Blind author teaches kids to explore with all senses
BY BRIDGET O’SHEA firstname.lastname@example.org | @OSheaBridget October 2, 2013 7:52PM
Beth Finke, a prominent Chicago writer, talked to kindergartners at St. Anne Catholic School in Barrington about being blind. | Bridget O'Shea/Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2013 3:40PM
Barrington’s St. Anne Catholic School welcomed a special visitor last week, a prominent Chicago writer who recently published a children’s book.
Beth Finke also happens to be blind.
“Even though my eyes are open, all I see is black,” Finke told a group of kindergartners as she sat with her guide dog, a Labrador retriever mix named Whitney.
Finke, who lost her sight at 26 years old, talked to the curious group of kids about what it’s like to navigate the world without sight.
“I use all those other senses,” she said.
Finke explained that she doesn’t let it stop her; she has a part-time job in an office in Chicago’s Willis Tower, teaches writing classes to senior citizens and wrote a successful memoir and several published essays. Most recently, Finke published “Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound,” an illustrated children’s book written from the point of view of a guide dog.
“I didn’t have much expertise in writing for children, but I had a lot of help,” said Finke, explaining that her husband helped with the illustrations by describing them to her.
Finke also talked to the children about being blind.
Although her husband does most of the cooking at home, Finke said she enjoys making salads. She just has to stay away from the stove and sharp knives.
To read, Finke uses Braille and books on tape.
Finke explained that guide dogs are trained from a young age and are allowed by state law to go with their owners anywhere, including on trains and airplanes.
“A lot of the time other people on the plane don’t even know there’s a dog,” she said.
Finke also told the kids that there are strict rules about how others can act toward guide dogs in public. She said the dogs are not to be petted because it would distract them from their job.
She also said never to feed guide dogs. These dogs, she said, are recognizable by a harness they wear with a bar attached for the owner to hold.
Finke spent the day at St. Anne, talking to all grade levels.
According to her website, bethfinke.com, she has spoken at several conferences and events throughout the country. Finke said she enjoys public speaking and interacting with both children and adults.
On Sept. 25, after speaking with the kindergartners, Finke said she had plans later that day to teach a writing class to seniors.
Finke’s first book, a memoir titled “Long Time, No See,” was published in 2003 by the University of Illinois Press.
“I really like mixing my life up like that,” she said.