Byron Holland/Sun Journal
Barbara Hansen is president of the board of directors for the Radio Reading Service of Eastern North Carolina, the organization that reads aloud printed materials on the radio for the blind or visually impaired.
Smoothing the edges for many
October 25, 2009 8:18 PM
Sun Journal Staff
As a social worker for the blind and visually impaired, Barbara Hansen taught people tricks for organizing paper money, identifying coins, or writing checks so they could do the things they thought they would no longer be able to do.
Hansen, who was a social worker for 32 years, said she often worked with people who lost their sight later in life. She has been blind her whole life, and she said people often were surprised at what she showed them.
“Like dimes have rough edges and a penny has a smooth edge,” she said. “They’re already that way, but you don’t think of it until you can’t see them anymore. I ran into this a lot during my job. I would show people and they’d say, ‘Well I’ll be.’ It was like they were just so thrilled and excited that they could distinguish in that manner.”
Hansen, 64, worked for the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind as a social worker for Craven, Carteret and Pamlico counties. She worked to get financial assistance for people who needed eye glasses or surgery, taught them independent living skills and connected them with services for the blind or visually impaired, offering counseling to help people cope with blindness.
“Some people, they deal with it differently, just like different aspects of our lives,” she said.
In teaching independent living, she showed them how to vacuum or sweep their whole floor or carpet and how to pour liquids, as well as how to use writing guides to write letters and checks. She said she can sign her name, but she grew up writing in Braille or typing, and her writing skills are nearly “zilch” she said with a laugh.
Through her work, Hansen said she felt she could relate to people, as well as offer them something to make their lives better. She recalled one experience in which she helped a woman who lost her sight and had been blind for 10 years to be able to read the Bible in Braille.
Through “real blood, sweat and tears,” and her faith in God, Hansen said she was able to get a Braille Bible and participate in her church’s work.
“I guess I’ve always had a strong desire to contribute my part to society, and I’ve always wanted to do my best to help myself,” Hansen said. “I’m just glad to do what I can to touch the lives of other blind and impaired people.”
But Hansen did not set out to be a social worker. She first wanted to be a teacher, and after attending The Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh where she learned to play the violin, the piano and the organ, she studied elementary education at Mount Olive College. She said she was the only blind student at the school at the time.
But she was discouraged from teaching because she was told it would be difficult for blind people to find a job in the public schools. She transferred to East Carolina University in Greenville and began studying social work.
It was a good fit because she said she was in a foster home as a young child before she was adopted, and she was passionate about helping children who need special support. Her senior year at ECU, she did her field placement in Pitt County working with the blind.
“I really enjoyed it and enjoyed meeting the people, and just felt like I could relate and I felt like I had something that I could offer to them to help them to be able to cope with their blindness and the aspects of life that goes along with that,” she said.
Her first job was in Craven County, which led her to her husband. She hired a driver to take her to her work assignments, and it was not long before the driver told Hansen that she had a son that wanted to meet her.
“We met, and it was kind of ironic, we actually had a blind date,” she said, explaining that their first meeting, the courtship and the marriage were “just one of those things.”
“We felt that God had put us together,” she said. “Everything just clicked.”
She lives in a house that her husband built, and she played organ for 23 years at the Pleasant Acres Free Will Baptist Church in New Bern. Her faith is a large part of her life, and she’s the district coordinator for Women Active for Christ organization.
Since she retired five years ago from her job, she has not stopped working to help others. She works on contract basis for the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind, teaching small classes for newly blinded adults on independent living.
She is also the president of the Board of Directors for the Radio Reading Service of Eastern North Carolina that provides local news for people who are blind, visually impaired or who are unable to read print materials.
The nonprofit provides special radios that allow listeners to hear a sideband transmitted from Greenville and WTEB at Craven Community College’s campus, where volunteers read the Sun Journal and other publications on the air. The nonprofit launched in the early 1990s, and now reaches 10 counties and about 183 listeners.
Hansen said the nonprofit hopes to expand, and leaders have ordered more radios with funding from The Harold H. Bate Foundation, the Craven County Community Foundation, and the Craven Regional Medical Center Foundation.
“If anyone knows of anyone who could benefit from our service — that’s one of our goals in the next couple of years is to increase our listening audience,” she said, adding that they hope to expand to 70 more listeners.
Hansen said that in her life she feels she’s been blessed in her marriage and she feels thankful for the skills she has that have enabled her to help others.
“I just think he has always been there for me, and got me through lots of different things,” she said. “I just feel that I’ve been very blessed through the years.”
Laura Oleniacz can be reached at 252-635-5675 or at email@example.com.