Around the Island

Richard’s almanac: A different point of view

“If you have a disability, it does not have to disable you.”

Those words come from Grace Pellicano, with whom I spoke last week about her severe glaucoma and how it has impacted her life.

She told me that she’s been dealing with glaucoma for some time but it got so bad about six years ago that she had to stop driving. Her vision has gotten progressively worse and she is now unable to make out facial features on those with whom she is speaking.

When I asked her if she would recognize me if we met in the IGA tomorrow, she said, “Probably not.” She said that she does recognize individuals by voice and size.

“But I can’t see details,” she said adding that her vision can be best described as “looking through a couple of screen doors.”

So when this 77-year-old retired English teacher could not see the words on the page to read, she was devastated. She had a friend drive her to the Senior Center and she explained her shortcomings to director Laurie Fanelli. Laurie showed her a device that the center had just received from the family of the late Al Bevan -— an Optelec.

It looks like a large computer screen with lights and magnifiers under it. Anything placed under the screen is magnified and projected for the person to see many times larger and brighter.

“The center let me use it and it has changed my life,” Grace said. 

“I can read again and I can sew again. It’s wonderful,” she added with enthusiasm.

The machines cost somewhere between $4,000 to $5,000 and Laurie is hoping to get some more donated to the center.

Grace said that she wants to get involved with the Senior Center and has offered to tutor individuals for the naturalization test. Laurie hopes to get this program going soon. Grace was a long-time volunteer at a literacy center on the North Fork where she taught English as a Second Language.

Grace and her husband came to the Island in 1989 and moved here permanently about 15 years ago “because there were grandchildren to take care of.” She has a total of five and tries to spend as much time as she can with them. Two live in the city with her son and his wife and, “I go visit and help out once a week.”

I was kind of surprised to hear about her going into the city but assumed that she went in with someone else. Not the case.

“I take the train from Greenport to Penn Station,” she said, explaining that New York is very handicapped friendly and “people are always ready to help someone using a walker.”

“I love the theater and frequently go in alone to see plays,” Grace said, adding, “and you’d be surprised how many subway stations have elevators.”

She said to me that she likes to knit and that skill has not been affected by her vision loss.

“I use simple stitches and have done 18 baby blankets. When I’d hear that someone was pregnant, I’d start the blanket,” Grace said.

She said that she always wanted to be a teacher and recalled an episode from her early days.

“I was teaching at a public school in Coney Island and was alone in a room doing prep work. I heard a noise that I thought sounded like a gunshot — even though I never heard one before — and looked up and saw a mark on the brick wall along with dust on the floor. I called the police and went back to my work.

“After a while I heard running in the hall and the police arrived. They asked me why I did not seem upset and I replied that it was not my time so I’d better get my work done,” she said.