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- Profile: Cody Dolinsek finds passion in sacred texts and ancient languages
- Blind Perspective: Working to exceed our greatest expectations
- Talking Tech w/ Curtis Chong: The Samsung Haven
By Shoshana Hebshi, Editor
It’s 9:30 a.m., and the class has already been deep into the books for more than two hours. Well, it’s really just one book—The Good Book. In this case, it’s the Book of Jonah, and it’s in Hebrew. But that’s not a problem for Cody Dolinsek, who is taking this Hebrew language course at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Ankeny as part of his studies toward a Master’s of Divinity degree.
Dolinsek, 34, is also studying Greek, which he taught himself. Fluency in these two languages will help him understand the original contexts of the New and Old Testaments, which were written in those languages, as he prepares for a career in the ministry. And, as a blind man, he has been learning it all in Braille.
“I love the challenges of thinking hard, raising critical questions and constantly being in the process of learning,” he said, adding that Faith Baptist requires its students to learn the two languages so they can be better preachers and Biblical scholars.
On this particular day, the class was pouring over Chapter Three, Verse 1 in Jonah, analyzing specific Hebrew words and their English translation. Dolinsek thumbs through his Braille version and follows along. His teacher, Dr. John Hartog, calls on him, and Dolinsek reads a line successfully. Hartog gives him a double thumbs up. The class giggles.
Hartog was instrumental in Dolinsek enrolling at the seminary. As an undergraduate at Des Moines Area Community College, Dolinsek found he enjoyed deep conversations about faith and truth (he later earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Drake University). Hartog, then the dean of Faith Baptist, encouraged Dolinsek to pursue the ministry and enroll. Now, Dolinsek plans to graduate this coming May.
“He’s a very sharp student,” said Hartog. “He’s perceptive and well read. He’s got good, strong critical thinking skills.”
Hartog said these skills will be of great benefit to Dolinsek as he enters the working world. As a blind man, Hartog continued, Dolinsek will have no problem with being confident in his ability to lead a congregation, but it will be the congregation members that must look within themselves to accept a blind man as their leader.
“He doesn’t let any of those challenges thwart him,” Hartog said. “He never has.”
Dolinsek, who has been blind since birth, makes his way around the small Ankeny campus with confidence and ease, using his long, white cane as a guide. Part of his nature stems from the year he spent 15 years ago at the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Orientation Center, learning the skills of blindness and building his confidence.
Sometimes, he says, he allows other students at Faith Baptist to help him do things in order to make them feel better. But mostly, the other students treat him normally. He says he would not mind the long hours of study required for his coursework if it weren’t for his part-time job at Nationwide Insurance in downtown Des Moines, where he puts in 20 hours a week as a customer service representative.
When he’s finished with his Master’s, Dolinsek will seek out a Ph.D. in either philosophy or theology. Both are equally appealing to him, and either will serve as a solid foundation for a career in teaching and preaching. “People may not like to admit it, but philosophy and theology are constantly working off each other,” he said.
And this all comes from a man who hated school as a youth.
“I thought it was a waste of time,” he said. “I would have rather listened to music or read Stephen King novels. It didn’t hold a lot of interest for me.”
Then, at age 14, he converted to Christianity, which set the wheels in motion for deep understanding of the religion and sacred texts.
“I discovered that lots of people had written about what it means to be Christian, and they had written about Greek philosophy,” he said. “It piqued my interest. I wanted to be as learned and holy as these people I was learning about. Initially, I never would have considered myself headed for academics, I wanted to be a singer. I still love music, and if anyone were irresponsible enough to take an overweight 34-year-old out on the road, I’d go for it.”
Until that time comes, however, Dolinsek will be content studying his languages and working toward his more tangible future of scholarly pursuits and divine understanding. “I like a good challenge,” he said. “In the middle of them, I think: Man, Cody you are an idiot for getting yourself involved in it. But you muddy through that and do the best you can.”
I’ve never read the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I do know if I wrote something with that title it would focus on kids and the wondrous potential they bring to this world.
We all have great expectations for children when they are born, and they develop great expectations for themselves. It’s exciting to see the first day of school arrive. New clothes, new supplies and new expectations follow those laughing faces right out the door.
School is a big factor in a child’s life. I used to work as a teacher’s aide. My job was to assist visually impaired students in an elementary school. They arrived on the first day of classes just as exuberant as other children. They were eager to learn and show what they could accomplish. It was the best day of the year.
I noticed, however, that some parents and teachers didn’t have high expectations for blind students. It wasn’t that they didn’t have any expectations; it was that they weren’t comparable to those set for their sighted peers. My students saw the difference, and I saw the effect. There were some students who were self-motivated and excelled despite the odds for or against them. Sadly, there were also those who, over time, bought into the can’t-do-it mode and just stopped trying. Watching a child give up on their abilities and self-worth was the hardest part of my job, especially when it was expedited by those professing to care about them. Thankfully, I also met parents and teachers who continually helped blind students succeed.
That experience taught me a lot about people in general. At what point do we stop being excited about learning and trying new things?
I know people who never stop. They are always taking a class or delving into a project. I wish I was more like them. I think it goes back in part to expectations. Once we get settled into our lives people don’t challenge us very often. More to the point, we don’t challenge ourselves. The expectations we had for our future decline and, eventually, doubt replaces dreams. The mundane replaces the magnificent. Somewhere we forget the joys of learning and the excitement of accomplishment.
So as we send kids back to school, let’s not forget what expectations can do for them. Let’s not forget what possibilities exist in all children. Take an active role in helping kids succeed, even if it is simply to smile at a child and say, “Nice job.” Then take these concepts further. It’s too easy to give ourselves a pass because we are disabled. The world does that for us. Society doesn’t always hold high expectations for blind adults either. We need to set those for ourselves. One of our jobs is to teach all children to reach for their potential. Another is to seek our own. None of us has reached it yet. Amazingly, there are still great opportunities waiting for each of us.
This fall, let’s all start a new “school year.” Happy learning! I hope our accomplishments exceed our greatest expectations.
Linda Slayton is a freelance writer living in Des Moines.
By Curtis Chong
Those of us interested in fully accessible cell phones for the blind or visually impaired have been frustrated by the lack of full nonvisual access in commercially available low-end cell phones.
Enter the Samsung Haven. This phone, released by Verizon in late July, is neither a smart phone nor a personal digital assistant. You can’t take a picture with it, you can’t send e-mail with it, and you can’t browse the Web with it. Simply put, the Samsung Haven is just a phone.
What makes the Haven interesting is that this phone can be used with little or no vision. Once speech output has been turned on (a simple procedure for someone who knows how to do it), all of the menus will talk to you. You can hear what you enter on the phone’s keypad, and you can hear who is calling you. You can also send and read text messages without help from a sighted person.
There are two important points to keep in mind regarding this new and exciting phone: First, the literature makes no mention of its ability to talk. Second, no one in the Verizon stores seems to know how to activate the phone’s speech.
If you are interested in this phone and want to score a few points with the Verizon sales staff, here is how to activate speech output:
- After turning on the phone, press the Menu key.
- Press number 6 on the keypad to enter the Settings Menu.
- Press number 1 to enter the Sounds Menu.
- Press number 5 to enter the Voice Commands Menu.
- Press number 6 to enter the Full Readout Menu.
- Press the Up-Arrow key to select On and press the OK button. After about a two-second pause, you should hear speech.
- Press the Clear key four times to move out of these menus and back to the home screen.
As a final note, you should know it is best if you purchase the Haven with an extended-life battery. Experience has shown that speech output drains the phone’s normal battery rather quickly.
Curtis Chong is oversees IDB’s field operations and technology departments. He contributes to IDB’s assistive technology blog at http://blindtechnology.wordpress.com.