[Missouri-l] Nonprofit helps blind 911 operator keep doing her job
chip at gatewayfortheblind.com
Mon Oct 4 13:54:23 CDT 2010
Nonprofit helps blind 911 operator keep doing her job
by: JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Monday, October 04, 2010
10/4/2010 6:02:34 AM
To hear Diane Garrett describe how her bright green, sparkling eyes appear even brighter
with her deep green shirt, you would never know that the last time she saw the color
was when she was 10.
That's when everything went dark.
Garrett, who is blind and hearing impaired, is an operator at the Public Safety Communications
Center, where she relies on special equipment that displays the text from her computer
screen as Braille she can read along a moving tape and allows her to do the job as
well as someone who can see.
But now that the 4-year-old equipment is starting to fail, Garrett was led to TechiePaws,
a startup nonprofit organization in Iowa that is helping her get the Braille note-taking
device she needs to keep doing the job she loves.
Garrett, 52, started working at the center, which receives 911 calls from the area
and assigns the appropriate response, in 2002. She had applied and been interviewed
two years earlier.
"It took two years to convince them that the job could be done by a blind person,"
Garrett said. "It took them two years to just basically say, 'OK. We'll try it.'
And people around the country were watching. No blind person had ever worked in a
city's large 911 call center like Tulsa's before.
With the Braille reader she had at the time, she was able to do the job and quickly
found it to be one of the most rewarding she had ever had.
"Because I can't hear and see people the way you and others can, I am afraid to just
walk up to somebody on the street," Garrett said. "So this is my way of being able
to reach out and help people, even if it is just talking to them for just a few seconds
and getting them calmed down enough to take a call."
Garrett was born with an inherited degenerative eye disease that made her severely
nearsighted and left her blind in her right eye when she was 6 and her left eye when
she was 10. Because she wasn't born blind, she knows colors and objects from her
"I remember a lot," she said. "I remember colors. I remember shapes, what the sky
looks like, the clouds."
Garrett also has two prosthetic eyes. When she got two new ones, she knew the exact
color she wanted and relied on her husband, Daniel Garrett, to get it just right.
Although she relies on others to describe things, she has always felt independent
in her adult life, with a guide dog for a little extra help.
After she left a previous job at the Public Service Company of Oklahoma in 1997,
she and her husband moved back to her native Georgia to live on her family's land.
They lived in a trailer in the middle of a five-acre wooded area. It was the only
time in her adult life that she felt trapped and dependent on others.
"I always have access to a bus, a taxi, the lift service or just walking," she said
of living in a city. "Living on that property for that one year, I felt so trapped.
I felt like somebody had stuck me in a sardine can and I was never going to get loose,
and it scared the life out of me."
Now, not only does she feel free, but she also feels like she is giving back to her
community for all the help she has received.
Helping her help others
When someone relies on equipment such as a Braille note taker to function, when the
dots on the display start to stick in the up or down position, it can make a huge
"It needs to be correct at all times," Garrett said.
Jesse Bolinger founded TechiePaws this year to help people like Garrett by providing
equipment and helping pay veterinary bills for service dogs.
The organization has started fundraising efforts to help Garrett get what she needs.
Her new Braille note taker will be purchased through TechiePaws, at a cost of more
than $4,000, and is to be delivered in December.
Bolinger said that because the equipment will also be for personal use, the Americans
with Disabilities Act doesn't apply. The law would require the city to provide the
equipment if it were used solely for work, but because it will be Garrett's personal
Braille note taker, she is responsible for securing the funding.
Bolinger said he is confident that the organization will be able to help Garrett
get what she needs so she can keep giving back.
"It's a job that means a lot to me," Garrett said. "That's why I want to stay with
the job, and in order to stay with the job, I need the equipment that can help me
How to help
People can donate to the effort by going to the company's website,
, and clicking on "Donate," or by mailing donations to TechiePaws, c/o Jesse O. Bolinger,
1005 N. Division St., Creston, IA 50801
Original Print Headline: Nonprofit helps blind operator help others
Jerry Wofford 581-8310
jerry.wofford at tulsaworld.com
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