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Visually Disabled and Others Gather to Mark Birthday of Louis Braille

By Ben Katzner

(Editor’s Note:  This article appeared in the St. Cloud Times on January 5, 2014.)

When Gayle Gruber-Bengtson of Sauk Rapids moved into her current apartment, she had a hard time connecting with her neighbors.

Gruber, who is visually impaired, generally travels with a long white cane to help her keep her bearings.  When she came across neighbors, they'd maneuver around it.

"When I came in using the cane, people were always jumping over it because they thought they were going to get hit by me," Gruber said. "It was always like 'beware the long white cane."

It's those kinds of stories that make events such as the one Saturday at St. Cloud's Great River Regional Library important.

The day saw a small group from the Central Minnesota chapter of the National Federation of the Blind convene to commemorate the birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of braille, and inform community members about what it's like to be visually impaired.

"My grandmother always told us knowledge is power — the more you know, the better," said Kevin Horodenski of Sartell.

Horodenski, the president of the Central Minnesota chapter, has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and often blindness.  His brother and sister also have it and warned him of some of the unexpected hardships.

"(They said), 'You just wait till you get all the stereotypes' ... they were right," Horodenski said.  "There are a lot of stereotypes out there and people believe them and basically what I'd like to get out of this is that we can do stuff whether it be through old-fashioned technology like braille or new technology like computers and talking/adaptable items."

The event didn't draw a huge crowd, but the people gathered were encouraged by the fact that others were willing to learn.  Eleven-year-old David Petzold and his 10-year-old brother, Steven, were among that group.  Steven was gathering information for a Boy Scouts project about disability awareness.  David was intrigued not just by the tools used by visually impaired people, but the people who use them, too.

"I like coming out here, it's fun to meet new people and my aunt is a disability specialist for the blind, so I already know a little bit," he said.  "Learning my name in braille and partially learning the braille alphabet, that was sort of fun."

The boy's mother, Deanna Petzold, believes that events such as the one Saturday can have a long-lasting effect.

"We just, in our family, find it very valuable to understand what the needs are and  what the issues are surrounding different disabilities so as a community we can be more of a help and less of a hindrance to people," she said.

Beth Moline, another member of the National Federation of the Blind, said the best way to learn more is by doing exactly what the Petzolds were doing — getting out and getting to know people who are visually impaired.

"I'd like to see people not be afraid to come up and talk to us," Moline said.

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