“I see what you mean,” says Belo Cipriani — but actually, he doesn’t. The expression is one of many reflexive but inaccurate idioms that persist as part of his daily conversations, even though he lost his sight as the victim of a violent crime in 2007.
That experience moved him from writing personally to writing professionally and creating “Blind: A Memoir.” He is one of seven writers with disabilities gathering at the San Francisco Public Library today to read from their works and mark the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
You needn’t apologize to Cipriani, 31, for making an unintended verbal gaffe with regard to his lost sight. “I’m used to it. Blind people are less than 1 percent of the population,” he says. “When I meet someone new, I’m often the first blind person they’ve encountered directly.”
For Cipriani, experiencing the ADA in action had an unexpected effect. “I think I became more patriotic after becoming blind,” he says. “Once I got my doomsday prognosis — the ‘we’ve done everything we can’ speech from the doctors — I was contacted by federal and state agencies and nonprofits. Within days I had people at my house training me in my new life.”
He attributes that responsiveness to a society that embraced legal guarantees of equal rights for the disabled. “I don’t think I’d be where I am now without the ADA,” he says. “It definitely gave me a launching pad to advocate for myself.“
Assistive technology plays a large part in his life now. “I use a standard laptop, but with an application that reads back what I type. I also use a digital recorder, because if I’m inspired with an idea I can no longer rely on pen and paper to jot it down.”
Having these tools is a double-edged sword.
“There’s definitely a sci-fi aspect,” he says. “I rely on all these voices and machines. They are expensive and sometimes they break. On the other hand, I can change voices on some of the programs and have found that switching between male and female voices can actually help with the editing process.
“I make the best of the tools available to me and, through them, writing has become something where I am able to produce a product that has value.”
Joining Cipriani in the Koret Auditorium are Bridget Brown, Amber DiPietra, David Fish, Jennifer Gibbons, Michelle Puckett and Derek Zarda. A reception precedes the readings and a book sale follows. The Main Library is wheelchair accessible. Assistive listening devices and real-time captioning will be provided.
An associated exhibit, “Unique Views of Life,” is on view in the Koret display case. The show features paintings, photographs and drawings of Urbsters (Urban Monsters) by artists Richard Chapman and John Ross Quevedo, who help viewers understand how people with vision impairments see the world.
IF YOU GO
Lives Explored: Writers With Disabilities
Where: Koret Auditorium, Main Library, 100 Larkin St.,San Francisco
When: 6 p.m. today; preceded by 5 p.m. reception
Contact: (415) 557-4557, www.sfpl.org