In the Press
She Sees From Afar, She Sees All
"La-Isha" magazine | written by Dafna Arad | January 7, 2019
When Anne Schlachter Dagan walks along the beach and looks at the horizon she sees two blocks in different shades – the sky and sea. She hears seagulls’ tweet but can't see them. The surf tickles her toes but she can’t recognize the blue water, or the yellow comfortable chair.
Achromatopsia, the syndrome she suffers from birth, is expressed in color blindness (She can only distinguish shades of color) sensitivity to light and low vision. It is a congenital defect in the retina, in the absence of the receptors responsible for color perception and day light. But this genetic syndrome didn't stop her from climbing mountains in South America, to finish a degree in economics and management, work for the clothing company Zara, playing basketball in a professional league, to get married and have three children, and recently to become a full-time painter who brings a new perspective to the art world.
In her Studio at Kibbutz Parod she focuses on realistic oil paintings of African tribal women. These are not works or line point properties, but the use of shades of grey and a negative effect, as well as arbitrary choice of colors.
We walk along the streets of Tel Aviv, she can’t see, but no one can tell. She stands because of her height, which is 1.80 meters. Anne doesn't have a guide dog or a cane and goes by foot or takes public transportation along with her navigation app. "I can't drive, I can't see street signs and I don't know which bus just stopped here," she explains. "Sometimes I don't see things even if they are in front of me. In a certain light, stairs can seem like one surface. If you show me the same picture in black and white or in color, I won’t notice the difference.
Will the situation improve?
"The situation is static, but the more I mature, the more my brain learns how things should look”.
Can you say that you see 50 shades of gray?
"That’s not accurate. The truth is that I can only see shades, and can’t distinguish between gray and tulip, cream or pink. However, I can notice a glossy texture, dark spots, and sometimes I can guess the color red”.
Achromatopsia is a rare syndrome. In Israel, she know five women that have this condition. In the United States the statistics are one to 33 thousand.
"In Pingelap, Micronesia, one in ten people suffer from this genetic syndrome due to intermarriage. The neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks, wrote the book "The Island of the Color Blind."
Was the syndrome passed in your family?
"My older brother has no limitation of sight and my younger sister does, which is a rare thing."
How did you deal with the situation in your childhood?
"I wanted to be as “normal” as possible, my parents taught me to be independent and insisted that I study in regular schools, without an assistant, if there was ever such a thing back then. My friends were the ones who helped me. They always read to me from the blackboard and on outdoor trips they gave me a hand. My parents supported me with any difficulty that came along, intervened, helped, pressured the teaching staff and demanded that they enlarge my school work pages” she said.
Did you use special aids?
In elementary school I used a magnifying glass. In high school I used closed circuit television - a device that places text underneath it and projects it to a computer screen with large fonts. For university introductory lectures I came with theater binoculars. I wear sunglasses with red-colored lenses that help me against the glare. I replaced most of the accessories with a smart-phone that includes an application that increases small details, such as prices or a list of components in products, to a huge size. When I lose it I'm lost, like everyone else”.
Schlachter Dagan, 36, is the daughter of Steve Schlachter, an American basketball player who immigrated to Israel and played for Israel’s national team and for various teams for 30 years.
“Maybe I did not always see what was happening on court, but I loved the atmosphere.
It was only natural that in second grade I started playing basketball. I played on a regular team, but my vision kept bothering me. I missed balls because I was dazzled by the light, because they were thrown from far away or the wall behind was the same color as the ball. My teammates were aware of my limitations and tried not to be angry with me. They passed the balls on the floor, we found solutions.
I continued playing up to the age of 17. When I was 16, I joined a professional women’s team, but I was not good enough. I realized that if I wanted to be a professional, I could not afford so many failures, not to score, to miss shots, not to catch the ball. I left the team, but I continued to love the sport and recently I bought my children (eight, six and four) a basketball, so that they would continue with the family tradition”.
Were you afraid you would pass the syndrome to your children?
“Just a little. I gave up on genetic tests that could identify the problem when I was pregnant, because even if it were positive, I would not do anything about it. I know that it is possible to live with the problem, so the information was irrelevant to me”.
“I find it hard to read books or watch my children in the playground, and to this day I do not recognize them from a distance, but by means of distinguishing features, their body language or a hat on their head. Today they are my eyes and they help me a lot - from pairing socks to identifying those who have just said hello on the street”.
Were there people who took advantage of your limitation?
"Not that I know of, my other senses are very sharp, my hearing, my sense of smell, my emotional intelligence,
Also, I pay attention to things that other people do not see, so I don’t think that people took advantage of my condition”.
Schlachter-Dagan had many achievements, but the moment when she felt she had won was when she got a job offer to work at the Zara retail store in NYC. She did not let the problem, as small as total color blindness, interfere with her. she simply did not report it in the job interview.
How did you manage as a clothing saleswoman?
“I discovered that every item in a clothing store has a code, for example, in Zara, the last three digits of the code mark the color of the item, I just memorized those numbers and knew which item came in what colors”.
Was this the only time you did not share your disability with your employers?
“If I had told about my situation, I would probably not have been accepted to work as a youth sports instructor at a Jewish summer camp in the United States, where I met Hagai, my husband, at the age of 21. I told him about my situation immediately and he responded with much understanding and did not seem bothered by it. We were part of a small group of Israeli instructors and we really connected. From the first moment, he helped me with everything.
When he told me that he was planning to travel in South America I also suddenly wanted to. Before that I had never thought that I would go on an adventure like that. But he was beside me all the time. We traveled together for six months and visited amazing places”.
You managed to go on treks in South America.
“Yes. I would fall many times and get back up. He gave me a hand like a little girl and in Bolivia, for example, we climbed a 5,800 meter mountain. I used walking sticks and sometimes I would cling to him and follow him.
After the trip it was clear to me that Hagai was the one and I decided to go back to Israel and study together with him at the University Ben Gurion. He studied philosophy and computer science and I completed a degree in economics and management.
In my studies I had to read a lot, and the preoccupation with numbers made me very tired.
Since people do not see my physical impairment, to a few lecturers it was hard to understand, but I managed to finish my degree".
Anne and Hagai married in 2009. "A wedding dress was easy for me to choose because all the options were white," she says with a smile. After that we lived in Tel Aviv and I worked for five years as an assistant controller for a high-tech company in the Azrieli Towers.
I managed the company's budget, but it was not simple. The whole day I was working with numbers in Excel tables. I did use the magnification software, but it did not allow me to see the full screen, so I had to check every detail twice. In meetings with senior managers, I felt inferior. The windows in Azrieli were huge and blinded me, I worked with half-closed eyes and endless blinks, and I already did a presentation in the conference room without seeing anything, I was talking from memory, and everyone realized that something was wrong, but I did not feel comfortable asking them to close the shutters for me”.
The Great Blue
Despite her love for the city, she chose to move with her family to a home in Kibbutz Parod, which is equipped with many blinds and curtains, and to her studio, where she paints, writes a blog, and sell her works and lectures (www.mycolorfulgrays.com)
Of all the professions in the world, why did you choose to paint?
I always liked art. I even majored it in high school, but then life took me somewhere else. A few years ago, my entire family traveled as part of a Jewish Agency community mission to South Africa, and I decided that this was an opportunity to make a career change: We lived in Cape Town for three years. On the promenade, near the sea and the children's school. I did not have a work permit, I just went on maternity leave and I was a full-time mother, and to contribute to my soul I began to paint in the open studio of a British artist named Paul Birchall. I took blue paint and painted a pregnant African woman. I was inspired by photographs that were before my eyes, and so no detail could escape my eyes.
I got to a level that I did not think I would reach. When I paint I work right near the picture and canvas. I combine only one color in my paintings, it does not matter which one, because I see only its shade.
I chose the blue, which appears in many of my paintings, because people connected with it, it started as a hobby, but soon I started to sell works. And I understood that I could works as an artist".
"In South Africa, some believed that I had a future, they said that because of my story I would succeed in my art, it gave me the strength and the will to continue without being ashamed of my situation. "Unfortunately, I discovered that in Israel it is much harder to be an artist, and that requires me mainly to be a marketing woman”.
So you started lecturing?
"These lectures are like therapy for me, I manage to touch people and convey an important message about the integration of people with disabilities in society”.