Nowadays, Folska works as a consultant on urban planning and navigation issues. One of her hobbies, though, is cooking, and she's producing and starring in a cooking show on Rocky Mountain PBS. So far, she's raised enough money to complete one full episode. The premise is that in each episode, Folska will visit a Colorado farm, learn how to cook a meal using that farm's ingredients with the help of a local chef, and then prepare the meal at home. The name of the show, "Cooking in the Dark," is a play on words meant to point out that most people don't know where their food comes from and to lightheartedly acknowledge that Folska can't see.

Folska began losing her sight when she was five, but because she has a good sense of direction, she wasn't formally diagnosed until she was thirteen. "By then," she says, "it was pretty bad." She spent most of her childhood in Santa Monica, and though she had friends, she hated school. "I'm sitting there, twiddling my thumbs and doodling, while everyone is reading," she says now. "There were always in-class assignments that required vision."

In high school, a vocational-rehabilitation counselor told her she had two career choices: to become a film developer or a medical transcriber. In those days, Folska explains, "that's the track they were putting people on." But Folska was deeply involved in the school's drama program at the time and was aghast at that advice. "I'm like, 'What? I'm a thespian! Are you kidding?'" Folska recalls. Though she eventually realized it'd be difficult to make a living as an actress, especially a blind one, she refused to believe her only choices would be a handful of unexciting jobs. "I realized early on that life is going to be harder, period," she says, "and I need to figure out how to navigate life and be as educated as I can in order to support myself."

So Folska enrolled at a local junior college, signing up for algebra and art history. The college had an office to assist students with disabilities, and for the first time, Folska was provided with a person to take notes for her in class. She figured out much of the rest on her own, requesting the syllabus early so she could send copies of her textbooks to Recording for the Blind, which makes books on tape (and is now called Learning Ally), and, when the recordings didn't come back fast enough, hiring smart high-school students to read to her. But some professors refused to make simple accommodations, such as saying out loud what they were writing on the board. One told her he "didn't get paid to go out of my way for you."

Folska eventually transferred to the University of Southern California to major in psychology. One class assignment focused on how the brain forms stereotypes. It was a concept Folska identified with. Her classmates, she says, often assumed she was stoned "because I couldn't see and my eyes are kind of dilated or whatever and foggy." (Nowadays, when Folska fails to make eye contact, she says most people assume she's deep in thought.) For her assignment, Folska came up with a way to change people's assumptions.

"I said, 'I'm going to put sighted people on the front of tandem bicycles and blind people on the back and then send them off on a bike ride," she says. "And by the time they get back, everybody will have demystified the stereotypes.'" Cycling was popular in Southern California, and Folska's idea was to use the sport as a way for blind people and sighted people to interact.

"When you have a positive activity where people are engaged, in the course of that activity, a natural conversation occurs," Folska says. "After ten, twenty miles, each person has gained a new understanding of the other, and the whole blind issue fades away."

Not satisfied with living in theory, Folska decided to turn her paper into reality. In 1988, she convinced the Santa Monica City Council to pay for three cheap tandem beach cruisers in order to pilot her idea. She recruited blind riders, came up with a name — Eyecycle — then trained sighted riders to "captain" the bikes by having them first ride in the back blindfolded to get a blind rider's perspective.

"Everybody loved it," she says. "It was a smashing success."

Eyecycle was soon a bona fide nonprofit and it caught the eye of the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports — hence the meeting with Schwarzenegger, who was chairman at the time — as well as of the press, which led to the establishment of Eyecycle chapters in other states, including Colorado. (Folska serves on the board of the local chapter.)

In May 1994, Folska decided to promote the organization by riding across America on the back of a tandem. By then, she'd gone back to school at USC to earn her master's in business administration and married a man who was originally from Pakistan. After her cross-country ride, she and her husband moved to Islamabad, and Folska got a job teaching English in rural areas.

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8 comments
jbelef
jbelef

I've had the opportunity to meet and hear Claudia Folska speak on the issues.  Even without her unique experience as a disabled RTD user, her credentials to be on the RTD board far outweigh all the other candidates combined!. See more here: http://www.claudia4rtd.com/

John
John like.author.displayName 1 Like

She's very cute!

tjtobiassen1
tjtobiassen1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Claudia Folska is very dynamic and multifaceted.   Check out Claudia Folska’s TV cooking show appropriately (on several levels) called “Cooking In the Dark”.  The out-takes are funny!  http://www.cookinginthedark.com/  …  

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg topcommenter like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I too , share Folska's reliance on public transportation . My service dog & I wouldn't leave home w/o RTD's assistance . My ailments that prevent my driving are relatively new . I became dependent on the bus & for the most part , am pleased w/ it's services and understanding of needed expansions .

RTD , for the past 15 + yrs ,   has striven to keep up w/ Denver's exploding population growth . If I were to grade the system as a whole , I'd give them 9 out of 10 stars . The addition of Folska could bring it to 10 out of 10 !

Tom Tobiassen
Tom Tobiassen

Claudia will be an asset on the RTD Board of Directors! Her knowledge and vision for RTD is second to none for this volunteer position. Claudia relies on RTD's buses and light rail for work, school, shopping since she does not drive or own a car. Claudia understands the needs of the rider. She clearly is the best qualified and most knowledgeable candidate.

tjtobiassen2
tjtobiassen2 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Check out the videos about Claudia Folska at www.Claudia4RTD.com  ....  

Tom Tobiassen
Tom Tobiassen

Claudia will be an asset on the RTD Board of Directors! Her knowledge and vision for RTD is second to none for this volunteer position. She clearly is the best qualified and most knowledgeable candidate and does not need the "sympathy" vote!

 
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