Monday, August 02, 2010

First blind PhD graduate in biblical languages?

Blind Andrews student gets biblical languages doctorate

By DEBRA HAIGHT - H-P [Herald Palladium] Correspondent
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010 1:04 PM EDT

I stand

At the end of one miracle

And the beginning

of a thousand more.

I rest

Having finished one impossible journey

And about to start

What will seem as countless others.

– Ray McAllister, “The End and the Beginning”

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Ray McAllister graduates today from Andrews University, having overcome obstacles and achieving what very likely no one else in his position has.

Totally blind since age 12 due to a degenerative disease called Peter’s Anomaly, he hasn’t let his disability keep him from achieving his dream of getting a doctorate in biblical languages.

It’s a feat that he believes makes him unique in the state and maybe the nation and the world. He also thinks it’s fitting that he’s graduating in the week that saw the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

From what he’s been able to ascertain from conversations with the National Federation for the Blind and the Society of Biblical Literature, no other totally blind person anywhere has ever gotten a doctorate in biblical languages.


His biggest help throughout the last decade has been Sally, whom he married in 2001. She has done everything from reading quizzes and exams to him to dictating vocabulary words.

The technological assistance has also been tremendous, McAllister said. The Michigan Commission for the Blind provided him with the computers, scanners, software programs and the BrailleNote readers he needed to study.

He sees the hand of God not only in the help he got from his wife and the state, but also the assistance he’s gotten from other educational institutions and religious organizations.

For example, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Computer Analysis of Texts provided him with text files of the entire Hebrew Bible and other religious tracts for a nominal charge. He now has the whole Bible in transliterated codes.

“I had to build my way through this,” McAllister said. “The Commission for the Blind didn’t have all the equipment I needed. I had to make my own path. That’s why I wanted to get my story out, so people could know how to get the different resources.”

McAllister also can’t praise Andrews enough for its help. While he was studying and preparing for his doctorate, it gave him the opportunity to teach seminary classes on biblical subjects.

And kudos to Penn's Center for Computer Analysis of Texts for its technological support.