Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired

1994 C. Warren Bledsoe Award for Publication

Presented to Dona Sauerburger, COMS®
Author “Independence Without Sight or Sound”
Published in 1993 by AFB Press

Acceptance Speech

Thank you very much for this award -- I can't tell you what this means to me! When AER’s Executive Director Kathy Megivern told me I was receiving this award, I was on a pay phone waiting for my client while returning her call, and I wished I had called where I had a place to sit down -- I was literally overwhelmed. I had no idea my book was even being considered for this. For me, to receive such an honor from AER -- an award named for a man who was one of those responsible for the profession that I love, orientation and mobility, and who has preserved its history -- receiving such an award has been one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Editing magic!
But many people helped with this book and can share this honor, especially Natalie Hilzen, the managing editor of the American Foundation for the Blind, as well as all the people at AFB Press. I had dreaded working with an editor, but Natalie and the folks at AFB made the entire process a real pleasure, and I think they worked some great magic to turn my writing into a good book. So Natalie, and AFB, thank you.

And thank you to my colleagues and family
I also need to share this honor with about 40 people, most of whose names are in the introduction. Some of them are deaf-blind, some are experts about deaf-blindness (a few are both!), and some knew nothing about working with deaf-blind people. They gave me fascinating stories and experiences and valuable suggestions, all of which are in the book. So thank you to all those people whose time and expertise helped make the book so special.

And not least of all, I want to thank my husband, Fred, who has always been my biggest supporter and fan, and on whom I can always depend for good ideas. And lastly, I need to thank my children who selflessly worked hard to convince me to get a computer – not for their games, of course, but to use to write my book! (HA!)

Practitioners, take pride!
When I asked people for ideas of what to say this morning, I got some profound, helpful advice, which I'd like to share with you. They said, "Dona -- keep it short!"

So I will try. But first, I want to say something to those of you who are practitioners -- something that's been on my mind for years. That is, to encourage each of you to enthusiastically, and with great pride, share your knowledge with others, and to realize that what you do is significant and valuable, and that there is no need to stop being a practitioner in order to advance, or increase your knowledge, or contribute to your profession. I learned enough while beating the streets to fill a book, but I had to overcome a great deal of insecurity to even consider writing one. I knew that the book had to be written -- too many colleagues asked questions or felt inadequate about working with deaf-blind people -- but I thought it should be written by someone with more credentials than I have.

I think that 20 years ago, a practitioner would have had difficulty getting a book published or earning respect in her field. I remember once 25 years ago, when I had just graduated, I was talking with a leader in our field who told me that I shouldn't expect to be pounding the streets in 10 years because by that time, I would have advanced up the ladder of success into administration. My husband recently reminded me how much I resented that advice, since I did not consider myself to be at the bottom of any ladder, and could think of nothing more glorious than learning to be the best practitioner that I could, and doing it well for the rest of my career.

But during the last decade, I have noticed that the practitioner is gaining more respect. I am so pleased that AER’s Orientation and Mobility Division just established an award, which they will present to Sandy Kronick posthumously this very evening, to honor those people who have worked in the field at least 10 years and who have spent the majority of their careers as practitioners. While I was writing my book and figuring I would probably have to publish it myself, AFB published a book, and what I noticed was that they were very proud to announce that it was written by practitioner, Jean Olmstead. That gave me courage to submit mine to AFB.

I was so pleased to learn that Mary Ellen Mulholland, Director of AFB Press, is receiving the Bledsoe Special Achievement Award today -- it couldn't be more appropriate. When she read the draft of my book, she considered that it had merit regardless of the fact that the author was a practitioner. I believe that I have her, and her insight, and our profession's changing perspective toward practitioners, to thank for my book ever seeing the light of day.

Mary Ellen, thank you for giving us a chance, thank you Natalie and all those who helped me with the book, and thank you all -- I treasure this award.

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