News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 4, 2013

Program lets leaders gain insight into coping with disabilities

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A computerized voice lets Randy Berg know he is on The Wabash Independent Living and Learning Center’s website.

From there, he can be begin to update The Will Center website with new information. It’s a task the blind employee does as well as a sighted person.

On Friday, Berg shared his work space with Cheri Bradley, wife of Indiana State University President Dan Bradley.

Berg took Bradley on a tour of the offices and meeting rooms of The Will Center at 1 Dreiser Square, as Bradley participated in Disability Awareness Through Experience (DATE). The program, part of Disabilities Awareness Month, is aimed at involving community leaders in firsthand learning about coping with sight, hearing and mobility limitations.

Berg lost his vision after a motorcycle accident in March 1987. His face and chin were reconstructed and he has a prosthetic eye and implanted teeth.

“When I lost my sight, they thought I wouldn’t live through the night,” Berg said. The next morning, he wrote the name of his daughter, Nicole, on a piece of paper. That he said, was part of his inspiration to move forward. He raised his daughter until she was 18. He also raised his son, who is now 16.

“I went directly from acceptance and never looked back,” Berg said. “I take everyday as a learning experience.”

Berg obtained a bachelor’s degree from Indiana State University in 1992 and was recently hired to man the center’s front desk. Technology, such as a talking watch and talking computer, aids him in his job which allows him to navigate Internet sites and post to The Will Center’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

He answers the phone and transfers calls within the agency. His computer has software that reads to Berg and responds on what commands he has entered from this computer keyboard.

His biggest tool is an iPhone. He uses that to also check and update Facebook and Twitter and can respond to text messages. “It is just amazing that I can do all this from a phone. I can actually text my kids, which is the coolest thing ever,” Berg said. He also has a key FOB [frequency operated button] to turn on and off the center’s security system.

Berg also has older technology, such as a Braille typewriter and dual cassette tape recorder, which he used to tape lectures while in college. Also a Braille labeler, which he used to label drinks on an office soda machine. Berg answers as many as 20 calls a day and helps people who first walk into the center, as a sound is made when a door is opened.

“You are a walking miracle,” Bradley said. “I have been thoroughly wowed. You are a very bright man. People like you teach us so much that we can’t even begin to scratch the surface of what you have done. I am very proud that you are an alum of ISU.”

Bradley said she knew technology was available for the disabled, “but I was not aware how spectacular it has turned out to be.

“I think the phone is phenomenal. Even for a sighted person, a [cellular] phone has become a tool that you just can’t live without. But for you, Randy, it is your grounding point to the world, to communicate with your kids and do your work,” Bradley said.

Peter Ciancone, executive director of The Will Center, said the DATE program is aimed at emphasizing the capability of disabled people. “With a few accommodations, Randy is a tremendous employee and fully capable of doing all of the things that a sighted person can do,” Ciancone said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.