Jim Marks has been the Director of Disability Services for Students at the University of Montana for about 20 years. In his quiet but strong way he has brought the University's Disability Services from a small operation with a part-time student worker serving 120 students to a mature operation that serves about 900 students, with a permanent staff of 12, plus many, many student employees and volunteers. Under Jim's direction, this department of the University has taken on the role of facilitator - students learn to be independent, not reliant. And this reflects Jim's approach to life.
Jim is blind. He uses a cane, reads both DAISY books and braille, and uses access technologies to the fullest extent possible. As to where he gets the time to be as involved and active he is within his community and nationally, it is hard to say. He is the Treasurer of AHEAD (Association on Higher Education And Disability) and the Chairman of AHEAD's Special Interest Group on Blindness and Visual Impairments. (AHEAD is a professional group comprised of disability services providers in colleges and universities throughout the US.)
In addition, Jim serves on the Board of Directors of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, the Scholarship Committee of the National Federation of the Blind, and is the First Vice-President of the Board of Directors and the President of the Missoula Chapter of the Montana Association for the Blind, which is also known as the National Federation of the Blind of Montana. Jim's writings have been published in a variety of publications. He has received many awards including the 2000 Robert Pantzer Award from the University of Montana for making the University a more open and humane learning environment, the 2004 Fink-Ryan Award for contributions to the Disability Support Services in Higher Education Listserv, and the 2005 Leader of the Year Award from the Montana State University-Billings Center on Disabilities for his advocacy in the passage of the Montana Braille Literacy for Blind and Visually Impaired Children Act.
Jim was recently interviewed for the Microsoft Press Pass communication piece about "Save As DAISY". For Marks, the ability to “Save as DAISY” in Microsoft Office Word represents an important validation of disabled users’ needs and sends a powerful message to society at large. These are some of the highlights from that interview, and how Jim views DAISY.
"When you don’t see print, you lose more than the ability to read words," explained Jim, "You lose the ability to see the page, jump around in the text and be drawn to bolded or italicized information."
"When I switched from the ability to read print to using audio, it was like a stream of consciousness. Trying to find the page number on an audio cassette was a miserable experience."
"It's not just access to information that gives students equal footing, but the ability to manipulate that information."
"DAISY enhances the reading experience to most closely approximate how sighted people read print."
Jim concluded the interview by saying: "I'm incredibly impressed with Microsoft's leadership on this. I feel, as a person with a disability who uses this technology, acknowledged and recognized – that's a good thing."
It is clear from all that Jim does and from his published work, that independence and self-sufficiency are very high on his list of priorities. In the November 2002 Braille Monitor magazine, Jim closed off an article with "As blind folks we must learn to live out our lives as we choose—free of the belief that blindness is the problem."
Jim is a sixth generation Montanan and has two teen-aged children. He brings his philosophy of independence and self-sufficiency to everything he does, including his volunteer work as a Hunter Education Instructor for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
We encourage other potential DAISY users to submit their story and get further involved.