An activist for accessibility

Perkins graduate Beverly Grady has spent three decades making her hometown a more welcoming place for people who are blind

Beverly Grady and another woman who is blind touching a smart brailler in a living room. A traditional brailler sits on the same table.

In 2013, Beverly Grady (r) presented a Perkins SMART Brailler to a woman who is blind on behalf of the Pittsfield Lions Club. Photo © Ben Garver, Berkshire Eagle.

If you spend enough time in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, you’ll eventually encounter the legacy of Perkins School for the Blind alumna Beverly Grady.

Audible signals at crosswalks? Braille signs at every City Hall office? Accessible voting machines?

They’re all there because Grady spent the last three decades as a member of the Pittsfield Commission on Disabilities, advocating for equal access for people who are visually impaired.

“Beverly Grady continues to be the voice that represents the concerns of persons who are sight-impaired and blind within our community,” said June Hailer, commission chair. “She has a wealth of knowledge and is our key resource for this.”

Grady, Perkins class of ’63, doesn’t fit the stereotype of a community activist. She’s in her 70s and speaks softly. She uses a mobility cane to get around. But there’s no question that she’s been a force for positive change in her western Massachusetts city, population 44,000, located just a few miles from the New York border.

“I focus on things that affect the blind community,” said Grady. “A lot of people (who are blind) know I’m the person to contact with their concerns.”

Grady, who has been blind since birth, joined the commission in 1983 when it was still called the Pittsfield Handicapped Committee. A friend was unable to serve, so Grady agreed to step in. She was appointed to the first of many three-year terms, and even served as chairperson for 15 years.

“That was long enough for me!” she said, laughing.

During her long tenure, Grady led the fight to get braille signs posted in every public building, as well as in the local movie theater. She helped train city personnel how to best serve people who are sight-impaired. She made sure all new facilities – restaurants, businesses, apartment buildings – met accessibility codes.

Grady takes a hands-on approach to her job, Hailer said. “Beverly walked all three levels of Pittsfield City Hall when the braille signage was put up, to make sure the braille signage (had) the correct office titles,” she said. “She found three errors that had to be replaced.”

Grady has deep roots in the region’s blindness community. For 51 years, she’s been a member of the Berkshire Benevolent Association for the Blind, which offers support services to Berkshire County residents with visual impairments. The organization sponsors social events, arranges free rides with volunteer drivers and works to dispel misconceptions about blindness.

She’s also active with the Pittsfield Lions Club. The Lions have a long history of working to protect eyesight by hosting public vision screenings, collecting eyeglasses and more. In 2013, Grady presented a Perkins SMART Brailler® to a local woman who is blind on behalf of the Lions Club.

Grady said community life is important to her. With the exception of her years at Perkins, she’s lived in Pittsfield her whole life.

“I always said I wouldn’t move out of the Berkshires,” she said. “The only part I don’t love is winter.”

Grady credits Perkins School for the Blind for preparing her to lead an independent life. She attended Perkins for 14 years, from age five. The school gave her a good education, she said, and taught her essential skills like housekeeping and cooking.

She admits she’s no longer as independent as she used to be. For years she enjoyed walking down Main Street and shopping on her own. Now she relies on a sighted guide, someone whose arm she can take, to lead her around.

But as she strolls down Main Street, she knows she’s helped make Pittsfield a more welcoming place for people who are visually impaired. Every audible traffic signal and braille sign is a testament to that – and to the difference one quietly determined person can make.