Jerry Berrier oral history

Jerry Berrier worked at Perkins School for the Blind for ten years (2011-2021). He worked as a trainer and manager in iCanConnect (Perkins National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program) before becoming the Director of Assistive Technology.

Jerry Berrier standing at a T bus stop using his iPhone for navigation

Biographical information

Jerry Berrier worked at Perkins School for the Blind for ten years from 2011 until his retirement in 2021. Berrier worked as a trainer and manager in iCanConnect (Perkins National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program) before becoming the Director of Assistive Technology. He attended the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children and was introduced to ornithology by a biology professor as a college student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He has been involved with the Massachusetts Audubon Society and led “birding by ear” workshops for L.L. Bean and Carroll Center for the Blind. 

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Notice and permissions

This interview is a digitized copy of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind. The interview was conducted on October 7, 2021, by Susanna Coit. The audio and transcript are provided unedited.

This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].

Preferred citation

Berrier, Jerry. “Jerry Berrier oral history interview conducted by Susanna Coit,” 2021-10-07, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG176-2021-07, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

Audio recording

Recording of the oral history of Jerry Berrier.


Susanna Coit: Today is October 7, 2021. This is Susanna Coit. I’m here with Jerry Berrier. We’re conducting this interview virtually on Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions. Jerry, are you OK with me recording this conversation? 

Jerry Berrier: I certainly am. 

Coit: OK, can we start by what years have you been at Perkins? I know you just retired, so. 

Berrier: Yeah, I think I started in 2011 as a temp, and then 2012, I was hired full time. And I worked there through June of 2021. 

Coit: OK, and how did you come to Perkins? Can you tell me about your first visit? 

Berrier: I was recruited to do some work with the iCanConnect program, which is a program that provides communication equipment for deafblind people. And Steven Rothstein, who was president at that time, met me somewhere, I don’t remember where. 

And I was working at the time as an independent access technology consultant, basically training people. And I specialized in working with people with deafblindness. And anyway, he found out about me and recruited me. And I ended up eventually becoming full time. 

Coit: And did you– you mentioned that you came to Perkins in high school as a high schooler. Can you tell me about that? 

Berrier: I did, yes. I went to the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I sang in the choir. And our choir came up to Perkins, I think, when I was a junior, which would have been around 1969. 

And I remember enjoying the trip. I remember it was a very long bus ride. And I remember being impressed with Perkins. I remember hearing them talking about the rotunda and the Howe Building, and I had no idea what that was, but it sounded impressive. And it was a great experience, and I never dreamed that I would someday work there. 

Coit: So was that a one-time sort of choir trip, or did it happen more than once? 

Berrier: It happened only once to me. I don’t know if the school may have sent students there other years, but I was only involved in it once. 

Coit: That’s neat. 

Berrier: Yeah. 

Coit: So can you– when you came back to work at Perkins, can you describe your job and the responsibilities when you first began at Perkins? 

Berrier: Sure. I started out when the iCanConnect program, which is a federally-funded program, was in the planning stages. And Perkins hired me, as I recall, primarily to reach out to agencies in other states to try and encourage them to participate in this program to make it a success, because it was a program where each state had an opportunity to have one agency selected to be the administrator for the iCanConnect program in that state. 

And we wanted to drum up interest because we recognized that it had great value for lots of people, because the program provides equipment for distance communications for people with severe hearing and vision loss. So they hired me to make phone calls and attend meetings and reach out to people and try and interest people around the country. 

And I did that, and it worked out pretty well. I remember we met with Steven Rothstein weekly. And that was kind of exciting because he was a very high-energy president, and very motivated, and deeply committed to this, along with many other things. 

But that’s how it all started. And then the program actually got off the ground after I was there probably less than a year full time. And then we started to grow. Perkins ended up taking on over 30 states eventually as the administrator. And we had a lot of contact with the other states, also. So that’s how it all started. 

Coit: Wow, so it really grew quickly. 

Berrier: Yes, it did. 

Coit: What sort of sparked that growth? Do you know? 

Berrier: I’d like to say it was all the hard work I did reaching out to all those people. But I think it was that people realized that it was a great opportunity. This kind of funding doesn’t come along often to be able to provide expensive equipment such as braille note takers, screen magnification software, screen reader software, even computers and iPads and anything that would enable a person who is deaf-blind. 

And I say those words loosely because it was a range of people with varying degrees of deafness and blindness, but people with severe loss in one or both. Actually, it had to be both, but they didn’t have to be totally deaf or totally blind. So we had quite a range of people. 

And it was a way to get equipment into their hands, and also to provide training for them so that they could begin to communicate using state-of-the-art technology and equipment. So it became popular, and is still going strong, from what I know. 

Coit: What was the most difficult or challenging aspects of that work? 

Berrier: Wow, that’s a good question. I guess in the beginning, I never considered myself a highly creative person. So I had, sometimes, trouble coming up with ways to reach out to people effectively and document it and that sort of thing. But I don’t recall it being particularly challenging except that it was a lot of work. 

There were a lot of people to reach out to, and we had to– we were writing the program basically from the ground up because each state or each agency administering a state was given the leeway to design the program as they saw fit. So there were a variety of ways that people manage the program. 

So a lot of it was really creating it from the start, and trying things, and finding what worked well, and developing relationships with other people. And so it was challenging, and it was exciting at the same time. 

Coit: So what would you say, sort of the other side of that, were the most rewarding parts of that? 

Berrier: Well, once it was off the ground, I ended up becoming manager of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. So I traveled all around both states and would visit with people. And actually, I spent 50% of my time training people and 50% working in the office. So it was a good variety for me. I met a lot of people. 

They tended to be very happy to receive the equipment and grateful for the training they got. And it was very fulfilling to me to be able to do that kind of work. And I worked with some children who were still in school and their families. I worked with all ages of people and a very wide range of abilities and disabilities among the people classified as deafblind. So it was quite challenging, but very fulfilling. 

Coit: This might be a tricky question, given that you were splitting your time. But what was– can you say what a typical day was like for you? 

Berrier: Yes, and eventually, I ended up in the office all the time because we hired other people to do the training, and because it became too much for me to do both. But a typical day would be for me to first, in the morning, review all of the equipment requests that had come in from our trainers in all the states that we covered, which, as I recall, it was around 30 at that time. 

Each of these people would put in requests for equipment, and they would have to justify the requests. So I had to read their documentation, I had to confirm that the equipment they were requesting was reasonable for the situation they wanted to use it for. And I also would have to monitor new equipment that became available and investigate it to find out if something that just came out was really something relevant to the program. 

And often I would find things that were very– that were great innovations but weren’t necessarily appropriate, because the equipment that we provided had to enable people to communicate over the internet or another electronic means of communication. We couldn’t provide something, for example, that was just used for face-to-face communication. 

So that would be something I would do in the morning. And then maybe in the afternoon, I would visit three people, but there would be a 45-minute travel distance between each one. So it was really difficult to visit more than that in one day. 

And I typically would schedule visits not to last any longer than two hours because I found that both the consumers I worked with and I could handle a two-hour period pretty well, but anything longer than that could really become tedious. So that’s kind of a snapshot of what I would do often. 

Coit: Interesting. And what was your favorite part of that job? 

Berrier: Surprisingly, I enjoyed reviewing the equipment requests and dealing with them. And I have to admit, I’ve forgotten some of just how we manage things because I haven’t been doing that job since– well, for about four years, I guess. But I enjoyed working with the equipment. I enjoyed trying things to see if they were irrelevant. 

And if I heard of a situation where a consumer had a very particular, unique need, I would try and come up with a solution for it. And I had other technically-inclined people who I would communicate with on a regular basis, and I still do. I have sort of a small group of techie friends who are blind, and we often will discuss equipment and new technology that becomes available. 

But I liked that part of it. But I loved visiting the consumers. I really enjoyed meeting with them. And it just gave me a good feeling to be able to share some of the knowledge that I had had the benefit of gaining over the years and to provide some of the equipment that I knew on their own, most of these people would not have been able to afford. 

Coit: So with that expertise of technology, what do you think has been the most important development or change in technology that you’ve seen while you were in that job? 

Berrier: Well, I’ll take it back a few years before that job and say that the computer with a screen reader, which I think I got my first one– I don’t know if it was 1985, I don’t really remember exactly when it was– but it opened up a world to me that was just out of my range before the computer was available. 

I remember if I wanted to look up something in the encyclopedia while I was still in school, I could do it because we had a braille encyclopedia that was– it was a World Book. And it was 145 very large braille volumes, took up the whole side of a long room. And I could go and pull out the volume I needed and read it. 

But I had no access to anything like that at home. The closest I could come to, it would be, I could call the reference desk at my local library and ask a question or ask them to look up something for me. But I mean, that’s just one of many examples of things that were not available to me before the computer came along. 

And it was pretty primitive when the first speech synthesizers and screen readers became available. Then the next thing was after some of those things evolved and became more reliable and effective. Then there was optical character recognition that enabled us to scan printed pages and then listen to them, or read them in braille, if we had that equipment. 

That was the second thing. And the third one was the iPhone. And that was– even today, when I use my iPhone, and I’ll say the same about the Amazon Echo, also, I just– I almost feel like they’re magic. 

To think that I could ask the– I call her the A Lady– I could ask Alexa what, and I could ask her what time it is, or what the state capital of Georgia is, or anything like that and get an answer right away, was just amazing. But the iPhone, because it’s small, it is something that on the surface would not appear to be accessible to someone who’s blind. 

But thanks to very ingenious designers, that flat screen on the iPhone can be used very effectively with software that’s already included in the device. Anyone with an iPhone could learn to use it with their fingers simply by activating the voiceover feature that’s within the phone and then learning the proper gestures and commands to use it. 

But it is just– I mean, to think that I could sit on the bus on my way somewhere and be ordering things from Amazon, and reading stuff from the newspaper, and emailing, and texting, and that sort of thing, it’s just– when I think about it, it just really fascinates me even today. And I can’t believe what a difference it has made in my life. And I know that other people who are blind would say the same thing. 

Coit: It is amazing, it certainly is. So to switch gears a little bit, can you tell me a little bit what it was like to come back to Perkins as an adult after having come when you were a high schooler? 

Berrier: Well, it was exciting, but it was very daunting at first. For one thing, I didn’t know my way around. And it took me a while to learn the building I worked in, the Howe Building, which is a somewhat intricate building. In fact, I have to admit, this is really awful. But I had been away for a little over a year during the pandemic, and I needed to go back to my office, which was sort of down in a labyrinth in the lower level below where the main floor is. 

I actually couldn’t remember exactly how to find my office, because there were so many twists and turns, there are ramps that you go up and down, and so on. And I guess as I’ve gotten older, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. And I truly could not remember how to find my office. And I knew it before I even came back, because I would think about it, and I’d think, no, which way would I go when I get to this place? 

So there was that. I can remember the first couple of weeks I worked at Perkins, people had kind of tried to help me. And, you know, they would walk with me to the place where I was working, which happened to be in the research library for the first year. 

But every time I would come in on my own, I would end up in one specific person’s office. And we would always laugh, because she would say, here you are again. And it was not intentional at all. But it was very difficult for me to reach the point where I really could get around successfully. 

And I did reach that point. In fact, I made it my business to write things down. And I would be– if I were was going to a meeting in another building with my colleagues, and somebody would say, you want to walk along with us? I would say, thanks, but I’m in learning mode, and I’ve got to try this on my own. And eventually, I got to the point where I could find the Lower School, and the Grousbeck Building, and a lot of the different buildings on campus. 

And I absolutely loved just wandering around the campus. I really did. And for a period of time, I lived right near the campus, and I could go over there in the evenings and wander around. And I just loved it. 

But it is not– it is not the easiest place in the world to learn if you’re totally blind and have sort of average mobility skills, as I do. But I took great pride in knowing my way around. And I’m sure you used to see me walking around in there. I hardly ever– once I got it down, I hardly ever got lost. But there were times when I did. I got rescued a couple of times when I got so lost I had no idea where I was. 

And I like saying that with a person who is blind, there’s nothing worse than being absolutely sure you know where you are when you really don’t know where you are. Because then you make turns, and you do things, and eventually, nothing feels right to you. But that was a challenge for me at first, was just getting my bearings and becoming comfortable with the campus. 

Coit: And was it– what was it like to be a staff member at a school for the blind, having attended a different school for the blind? 

Berrier: I enjoyed it. I will say that for the first 24 years of my employment, I did not work with other blind people. And I worked for Verizon. And for 18 of those years, I was in HR, and I had nothing to do with people with disabilities. It just wasn’t a part of my job. 

And then I ended up– one of the things that led me to Perkins eventually, which I forgot to mention, was that Verizon– I had worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 18 years. And then Verizon opened up a center for customers with disabilities in Marlborough, Massachusetts. And I happened to come there for a meeting once and met the director. 

And after talking to me and giving me a tour, the next thing I knew, I was on my way to live in Massachusetts. And the company paid for my move and everything, and my family and I came to Massachusetts. That was in 1998, so I’ve been here for quite a while. 

But it was– I love the fact that I was working in a safe environment, an environment where people were used to blind children and adults being around. And I found it very comfortable to work in a place like Perkins because I knew that people accepted me for the most part. 

And it was great. I mean, I was glad to be there, believe me. Not that I didn’t enjoy working for Verizon, because I had a great career there, but I loved Perkins right from the very beginning. 

Coit: So what do you think were some of the most important changes at Perkins while you were there, sort of– or the philosophy, or programs, or buildings, or facilities, or anything like that. 

Berrier: Well, I’ll make some comments. And some of them will be very positive, and maybe some others not so positive. I think my experience with staff at Perkins was that in general, they were very dedicated to making things accessible and to being innovative, both with students and with blind staff members. And we really were committed to doing the best we could to make the jobs workable for people who are blind. 

But I think in some cases, not through any fault of any particular person, but we fell short because we got so focused on other programs where we reached out to either other companies or to other groups. And sometimes our staff members were left a little bit behind in things. 

And I’ve always believed that Perkins, because of its reputation, because of its resources, and because of its human resources in the great people who work there, I’ve always believed that we should be an epitome of accessibility in all ways. And I know that’s a pretty lofty goal. 

And I also know that accessibility is a moving target. As soon as you fix one thing, something gets upgraded and improved, and it doesn’t work anymore for us. So it is a moving target. 

But I think the dedication has always been there. The resources have been available. But sometimes, our focus has been on other things. But as far as what changed while I was there? 

Well, we got into– we became aware at one point that college-age students these days who are blind were not doing well in school. I remember hearing that only 30% of blind students who started college in the last several years actually ended up graduating. So Perkins took the initiative and set up a college success program, which, from what I understand, is going very well. 

They also set up a program for people who were out of school and needed to hone in on some of the necessary skills to be successful in employment, because as I’m sure you know, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities in general is very high. And it’s certainly high for people who are blind. So we put some focus on both of those things, which I thought those were both very laudable initiatives. And I was proud of Perkins for doing it. 

I want to add a comment, not about Perkins, but just about employment of people who are blind. I think I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when I got hired by Verizon. And I’ll give myself some credit and say that once I was there, I managed to stay there because I worked very hard, and I tried to make myself as much an asset to the company as I could. 

But I think it’s almost more difficult today for a person who’s blind to find meaningful employment. It’s more difficult now than it was 30 years ago in some ways, because as technology has advanced, jobs have become more intricate. People are required to have more skills. 

There were a lot of jobs 30 or 50 years ago that were pretty much a couple of tasks. Like, somebody could become a piano tuner, or an elevator operator, or a switchboard operator, or a teacher. And there were lots of jobs that were very specific and didn’t require the huge variety of skills that a person has to have now. 

In most jobs that I know of today, the new employee has to know how to use a computer, has to be able to read a computer terminal, has to have reasonably good keyboarding skills, has to be able to get from place to place easily and quickly, and has to do a variety of things. Because our advances in technology and other things have made it possible for people to do more intricate jobs and perform many tasks, and sometimes at some, more than one at the same time. 

I remember I worked as a manager in a call center at Verizon at one point. And we had service representatives. And I always used to think– in fact, when I was in HR, I used to think– could this job be done by a blind person? Could that job be done? Most of the time, the answer was no. 

And one of the biggest reasons is– an example would be our service representatives who had to access a lot of different computer screens, and they used very different protocols. Some of them were from legacy programming that had been done 10 years ago. Some of it just could not reasonably be made to work well with a screen reader. 

And that was just one example of things that were just– they had to do such a wide variety of functions that it would make it difficult for that job to be adapted for a person who is blind. 

Coit: Were there any sort of interesting or memorable or important events that took place while you were at Perkins that stand out? 

Berrier: Let me think about that for a second. Well, I certainly think that the success of the iCanConnect program was a really big thing for Perkins. It gained Perkins not only– I don’t know what the right word is– but it really gave a lot of focus on Perkins because Perkins was one of the few agencies that really took on the challenge of becoming a major key player, in fact, a leader in this whole iCanConnect program. 

And they’ve continued to do that. And that alone was a huge success, I think, for Perkins. And other than that, I mean, Perkins– they’re very innovative. They’ve changed their teaching techniques as the needs of the students have changed. One of the things I know that now they’re working with a lot of what’s called CVI, Cortical Visual Impairment, I think is the right term for it. 

And that was something you didn’t hear anybody talk about 10 years ago. So I’ve been proud of Perkins for taking on these new initiatives and for finding ways to reach out to people. Not just in Massachusetts, either. 

I mean, the last I heard, we were working in something like 67 countries around the world, and have provided know-how and resources for schools in underdeveloped countries and groups of people who were not privileged to have the great resources available to them that we do here in the great state of Massachusetts. So those are just a couple of things that stick out in my mind. 

Coit: Definitely. Were there any especially memorable staff members? 

Berrier: Steven Rothstein was very memorable to me. I didn’t work directly with him like some of the other managers did, you know, but I found him to be a phenomenal businessman. And I just was so impressed with him. Not that he didn’t make mistakes, and not that he didn’t rub people the wrong way sometimes, but he was a leader. There is no way anyone could ever dispute that. 

So that was one person. My supervisor when I was with the iCanConnect program, Betsy McGinity, I just thought was an icon. She was wonderful without being harsh or seeming strict. She knew how to manage people, and she got things done. And I found her to be a great ally any time I had a challenge that I wasn’t able to deal with. And she was one of many, I could go on and on. 

And then Mary Zatta was absolutely wonderful to me at times. She’s one of the people that really tried to teach me mobility in the Howe Building, and I think she probably was ready to give up on me and say, this guy’s never going to learn his way around here. But I did. And I bet she must have been proud when she saw me getting around without difficulty after a while, because I know she knew it was a challenge for me. 

Oh gosh, there have been so many people. My supervisor in the IT Department in the last position I had, David Doherty, is just one of the most fantastic people I’ve ever worked with. The guy– I don’t know, I don’t even know where to begin. He was very well qualified, he’s the director of the IT department now. And I found him to be just one of the most supportive people. 

And the whole staff there at– my last position at Perkins was as the Director of Education Technology. And I worked in the IT department. And that job involved working with any adaptive technology that was purchased for students. 

I would evaluate technology to see if it was something that would work at Perkins, and I would help people set it up, and I would have vendors come in to do demos of equipment that became available, and I would manage repairs. I did the invoices. 

And I was able to do all of that thanks to a lot of work from people who made the products that I used accessible. I used Salesforce, which is a relatively accessible off-the-shelf product. But a lot of work had been put into making sure that I could manage the invoices and the equipment requests that came in from teachers. 

And, you know, I’m very appreciative of all the people who put in their energy and time to make things work for me as a staff person who is blind. And I tried to pay that forward a little bit by working with other blind staff who had technology needs. And I enjoyed that. It was one of the parts I loved most about the last position I was in, even though, ironically, it was not, strictly speaking, part of my job description. 

But I had the time to do it, and I had the skills to do it because I had time to learn about things in that position. So I did a lot of work with some of the people, teachers who were blind and other staff members, and helped them out wherever I could. And it was a great thing that I really enjoyed. 

Coit: Nice. How has your association with Perkins influenced you or affected your life? 

Berrier: It’s made me very appreciative of how difficult it can be to really create a very accessible environment. There were times when something that I thought absolutely should be able to be made accessible couldn’t. And there might have been many reasons for it. It may have been because we were thinking of upgrading the system we were in, so it didn’t seem appropriate to spend the money to work on the existing system. 

And other times, it was because the technology just didn’t exist. I know one of the things that we had problems with at Perkins was the program that’s used for payroll, and for tracking our timesheets, and that sort of thing was not always up to what I thought it should have been for people who are blind. It was very difficult to use, and we had a lot of problems with it. 

But as I looked around and talked to other people, I found that there really wasn’t anything on the market that worked perfectly well for that. If there was, I never found it. And people sometimes wouldn’t understand that. They would say, at a place like Perkins, the least they could do is make sure that we can manage our own timesheets and edit our own timesheets. 

But we did have a system where we could enter the days we wanted to take off. But if we made a mistake, we couldn’t fix it. We had to go to somebody else for that. So that was an example of something that, were I not on the inside and knew some of the reasons why things were the way they were, I could have become bitter about that and said, you know, it’s just not fair that they don’t take the time and energy necessary to make this work for me. 

But it can’t always be done. So I learned to appreciate the hard work that people put in for things like that. But I also had some time working with some of our teachers, and I just loved every single one of them. I mean, I just– I love the way they work with the students. I really got to spend a fair amount of time observing and even sometimes assisting with some students who were trying to learn JAWS and that sort of thing. 

And I found that the teachers were– teachers are not there because Perkins is the highest-paying agency in the world. They’re there because they are dedicated to providing a good service to kids who really need it. And I derived a lot of good feelings from that, and I still do any time I think about it. 

Coit: That’s great. So I have to ask, can you tell me about your birding? Because I just think it’s fascinating. 

Berrier: Well, when I was in college, my biology instructor knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do the part of the labwork where they examine dissected animals, frogs and that sort of thing. And he gave me what ended up being one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten. And I don’t think he realized that at the time. 

But to give me something to do relevant to the animals that we were studying, he let me borrow his– they were actually record albums at the time from Cornell University with bird sounds on them, and they were identified. And he said, at the end of the semester, you and I are going to take a walk in the woods. And your lab grade will be dependent on how well you’re able to identify some of the birds you hear. 

And I remember a couple of months into it just thinking, oh, this is ridiculous. They all sound the same. I’m never going to learn them. But by the time that semester was up, I was totally hooked. And I’ve been doing it ever since then, and that was in probably 1972. 

So I’ve been doing what I call birding by ear. They used to call it birdwatching. Nowadays, they call it birding, B-I-R-D-I-N-G, so I do birding by ear. And I’m still learning them, and still forgetting them, and having to relearn a lot of them every year, especially as I get older. 

But it has opened up another world to me. As soon as I am– as soon as I walk through the door outside, my ears are tuned for the sounds of birds. And going on vacation has been enhanced for me because I’ve always listening for, ooh, what do they have here that they don’t have up in Massachusetts where I live? 

And that has helped me to learn more about the environment and to appreciate the seasons. Of course, my favorite season is spring, because that’s when the birds sing the most. But I just– I love it. And I’ve done– it has spawned lots of other hobbies for me, such as audio recording and editing and lots of other things that I’ve gotten involved in specifically because I was doing birding and it branched out into something else. 

And I’ve been involved with the Massachusetts Audubon Society in helping to set up over a dozen what they call All Persons Nature Trails. Some of them have rope guides. Some of them have audio tours, a couple of which I actually did the audio for, and I did all the audio engineering on all of them. And again, without the modern computer equipment, I would never have been able to do those things. 

But it’s been a wonderful hobby for me, and I promote it all the time. I do birding workshops for blind children and adults. I did a couple with children at the Carroll Center for the Blind this past summer, in fact. And even the famous L.L.Bean store, their flagship store in Freeport, Maine, they had me up there, I think it was four years in a row, doing a birding by ear workshop for the general public who came in there during one of their spring festivals. 

And I love doing that. My groups got bigger each year. And they would give me a nice gift card for L.L.Bean products, which I always really liked. And so it’s been a fantastic– it’s one of those things that you think, wait, that happened through somebody’s keen interest and trying to enable me to get a little bit more out of life. 

And I actually have become friends with a retired biology professor from the school where I went, which was Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He and a friend of his, who happens to be blind and is also interested in birding by ear, the two of them and I get together once a month and discuss things. And it’s just been a real rich relationship. And so many things have happened to me, good things, as a result of that. 

Coit: Do you have a favorite or one that you’re especially proud of hearing or identifying? 

Berrier: I have a number of them. I love hearing owls, especially great horned owls, and barred owls, and screech owls, and pretty much any owls. I like hearing those because I don’t get to hear them all that often. 

I like hearing cardinals because they have a very clear whistle, and they make a lot of different sounds. Probably one of my absolute favorites is the Baltimore Oriole, which is a migratory bird that comes in this area in the summer around the beginning of May. And to me, it just makes my day when I hear the first one in the spring. And then I’m sad when they go away later on in the summer. 

But there are so many. I could go on and on. The wood thrush is another one. It has a flute-like call that I just find very beautiful. 

And I listen to a lot of birds right in my own yard. I have microphones attached outside my house so that when I’m sitting at my computer, I can be listening to what’s going on out there in the wintertime, even. And that helps me to stay close to nature, even when I can’t get outside and enjoy it directly. 

Coit: What’s the rarest bird that you’ve come across? 

Berrier: I haven’t really heard a lot that would be considered rare. One of the problems for a person who’s blind in this hobby is that it’s not always easy to get to the more exotic places. And frankly, it’s not always easy to find a sighted birder who’s willing to go with you and spend the time having you walk with them. I’ve had some success with that, but not as much as I would like. 

But I guess probably the most exciting birds I’ve heard were ones I heard in Sweden when my first wife and I, who went there in, I think, 2014, and spent a week over there, and got to go to a bird sanctuary. And I heard birds that I had no idea what they were, but I knew enough about sounds that I could say, oh, that’s some kind of a thrush. Or that bird sounds like it’s related to the blue jay, or something like that. 

And then after I got back home, I started to investigate. I made recordings, I took a recorder with me while I was there. And when I got home, I would compare the sounds I heard with birds that I was able to look up by name in some of the apps that I use and some of the resources such as Cornell University. And that’s probably the greatest one. Their library of bird sounds is huge, and it’s free of charge, and anyone can go on the web and use it. 

But– how did I get off on that tangent? Well, I guess it was some of those birds that I have found the most exciting to hear. I’ve never heard a loon except on recording, so one of my goals in the coming years is to be able to get somewhere where I can hear loons. 

Coit: They’re pretty magical sounding. So that’s all of my questions. Is there anything else you would like to talk about? 

Berrier: No, I feel like I’ve talked an awful lot. And I hope I haven’t talked too much. 

Coit: No, not at all. 

Berrier: It’s been fun for me to reminisce about some of these things. And you’re a good interviewer, which helps too. So I’m happy to have had this opportunity. 

Coit: All right, I’m going to stop the recording.

Exerpt of handwritten letter from Henry David Thoreau.

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