This is a guest blog post by Deena Greenberg, interviewer for Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience at Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. Deena conducted her first interview for the project with storyteller Daniel Aronoff on Tuesday, November 18. After you read her post, you can listen to Deena’s interview with Daniel. Also, you can check out Deena's blog, A Funny Thing Happened.
I just conducted my first interview for the Library’s Oral History project. I was a little nervous about it because I’d never done anything like it before, but it went better than I expected. First, I followed the advice I was given at the orientation the library gave all of the volunteers, and contacted my Storyteller, Daniel Aronoff, and scheduled the interview. Daniel asked for a braille release form, which John Fahs, the librarian who helps volunteers for the project, easily provided. I also sent Daniel the library Data Sheet in advance in case he wanted to fill it out before the interview, which he did.
Daniel Aronoff at Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library
Daniel has a blog called the Blind Taste Test, so he sent me the link to that as well as his Youtube Channel called The Blind Food Critic before the interview. I looked at them and discovered that he is also going to be featured in a documentary called New York After Dark, which follows a few blind New Yorkers in their daily lives to show what it’s like to be blind in New York City. I felt lucky to have a Storyteller with such an online presence because I was able to learn about him even before the interview started. In fact, that may be why during the interview, I often felt more like I was having a conversation with a new friend than conducting an interview.
I decided to wait in the lobby area, so that I could meet Daniel at the door and save him from any difficulties finding the interview room. However, as I eyed my watch at 4:35 and then 4:40, I started to worry. I wondered if Daniel was having trouble getting to the library. That’s when I realized that while we had exchanged our email addresses and landline numbers, we had not exchanged mobile phone numbers. That meant if Daniel was having a problem and wanted to reach me, he was not able to do so, and, of course, vice versa. Finally, at close to 5:00, Daniel appeared. As I feared, he had had difficulties with his car service. We still had plenty of time for the interview so it worked out fine, but if we could have called or texted beforehand, I could have worried a little less.
Before we started the interview, Daniel read his braille release. I have never seen anyone read braille before and was amazed at how quickly his hands flew over the document as he read. I took Daniel’s picture before the interview so I wouldn’t forget or be too rushed at the end of the interview to do it. As I mentioned before, once the interview started it was, for the most part, a more comfortable experience than I had expected. I say for the most part because some of the things Daniel talked about were difficult. You see, Daniel lost his eyesight due to a brain tumor he had when he was three years-old. Once the tumor was discovered, Daniel went through a series of operations over the next two years. Although, thankfully, the tumor was completely removed, as part of the process, his optic nerve also had to be removed, which is what left him blind.
However, despite the difficulties he has experienced, Daniel also had a lot of positive experiences to talk about. After he graduated high school, he got a master’s degree in social work and for a time counseled veterans. He also started the blog that I mentioned earlier. According to Daniel, his blog gets between 2,000 to 3,000 hits a month. And his audience apparently extends all the way to Spain, which is how he met the woman who is now his wife. It seems that his wife wanted to know where the best cupcakes in New York City are and tweeted her favorite blind food critic to find out. Daniel researched the topic assiduously and gave her his recommendation. They continued to stay in touch and visit until, a few months ago, they married.
My interview with Daniel ended well before our 6:30 p.m. deadline, so I had no problem wrapping things up and putting the materials in their proper location. Overall, I found the experience a positive one, and I think that Daniel did, too. I hope those who listen to the interview feel the same.
About Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience
Please visit our project website to read more about The New York Public Library’s initiative to make public, document, and preserve personal stories of the disability experience.
If you’re interested in sharing your story for this project, you can find more information on the blog post.
And, if you’re interested in being an interviewer (you can still share your story too!), we’re having another orientation on Saturday, December 13—details can be found on the program page.