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Braille and Talking Book Library staff member published through National Federation for the Blind

“All things are possible”: 20-year BTBL veteran inspires through National Federation for the Blind article

Every business day Valerie Ries-Lerman, a reader assistant in the California State Library’s Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL) for over 20 years, helps Californians with visual disabilities access information that improves the quality of their lives. Among her other duties such as serving at the BTBL public service desk, Valerie Ries-Lerman researches book requests by title, author or subject, and monitors accounts for approximately 3000 BTBL customers.

Ries-Lerman holds a BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and was on the Dean’s honor roll at the University of California at Santa Barbara but, she says, “It’s never easy for a disabled person to find gainful employment.” Wanting to “hearten and inspire…blind and physically handicapped individuals” with the story of how she came to work in the BTBL in Sacramento, Ries-Lerman wrote a first person narrative for the Fall/Winter 2005 National Federation of the Blind (NFB) California Journal. What follows is an edited version of Ries-Lerman’s original article.

BTBL reader assistant Valerie Ries-Lerman uses "Zoom Text" at a plus 5 magnification to see the computer screen. Her reading stand brings work up to eye level.

“A Young Woman’s Search for Meaning” by Valerie Ries-Lerman

The seasonal fog draping Sacramento made this winter day seem ordinary, but it wasn’t. Today held something different, something promising. Like the spring that was soon to come, this day offered one young woman hope.

Like any modern young woman she dreamed of doing valuable work but a problem held her back: she was legally blind. No one, least of all her, knew how she’d make it in a world where no one quite understood what living as a blind person meant. She had given everything she had to make it in the seeing-world, but all she had to show for it was a monthly S.S.I. check.

Until this day.

She suspected the available job might hold the key to the thing that mattered most, a station in life with meaning. Simultaneously determined and reticent, she knew she was capable of carving out a piece of life that she could call her own.

Standing at the door to the California State Library, she took a deep breath. She had prepared well for this job interview, but was nervous about first impressions. She didn’t yet know how to use a cane, and without a cane’s silent alert, her lack of sight, her awkward stare, made others uncomfortable. It was one of the hardest things she’d ever do, but her future depended on this job: she held her head high, and pushed through the library’s heavy glass door for what became a three hour interview.

Waiting two weeks for a possible offer was hard, but she had faith: the power of the National Federation of the Blind of California (NFBC) was behind her. Dedicated individuals from the NFBC had lobbied the legislature for positions at this library (that served the blind) to be made available to blind individuals specifically. Contacting the NFBC, she once again conveyed her qualifications and desire to be considered as a serious candidate for the coveted position at the Braille and Talking Book Library at the California State Library.

The news came within the week – she had the job. Her exclamations of joy could be heard from the rooftops of this sleepy government town. Like the spring that was now blossoming, this opportunity held for her the very real promise of renewal and hope.

The seasons turned, and sooner than she’d even thought possible, twenty years passed. Today, being a reader assistant at the Braille and Talking Book Library has given her a life full of purpose and meaning: she is sure she has served her community well. She sincerely thanks the NFBC for helping her and so many others realize their dream - a fulfilling station in life.

Through eyes that reflect on what was so dear on that far distant day, she’s reminded of the strides we have all made. And yet, still, the road to empowerment and employment for a blind person is not an easy one. It is lit though by a beacon illuminated by our hopes and dreams. Blindness need never be considered a barrier to employment. We can all make a difference. All that is needed is a never failing sense of hope and determination. Working together, with the help of organizations such as the NFB, all things are possible. Success is there for the taking.





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