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Blindness is no handicap for local illustrator

Local illustrator releases children's coloring book as a fundraiser for the blind.
Helen Duhn wears many hats. Sometimes she's a massage therapist _ at other times she's a teacher and lecturer and occasionally she's an author and illustrator.
   No matter what hat she is wearing, Duhn is always an advocate for the blind, quick to emphasize the fact that blind people are contributors and valuable citizens of their community. And, there is no more shining example of just this fact than Helen Duhn herself.
   Duhn has been blind due to glaucoma since 1994. Now in her 80's she finds the world as interesting and engaging as ever. However, as she points out, many blind people aren't so fortunate, crediting her ability to accomplish so much to her family.
   "I was so blessed to have a family who encouraged me by saying `If you're going to be blind, learn how to do it before you lose it.' So I went to the school for the blind in Portland and learned how to read braille, and how to draw. They sent me to an enabled artist camp one summer where they taught me how to take the images out of my head and put them on paper."
   Duhn's most recent accomplishment is the completion of a children's coloring and activity book which she partnered with writer Dan Sullivan to create. Titled "Playin' Possum" the coloring book is a fundraising project which benefits the Spilyay Chapter of the American Council of the Blind.
   The project started over two years ago at a convention for the blind where Duhn found herself sitting next to Sullivan, and the collaboration began. The result is a delightful coloring book which tells the story of a blind possum named Penny and all of the wonderful things she is able to accomplish with the help of her friends.
   "I was trying to point out with little Penny the way I feel as a blind person, that my life is so complete _ with my dog, my spirituality, with the music, animals, social element and family," Duhn said. "And so it is with little blind children. It's very complete for them."
   It's no coincidence that the proceeds from the sale of the coloring book go toward helping the blind to get an education. "If you're going be serious about being an active blind person, you've got to educate yourself and learn how to use your skills in a productive way," Duhn said.
   The costs and effort it takes a blind person to go back to school is another thing that Duhn is familiar with, having undertaken the task herself. The Commission for the Blind was instrumental in making it possible for Duhn to go back to college. She graduated from COCC as a massage therapist in 1994.
   The Commission for the Blind has been so impressed with Duhn's accomplishments, particularly pertaining to guide dogs, artwork and with storytelling that they have been eager to have her demonstrate her abilities to the blind community at large.
   Consequently, Duhn finds herself in the role of lecturer at colleges and for conventions wherever they occur _ as frequently as she is able to attend.
   Duhn indicated that art and music have always been a part of life even prior to becoming blind. These abilities became particularly useful while raising a family and being involved in school and church activities.
   Discovering that she could continue to develop skills as an illustrator, even after losing her sight, is an added bonus. Overcoming the limitations imposed by blindness is something she has been able to accomplish through working with organizations for the blind.
   "When you work with the Commission and the American Council for the Blind and the National Federation for the Blind you're surrounded by people who get up and do things," she said. "I think you've got to be willing to do new things. Nobody can do it for you."
   Encouraging other blind people to develop existing skills is one of Duhn's ongoing goals.
   "In the blind community, I try to tell the ladies when they meet at the library, if you couldn't crochet before you were blind you not going to be able to do it well afterwards. If you could draw before you lost your sight, it's still there and you can use that," she said. "It's the same with playing an instrument. If you could play well before you lost your sight, you just learn to play without being able to see the keys."
   Whether it's illustrating a book, speaking before an audience or teaching braille to the blind, Duhn's major motivation is to help other people overcome their limitations, and perhaps the best example for that is herself.
   The 24-page coloring book "Playin' Possum, An Out of Light Adventure in Possum Woods" is available for individual or group purchase by contacting Brady Remsen at 330-0715.