First Washington Stories Fund Grant Awarded to Jack Straw Cultural Center

Innovative program will explore adult and youth profiles in blindness

JSP Blind-WCB-11_10_06 - 063#C970Humanities Washington has announced the inaugural recipient of its newly created Washington Stories Fund: The Jack Straw Cultural Center. The Washington Stories Fund supports projects that record and share with the broader community the little-known stories of people or groups whose contributions add to the cultural richness and health of Washington state communities.

Jack Straw Cultural Center was awarded a $5,000 grant to produce Through the Light: Profiles in Blindness. The project will provide opportunities for blind and visually impaired youth and adults to collect, record, and distribute their rarely heard stories to the broader public.

“We were first drawn to the types of stories that are sure to surface during this project,” said Julie Ziegler, Humanities Washington’s executive director.  “Ironically, the sighted community is largely blind to the unique challenges faced by those who cannot see. The fact that 70% of blind adults are unemployed and more socially isolated limits peoples’ chances to come in contact with someone who is disabled in this way. We are excited at the prospects for this project to nurture mutually supportive relationships between youth and adults, and for the greater community to see how it, too, can best ensure that individuals who live with a visual impairment have an opportunity to participate fully in community life.”

Through the Light: Profiles in Blindness is an expansion of a special project conducted in 2006 by the Jack Straw Cultural Center, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences, and the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind, who have worked  together for 20 years to create accessible arts activities for people who live with a visual impairment. The project brought visually impaired adults from a variety of professions together with visually impaired high school students to record interviews during a Washington Council of the Blind conference. Students interviewed eight adults about their professions and what they had to overcome to achieve their goals. The visually impaired adults in the project were delighted to participate, saying they seldom had opportunities like this to talk with visually impaired youth.

“Humanities Washington’s support for this project will help us provide more opportunities for visually impaired youth and adults to talk with each other, for adults to share their stories and experiences, and for students to ask questions or express their concerns,” said Joan Rabinowitz, executive director of the Jack Straw Cultural Center. “We hope this project will also dispel some misconceptions about individuals with visual impairments.”

With seed funding from the Lenore and Charles Hale Family Fund (see related story at right), Humanities Washington established the Washington Stories Fund in 2014 as a new tool to dismantle barriers and enhance cultural understanding. Funded projects elevate the stories of people who fall outside of the mainstream because of their culture, gender, immigration status, country of origin, age, or other unique characteristics, ultimately enhancing the public’s awareness of new and unique perspectives and cultures. Humanities Washington’s volunteer review committee selected Jack Straw from a pool of five applicants who were invited to submit proposals. In 2015, the Washington Stories Fund will be made available as a general grant opportunity for which non-profit organizations can apply without special invitation.

Although there are many different types of visual impairment, when thinking of blindness, many people imagine a person wearing sunglasses and carrying a white cane. While this image holds some truth, it is only for a portion of the blind community. Blindness affects all age groups and has a vast range of impairment. Blindness can be isolating, especially for those who live in smaller, more rural communities.  A blind child is often the only blind student in a school and also in the town, with no one to talk to about the unique challenges he or she faces. Efforts to tell the stories of visually impaired people are rare.

In this project, visually impaired youth will interview visually impaired adults about their professions, the hurdles they faced, and the successes they have achieved. Blind adults, in turn, will talk with youth about issues that concern them, including assumptions about blindness, and the resulting behaviors of blind and sighted people towards each other.  Project participants will also have opportunities to interact with the general public through a series of conversations at Seattle Public libraries.  Stories will be shared via a webpage with content recorded and produced during the project.

These conversations will offer insight for the general public and for blind youth who have not yet started their professional pursuits. By sharing their stories, blind adults can help the next generation of blind individuals with their journey towards self-reliance and becoming active members of the community. And, perhaps, sighted and blind youth will see how they share many of the same problems and hopes.

The Jack Straw Cultural Center, a multidisciplinary arts and heritage organization, is dedicated to working with individuals, organizations, and communities to create, document, present, and learn about their cultural traditions, history, and heritage. Jack Straw provides a broad range of programs for both children and adults to help them collect and tell their stories through annual artist residencies, art and technology education programs, arts and heritage partnerships, and radio and podcast production.

For more information about The Jack Straw Cultural Center and its programs, visit

For more information on the Washington Stories Fund and other grant opportunities, visit

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