Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


June 6, 2013

Normal living in a sightless world

Sandra Richmond sets a ‘wonderful example’ while living with blindness

CROSSVILLE — The business meeting was about to begin. Forty-two attendees quieted as the vice president, Joyce Lignar, called the meeting to order. A few preliminary announcements were read.

“And now,” Joyce said, “let’s have a reading of the minutes from last month.”

A speaker approached the microphone and began to read the minutes. Suddenly, one of the meeting participants unexpectedly stood and said, “Hang-on! These are the board’s minutes from last month… not from our regular meeting.”

After a chaotic scuttling with papers rustling and mumbled exchanges, there were no records found of the prior month’s proceedings. What to do? The secretary hesitated, gave a slightly confused, nervous look and said, “These are the only minutes available.” 

Then something remarkable happened.

“I have a copy. I’ll read the minutes,” said the recording secretary.

The audience grew quieter with good reason: the recording secretary is completely blind. Sandra Richmond, the Visually Impaired Support (VIS) Group's recording secretary for more than two years, began feeling the dimple braille bumps recorded from the previous meeting. Then, looking unblinkingly straight ahead, with another person holding the microphone, she began speaking. With an unwavering voice, Sandra, unable to see since two years of age, “read” the braille minutes of the last meeting. This was followed by appreciative applause by the VIS Group members.

Braille is a writing system used by those without sight to write and read. Braille-users, like Sandra, “read” braille materials with its encoded message. About the size of a man’s wallet, the tool is called a braille slate. Characters in small rectangular blocks contain raised dots called cells. Using her computer, Sandra transcribes the braille minutes into the typewritten form to be read at each meeting.

Those who know her marvel at Sandra’s undaunted efforts. Her associates, children and perhaps her pet dog, Bunny, accept her as an exceptional friend. She is a mother and grandmother who often cares of her Crossville grandchildren.

She enjoys playing the piano for churches, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and often entertains with Share the Joy Singers. Incidental issues such as the ability to sign her name, use a computer, read mail, wash clothes or cook meals are characterized “normal.” With quiet gracefulness, she dismisses and ignores any notion of daily struggles.

Sandy remembers her childhood and can best describe her blindness with smells, sounds, textures, even specific street addresses — no colors, descriptions of the surrounding countryside from a sighted perspective or descriptions of what people wore. As she recalls, mostly happy memories are the subject of this mother of three grown daughters.

She was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that usually affects one in 4,000 people in the U.S. Retinitis pigmentosa is an eye disease with damage to the retina. She was diagnosed “visually impaired” at 15 months of age. She remembers with a bit of humor that her parents couldn’t understand her condition.

“I used to trip over everything,” she mused.

When she began public school, teachers were puzzled by her difficulty in learning. She was unduly penalized with poor marks and stereotyped as “slow.” But a school official noted her condition and devised a simple test: using a typed sheet with two sets of words in vertical columns, her only task was to draw a line to a word with opposite meaning. She failed.

“I couldn’t see it,” she said. “It just added to my frustration.”

But her life changed dramatically when she was admitted to the Tennessee School for the Blind located in Nashville. For eleven years Sandy lived with others in darkness. Students are cared for by experienced cottage parents who cooperate with teachers, parents, clinic staff and therapists to ensure continuity of the education program.

The cottages have a family atmosphere that meets the impaired vision needs. Students are encouraged to personalize their bedroom with pictures, posters, photographs, personal items and stuffed animals. Many of the students have stereos, CD players or tape recorders and enjoy listening to their favorite music on tapes. After graduating, Sandra worked eight years for the federal government in Nashville before becoming a full-time homemaker and mother.

Sandra’s home in Crossville for the past 12 years reflects this comfortable background. To guests and friends alike, it feels like home. Because her Christian faith is so important to her, she reads braille Bible and also listens to various books of the Bible on tape. Sandra enjoys "whodunit" mystery novels.

“While my kids grew up and lived at home, sometimes they forgot I was blind. At that time I had to pick up and hang-up clothes,” she said smiling. “I don’t think it was any different than most families I’ve known.”

She is the first blind person in the area to raise three daughters, one being adopted. She remains the first Tennessee blind person to care for foster children, one of whom she adopted.

This comes at a time when the American Council of the Blind (and other blind agencies) is trying to pass legislation to stop government agencies from taking away children born to blind couples. Sight people assume, incorrectly, that children are in danger because of the parent’s blindness.

Margie DeMars, chairperson of the Cumberland County VIS Group, knows her well and describes Sandra as a quiet and unassuming person and a “wonderful example” for those who still have remaining vision.

"She is my mentor,” DeMars said. “Sandra has great faith in God

despite her physical limitations. I am sure that she could make Helen Keller’s statement her own: ‘I thank God for my limitations, for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.'”

The VIS Group meets the second Thursday of the month at Sonshine Soup Kitchen, 69 Neecham St. in Crossville from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. with tea, coffee and pastry provided. Following the June 13 meeting, state Rep. Cameron Sexton will discuss new laws providing safer public access for the visually impaired.

Thursday, July 11 is the date of the annual VIS Group picnic at Obed River Park in Crossville. It is open to VIS members and their families. For more information, call Chairman Danny Keough at 788-1736.

Text Only
  • Melling, Sounds of the Country at Hebbertsburg Community Center

    Jack Melling and Sounds of the Country will entertain at the Hebbertsburg Community Center on Saturday, May 3, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

    April 22, 2014

  • Marriage licenses (Published April 23, 2014)

    April 22, 2014

  • Pleasant Hill Ramblings CSA.jpg Pleasant Hill Ramblings: CSAs are a win-win situation

    Every Wednesday after 1 p.m. from May through October, there is a steady stream of people converging on the kitchen of Heritage Hall on Church St. in Pleasant Hill with baskets and bags. Inside the kitchen there is excited chatter as they discuss the array of vegetables, some varieties never tried before. Farmer Dave Myers and his helpers provide this largesse of vitamins to the members of the CSA.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • plateau gardening.jpg How to collect and submit soil sample

    Garry, a new resident in Crossville, emailed to ask how to gather a soil sample and where to take it to have testing done. Your local University of Tennessee Extension office is the place to go. Those in the Crossville area should call UT Extension Cumberland County at 484-6743. A staff person at the office can explain how to collect soil samples. (Those new in town who may not know where the Extension office is located may also call for driving directions.)

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • 5-2 white cane days.jpg Lions Club White Cane Days returns May 2 & 3

    The Fairfield Glade and Crossville Lions Club members will hold their annual White Cane Days fundraiser Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3, at several locations. This is a major fundraiser throughout the state of Tennessee and many parts of the world to help assist blind, sight impaired and deaf individuals. This is an event that only happens once a year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140412_110402.jpg Kids get creative at Youth Expo

    Cumberland Artisans for Creative Expression (CACE) held its annual Youth Expo Saturday, providing young people an opportunity to try their hand at a variety of artistic endeavors, from music and writing to painting and traditional crafts of weaving and spinning.

    April 17, 2014 4 Photos

  • AROUND THE TOWN: The Easter egg hunt that never was

    The Easter Bunny should be able to deliver his baskets in pretty nice weather this weekend. The Good Friday and Easter holiday weekend should feature much warmer temperatures than we had earlier this week when snow showers fell on Cumberland County. Cumberland County students were released Tuesday for spring break, but their last day of school for the week found snow and ice falling from the sky and temperatures in the 20s. Students will return to class on Monday.

    April 17, 2014

  • 127 Seniors.jpg Jay Fox performs for seniors after receiving new prosthesis

    On Friday, April 11, the members of the 127 Senior Center had another good time playing bingo and dominos. Bingo was called by Arlene Simmons and Helen Lord, and the bingo gifts were provided by Bob Folger of State Farm Insurance.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Marriage licenses

    Publised April 16, 2014.

    April 15, 2014

  • pleasant hill ramblings.jpg PLEASANT HILL RAMBLINGS: Pancake breakfast held for cancer research

    During the year various groups connected with the Pleasant Hill Elementary School provide a Saturday morning pancake breakfast to support the Relay for Life campaign.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo