An Interview with John Pitzen about Bilateral Anophthalmia

John Pitzen holding Ella

By Michelle

MAPS recently sat down for an interview with a relative of one of the Founding Moms. His name is John Pitzen and he was born with bilateral anophthalmia and wears beautiful green prosthetic eyes. John is 53 years old, and lives on his own in Toledo, Ohio.


Please explain your current job in detail and what devices you use to assist you in your job.


John: I am currently self-employed and I work at home. My job consists of transcribing reports for a psychologist who interviews and tests people who are applying for Social Security disability benefits. The psychologist dictates the reports on tape and brings the tapes to me. The tapes are played on a transcription machine and I enter the information into the computer.

I am able to proofread the reports by using the Job Access with Speech (JAWS) screen reader. This program sends the text in the document to the voice synthesizer built in to the sound board which converts the text to speech. JAWS also works well with spell check and other functions. The reports are printed with an HP Office Jet which acts as a printer, fax machine and scanner. I can scan printed material using the scanner and the OpenBook program which converts the printed material to speech.

When the psychologist brings more tapes, he checks the printed reports for any mistakes. Then I fax the reports to the Bureau of Disability Determination. I use a Braille writer to label the back of each report with the name of the client and the appointment date.

This makes it easier to find a report since scanning a page takes more time than reading the Braille. Prior to my current job, I transcribed medical records. Prior to that, I transcribed reports for the Work Evaluation Department at Goodwill Industries. In the past, I worked in the Industrial Contract Department at Goodwill doing some assembly work.


Give your honest feelings about being a blind adult in today’s society. For you, has it been easy or hard and why?


John: I have been blind since birth, and whether it is easy or hard depends on the situation.

Assistive technology enables a blind person to do many things now which were difficult or required the help of a sighted person in the past. Talking watches and clocks help a great deal. Braille clocks and watches have been around for a long time, but they can be easily broken. I have ruined a few Braille watches by checking the time with dirty fingers.

Paper money identifiers now make it possible to determine the denominations of bills without assistance. However, these devices usually don’t work if the bill is slightly worn or wrinkled.

Transportation is another problem. The organized blind movement has made a lot of effort to convince the airlines that blind people don’t need wheelchairs unless they have an additional disability. I hope they finally got it!


What are some things you enjoyed doing as a child?


John: Some of my favorite things as a child were listening to music, swimming, and riding roller-coasters. I always liked the rides that nobody else could stand. Someone would usually agree to get me seated on the ride and meet me when the ride was over. After waiting in line, sometimes for two hours, the person usually felt too embarrassed to walk away, so they got stuck going on the ride with me.


What are some of your favorite things to do now, as an adult?


John: Two of my favorite things are going on-line to get the latest news and listening to talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh. I really enjoy listening to music and playing the organ. I also have three cats that occupy my time.


How do you best get around? Guide dog, cane, echolocation, etc?


John: When going anywhere by myself I usually get around with a cane or with the assistance of a sighted person. Sound cues can also be beneficial.


What advice could you give to parents of young blind children today?


John: There are a lot of issues, but one seems to stand out. When talking to a blind person,there is no need to avoid using common expressions such as, “See you later,” or “Are you seeing anyone?” You wouldn’t say, “Let’s go and hear a movie.”

To see doesn’t necessarily mean to perceive something with your eyes. Blind people see in different ways. Avoiding the use of common everyday expressions doesn’t help and only makes for awkward conversation.

Also, I have heard people say that when you’re blind, you can’t be prejudiced. After thinking about that for awhile, I don’t believe this is entirely true. While I don’t profess to be an authority on the subject, it seems to me that most hatreds and prejudices have little or nothing to do with skin color. Prejudice is usually passed on from parent to child, even if it is not intentional. Parents who don’t want to pass their old prejudices on to their children should keep in mind that sensory impairment does not make the child immune to this.

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