An interview with Mrs Gila Lahat, a visually impaired Library subscriber
Hello Gila, could you tell us something about your life story?
"For more than 30 years I worked as a theater costume designer. During that period I also taught costume design in theatre schools. Now I am retired, and I am a freelancer and practice the free arts, following my inclination. I suffer from impaired vision but I am not willing to give in to it or to let it limit me in any way. I struggle with it all day, every day – and I succeed.
During recent years I have been occupied with art and sculpting, and I have just presented an exhibition of my own works at the Opera Building in Tel-Aviv. I create and sculpt characters and figures from the world of opera, and my wide experience in theater costume design serves me today when I design the characters that I create. Initially, I research the characters, just as they do in the theatre, and only then do I begin to sculpt them. I make the figures from paper, using a unique technique that I developed myself. You could say that I train the paper to work for me. My impaired vision does present some difficulties in the process, but I have found ways overcome the difficulties and I cope well with my disability."
What kind of a visual impairment are you struggling with?
"I am partially blind. According to the law, I am defined as a blind person because I see less than 10 percent. I have been suffering for years from AMD (retinal degeneration). It is usually referred to as an "old people's disease" but I fell victim to it sooner. These days there is a pharmaceutical treatment which stops or delays the disease, but at that time, when I became sick, it did not exist. Lately I have been given medical treatment that helps delay the progressive loss of vision.
Although I can still see, I can't read normal print as my fine vision is impaired. In order to read I need to enlarge the font substantially, to at least 3 cm, and only then can my eye see it. Nevertheless, I can find my way around as my peripheral vision was not affected by the disease. When I am walking in the street I can see images of people walking by but I can't recognize who they are."
How did you hear about the Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped?
"I have always been an obsessive reader. I was always reading two books simultaneously, if not three – a science-fiction book and a novel. Reading is second nature to me, like drinking water. I got in touch with the AMD association at an early stage of my condition, and I thought to myself that I could be of assistance and be a guide (I could still see and drive) and that I would handle the disease in this way rather than waiting until my vision has completely gone. I heard about the library immediately from my group. As soon as I started experiencing visual difficulties I contacted the library in Netanya and asked them to send some books to my home. After I moved from the north of Israel to Tel-Aviv, I began to visit the Tel-Aviv library branch once in a while, and I equipped myself with a good number of books. Generally speaking, there have been great developments in recorded book technology. While in past I received a large set of cassettes for each book, nowadays everything is on CDs and that’s great. Today, even if I ask for a book and there is no available copy, they just burn a copy on the spot and so I can read whatever I want to. I enjoy reading enormously, so for me that is a source of great pleasure.
What do you usually read? Do you read for relaxation or also for the purpose of learning?
"I read books for pleasure and it gives me a lot of enjoyment. First of all, I read the books written by the Israeli authors. Unfortunately, the library does not produce them as often or as rapidly as I would wish. I participate in a literary circle where we have a monthly meeting with an author, and we discuss a pre-designated book. In most cases, I cannot actively participate in the discussion because I have not read the book. I read the abstract which I find on the Internet, but that is not enough. It is a shame that due to a lack of budget, not all new books are recorded by the library, or it takes too long for a newly published book to be recorded."
What does the library mean to you?
"Personally, for me, literature - in which I would include theatre, is my life. Even when dealing with theatre costume design, your first and foremost concern is the text, the play, and your creation comes only from there. My entire world revolves around literature. If I go to the opera, I'll read the storyline first. I consult books on a daily basis, and I am really addicted to them. My greatest pleasure is to finish my chores for the day and to listen to a talking book."
You set an example for every disabled person – how not to let a disability overpower one's life.
"I do want to set an example and I try to pass on that kind of message. Coping gives me strength and I see that people who don't try to deal with their situation tend to become bitter and depressed. To be honest with you, it is far from easy. It is much easier if you can see well, or to put on a pair of glasses and see (they don’t help me personally). But when you are active and keep a positive mental attitude, then you can be just fine and you can do everything. Besides, nowadays there so many aids for the blind that allow new possibilities that were never available before."
Do you have an important message to deliver regarding the library?
"It is important to bring the existence of the library, and its importance to the lives of blind and visually impaired people, to the attention of people with normal vision. It is important for people to know what blindness is, what visual impairment is, and the implications and the difficulties that accompany them in everyday life. How much books mean to blind people, and how much a donation to the library can help add joy to their daily lives."