved your post..

  4. Sheila:
    You have a lovely website! Thank you for that inspiring post...
    Unfortunately, my husband is quickly reaching the point of unemployability because his CFS keeps getting worse. How horrible to have such a misunderstood illness while quickly approaching total disability, with no help in sight.
    My new husband is the greatest inspiration to me. I am able bodied and generally have the energy to do what I want to everyday. Little did I know until I met Mike, how challenging just getting through the day could be. Who knew?

  5. Because of access issues (unlabeled buttons that make no sense to screen readers, etc.) I’m getting a sighted friend to post just this one comment back to all you kind souls who commented on my guest post. In the six email groups of blind people I shared the post with, I got a lot of "amens". Trying twice as hard clearly is rampant, be we female, blind, etc. So is the good sense or hard-earned wisdom to try to temper it with laughter, forgiving yourself for not being perfect and finding wabi sabi beauty.(See entry in "Occupying Aging" now available at Amazon). Keep smiling.

  6. Another interesting post by an interesting writer. Thank you, Katherine, for sharing some of your life with us on Sheila's blog.

  7. I couldn't wait to read this post, Katherine. I have one romantic suspense book where my heroine is a blind psychologist who counsels patients with disabilities. Though she wasn't blind from birth, she fought to be the best she could be, even so far as running the track with a guide. I got the idea because my son was a runner in high school, and we live near the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind. I saw runners in action and even got lots of instruction on computers with blind computer experts. Even though learning Braille in mid-life is difficult, my heroine does persist. I developed a profound admiration for all that people with disabilities face and hope I did justice to the two in my book. By the way, the hero is a cop who lost his hearing on the job. Yes, it's fiction. It was also a learning experience for me.