NORTHUMBERLAND — Kathy Keiper, now retired from the Selinsgrove Center, recently said the words "handicapped" or "challenged" did not apply to the adults she worked with.
"I'd worked in a vocational workshop teaching them vocational skills," Keiper said. "I'd been there 27-and-half years.
Keiper said the adults with developmental difficulties, which she called "handi-capable," learned sanding skills through her instruction.
What makes her career and myriad of other achievements more remarkable was that Keiper herself was born without the ability to see.
In spite of her blindness, Keiper taught the residents sanding skills, furniture finishing and other skills.
"They learned very quickly," she recalled. "We also taught them to use mineral oil to give their projects a sheen."
Keiper said she has done it all while blind in part because of her enjoyment of people and a desire to make a positive difference in their lives.
"My other senses also played in," Keiper explained from her home at the Nottingham Village Retirement Center. "Using my sense of touch, my sense of hearing I really try to listen what the other person (says). Even though they might be saying or doing one thing, (I) can sense what they are saying deeper."
Vocal qualities, Keiper said, tell a great deal about what a person is trying to say. Patience and perseverance also play a role in finding the skills and gifts of other people.
Keiper said she learned to read Braille in first grade while attending the Overbook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. The school is still in existence though they now also accept students with hearing impairments.
"I don't really remember a whole lot about learning (Braille)," she said. "We learned when we were in first grade as you folks start to learn printing."
Keiper said Braille, named for its inventor, was an international code which allows people who cannot see to read. Each figure contains six dots which may represent letters or words depending on how they are arranged.
"There is Grade One Braille, which is writing everything out letter-by-letter," Keiper said. "For my name I would write K-A-T-H-Y."
Grade Two Braille has about 175 contractual signs, Keiper said, which shorten the code a bit when using a Braille printer. The first letters of a word like "forest" would include a contraction for the letters "st" at the end of the word.
Keiper added that Grade Three Braille was much more like shorthand, and she was not that familiar with it.
Keiper said she has missed volunteering at the Sunbury YMCA where she has read aloud to pre-schoolers in day care from books in Braille. "Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder was a favorite.
She hoped to obtain a copy of "Clifford the Big Red Dog" for the time when it can be done again.
Other activities included donating blood for the Red Cross and serving as a hospice volunteer in nursing homes and hospitals.
"I just kind of went and sat and talked with them to see where their heads are and their hearts are," Keiper said. "We try to talk about pleasant memories of childhood or when they were married."
Keiper said her first hospice patient had AIDS, which ironically contributed to his blindness. She also sang at his funeral at the request of his family.
Keiper noted she has volunteered in many area hospitals in a variety of ways in addition to reading to residents. Shredding confidential records was among her activities at one local hospital.
"It really was a great task, because of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) you have to be so careful," she said. "Obviously, they knew there was no way on God's green earth that I was going to cheat and look at the information."
Keiper hoped she could be the "hands and feet" of Jesus for the people she's worked with.
"I don't consider myself a religious fanatic," she said. "But I do have a relationship with the Lord and he is such a big part of my life. Hopefully that can be reflected to other folks with God's help."