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Greater New York Council of the Blind

A chapter of the American Council of the Blind of New York; An affiliate of the American Council of the Blind

Interview with Mary Ellen Cronin
Interviewer: Suvro Banerjee

Photo of Mary Ellen smiling. Caption: Photo of Mary Ellen smiling.

Mary Ellen Cronin joined our chapter in 1982 and as a member of Greater New York Council of the Blind (GNYCB) has paved the way for the blind and visually impaired community. Mary Ellen was President of the GNYCB chapter from January, 1996 to December, 2001.

Mary Ellen grew up in the Bronx and is one of five children in her family and is a twin. Her sister, the other twin, was blind as well but passed away at a young age. During her childhood she attended the Lavelle School for the Blind from the age of three and then the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind for high school. During her high school years she participated in the student council. She said, “The students were not afraid of anything. They ran without their canes and participated in the same school activities as students who attended regular school.”

Mary Ellen then went on to attend Marist College for her undergraduate years where she studied history. While attending college she had to be resourceful. At that time there were no talking devices or technology that we have today which makes school easier for today’s students. Mary Ellen took notes in braille using her slate and stylus. She also used a device called the Reel-to-Reel to listen to recorded books from Recordings for the Blind. 

One of the many amazing facts about Mary Ellen is that while in college she was the only blind student to study abroad in Ireland. She is quoted as saying, “This experience was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.” After graduation she took a year off and went on to volunteer with children who had disabilities. After that wonderful experience she went on to graduate school at New York University where she studied social work.

As Mary Ellen moved on into adulthood she knew there were issues that affected the blind community and she wanted to get involved in trying to change those issues. She worked in the field of social work for 37 years. When asked her opinion on how sighted people view the blind and visually impaired community, she responded by saying, “Times have changed, and in the past we were viewed as not being very independent, or incapable of achieving independence.”

In today’s society people’s attitudes regarding the blind community have changed because we are more visible in the community. We are going outside more and are in the workforce. She also believes that technology has been a big part of that and social media has helped us progress. 

When it comes to advocating, Mary Ellen’s advice is to never give up on what you are fighting for. It may take a while to achieve the goal, but one day it will get done. Her most important advocacy work began with the MTA in the 1980’s concerning the importance of the installation of gates in between subway cars, and in the 1990’s advocating for the placement of detectable warning strips on the subway platforms. She is also one of the many people who were instrumental in getting the city to put braille signage in the taxi cabs. Lastly, she continues the fight to help get O&M instructors licensed.

Moving forward she would like to see more of our chapter members going to legislative events and conferences. We can learn so much and she believes the young people should get more involved.

The main issues that affect us now are voting, teaching people to be more proficient with technology, getting things in a more accessible format, and mentoring.

In closing, we will leave you with this: no blind person can do it all by themselves. Seek out the help that you need and do your best.

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