Pittsburgh Live, PA.
Thursday, March 23, 2006.
By Kristy Graver, Staff Writer.
Sporting a black business suit and wraparound shades, Sally Alexander stands before a large group of Hance Elementary School students and listens for the sound of brains rattling.
The children, who were asked to nod their heads in unison, giggle as Alexander cups a hand against her ear.
"I don't hear anything," she says in a sing-song voice. "When you are with a blind person, it's important to use your mouth. If you nod your head I'm not going to know it."
Alexander, a local author who lost her vision at age 24, is at Hance Elementary School to give students advice on becoming published authors and to offer them a glimpse into the life of a blind person; a life that is not necessarily shrouded in darkness. "I am totally blind. I don't know if the sun is out unless I feel the warmth on my cheek," she says. "But, what I see is not black. It's as if it's smoky, white and gray all the time, like a fog. When I close or open my eyes, it's exactly the same thing."
More than 30 years of blindness and a partial hearing loss has not prevented Alexander from living a full life. She has published several books, raised two children and now works as an adjunct professor at Chatham College.
At Alexander's request, audience members close their eyes and imagine what a school day would be like without the sense of sight. The students predict that they would be running into walls, falling down stairs and colliding in mid-stride with classmates, teachers and (gasp!) the principal.
"That's why blind people use these furry things called dogs," Alexander says, petting Handley, the German shepherd snoozing at her feet. "Her job is to lie here and have a nap. Even if she falls asleep, she is working. When you see Handley or any dog that is wearing a harness, we ask you not to pet the dog because that means they're working."
Using volunteers from the audience, Alexander demonstrates how to use a cane and exhibits one of her books written entirely in Braille.
The book, entitled "Mom Can't See Me," is told from the point of view of the author's daughter, Leslie. Alexander admits that she revised the story more than 150 times before it landed in libraries across the country, a point made to illustrate the tenacity a writer must possess. Her personal experiences, she says, inspire her to write both fiction and non-fiction books.
"Other people get ideas for books by asking the question, 'What if?' This dinky, tiny, squirt of a word is one of the most important words for a writer," she says. "When you say the word, 'if,' you immediately use your imagination."
Students offer up their own "What if" scenarios including, "What if the building fell down?" "What if a monkey came into the school?" "What if the children were teaching the teachers?" The last scenario is greeted with riotous laughter and applause.
Alexander encourages the kids to start after-school writing clubs and submit their work to magazines such as Spider and CharacterS, which publish children's stories. She also tells them to go through life asking a lot of questions.
"When people are different -- whether they look different, are in a wheelchair or are blind like I am -- sometimes adults are afraid of them," she says.
"You're just sort of interested. Be polite, but ask questions. You'll find that people who are different from you are all very much the same."
End of article.
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