Archives - January, 2013

26 Jan 13

By Randy Pierce

Recently I was invited to join Team Vision as a non-qualified blind runner of the Boston Marathon in April of this year. While I could probably push a training plan to be ready, and while my goal is to run Boston eventually, it was the right decision for me to say no at this time. Given all the efforts I am applying towards supporting 2020 Vision Quest, it wasn’t the right time to try to fundraise separately for the Boston Marathon.

It was very difficult to turn down the offer, but it will help invigorate my preparations for this as a future project, perhaps as soon as next year.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share a note of encouraged support for Team Vision and the visually impaired runner who motivated my invitation. Thanks to Erich Manser, and good luck! I hope to be part of your support this year and perhaps part of the team soon!


Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) was founded 110 years ago by Helen Keller and a group of illustrious Bostonians to serve adults who were blind or visually impaired. MAB is the oldest social service organization in the country serving adults who are blind.


This year, Marathon Monday will have more blind and visually-impaired athletes running over Heartbreak Hill than ever before. We seek the support of your organization to truly optimize and celebrate this remarkable occasion.


· Financial Support: A charitable donation to MAB Community Services OR funding assistance to support “Marathon Weekend” logistics (i.e. TWAV Pasta Supper, airport transportation for out-of-town athletes, shuttles to starting line in Hopkinton, etc.)

· Volunteers: If your employees/members can offer time, rides (airport, starting line) or other forms of voluntary support

· Spectators: We hope to have the noisiest cheering section of the entire marathon route, but this takes PEOPLE. With a prime spot at mile 24.5 (near MAB, with parking and restrooms) — we need LOUD support as these inspiring athletes near the finish!

PLEASE CONTACT ERICH MANSER ( or 978-227-5678 for more information. THANK YOU!



19 Jan 13

By Randy Pierce

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
Helen Keller

While the much more publicized Mayan “end of the world” did not arrive in December of 2012, a pair of identical twins in Belgium sipped a final cup of coffee together. They waved goodbye to family and succumbed to the lethal injection which legally ended their 45 years of life together. In allegedly rational minds, the two deaf twins had learned they were going to become blind and could not fathom sufficient reason to continue living. They applied for and received consent for euthanasia.

I have little doubt that the topic of euthanasia is a sensitive issue with many strong opinions–I do not intend to address them at the moment. My observation here involves the terrible perception of blindness and its impact which would inspire someone to choose death instead.

I am well aware of the very real challenges to transitioning to blindness as well as being blind. I’m aware of many misconceptions as well. Most imagine the situation as far more dour than I perceive the reality, though interestingly some find that I make the experience look sufficiently easy that they perhaps underestimate the challenges involved. The reality is that each person confronted with challenge must come to terms with their approach in their own fashion. They will likely have to manage the results of the choices they make at least as powerfully as they manage the challenge itself.

I can say with humble certainty that my initial belief of my impending blind experience was far more devastatingly tragic than my reality. I am glad that I had the courage, strength and support to push myself forward and learn the skills necessary to make my blindness only a part of my life and not the defining aspect.

It is true that nearly every day I wish that I could see again. It is also true that I would choose blindness for myself, even believing it would be permanent (as is likely), rather than give up the lessons and positive experiences blindness has brought to my life. I’d like to believe some of those would have come through other avenues, but the quality of my life has such high value to me that I would preserve it with blindness over sight and the uncertainty of those lessons.

I hope most days I show clearly by example for those with vision to observe fully that life with blindness has as much rewarding potential as life with sight. I’m sorry that message wasn’t strong enough to convince these twins they had more to contribute and experience in this world if they only chose to do such. I know that a deaf and blind woman by the name of Helen Keller certainly helps inspire me to believe in the potential they lost with their fatal choice.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
Hellen Keller


12 Jan 13

By Randy Pierce

Snowy evergreens stand as sentinels on the slopes. Photo courtesy of Justin Fuller.

The “Winter 48” awaits those who become entranced by the majestic beauty of the magnificent peaks shrouded in crispy white snowfall. The sounds are more subdued, though don’t tell that to the chill creaking of the trees or the howl of the winds. The hardwood trees are bare, opening up views of the landscape so vastly different from the summer, isolated yet welcoming. The evergreens are draped so heavily in snow that the silent snow sentinels seem to guard the expansive higher summits even as they shelter any passers through their demesne.

Each hiker pursues these travels for their own highly personal reasons. It is thus an incredible wonder to be invited to share a part of that momentous goal with someone. Dina Sutin, filmmaker for “Four More Feet” finished her first Winter 48 on Saturday, January 5, on a trio of peaks: Tom, Field, and Willey. One of the greatest honors in my life is to have the friendship of people like Dina and Justin who went out of their way to make it possible for me to join them for the final trio.

It’s ironic—I wanted to lend them my support and celebration of how much I appreciate them, of their support last season in ensuring our own successes, and of their gift of sharing a love and appreciation for these mountains. What I actually received was yet another touching demonstration of their friendship and support, making it likely a better present to me than from me.

They showed up at 5:45 a.m. to pick me up and were greeted by a rare but enthusiastic face-washing fest from Quinn! We drove up to the AMC Highland Center on a lightly snowing morning reminiscent of so many moments we had shared the previous winter together. The trails had more hikers than usual, but as is standard of the winter season, our group’s solitude quickly enveloped us as we travelled.

Randy took this picture of Dina, Justin, and Quinn at the summit of Mt. Willey.

Both Dina and Justin have been piling up the peaks over the past few months and will likely touch the top of all 48 again in this single winter! Though sadly, I know there are likely precious few chances for me to be with them.

I was well buoyed by Quinn’s incredibly eager return to winter hiking and my chance to be part of this success. But I have a few additional challenges at present which were definitely impacting me and there was some doubt about whether I would be able to be part of the full three peaks needed for completion. In fact, without the incredibly supportive, encouraging, and moving friendships, I likely would not have made it. We pushed through well that day and my proudest moment was to take a picture of Dina, Justin and Quinn at Willey’s wooded summit!

So while I’ll never know for certain if my hindrance was higher than my attempts at encouragement and appreciation, this tale on our path is entirely dedicated to friendship and the celebration of your first completion of the Winter 48, Dina. Thank you for allowing me to share the experience with you! I know you’ll downplay the accomplishments all too often but I won’t fail to appreciate their worthiness. I will concede that the better part of the reward isn’t the scorecard of peaks, but the heart full of experiences.


6 Jan 13

By Randy Pierce

A few years back, I entered the cell phone world with considerable expense and difficulty as the accessibility of cell phones was suspect at best. A few options for cell phone blind accessibility via screen readers were available for purchase at an additional $300 or more. It was frustrating to pay so much more for a phone and receive only part of the options available to the sighted.

All of that changed dramatically for the better when Apple released the iPhone with a speech option, “Voice Over”, built in standard to the operating system. Suddenly, at no additional cost, blind users would have the vast majority of options accessible to them on a high-end smartphone.

It’s been several years and access has continued to improve. The Android phones have two options which are closing in on being as accessible as the iPhone and creating competitive options for the blind users to reap the benefits of mainstream access. The power and potential continues to grow on both platforms.

As a phone, the blind-accessible functions are talking caller ID; a feature-rich address book for names, numbers, and addresses; as well as the very powerful accessibility of all forms of internet searches for phone numbers. In virtually any location, I’m a couple of finger swipes away from finding any business or residential number I wish to call!

The power of all the built-in applications includes GPS navigation, a compass, clocks, alarms, and an assortment of bells and whistles (figuratively for the most part) to empower me to greater life organization and interaction with the world.

Web browsing, email, and other accessible forms of social media enable blind users to re-integrate with a social world that was leaving them far behind before they had begun to even use the simple tools of text messaging (also fully accessible now).

To serve millions of sight-impaired users, the app stores are catching up with ever more powerful tools to augment and enhance many tasks. Ebook readers (no thanks to Amazon), podcasts, audiobooks, color identifiers, text readers, barcode scanners, dictation applications, and more fill up the screens of users who share their discoveries in places like

It is not entirely perfect by any means–some designers do not follow the app creation guidelines, which results in applications that do not work with the built-in speech software. Sometimes they end up making it more difficult by requiring the manual labeling of buttons and images that a user needs to understand for optimum interaction with the tool. Still, there are an abundance of options and methods to continually and improve the tools available and continually make life easier.

While it is often easy to focus upon the failings or shortcomings of various aspects of accessibility, it is an absolute delight to find this fantastic example of how much has been done right. Thank you to Apple and to Google for their trendsetting work and the resulting benefit to so many. Drop me a line if you care to know more about my favorite applications for making life easier.

If you are feeling brave and want to explore a bit of the means by which I interact with the smartphone world, take a tour through your phone’s accessibility settings and turn on the voiceover feature. Your phone will change dramatically and you’ll have a learning curve, but for me that has been tremendously rewarding. When you become more familiar with it, do what I learned to do and shut off the screen as unnecessary and make that battery power last… and last… and last! There are some fine advantages to this blindness on occasion!


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