Tatum is a senior instructor at the Computer Center for Visually
Impaired People at Baruch College. She is partially sighted, lives
independently, and enjoys computers, music, reading and talking,
among other things. I chose to interview her because I was fortunate
enough to befriend her while we worked at Rehabilitation International
together. She has taught me a lot.
Lynnette, tell us about your job.
I have been an instructor at the Computer Center for Visually Impaired
People at Baruch College ( www.baruch.cuny.edu/ccvip
) for more than two years. Basically, this means I teach a lot.
I try to get blind and partially sighted people skilled in using
commercial computer software, such as Microsoft Office including
Word, Excel, Power Point, Access, and Internet Explorer.
computer seminars for people at beginning and intermediate computer
skill levels. The courses are three-hour hands-on workshops. Many
of my clients are adults referred from the Commission for the Blind
and Visually Handicapped, but I teach people of all ages including
pre-teens and teens. Right now I also teach a student who is 90!
When did you decide that you wanted to learn computers, and how
did you get into it?
I have my mother to thank for that. My mom took it upon herself
to guide me into a career after I left college. She suggested I
visit the Jewish Guild for the Blind. I was in my early 20s when
I first went to the Guild. They were so impacted that it took nine
months to get into a program. Despite the wait, my experience at
the Guild literally changed my life. I started out taking a simple
typewriting class with a patient teacher for one hour a week. While
at the Guild I also learned writing, English language skills, word
usage, punctuation, and transcription. Before I went to the Guild
I didn't have access to any equipment or technology. Even the typewriter
I used through school broke.
You recently told me you have gained a lot of experience and knowledge
from past jobs. Can you elaborate on that?
I never dreamed I would have held all the jobs I've had. The knowledge
and experience gained in each employment situation has only made
me stronger. In past jobs, I learned diplomacy and people skills.
My progress in regards to computer skills has been virtually
non-stop since I started working. Negative or positive, I take all
my experiences and make them work for me.
to Independent Living
When did you decide you wanted to live independently, and why?
I wanted to live independently as soon as I got my first job. That
was in July 1988. I remember getting my first check and I knew I
wanted to strike out on my own.
with my friend Maria to search for our first apartment?ithout a
sighted assistant. When we got to the apartment building, we noticed
it was a nice building and even had a doorman. The apartment itself,
however, was not so great. All the rooms had been painted in different
bright colors. We told the manager we'd move in as long as they
made some changes. We returned for a second visit to discover they
had painted the walls and polished the floors, but they hadn't painted
the ceilings. We asked them why the ceilings were not repainted.
They told us it was because they thought we would not notice. Well,
even though it's been a while since I've been living on my own,
I am still transitioning, still learning. Before I moved out of
my parent's house I was carefree. Now I have to be responsible.
the transition is harder for the family, but my mom took the news
that I was moving out pretty well. She raised me to be independent.
As an adolescent I visited friends in Queens on my own. If I didn't
know where I was going she would say, "you'll find it." I even did
a little bit of cooking on my own and became known as the pasta
all transitions are this easy. One of the things I've noticed through
my work is that many families of people with disabilities do not
want to let go of their disabled loved ones. This is especially
true in the Latino community.
I met a young Latina who is the daughter of immigrants. She was
very passive because her family did not allow her to have a lot
of contact with people outside her family. Her parents did not want
to let go of her. They didn't see the big picture. That is, that
we have many resources available to us that allow us to live full,
productive, independent lives. It saddens me when I see the family
members of a person with a disability prevent them from practicing
the skills they learn to do alone like cook, choose clothes, and
What has been, or still is, the biggest barrier that you have had
Educating the sighted population. Most non-disabled people have
zero disability awareness. My greatest annoyance is what I call
the "over there" syndrome. Sighted people see a person with a cane
and when the person with the cane asks where something is located
they say "over there." Where is this mystical place "over there?"
Tell me a little bit about yourself outside of work.
I love singing and playing music. Right now I am taking guitar lessons
on the Internet and at Lighthouse International. Recently, the Lighthouse
group did a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of my other
hobbies is downloading music and books off the Internet. My sister,
my niece and I make CDs together. It has become a family thing.
events also thrill me. I just started listening to a program on
Radio International called "The World" about America's relationship
with the world. I especially enjoy the stories they do about music.
as you know, a computer fanatic. I am on various lists including
a visually impaired computer users group. We are always is looking
for new members, I encourage readers to research the groups online.
What advice would give to a visually impaired person who thinks
they can't do it?
I would tell them that it is not impossible, it really isn't. If
you don't have Internet skills, there are a lot of non-computer
related careers to pursue.
Students should consult
the director of disability programs at their schools for vocational
assistance. People who are working or out of work should research
their local agencies for the blind, independent living centers and
vocational rehabilitation offices.
LC: Thank you Lynnette, at least today you educated
one sighted person.