By BETH VRABEL
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Edward Hersh grew up hearing his grandfather share the story of a terrible tractor accident that occurred when Hersh was just a toddler. His grandfather, a farmer in Jefferson, credited God for his miraculous recovery.
But the story tasted bittersweet to Hersh, who was born blind. If God could heal his grandfather, why couldn’t he fix his vision?
“Today I see it as one of those things we have to deal with in broken world,” said Hersh, a Dallastown Area graduate who now lives in Millersville.
“Bad things happen to good people, disappointments are common. It’s not because God is any different. We’re different. We can’t change a lot. But we can change our response to it.”
And the 55-year-old’s response likely will be one of courage, determination and resourcefulness.
“I’ve been a very successful, I guess, blind person,” Hersh said. “Some of the places it’s taken me have been good. But it’s also been difficult because I have to get the information in different ways.”
These different ways often involve technology. With the help of scanners, software and the nonprofit Learning Ally, Hersh has earned four degrees — a doctorate of Religious Studies in conflict management at Trinity Seminary, a master’s degree in Human Service Counseling from Regent University and bachelor’s degrees in German and computer science from Millersville University.
Hersh is also an author, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, innkeeper, community advocate, father and husband.
He has a visual acuity of 20/400, as opposed to the standard of 20/20 — Hersh must be as close as 20 feet to see what a person with 20/20 vision can see at 400 feet. A person with an acuity of 20/200 is considered legally blind.
So when Hersh, who is active on church committees and in social events, enters a crowded room, he has to be within a few feet of a person to recognize him.
Likewise, while Hersh might not notice facial expressions, he has to remember that other people do, and might misjudge him just for the set of his mouth.
“It’s almost like living in a fishbowl,” Hersh said. “I have to be aware that other people are always watching.”
To earn his degrees — including his 1975 diploma from Dallastown Area High School — Hersh relies on audio books from Learning Ally, formerly called Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.
Learning Ally has a library of more than 75,000 audio books, which it supplies in unlimited amounts to disabled students and adults for an annual fee of less than $100, spokeswoman Jenny Falke said.
It began in 1948 to help blinded World War II soldiers pursue education. Falke said the organization’s mission is helping those with learning disabilities or physical limitations access the written word.
“All through formal learning experiences, I’ve used Learning Ally,” Hersh said.
But as the scope of his studies narrowed, the availability of resources also narrowed. If audio versions of materials weren’t available, Hersh would scan books into his computer and use text-to-speech software to accommodate his vision.
Of course, page-by-page scanning is time intensive. “Someone might have been able to complete three dissertations in the time it took me to do one,” he said.
But Hersh did finish, and then turned the dissertation into “Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart,” a book and study guide on how to fully forgive betrayals and disappointments. It’s a topic he’s grappled with often.
“I can get around pretty well,” Hersh said. “I can be undercover, so to speak; an unrecognized disability.” But when he discloses his blindness, others’ responses are sometimes baffling.
Hersh said his studies into psychology and relationships have helped him not to internalize these responses.
“For some reason, people think you’re not as smart if you can’t see,” Hersh said with a laugh. “There is something of a stereotype or prejudice, when people think of your abilities as less than what they are because of a sight situation, in terms of being able to contribute.”
To help change those prejudices, Hersh is active in promoting accessibility for other visually impaired people. This includes petitioning Lancaster city government to install traffic crosswalks that give audio as well as visual cues.
“Advocacy works needs to be done; blind and low-vision people really need help,” Hersh said. “I don’t think there are enough people in the community who really see the desperate situation and how far there is to go.”
Perhaps this advocacy work is why Hersh still struggles to pardon others for some things, despite writing a book on forgiveness.
“When I think people know better but they just sort of blatantly ignore things that are obvious and choose not to honor or help people when they could,” Hersh said, “that’s probably one of the toughest things to swallow.”
Name: Edward Hersh
Lives in: Millersville, Lancaster County
Family: Wife, Stephanie, and four adult children
Education: Doctorate of Religious Studies in conflict management at Trinity Seminary, master’s degree in human service counseling from Regent University, bachelor’s degrees in German and computer science from Millersville University, high school diploma from Dallastown Area High School
Hobbies: Playing guitar, listening to worship music, gardening, reading, learning and spending time with family
Occupation: Innkeepers at Blue Rock Bed and Breakfast near Lancaster; Hersh also is an ordained minister, pastoral counselor and is active in his church and community.
Online: bluerockbnb.com, authoredhersh.blogspot.com
Learning Ally is a non-profit that matches students in kindergarten through post-graduate work with audio materials and books to accommodate their learning, physical or visual limitations. It has more than 75,000 audio textbooks and literature. The audio books can be downloaded onto Apple iPads and reading devices, as well as other reading devices. To become a member, people can go online to www.learningally.org or call 800-221-4792. After providing proof of a disability, they can access unlimited audio books and textbooks for $99 a year.
About the book
“Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart” by Edward Hersh (Intermedia Publishing Group, Inc.) began as Hersh’s dissertation project for his doctorate degree in religious studies. Hersh developed it into a book and study guide to help people learn how to forgive and move on from disappointments and betrayals using Christian methods. Copies can be purchased at book.bluerockbnb.com and amazon.com.
Read the Creative Capability series, which documents how local arts groups work with people who are visually impaired. Go to ydr.com/living and click on “Creative Capability series” under Don’t Miss This.