My name is Karen Gourgey. I’m the Director of the Computer Center for Visually-Impaired People at Baruch College, City University of New York. As a child, I would do anything; people didn’t really try to stop me too much. At age five, I called Sky Coach Airlines to make a reservation to take a flight to Florida. Being in the middle of six children, I had to compete with all my siblings. After all, they weren’t going to cut me any slack just because I happened to be blind.
Later, in the big wide world, I had to live with lack of understanding, prejudice, and sometimes just plain lack of access, before I figured out that I really would have to advocate for myself. These were pretty important experiences, and they governed my life. I remember my first day freshman year at Oberlin College. I walked in excitedly to my Biology class and being so shocked when a professor came up to me and said, “you cannot take this class.” I walked out, and I cried. Four years later, I’d have sued. The first time I did officially advocate for myself was in the 1970s — early 1970s, that is. I tried to join a health club in New York City, and I met all the qualifications, but still I was denied membership. I took this case to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and I won.
In my career, I have tried to promote genuine access for those of us who are blind and visually impaired. I’ve tried to make the world a more accessible place, and to help others understand what genuine accessibility is for us, and to embrace it. For example, right now, as we’re making this recording, this a bill before the New York City Council to increase the number of accessible pedestrian signals in New York City. Now these signals alert a blind or a deaf blind person when the walk signal activates at an intersection. At the moment there are way too few of these in NYC, so we’re still relying on traffic sounds and cues from people. And so if you think about it, if I’m jaywalking, like everyone else in NYC is — unknowingly! — and a little hybrid car comes whizzing through the intersection, I don’t know if I’ll hear it in time to jump out of the way.