The Perspective from Jeff’s World

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By Jeff Thom

In many cultures, the elders of the community are respected for their experience and wisdom. In a culture that often clings to youth, Where It’s AT is highlighting the contribution of our seniors in the Disability community.
In honor of May as Older Americans Month, Jeff Thom graciously agreed to provide a glimpse into his world as an elder who is blind.

My World, and Welcome to It.
Having turned 66 a few days ago, I’ve done some serious reflecting on my life and concluded that I have much to be thankful for. I am a husband; father of five, three biological and two who sort of adopted us during the tumultuous teenage years; a grandfather of 8; and a host-parent to more than a dozen foreign exchange students.

Photo of an elder woman, two young women, an elder man, and a young man.
(From left to right) Leslie (Jeff’s wife), Michelle (2nd to youngest daughter), Andrea (youngest daughter), Jeff, and Paul (oldest son). Not shown are two other daughters, Tina and Marsi.

I was fortunate enough to have been a blind attorney employed in the sighted world of the California Legislature for 30 years, thus providing me with the opportunity to be an ambassador, by example, for all of us with disabilities.

Now, as long as I have time to enjoy my San Francisco Bay Area sports teams, I can devote myself to my real passion: advocating on behalf of persons with disabilities, and especially those who are blind or have low vision.

My Favorite Low-Tech Devices

When it comes to a low-tech device that I enjoy, it is clearly my landline. It is true that I can’t play games on it or read e-mail, as I can with my Smartphone, but it almost always gives me a clear signal and doesn’t result in dropped calls.

Indoor photo of an elder Asian woman on a landline telephone wearing eyeglasses and a beige cardigan. smiling.

Did you know that the California Telephone Access Program (CTAP) provides free specialized phones and accessories for your mobile phone to all qualified Californians? Learn more:

As efficient as e-mail and text messaging can be, not to mention various forms of social media, there is nothing like communicating voice-to-voice. Not only is it the most effective way to ensure that everyone is on the same page, but the warmth of telephonic communication far outweighs anything you can do via the internet.

Photo of a braille label maker
Braille label-makers are available to any Californians for a FREE 30-day loan! Visit the AT Exchange for info.

From an assistive technology perspective, a Braille label-maker is an absolutely awesome low-tech device. Last summer, my youngest daughter labeled all the spices in our spice cabinet. I can’t describe the glee with which I am now able to grab the spice of my choice to throw into whatever I happen to be cooking.

The use of Braille, even for those who may have suffered recent vision loss and who will likely never read a book in Braille, can make a major difference in one’s journey toward independence.

My Favorite High-Tech Gadgets

Insofar as high-tech items are concerned, notwithstanding all the gadgets that give me so much pleasure, like my Echo SmartPen and my digital book reader, I still love my PC. I prefer to do as much of my advocacy work as possible in the comfort of my own home and sitting at my computer puts me in the zone to get things done.

Whether it is writing letters to lobby for state legislation, putting together a convention program for the nonprofit organization of which I am immediate past president, or engaging in advocacy discussions with colleagues, I am most productive hammering away using my PC.

Photo of a leather chair at a desk, with a desktop computer.

Yes, I consider myself a most fortunate individual, not only to have received so many blessings, but to have had the opportunity to give back!

Outdoor photo of an elder white man wearing a collared shirt, smiling.

Jeff Thom is the Chair for the Governmental Affairs Committee at the California Council of the Blind.
We recently connected with Jeff when he was part of the illustrious panel of leaders in the Disability Community providing the California Census some best practices in regards to reaching the blind/low-vision Californians.