NEWS

Blind couple shares unique gift with others -- how to use computers

Linda Quinlan

Teaching people who are blind how to use computers requires a lot of one-on-one instruction, says Arianna Calesso of Irondequoit, and a lot of memorization.

She should know. Calesso, who has been blind all her life, has been teaching computer skills to other blind people for about a dozen years.

When she moved to Irondequoit just over a year ago with her husband, Lou, who also is blind, she just continued her work, convinced that being able to use a computer opens up a whole new means of communication for the blind.

The Calessos lead the not-for-profit Communicating Computers for the Blind Foundation, an organization they founded that provides free computers to the blind. The computers come with special screen-reading software, which means that instead of reading what’s on the computer screen, the computer reads it to the user.

The software can not only read e-mail and information on Web sites to her, Arianna said, but also can be programmed to read an entire text line by line, word by word or even character by character.

“I can do anything you (sighted) guys can do,” on a computer, she quipped.

The Calessos train blind computer users how to use the technology.

“This is exactly what I want to do,” Arianna Calesso said. “It’s good for me and good for them (students).”

Since arriving in Rochester, she already has found and taught two people, both in Irondequoit. Her husband has two of his own students. She can and does also teach Braille to willing students.

They hit the ground running when they arrived here.

“Do we work fast or what?” asks Arianna.

“We had to know where things were,” she said.

Lou and Arianna Calesso’s energy and enthusiasm inspire awe: She is 72 and he is 82.

Since arriving in Irondequoit, they not only have purchased a home, but Lou also joined the Knights of Columbus organization at Christ the King Church, already becoming the group’s recording secretary. The couple also are involved at St. Cecilia’s Church. They are regulars at the Irondequoit Senior Center, where they belong to the “Can Do” club, started by people with vision impairments like macular degeneration.

Arianna Calesso has also spoken about her work and the foundation to the Knights of Columbus and Irondequoit Rotary.

“They’re so giving; it’s an amazing story,” said businessman and Irondequoit resident David Shaheen, who met the Calessos through the Knights of Columbus. “Their mission is to find blind people in Irondequoit and get them computer literate.”

Arianna Calesso was born and raised in New Jersey.

Her husband, who was born in Italy, was raised in the states and worked for 50 years for AT&T and Bell Laboratories in New Jersey and was active with the service organization, Telephone Pioneers of America, which now supports their foundation. He didn’t go totally blind until about age 65 and says it was a result of a stretched retina.

The two, both married previously, met through a support group called VIP (Visually Impaired People), of which Arianna Calesso was president. They have been married 14 years.

“I heard a new voice (in the group) and that was it,” she laughed. “I wasn’t looking for anyone.”

She had been married for 33 years to a sighted person and has four daughters (all sighted) in addition to raising nine children with disabilities before being divorced.

Lou was married for 42 years and has three daughters.

The two are committed to their mission to teach computers to the blind.

“We try to do everything without spending a lot of money,” Lou Calesso said, but there are expenses. “We need to do fund-raising and appreciate all donations.”

In the meantime, they’ll keep teaching and giving away computers.

“We’re happy doing what we’re doing,” Lou Calesso said.

To get in touch with the Calessos’ Communicating Computers for the Blind Foundation, write P.O. Box 90747, Rochester, NY, 14609.

Linda Quinlan can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 350, or at lquinlan@mpnewspapers.com.