Bridging the Great Divide: Counting on a Fictional Blind Girl

At the center of my novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is a plot to steal the powerful and dangerous Heartstone of Arden-Goth. the legend of the Heartstone (a blue, heart-shaped sapphire) was inspired by a passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. Refugees attend a progressive private school, fly the Cloud Scooper, accidentally end up in the central domed courtyard of Bar Gundoom Castle and escape to the mystical land of Satori Green.

It’s nice to snuggle up with a good book, says Goofus, a strawberry blonde tabby, getting cozy with The Heart of Applebutter Hill by his Mom, Donna W. Hill. Cover shows cave scene with a hand holding the blue Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photo by Rich Hill.

“It’s nice to snuggle up with a good book,” says Goofus, Hills’ kitty, a strawberry-blond male tabby: photo by Rich Hill.

Baggy, Abigail and Curly Connor (Abbie’s dog ) must find the person who is trying to steal the Heartstone, while dealing with summer school and their troubled friend Christopher. The heroine is a legally blind 14-year-old girl.

What? Wait! Why write a blind girl into a perfectly good fantasy adventure

My Theory About Blind Girls in Fiction

My belief is that by bringing blind and disabled teens into the lives of middle school students and older readers through fiction, we can break down the walls of ignorance and fear which separate us. It can generate more awareness and acceptance of our common humanity among the general public and will be invaluable to those who, though they are unaware of it, are destined to lose their sight. Ultimately, it will cut the cost of programs supporting otherwise able-bodied unemployed blind people.

For those with vision loss and other disabilities, it provides a rare and welcomed opportunity to see themselves portrayed as strong, well-rounded and capable characters in fiction. It is currently available in accessible formats for readers with sensory, learning and physical disabilities through Bookshare and Learning Ally, as well as in print and ebook versions at your favorite outlets.

A Few Things About Blindness

Blindness and visual impairments are low-incidence disabilities. Compared with autism, dyslexia or deafness, there aren’t many blind or visually impaired Americans. Nevertheless, visual impairments are on the rise. In 2008, the CDC projected a tripling of diabetes-related blindness in working-age Americans by 2050. Considering reports of skyrocketing Type 2 Diabetes in adolescents (a frequent cause of vision loss) and the unexpected difficulties in treating it, this prediction may prove to be conservative.

The situation facing blind Americans is fraught with irony. Though Tim Cordes and David Hartman graduated from medical school without sight, and others are lawyers, engineers, mechanics and excelling in many other fields, unemployment among otherwise able-bodied, working age blind Americans is over twice the national average. Braille literacy, despite strong ties to gainful employment and advanced degrees, is low; most of America’s blind kids are never taught to read it.

Many believe that the major contributor to this dichotomy is the profound social stigma surrounding vision loss. This stigma, fostered by unfamiliarity, presents special challenges for people dealing with low vision, their families and those who seek to educate and rehabilitate them. Similarly, it is a major issue for those who encounter people with visual impairments as customers, clients and co-workers. The stigma also impacts relationships among neighbors and family members.

The “unfamiliarity” is due not only to the fact that blindness is a low-incidence disability, but because blind children represent the smallest group of blind people by age. Consequently, kids, while in their formative years before prejudices have taken root, rarely come into contact with blind peers.

Most blind people grew up sighted and are fettered by their own negative opinions about vision loss. Rehabilitation counselors say that undoing these prejudices is the greatest obstacle to a successful transition to living nonvisually. Furthermore, most professionals in the fields of special education and rehabilitation go through their entire training without ever interacting with a real blind person.

The problem has a profound impact on blind girls and women, who have few role models in either the public sector or fiction. Though general audiences have no trouble naming several blind men, such as Stevey Wonder, Jose Feliciano and former NY governor David Paterson, the blind woman most frequently mentioned is Helen Keller, who died in 1968. What other minority has endured the lack of a female role model for over fifty years?

Bridging the Gap

I understand the problems blind people face in the sighted world. I was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa and was the first legally blind child mainstreamed in the Easton, Pennsylvania School District. I have a B.A. in English literature from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. I wasn’t taught Braille in school and learned it only after college. Similarly, I wasn’t given a white cane. After I received my first guide dog, I got one, just in case.

It has been my life’s passion to bridge the gap between the blind and sighted worlds. I worked as a speaker and singer-songwriter for twenty years and have three recordings. My school assembly programs combined music with an interactive presentation about blindness and nonvisual ways of living independently. It hurts me that children, who someday will lose their sight, grow up so frightened of blindness and blind people.

For almost a decade, I have been writing about these realities for online magazines. I have appeared on many internet radio programs and have written guest blogs on these issues. I have also volunteered as a media relations specialist for various advocacy groups, including the Writers’ Division of the nonprofit National Federation of the Blind (NFB). In that capacity, I have placed stories about exceptional blind individuals and the issues accompanying vision loss with newspapers, radio shows and other media throughout the country.

Fiction & Social Change

Abigail & Curly Connor, from The Heart of Applebutter  Hill by Donna W. Hill, are  standing in an Oval Opening at  The Castle of Bar Gundoom: photo by Rich Hill.

Abigail & Curly Connor, from The Heart of Applebutter Hill, are standing in an Oval Opening at The Castle of Bar Gundoom: photo by Rich Hill.

Nonfiction and journalism, however, are not the only tools which can promote social change. From Oliver Twist and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to more modern works such as The Grapes of Wrath, Roots and Children of a Lesser God, fiction has played a significant role in raising awareness of social justice issues.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill is designed as a captivating adventure story, in which the reader gets to know a 14-year-old girl who is legally but not totally blind. Another character was blind from birth. It allows readers with visual impairments to see themselves in literature, and I hope that it helps readers – in and out of the classroom – to view people with vision loss as equals with talents, foibles and short-comings, like themselves.

Those using fiction to facilitate social change, however, are likely to encounter a major roadblock; the publishing industry is subject to the same prejudices as the general public. The watchdog group DiversityInYA, monitored the Publishers Weekly bestsellers list for books written by or about minorities including people with disabilities. Their research has shown that diversity in young adult literature is virtually nonexistent.

Blind writers, including me, learn that publishers and agents consider our portrayals of independent blind girls and women “unrealistic.” We’re supposed to be passive, long-suffering, spiritually gifted and most of all, in need of help. After a year, I gave up looking and self-published.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill, which features an intelligent and lovable guide dog, also has characters with other disabilities and addresses the issue of bullying. Despite popular beliefs that no one would do such a thing, more and more blind writers are beginning to speak out about the problem. A UK study shows that children with vision loss are experiencing high levels of bullying by their peers. Many of us think the problem in the U.S. is worse.

A Thought and a Request

A 6 Petal Lily: photo by Rich Hill.
A 6 petal lily: photo by Rich Hill.

Educators, rehabilitation professionals, and other writers recommend The Heart of Applebutter Hill for inclusion, diversity and anti-bullying initiatives in middle and high school, as well as for education, special education, healthcare, theology and technology majors in college. Can you help by reading it and sharing it with your friends and family?

Visit my Amazon Author Page at:

“Like” The Heart of Applebutter Hill on Facebook:

References: Blindness & Diversity in Young Adult Literature

“Diabetes Epidemic Signals an Increase in Blindness, Too” – The New York Times

Employment & Visual Impairments: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Blindness Statistics – American Foundation for the Blind

Diversity in YA:

“Bullying a ‘common occurrence’ for children with sight loss” – Optometry Today

Accessible Versions of The Heart of Applebutter Hill

Learning Ally: World’s Largest Provider of Human-Narrated Textbooks & Literature

Learning Ally carries The Heart of Applebutter Hill in the VOICEtext format; highlighted synchronized text accompanies the human narration. Listen and follow the printed word at the same time!

Bookshare: an Accessible Online Library for Readers with Print Disabilities

Digital DAISY text, audio and refreshable Braille versions of The Heart of Applebutter Hill are available at:

Recommendations, Intro for Educators and Reference Letters

Professionals in the fields of education, rehabilitation, low-vision care, accessibility and the arts praise The Heart of Applebutter Hill. Read their comments at:

Dr. Karen Squier, O.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, Southern College of Optometry (Memphis, Tennessee ), and one of only 45 optometrists worldwide to have earned the highest level of certification in low-vision care from the AAO, has written “An Introduction to The Heart of Applebutter Hill for Educators”:

What People Think about Donna’s Programs:
Download a PDF of reference letters from schools, colleges and other organizations who have experienced Donna’s presentations. Look under the heading “Download Reference Letters About Donna’s Presentations” at:

Posted in adventure-mystery, authors, Blindness, bullying, Education, fantasy, Guide dogs, Self-Publishing, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, TheHeart of Applebutter Hil, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love of My Life: a song for all of us

I wrote this song in March of 1991, between episodes of breast cancer. Rich and I were long since together, and we had married that previous December. To me, this is about determination, and it’s a song I wished I could have written much earlier. It is a song for all who are still looking for true love in this maddening world.

This is me and the real Curly Connor in a stone archway at Grey Towers, Milford PA. Curly Connor, my second dog from GDF, was with me the longest of my guide dogs and through both episodes of breast cancer: photo by Rich Hill.

Audio Player

Lyrics to Love of My Life

words and music by Donna W. Hill

3/12/91, Col. #10, 1991


No matter how long it takes me,
I’m gonna keep right on looking for you,
Yeah, you, Love of my life,

No matter how far away it makes me go,
I’m gonna keep right on going for you,
Yeah, you, Love of my life.

Verse #1

House full of strangers, street full of fools,
Ignoring all the dangers and breaking all the rules,
Here in the free world, more and more it seems,
You can go with the flow, if you want to, And drown in the mainstream.

Verse #2

Pounding the pavement day after day,
So many people with nothing much to say,
Caught in a maze without any clue,
If I weren’t looking for you, what would I be doing?

Verse #3

I know you’re out there just like me,
Searching for someone who’s willing to be,
Shoulder to shoulder, partners and friends,
We might find each other just around the next bend.

Posted in Donna Weiss, Song Lyrics, songwriting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Sunday Interview – Human in every Sense of the Word -Ignoring VS. Acknowledging and Obeying My 6th Sense by Patty Fletcher

Today is the 2nd anniversary of Patty Fletcher’s marketing company, Tell it to the World, and I’m happy to have been a part of it since this spring. This is a great article about the 6th sense.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the Sunday Interview- Human in every sense of the word.

As humans there are five main senses that we rely on to navigate through this world.  And there is one that we all possess but do not necessarily use all the time…

Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste, Smell….Sixth Sense.

You can choose to write about one sense or all of them, including that elusive sixth sense we have clung on to from the early days of man. 

If you would like to participate then here are the details along with my take on senses:

This week my guest is Patty Fletcher, who combines blogging with assisting sight impaired bloggers and authors to navigate the online world and book marketing. She and her Seeing Eye dog King Campbell are popular supportive members our community… Campbell is the subject of Patty’s post today, as she shares the bond they…

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The Value Of Commenting On A Blog.

If you’re a blogger , a friend of a blogger or someone who values the wealth of information, joy and encouragement made possible by this relatively new option that people have to engage and connect with one another, please consider the points in this blog and start commenting more often. I know tons of folks who would appreciate it, including yours truly. We’re not anonymous or unavailable, we’re right here, hoping to interact with you.



It’s easy to read a post and move on, andeven easier to like a blog post without reading it.

But stop and think for a moment. How much more valuable to the writer, and other readers, if you actually bothered to respond. Isn’t that what you’d hope for when writing your next blog post? Nobody wants to invest time in writing something that people are just going to skim over.

Not only that, but you will gain more from the post and from the interaction with others than you realise.

You might gain new ideas or perspectives, or you might just end up feeling a little better about life.

It doesn’t have to be a long or complicated post. Even just saying “thank you” or “I liked this!” does the trick.

However, commenting on a blog post is more useful than just propping up the ego of some blogger who…

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Save the date: Sat. Aug. 3. noon Eastern, and join the authors of Tell-it-to-the-Marketing for an exciting and fun afternoon. Bring your favorite summer beverage and settle in and meet some of the finest indie authors around.

Campbells World

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Author of the Week

There’s a new “Author of the Week” series over at Campbell’s World, and the first featured author is Sally Cronin. Sally runs the Smorgasbord blog, which truly has something for everyone. Enjoy this candid and engaging look into the life and times of an excellent writer and a remarkable and wonderful woman.

Campbells World

Hello everyone.

A week or so ago, I reached out to a few fellow blogger authors I follow and asked if they’d participate in my new guest author posts column, and I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten some great responses. It gives me great pleasure to share with you the following guest post from author Sally Cronin.

Sally CroninThank you so much, Patty, for inviting me over to talk about myself and my life. And thank you for such interesting prompts to get me thinking…..

Perhaps I can set the scene by briefly telling you how I got to this point in my life. My father was in the Royal Navy and we travelled around the world until I was fourteen years old before we settled back in the south of England. There have been a few hiccups in my personal life but in 1980 I met and married…

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June: The Amazing, enticing & Fascinatingly Weird Sights & Sounds from the Endless Mountains

June, the month that straddles the summer solstice, is in the rear-view mirror. Summer has hit us with a vengeance. Before I lay the powerful and magical month of June to rest, though, I’d like to share some of my favorite memories. There’ll be no weddings or graduations here; this is about the awesome natural world that surrounds and sustains us here in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains.

Baby squirrels peering out of duck house high above Hill's pond: photo by Rich Hill.
“No, you go first,” says one of the baby squirrels peering out of the duck house high above Hills’ pond: photo by Rich Hill.

The Beginnings

These three fawns were born east of Hills' house on 5/28/19. They are so young, they can barely stand up, and their Mom had to stand downhill from them, so they could reach her to nurse: photo by Rich Hill.

As May was coming to an end, we were inundated with rain, much like we had been for over a year. Everyone who had outside work to do had long since grown bone-wearingly sick of it. Then, one day at the end of May, Rich spotted a doe with her newborn fawn. The next day, another deer Mama showed up with … triplets? Even in this little rural patch of Pennsylvania where the deer are at least a third again bigger than those around the Philadelphia area where we used to live, that’s super rare.

As I write, I am happy to say that she still has all three of them, though I fear Rich’s new photos won’t be in my possession in time for this post.

Amphibians: Endangered Species? Maybe not Here

One of the best things about our seventeen acres of heaven is the pond. I think it’s a half acre, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, instead of dumping that blue dyed stuff that costs a fortune into it to curb the algae, we gave that job to the carp family. Koi, comets and minnows keep it clean for us. We love to feed them in the spring.

We have a pond shelter, which Rich designed and built prior to neuro Lyme disease. From the outside, it looks like a gingerbread house – Navaho red with a steep white roof and an arched door with a scalloped arch above it. When you go in, however, you quickly realize that the whole thing is more of an open porch. There’s a gorgeous Victorian balustrade facing the water with a set of wind chimes in the center. Along the side wall is a cupboard for fish food. Doves nest in the rafters.

Pin Cherries bloom by Navaho-red shelter with steep white roof & arched door by Rich Hill

The shelter, which you can see on my WordPress homepage, was built into a hill above the pond. It’s floor, therefore, is only resting upon a few supports. When you stomp your feet on it, it booms and groans, echoing across the pond. Pretty soon, the fish show up in droves, including our remaining four adult koi, who are two feet long and brilliantly colored.

Frogs, Frogs, and the secret, Sexy World of the American Toad!

Most of the frogs bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of the pond in the fall and wait for warmer weather. Other amphibians, including the American toad and the tiny spring peepers migrate from the woods. The peepers show up in March and herald the arrival of the season of amphibians with their high-pitched and extremely loud peeps. Then, a couple large and very old bullfrogs start with their slow, deep and measured comments on the situation.

An American toad with his neck swollen up is singing his haunting song: photo by Rich Hill.
An American toad with his neck swollen up is singing his haunting song: photo by Rich Hill.

The American toads sing a haunting song that sounds to me like a flying saucer, or someone trying to hum and whistle at the same time. Toads come to the pond to find love, and their ritual is wonderful. They gather in the pond, treading water and talking to one another. Though some are always doing their haunting song, others speak in a far quieter voice that I can only describe as sweet jabbering.

The toad tadpoles go through their miraculous transformation in the pond. One day, when they have left their tadpole bodies – with the gills that enabled them to breathe under water – behind, they will migrate en masse up the banks through the grass and into the woods. Our neighbor’s pond is uphill from us. Their toads come down to our driveway, where they are dangerously visible. Rich says the grass waves as they hop away.

After the Toads

Bullfrog at Hills’ pond in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains: photo by Rich Hill.

After the toads, the pond begins to swell with a chorus of bullfrogs. They all must get their two cents in. Then, they fall silent until one of the members of this assembly thinks of something else to say. Within two weeks, those old bullfrogs, who started so quietly, have had enough of the youngsters. They pack up and leave. We hear them at our neighbor’s pond, and we can report that we’ve noticed this peculiar behavior for years.

Green and the less common leopard frogs begin to participate in the discussion, and then the gray tree frogs weigh in. I love to walk down to the shelter around midnight and listen to them singing, jumping after bugs and minnows and issuing forth with an occasional burp. Rich says that the frogs sit very still, and when they leap for something, it is so fast that you can’t see it.

If we walk around the pond, we will hear them leaping into the water from their hiding places among the reeds. The green frogs give a distinct, high-pitched warning to their fellows about the potential danger we bring.

Audio Player: Green, Leopard & Bullfrogs

Audio Player: Hills Pond at Midnight in Early June

Posted in Amphibians, Frogs & Toads, nature, Pennsylvania, Pond, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments