Patricia Gann volunteers.
Like so many American women, she also runs a business and cares for a family. Her life is complex, and all the more complex because she is legally blind.If she wanted to, Gann could say, "I'm sorry, I just don't see well enough," or "I can't drive and transportation is very difficult for me." But Gann knows that she is not bound by the expectations of other people or their ideas of her limitations. So when she's asked to volunteer, Gann says, "Sure."
"I've thought about why I volunteer," she says. "I need to be needed."
Gann volunteers in the schools, for Professional Secretaries International, for the Murray B. Allen Center for the Blind and the Utah Council of the Blind. She's the president of the Utah Council for the Blind Credit Union, where she gets paid for a few hours each month and donates even more time.
She also teaches Braille to Brownie Scouts. And she dazzles grandparents and toddlers alike when she visits church groups and preschools with her musical talking calculator alarm clock.
During her public presentations, the older people ask the most questions, Gann says. Children ask the best questions.
"If you can't see, how do you know when you are clean when you take a bath," little ones wonder. "I tell them, `You have to wash everything,' " she says, laughing.
Gann enjoys showing what technology can do. She demonstrates her collapsible cane, her checkbook with template to help her write on the correct lines, and her diabetic syringe that clicks off each level as it fills.
"Many blind people want to be able to do as much as they can for themselves," she explains to the groups. "The only two things we can't do is drive and do surgery.
"We have a blind attorney in Utah, a blind chiropractor, blind secretaries, teachers, computer programmers."
As for herself, Gann says, "I'm an entrepreneur." She has two companies. She buys and sells heavy equipment and she has a typing service.
Her computer magnifies what she is typing on half the screen, and magnifies what she's typing from on the other half. "Even if I lose my eyesight completely, the computer also has audio capabilities." She could get a program that would read to her what she types.
Gann does some of her volunteer work on her computer. She keeps calling lists for the secretaries association and for the blind, and lists of volunteers for the schools.
Many of her projects, however, take her out into the city, out into a world of expanding opportunities for the visually handicapped.
At the credit union she's helped set up a new fund, the interest from which will go to subsidize the interest on loans to the blind for aids and appliances.
"I was the nominating chair this year for the Utah Council of the Blind. I decided that we are going to have voting booths at our next election," she says. She is arranging for the booths to be fitted out with styluses and templates.
It will be the first time many of the members have ever voted in a booth by secret ballot. In the past they voted by putting chips in a box, she says. That kind of election was easier to organize.
"But I've never taken the easy way," she says.
Gann is diabetic. Her eyesight started fading several years ago. She went in for surgery, with the doctors unsure if much of her sight could be restored, and as her mother drove her home from the hospital they stopped by and signed her up for occupational training.
As it turned out, after the prescribed period of bed rest, Gann did have some sight. She took occupational therapy anyway, blindfolded.
At an 11-week course, offered through Rehabilitation Services at the Murray B. Allen Center, "They taught us how to plant flowers, mow the lawn, sew." She learned, Gann says, that no matter how much of her sight she keeps or loses, she'll do everything she's always done.
She'll do more than she did when she was younger, actually. "They taught us how to saw and use electrical tools. I'd never done that before. It gave me confidence," she says.
She loves helping other people get involved and gain confidence, too. "I'm a great networking resource," she says.
Gann doesn't feel shy about urging other people to volunteer. "This year, for the Utah Council of the Blind elections, we had the largest slate of officers we've ever had," she says. "I'm pleased so many people said yes when I called. But I really didn't give them an option."
"I don't think anyone, whether they're blind or not, has any excuse for not volunteering."
When parents volunteer in the school they become more aware of what their children are doing, she says. "Within the blind community, volunteers get to help other people. It makes you feel good.
"When I volunteer for Professional Secretaries, it keeps me in touch with what's happening, the latest developments in the field.
"If you don't get active you don't know what's happening and you can't take advantage of opportunities and services available," Gann says. "The best way to be aware is to volunteer."