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Writing In The Dark: Group Provides Writing Support For Blind, Visually Impaired Writers

By Annika Cline
Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 5:22pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Members of Writing in the Dark pose with the official proclamation for Writing in the Dark Month.

If you like to write, but sometimes get stuck, or worry you’re your own worst critic, you may go to a writing group for support, feedback and fresh ideas.

Writing in the Dark is no different, but all the writers there are blind or visually impaired.

The members of Writing in the Dark write about everything, from adventure to drama to happily-ever-afters.

Often the group uses a prompt. For example: Pick a song you love and draw inspiration from it. This month the prompt was about disability, in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

“Sometimes you feel better when you write about something that’s happened in your life,” said member Anna Sweeney.

When it was her turn to read at this month’s meeting, she pulled out her smartphone. Some writers dictate their stories on a phone or computer. Others type them up and have a voice over software read it.

“So I hope you guys can hear it,” Sweeney said, turning up her phone volume.

The voice over technology picked it up from there.

"I have been blind/visually impaired all my life. I was a premature baby, and was two months early, and lost a lot of my sight due to getting too much oxygen."

Sweeney’s story was a short memoir about her experience growing up blind. After it ended, the group’s president, Robert Sollars, got down to business. 

“For both you and Judy writing about your personal experiences, there are a ton of places out there that want that stuff,” Sollars said to Sweeney and another member. 

Writing in the Dark started in the spring, and the goal is not only to write but to get published, too. 

“I just recently sort of came out of the writing closet. I’ve written poetry ever since I was in high school, but I never told anybody and I never showed it to anybody until I started with this group,” said Toni Young.

Young just placed third in the National Federation of the Blind’s Writing Contest for 2016. 

“When I started writing poetry, I didn’t have the vision problem, or I wasn’t aware that I had the vision problem,” Young said. “But then as my vision started getting worse and worse I kind of stopped writing.”

She started again when this group showed up in a familiar space - the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Robert Sollars said he never tried to look for a writing group outside the center, but starting one of his own with other blind writers seemed to make sense. 

“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t think blind people can do these things,” Sollars said. “And I think the support that they’re getting in our group, with all of us being blind and visually impaired, we know what the struggles are for a blind person. We know how to help each other overcome them.”

He wants the group to branch out and start submitting to publications outside of the blind and visually impaired community. That may mean extra barriers, like submission forms that don’t work well with screen reading software. At the same time, the mechanics of writing are easier than ever thanks to new technology.

"I at times felt like the sighted kids didn’t want to play. And they didn’t know how or what to say to their classmate who was blind." 

Anna Sweeney said often what holds her back in life is someone thinking she can’t do something, even if they mean well. 

“I live with my sister,” she said. “Her family, they have a washer and dryer. And I wanted to learn how to use it. And they weren’t sure I would be able to use it or not. One day I just went over there and did it.”

So the group isn’t so much about figuring out how to write and publish as a person who is blind or visually impaired. It’s more about writing and publishing, period; something that some members don’t think they’d be doing if they hadn’t been involved in the blind and visually impaired community in the first place.

“Oh I know for a fact I wouldn’t have, no,” said Sollars.

“I learned so much from the blind community,” said Sweeney. “If you wanna do something, you can.”

"If you want something in life, you have to be the one to go after what you want in life. "

The meeting ended with some chocolate cake, a celebration of Arizona officially recognizing October as Writing in the Dark month.

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