Writing Blind

Oakland Writer Chronicles His Recovery



     After Belo Cipriani was left blind following a vicious assault in San Francisco in 2007, he had to make a new life for himself. The Guatemala native not only had to re-learn how to walk, read and write, but the Oakland resident—who had worked as a systems engineer, technical recruiter and bartender—also re-invented himself as a writer. His memoir, Blind, was published in 2011.
      “I hadn’t been able to write for a year [after the attack],” Cipriani says. “I’d always been an avid reader and been into journaling and it was the first time in my life I wasn’t able to do that.”
     He turned to a technology for the sight-impaired called JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech) that allows the visually impaired to read information on a computer screen using synthesized speech or Braille.
     “It took me about a year to really master it,” says Cipriani, who began writing in bits and pieces about learning how to re-enter the world post-blindness.
     “It wasn’t consistent, but that was what I used when I wrote my memoir,” Cipriani says of the passages he worked on once he was able to read and write again. “I used some of those feelings to create longer pieces and essays.”
     The memoir, in some ways, was also a response to already-published literature featuring blind characters. “There are lots of books about blind people doing amazing things, but I really struggled with the day-to-day stuff, and I realized that there was a gap in the literature,” Cipriani says. “I realized how little there was about becoming blind, although there are thousands of people who are blind across the country.”
     Cipriani’s approach obviously struck a chord, as the publication of his book has led to speaking engagements across the country, including a guest lecture at Yale University, a keynote speech for PG&E and dozens of other talks for the visually impaired and their caretakers.
     “Disability is an emerging field in academia and my book is being used in curricula,” says Cipriani, who grew up in San Jose. Currently a writer-in-residence at Oakland’s Holy Names University, Cipriani lives on campus with his guide dog, Madge (after singer Madonna’s nickname), and hopes to finish a second book while there—a novel this time.

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