National Geographic

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In 1991 Jeff received a call from Mike Long, a senior writer for National Geographic, concerning a major article he was writing on the sense of sight. Mike described how he had interviewed representatives from the American Foundation for the Blind, the Seeing Eye dog guide school and the National Science Foundation and other venerable organizations in the blindness field. Mike said that three different people had suggested that he contact Jeff concerning access to computers—a game-changing area of great progress and hope for education and success in the work world for people with visual disabilities.

As a program developer, Jeff had created the STORER Computer Access Center, at the Cleveland Sight Center, a leading private blindness agency where Jeff worked as director of rehabilitation and education. The STORER  Center, (Specialized Training, Orientation and Rehabilitation utilizing Electronic Resources), was widely regarded as the world's best computer access center for people with visual disabilities. Professionals and individuals with visual disabilities from thirty-five states and ten foreign countries have come to the STORER Center for access to their services or to learn how to create their own computer access center.

A few months later, Joe McNally, the freelance photographer who had been selected to single-handedly capture the photos to accompany Mike's forty page story on the sense of sight and blindness contacted Jeff. Joe spent a day and a half following Jeff through his day, with a focus on his amber-lit office with its array of mega-character and Braille systems.  The photographer set up some shots that captured as many adaptive systems that would logically fit into one image, with Jeff at the middle of his personal command system. Joe took 1200 rolls of film, a total of 10,000 photographic images during his year-long assignment, which needed to be reduced to the 40 photographs published in the Magazine. Joe said that he would be involved, but that there were many people who would decide what photos would ultimately be used. Mike later phoned and asked Jeff if he would act as a special editor. Mike wanted Jeff to read the entire work and change the wording into the accurate language and nomenclature that Jeff uses. Thrilled, Jeff spent weeks pouring over the voluminous text and changing phrases like "the blind" into "people with visual disabilities." Jeff addressed degrees of blindness and correct use of disorder, impairment, disability and handicap. All of Jeff's edits were included in the final story, as was Jeff's photograph. Forty million readers saw the  image shown here of Jeff at work and read of his process of grieving and his use of humor as a strategy for acceptance. Mike Long, whose words tell the story of sight and sight loss, learned at the outset of his assignment that he had the very beginning stages of macular degeneration, the type not amenable to  treatment, that would ultimately rob him of the central vision needed to drive, play piano or recognize others. He confided in Jeff that his acceptance of progressive blindness became the pivot point in the article moving from staggering loss to positive acceptance. (See the youtube piece on "The Sense of Sight" below), National Geographic, Joe McNally was voted in 2010 one of thirty most influential photographers of the decade by Photo District News. American Photo Magazine described Joe as "Perhaps the most versatile photo journalist working today" and listed him as one of their 100 Most Important People in Photography."

Mike flew to Cleveland and met with Jeff and others associated with the Center for two days. Mike's conclusion was that, since the Magazine tells its stories through pictures, the STORER Center wasn't an interesting visual study. He said that photographically it would just look like any other computer school. Even so, Mike thought that Jeff would be a compelling photographic study since everything about his office was unusual and not widely known by thee general public. Jeff's office was bathed by unique amber high-pressure sodium lighting and mega-print systems including a high powered video magnifier and a computer monitor displaying equally large characters. Other low tech low vision systems like hand-lettered calendars and Braille/speech technology were on Jeff's desktop. All of the systems aided Jeff in doing his administrative job. Jeff noted that the amber lighting had been a successful experiment—a benefit of his work with General Electric's Lighting Division's R&D group seeking optimum lighting for seniors with low vision. Before Mike flew back to the National Geographic office in Washington D.C., he said Jeff would be hearing from a Geographic photographer.

After the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990 a highly-trained cadre of specialists were needed to assist in the implementation of the detailed regulations that would make the law live and breathe in the life of the nation.  A call went out seeking applicants to become ADA Implementation Specialists who would receive in-depth training on all aspects of the ADA. A class was formed of four-hundred who underwent a week-long intensive course on

all aspects of the ADA. The course was taught by members of the United States DOJ, Department of Justice and DREDEF, Disability Rights Education AND Defense Fund. Jeff applied, was selected and then selected again for Level II training, held in Washington D.C. in 1993.

While Jeff was in the Capital, a luncheon was held in his honor at the National Geographic Society. In attendance were all of the staff who had been involved in some aspect of the article, "The Sense of Sight." Their skills acted as the interlocking gears performing the precise tasks needed to prepare and publish the esteemed national journal. Mike Long hosted the gathering and sat next to Jeff as the gourmet meal, including soft shell crab and fresh long-cut green beans was served.

As Jeff rememebered, "I have enjoyed crab in many forms including Maryland crab boils where, using a few simple utensils, I learned to take the crab's innards out to get to the good stuff, but I had never eaten soft shell crab before then, and the entire crab within its soft shell was on the plate. There seemed to be no special utensils, I had gleaned from my careful tactile study of the elegant table's presentation. I couldn't figure out what to do, short of flipping the crustacean over and using my crab boil skills, (sans utensils,) remove the bottom plate and, then, after taking out the lungs and digestive track and who knows what, comes the succulent crab meat. Seeing I was quite at sea with the crab, Mike offered help. He took my plate and, to my horror, noisily, crunchingly cut the entire thing into squares, innards, shell and all. The table had waited for me to be served my cut-up crab so smiling, I took a big old bite of the crab and all fifteen or so young people were leaning in, forks in mid-air, waiting with anticipation to see, well, I wasn't sure what. I continued to smile, sort of, as the forkful of crab was not pleasant feeling in the mouth and the taste was very bottom of the sea. The consistency was the worst part of it. That shell reminded me of toenails and the inner mixture was as disgusting as you would expect it to be. I tried to repress the slight gagging  sound with the first swallow. Having continued to look pleased, I took refuge in the familiar, green beans. I forked a few and again, all eating sounds stopped while my fork was airborne from plate to open mouth. The green beans were about a foot long and they slapped me right across the face, ear to ear, with butter sauce dribbling down my face. Soft shell crab must be an acquired taste, one that I have not yet acquired, nor do I have the least desire for the Toenail-crunchy gelatinous biology dissection by mouth experience again. After Mike had cut the green beans into non-lethal lengths, I soldiered on, face to the plate, and ate the entire and entirely foul crab."

Jeff's droll remembering of the soft-shell crab not withstanding, the experience was memorable and Jeff truly felt the honor that Mike Long had extended. The private dining room had a wall-covering Geographic photographs of African animals,  including elephants, giraffes and lions. The images were so large that Moyer was able to see them despite his severely deteriorating vision and he was delighted. Jeff also said that in the planetarium rotunda through which one passes on the way into the National Geographic building, he was able to see stars for the first time in many years. The rotunda's planetarium depicts the night sky following the day the National Geographic Society was formed. That evening Mike and his wife entertained Jeff in their home and treated him to several piano duets that they skillfully played on their stately Steinway twin grand pianos. The piano duets were particularly poignant considering Mike's untreatable macular degeneration.

 

The Sense of Sight
A 1992 National Geographic production showing Joe McNally's
Sense Of Sight cover story.

 

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