March 20, 2013
Blindly Facing Prejudice
Houghton graduate, medical transcriptionist, and wife. City girl, writer, and mother of seven. Blind. In the face of flagrant prejudice and distrust, repeated rejection and ridicule, Patricia Ortiz’s life has been an ordinary journey made of extraordinary challenges.
Born in 1939, Patricia lost her sight at age three from idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura. The disease, marked by severe hemorrhaging beneath the skin, caused her to lose partial use of her right arm and gain several scars. Patricia remembers, “My mother couldn’t even comb my hair while I had ITP because of the pain and bruising.”
Patricia Ortiz, formerly Patricia Snyder, attended the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia, New York, from 1945 to 1957. She graduated and began her studies at Houghton College the same year with a New York State Regents Scholarship. “I wanted to be a teacher and took education and psychology courses,” she said, “but at that time New York State was not allowing blind people to teach.” However, Houghton did prepare Patricia for future involvement with Christian radio and Sunday school teaching. “There are many experiences at Houghton which help me in my teaching of a Bible study class. It was mandatory to take Introduction to Bible, and I still remember the lessons in that subject,” Patricia reminisces. “Besides, one couldn’t help but have the general atmosphere and experiences, such as the Scripture readings at meals and chapel speakers, rub off.”
Patricia fondly remembers famous Houghton namesakes who impacted her life as professors, including Dr. Stephen Paine, who taught Patricia Greek, her history professors, Ruth Luckey and Dr. Frieda Gillette, and others, including Dr. Gordon Stockin, Dr. Josephine Rickard, and Dr. Arthur Lynip.“I can’t forget the influence Dr. Arthur Lynip had on me,” Patricia ruminates. “We had many memorable conversations about school, the future, and life in general.”
After graduating in 1961, Patricia attended the Industrial Home for the Blind in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to refine her independent living skills and to complete mobility training; this is where she met and married Angelo Ortiz. Becoming involved with Angelo forced Patricia to fight the double-prejudice of others; Angelo was a blind Puerto Rican. Social workers at I.H.B. insisted that Angelo and Patricia should not see one another, and when Patricia refused she was removed from the I.H.B.
The couple continued to face the challenges of a world that refused to accept their determination, abilities, and resourcefulness. Both repeatedly faced discrimination at work and at home, from family insistent that the couple should not have children to prejudiced social workers attempting to remove the children from their home. “I think the main problems in those days came from outside with people who just didn’t understand that I could raise these children and wanted to,” Patricia says. Many times family, landlords, and home aides refused to allow Patricia to cook or clean for her growing family, and well-meaning social workers insisted Patricia and Angelo were incapable of raising children. “My mother, too, wanted to take over my baby, something I wasn’t going to let happen.”
Though a full-time, stay-at-home mother for much of her adult life, Patricia has, for the past 22 years, been a medical transcriptionist, and worked and trained in various jobs, including a taxi-company receptionist, telemarketer, Bible class teacher and assistant teacher, and radio station staff worker. “When I left Houghton, I never expected to be a medical transcriptionist. For one thing, computers weren’t even around in those days,” Patricia says. “When they started talking to me about computers, I was fearful. I considered computers as being too cold and impersonal for my liking. Then I discovered that I could do word processing on them, and I loved writing.”
Today Patricia is the proud grandmother of five and great-grandmother of another five. When she is not working as a medical transcriptionist, she participates in her church, Believer’s Chapel in Cicero, New York, conducts online research, knits, writes, and participates in campaigns for environment protection and awareness.
Looking back on her experiences since graduating from Houghton College, Patricia maintains that her Christian faith enabled her to persevere through the social and economic challenges faced by the independent blind. “When I got out in the world, I had the challenge of fitting in while maintaining Christian principles.”
Patricia remembers what enabled her to achieve the life she has lived and advises others similarly: “Study hard, make the most of your time, listen to the advice of Godly professors, read the Bible,” she says. “And pray, pray, pray.”