Blind resident wants to break barriers in the news industry

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Giving Hope
Wyandotte resident Hope Springstead works on her laptop at her parent’s house on Elm Tuesday. Springstead, who is blind, appeared as a news anchor on Lansing station WLNS-TV 6 in December. Springstead uses special computer programs that translate text into audio and Braille.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE — When a local woman got the chance to live her dreams on a Lansing television news channel, she said she wanted to use it as a platform to help others live theirs.

Hope Springstead was invited to be an on-air anchor on Lansing-based WLNS-TV 6 as part of its Day of Giving broadcast in December. Springstead, 23, has been blind since childhood.

“It was a great opportunity to show people this is not just talk,” Springstead said. “It can be reality.”

After beginning journalism classes at Michigan State University, Springstead focused her interest on broadcasting. Broadcasting students there took turns anchoring 30-minute campus news shows, and when her turn came, the staff was presented with some unique problems.

“Everyone was uncertain how I would do it,” Springstead said. “No one visually impaired had ever done it before.”

MSU professor Troy Hale came to her rescue, building a system of lights over each camera. When she needed to look in a certain camera, its corresponding light would blink, and Springstead, who can discern light, color and shadows, would know where to look.

Hale also filmed a segment about Springstead for the Big Ten Network, where he works as a producer. The segment soon appeared on YouTube, leading to a feature story in the Lansing State Journal. After reading that story, producers at WLNS contacted her to say they had no permanent job openings, but could offer the recent college graduate a hand.

Springstead appeared on air with station anchor Jane Aldrich for several short segments promoting local charities on their Dec. 10 broadcast.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Springstead said. “It wasn’t your average job where you sit at a desk and read from a teleprompter. Everything was live, and I had to come up with everything on the spot.”

In addition to the light system, Springstead also transferred written scripts into a computer program called BrailleNote, which translates them into Braille. For the MSU segments, a stagehand hid under her desk and tapped her leg to alert her to her cues, although she said the extra step was unnecessary.

Although Springstead said her time on the air was a great learning experience, she said she learned the most important lessons after the segment aired, when she began hearing negative feedback.

Some of the channel’s viewers complained that the station was getting her hopes up when finding a job in broadcasting would be extremely difficult for her, Springstead said. Others complained that the station was giving her a handout because of her disability.

“It’s not a handout,” Springstead said. “I work hard for it. I learned that you have to let the negative comments that come fall on deaf ears or it could deter you from your dreams.”

She said she wants to be a positive role model for others with disabilities, but that she doesn’t want her impairment to land her a job if she hasn’t earned it. Springstead is planning to move to Lansing soon to look for a permanent position.

“I need to be treated like other people,” she said. “If I’m not good at it, they don’t need to give me a job.”

Through it all, Springstead said the experience has not shaken her dream of being the first visually impaired news anchor.

“There’s no one in that industry (who is blind),” Springstead said. “If anyone can make a way for a group of people to do something they couldn’t do before, why not?

“People shouldn’t close their doors just because there’s a challenge.” she said. “If I could break that barrier, it could open doors for a lot of other people as well.”