A Champion for the Visually Impaired

Joan Dulitz ’70S Has Dedicated Her Professional Career to Helping the Blind

For almost her entire life, Joan Dulitz ’70S has been a teacher of and a champion for the visually impaired. “What I do, I love,” she noted, clearly demonstrated by her 35-year career as a New York City public school teacher and her current work as the scholarship coordinator for The Lavelle Fund for the Blind, an organization she praises highly for the philanthropic work they do. “I am proud to award scholarships to many of the students that I taught when they were young, and what a joy it is to bring things around full circle as I help them further their careers.”

As a capstone to such a devoted career, she received the George E. Keane Award last October from the New York State Association for Education and Rehabilitation. The Award, named after a lawyer who was blind, honors those who have given a lifetime of service to the blind and visually impaired.

Her journey to her beloved profession began in Utica, New York. Her father’s extended family came from Austria, but after passing through Ellis Island, they found little or no work in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. So they boarded a train going north and spread themselves out upstate in places like Schenectady, Syracuse and Utica. They opened multiple businesses, like a grocery store, clothing store, and a tailor’s shop. “And wherever they landed,” Dulitz remembered, “they worked to build an Orthodox Jewish life.”

“When I began school at the age of five, I was paired with a blind child in my class, Cathy McGuire, who had a specialist coming in to teach her,” she recalled. Dulitz was fascinated by the fact that McGuire could read with her hands, and little by little she learned what McGuire was learning. “I learned to read braille and use a slate and stylus and a braille writer so that I could be a part of her world. She was one of my best friends until we graduated from high school, and I traveled to New York City to Stern College for Women.” Cathy McGuire eventually went on to become a teacher of the blind, and “because of my friendship with her, I knew that I also wanted to become a teacher of the blind and visually impaired.” In high school, both women were members of the Future Teachers of America.

As she was finishing high school, Rabbi Louis Ginsburg a”h, founder of  the National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s Upstate New York Har Sinai region (now NCSY), told her, “There’s a school in New York City for Orthodox girls and that’s where you should go.” Her parents, Arline and Max Schecter, agreed, and in 1966, with a suitcase in each hand, she boarded a train bound for Grand Central Terminal and Stern College.

“Imagine what it was like going from a small city like Utica,” which in 1966 had a population of just over 100,000 people, “to a huge city like New York! It was a whole new world, and I loved it.” Hefting her suitcases, she walked to the dorm on 34th Street, which had just opened the previous September, and met her big sister, Becky Schottenstein. “My roommates were also from small places, like Holyoke, Massachusetts, or Oswego, not far from Utica, and I am still friends with many of them today. My Orthodox faith was also enriched and strengthened by the courses I took and devout atmosphere at Stern.”

She also led a busy student life. She majored in psychology, having the good fortune to study with Dr. Marcel Perlman, who recently retired after six decades of teaching. During her junior year in Israel, she volunteered at the School for the Blind in Kiryat Moshe, in Jerusalem. She also volunteered at the Jewish Guild for the Blind and the Lighthouse Guild (these organizations have since merged) and was a reader for blind students at Columbia University and Brooklyn College. She was also the copy editor of the 1970 yearbook Kochaviah and on the debate team.

“I just blossomed at Stern,” she said.

After graduating in 1970, she enrolled in Hunter College’s master’s program to teach learners who are blind and visually impaired, which Hunter had started in the 1940s. She furthered her education by earning certifications in multiple disabilities and deaf blindness along with American Sign Language, then began her career as a teacher in the New York City public schools. One of the many illustrious successes coming out of that career was marrying her husband, Aaron Dulitz, in 1976. He was a special education guidance counselor who would eventually spend 40 years in the system.

They met at what “can only be called a singles-weekend at the Pine View Hotel in Fallsburg, New York, in the Catskills, sponsored by the Association of Orthodox Jewish Teachers. It also offered credits toward your certification, and I was there to get the three credits. He was there to find a wife. The rest is history.”

She has had other notable successes as well, such as having been one of the youngest braille transcribers certified by the Library of Congress and meeting Helen Keller just before her death in 1968 when she traveled to Boston for a Future Teachers of America convention. “A quote from Helen Keller really explains why I do what I do: ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or heard—they must be felt with the heart.’ When I supervised practicum and student teachers at Hunter College in the same program from which I had received my master’s degree, I tried to impress upon them that a teacher holds the power to change a child’s life, not only through expertise but also through the action of listening to the child and knowing when to guide and when to let go. For me, a child that I have taught gives me back in pleasure and pride more than I have given that child.” She added that “I am happy to say all my student teachers are employed and their students are thriving.”

“I have had a wonderful life, and Stern was such a big part of how wonderful my life has been. Stern opened the eyes of this young girl from Utica, New York. It gave me the wonderful education to succeed and the dedicated professors in both Hebrew and English classes who fostered my ability to ‘see light in every person.’”