KALAMAZOO, Mich. — With something as simple as a greeting card, Truesillia Ruth Shank hopes to help bridge the gap between the separate worlds of the sighted and the blind.
"It seems so unfair that a blind person should miss out on the simple, little pleasures of life," said Shank, sitting in the living room of her modest home that doubles as the office for her 7-month-old card company, Sucurre Greetings. Sucurre is an Old French word meaning "to assist."
"Can you imagine being 30, 40 or 50 years old and having to wait for someone to read a stack of Christmas cards to you? Or not being able to go into a store and pick out an anniversary card for your wife or a birthday card for your child?" she asked.
The inspiration for Sucurre Greetings, which Shank owns with her husband, came while she was working on an advertising project with a blind businessman.
"He was doing things I couldn't do even with my sight," she said. "It just didn't seem right that he needed someone to go to a store with him just to pick out a card."
Few Braille Translations
Because of the limited market, Braille greeting cards have not been manufactured by established card companies, said Adam Ash, publisher of the Gift Reporter, a trade publication for the gift industry. Some rehabilitation agencies have been known to sell some Braille cards at Christmas, and others translate greeting cards to Braille when requested.
"At best, what you've been able to get up until now is a card for a sighted person that's been Brailled. These cards are designed specifically for a visually impaired person, but are still appealing to a sighted person as well," said Paul Ponchillia, a professor in the Department of Blind Rehabilitation at Western Michigan University.
Ponchillia, who is blind, helped the Shanks design the cards.
The Shanks, also co-owners of a year-old advertising and printing company, hope the pastel colors and simple but elegant designs embossed on the front of the cards will appeal to a wide audience. Underneath the design is a description of the object in Braille. Inside, Braille appears under the message, typically a short phrase with slightly raised letters.
Assistance From Volunteers
One lavender card has an embossed bird in flight on the cover. Inside, the message is "My heart's all a-flutter."
In addition to her basic line of 25 cards, Shank said she also has a line of Christmas cards.
"We want the person to get the full impact of the card--a card that everyone can enjoy," said Shank, a 32-year-old mother of three children.
She does the embossing by hand. Her husband, Michael, art director at a television station, does much of the designing and printing. Most of the Brailling is done by blind volunteers.
Distribution of the cards is mostly limited to local card shops, but Shank says she fills mail orders and is trying to line up distributors for the cards in other parts of the country. The cards sell for $2 and $2.50 locally.
If the cards catch on, the Shanks would like to provide jobs for blind rehabilitation and training groups.
And it looks as if the cards may be catching on. Marshall Field has expressed interest in buying the line for its chain of department stores, as well as an alphabet book Shank designed for use by both sighted and blind children.
"Before getting involved in this, I never really knew a blind person, and I don't think I ever remember seeing a book that's shown me what Braille's like," she said.
"We planned the book to get rid of the gap between sighted and blind children. We want a sighted child to know what Braille feels like and a blind child to be able to feel the letters that we're seeing. Maybe that way we can get rid of some of the prejudice."
Prejudice is a subject Shank knows well.
"Because I'm black, some people might ask why I'm not doing something for a black cause. Well, blindness knows no color. When people stop being prejudiced against blind people or handicapped people, maybe they'll stop being prejudiced about black people," she said.