Is the Writing a Forgery or Due to Visual Impairment?
By: Carolyn Kurtz
Originally published in the WADE (World Association of Document Examiners) Newsletter in 1998Tel: (215) 357-3083
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Occasionally, the document examiner encounters a signature or writing that is believed to be a forgery but in reality was written by a blind or visually impaired individual. There are various features of blind writing that could initially be mistaken for a forgery, so it is understandable that this could occur.
There are a number of writing characteristics that indicate whether a writing was executed by a blind person. There may be evidence of retracing and overwriting, which is probably the major reason that forgery is often suspected. A slower writing speed is evident, as well as the struggle to maintain a degree of uniformity. Another important feature found often in blind writing is the &qout;squared&qout; letter formations (separate or connected). Such formations are easier for the blind person to master than are curved strokes.
The writing formations will be awkward in appearance. There will be difficulty maintaining a baseline, especially with a signature, which is written without a guide. There is a constant struggle to retain this baseline and to keep from overwriting into a previous line of writing. Fewer pen lifts will be evident, as the writer will attempt to write as much as possible to minimize having to lift his pen and thereby risk losing his place on the baseline. Often the writer will use some sort of straightedge guide. This is usually evident by the missing lower extension and the unnaturally straight, flattened lower edge of the line of writing.
Uniform rhythm and movement is another problem, as well as maintaining the correct pen position to avoid extra writing strokes. The blind writer often depends on his opposite hand as a guide in this difficult process of writing.
Understandably, there are aspects of blind writing that lead to a mistaken assumption of forgery. A forger would need to have a thorough understanding of the intricacies involved in blind writing to be successful. In her book Disputed Documents, Hanna Sulner writes of a case where the forgery of a blind lady's signature was revealed because the writer of this questioned signature dotted each &qout;i&qout; very precisely, which was totally unlike the consistently misplaced &qout;i&qout; dots of the lady's genuine signatures.
There are a great number of variations among different blind writers due to the varying stages of blindness and whether the writer was blind from birth or as the result of an injury sustained after learning how to write. This latter situation would leave the writer with some visual memory of writing; however, there would be no improvement in style or manner of writing after the accident.
When a blind student is taught to write, the student's visual status and previous knowledge of writing are first taken into consideration. The focus is on developing a sensitivity to formation of letters, spatial orientation within letters, words, lines, connecting letters, retracing when needed, i-dots and t-crossings.
Each student's particular situation is evaluated. Factors such as potential use of the handwriting skill, what needs are to be met (i.e., signatures for checks or legal documents, classroom note taking, etc.) level of motivation, and visual status are taken into consideration before choosing the method of writing instruction. This helps to determine, for example, whether manuscript or cursive writing should be stressed, or what particular teaching technique is to be used.
Various teaching techniques are available and are tailored to the particular student. The &qout;square hand&qout; is one method that is taught to students having difficulty with curved strokes, diagonal lines, and connections. Another method stresses the mastery of each letter in a signature before adding the next letter, which in turn is mastered before adding the next letter, and so on.
There are a number of writing aids available, such as the following:
Again, the particular needs of the student determine which writing aid or combination of aids will be used.
Edna Robertson states in Fundamentals of Document Examination that it is not important to identify whether a person is blind, but that the examiner should not misinterpret the writing to be a forgery. The writing of a blind person has specific and unique characteristics that can be recognized by the examiner. These features, when taken into consideration, should help the examiner determine whether the writing is a forgery or genuine writing of a blind individual.
American Foundation for the Blind, Foundations of Education for Blind and Visually Handicapped Children and Youth (Theory and Practice). Geraldine T. Scholl, Editor.
Bradley, Andrew, and Associates, Advanced Studies: Extended Training in Questioned Document Problems. Denver, CO, 1993.
Robertson, Edna W. Fundamentals of Document Examination (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1991).
Sulner, Hanna F., Disputed Documents (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1966).
Carolyn Kurtz, is a Board Certified Forensic Document Examiner with over 26 years of private practice experience. Ms. Kurtz has been a Member of National Association of Document Examiners since 1984. She is an Expert Witness for both Plaintiff and Defense counsel.
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