“Genealogy Materials Now Available for Blind Members,” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 79–80
Nobody is exempt from doing genealogy work. At least, that’s what members who are blind are learning.
The Genealogical Society Library at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City has begun helping blind persons do their genealogy work, and groundwork is being established to enable blind persons to do effective genealogy work in branch libraries throughout the world.
Friday night classes for blind library patrons and sighted volunteers are being taught. Each blind patron, working with a volunteer, learns his way around the library. Blind patrons learn about the files and indexes that show where their family’s genealogy work stands. Sighted volunteers assist by guiding, looking up references, and writing down information.
Some blind volunteer consultants and Braillists also assist.
About half of the accredited researchers in Utah are giving time to the program. Volunteers give a minimum of two hours of help each month. Many Genealogical Society employees assist with the program.
Materials are available through the Genealogical Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Doraville, Georgia, a nonprofit institution founded and directed by Diane Dieterie, a member of the Church. Organizing the Church’s program is Atheline Wold, senior reference consultant in the U.S. and Canada reference section of the Genealogical Society Library.
“When I first started, I thought simply that the blind would be exempt,” Sister Wold says. “But I’ve learned that some of them have received impressions that they should do genealogical work.”
One blind woman who feels strongly about the necessity for everyone—even the blind, deaf, and physically handicapped—to do genealogy work is Marianne Fisher of Salt Lake City. Sister Fisher, blind since birth, is resource specialist at Liberty Park Elementary School.
“I’ve always been interested in genealogy, but I’ve never had the services that I needed to help me further the work,” Sister Fisher says. “Now I’m so thrilled that I’m a part of it.”
Linda Braithwaite, a blind woman who works for a center for the visually handicapped at Murray, Utah, has been converted to the need for the blind to do genealogy work.
“For a long time, many of my blind friends discussed if we should be expected to do it or if we should just make a point to know our immediate ancestors. I thought my best contribution would be to contribute to the genealogy fund and to do temple work.”
Then she met Marianne Fisher and was contacted by Diane Dieterie.
“I realized, wow, this is exciting,” she says. “I have been bitten badly, and I’m suffering greatly from the genealogy bug disease,” she says and laughs.
The work is not without setbacks, however. Braille materials are bulky. In addition, blind persons must rely on public transportation or on friends to get to a genealogy library. Also, many materials have not been translated into Braille or have not been read onto cassette tapes.
Materials are being prepared to enable branch librarians throughout the Church to help blind persons do genealogy work. And the work will not be limited to the visually impaired, either. Deaf persons and those with physical handicaps also will be enabled to do genealogy work.
Comprehension may be a challenge to many deaf persons who want to do genealogy work. Deafness makes reading skills more difficult to learn.
Work is underway to make library services available to those with other physical handicaps, Sister Wold says. And many of the materials being planned for use with handicapped persons will help those without handicaps, too.