Annette Brill Bergstresser is Communications Assistant for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. This article is excerpted from the AMBS website, with the author's permission. Read the complete article on the AMBS website.
Blinded in a meth lab explosion when he was 20 and imprisoned on multiple occasions, Matt doesn’t fit the stereotype of a seminary student. However, he not only graduated May 21 with a Master of Divinity from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, but also was named a recipient of the 2016 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) for his work in making biblical languages accessible to blind people.
When Matt became a student at AMBS in the fall of 2013, he faced higher hurdles at seminary than most students, both in terms of accessibility and academics. He had never studied languages before, and the resources available for studying biblical languages in Braille were limited.
Paul Keim, professor of Bible and Religion at Goshen (Indiana) College and a sessional instructor of Hebrew at AMBS, began tutoring him in Greek two times a week, using Braille versions of the Greek grammar and New Testament text. However, after more than two weeks, they realized that the New Testament text they were working with was not ancient Greek, but modern Greek. Back to square one.
“I’ve been teaching language for a long time, but at every turn I realized how most of the strategies and protocols for learning language are for sighted people,” Paul says. “The dictionary and encyclopedia articles were full of symbols Matt couldn’t read.”
Matt and Paul began to explore gaining access to scholarly articles and commentaries in Braille. While they were able to connect with others who had converted biblical language documents into Braille, they realized there was no way for a blind person to successfully produce ancient language material in print in a way that would make sense to sighted scholars.
“Our approach very early on was that we were going to try to reproduce the text [in print] to contribute to the sighted community and to scholarship as a whole,” Matt says. “I wanted to create tools that would help blind people compete with sighted people on terms of equality.”
Paul says that for him, working with Matt on this project transformed his understanding of what accessibility means.
“It’s not just being able to get to the second floor because somebody hoists you up; you can get up there, but you’ve got to find somebody to hoist you,” he says. “The point is to get up there on your own, when you want to go. Physical accessibility is a metaphor for all kinds of accessibility.”
This spring, Matt applied for and received the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind, named for a pioneering blind physician, which recognizes “individuals and organizations working in the field of blindness that have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality.”
Read more about Matt Yeater's accomplishments on the AMBS website.