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Success Story

Written by Jennifer Hutson, Independent Living Rehabilitation Teacher, Iowa Department for the Blind

I remember when I first met Bill. It was in 2005, and he was undergoing a series of shots in his eyes in an effort to treat macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss. It was while on his way home from getting an injection that he decided he needed to take a more proactive approach to his loss of vision. Bill had recently heard about a community-based training being offered in his home town by the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Independent Living Program. He decided to stop by for more information.

When we first sat down together Bill said, "I’m not blind. I can still see." We spent some time talking about what that meant in practical terms. As the conversation progressed, it became clear to both of us that there were many things Bill did before his vision loss that he felt he could no longer do, or at least not do with any ease or accuracy. Bill said he was once the handy man in the house, but he no longer felt he could accomplish even minor home repairs. And one-time simple tasks like operating household appliances now felt almost overwhelming to him.

We talked about the fact that, while Bill did not consider himself blind, in reality he was letting vision loss limit his life. I wanted him to understand that a person who is blind can be independent. I explained that he could do many of the things he now described as “too hard,” “dangerous,” or even “impossible” – he just needed to learn a new approach.

For Bill, this was a whole new way of thinking. Up to this point, he had been so focused on saving his vision that he had not stopped to acknowledge how much he was limiting himself. As we talked, I realized that Bill had always been an independent, self-reliant individual with many family and community interests. Bill’s vision loss was well on the way to erasing all of this. I did not want that to happen, but more importantly, Bill did not want that to happen. We agreed that while his vision was not improving, his life certainly could.

Bill asked about the use of a white cane. He had some useable vision so he was not sure he needed one. We discussed the importance of using a cane for safe, independent mobility. Bill requested a lesson on using the cane and was provided with a cane to take home with him. This initial cane travel lesson was the start to more independence for Bill!

The next day he returned to participate in the training. He also decided to renew his interest in reading by applying for audio books available through the National Library Service (NLS). After completing the community-based training, Bill decided he wanted to learn more non-visual techniques. We began working together on a regular basis, and I would meet with him in his home for training. He wanted to build his cane travel skills, find new hobbies, learn alternative ways to cook, and use his appliances.

I presented Bill with the opportunity to attend a week-long training program, called Senior Orientation, at our Des Moines headquarters. Bill jumped at the chance to build on his skills. During this week, Bill received training in wood shop, Braille, using a computer with screen-reading software, travel with the long white cane, and home management (e.g., how to label items around the home, how to manage medications, etc.). He also attended daily discussion groups about blindness. These discussions and the training classes helped him learn techniques for doing things without his vision and helped him adjust to his vision loss in a positive way.

During his cooking class, Bill learned methods to bake pies; he successfully made a lemon meringue pie from scratch. Bill had enjoyed baking pies, but he had given it up when he started to lose vision. His lemon meringue pie was a hit with staff and his fellow students! Bill couldn’t wait to return home to bake pies for his family and friends again. This experience, as well as many more experiences at Senior Orientation, helped Bill realize he could be independent and he didn’t have to give up things he wanted to do. He wanted even more training!

He attended the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center. This is an intensive, residential training program housed in the Des Moines office. He attended the program for three months as a full time student at the age of 71 and enjoyed every minute of it. While there, he built a bookshelf for his living room and now uses it as a place to set his audio books and his cassette player. He also expanded his cooking, computer, cane travel, and Braille skills. Perhaps most importantly, Bill further learned that it is okay to be blind and that he can do anything he wants to do. He no longer limits himself based on his blindness.

Bill returned home a more confident person! Bill now volunteers regularly and stays active in his community. Over the past several months, he has been helping build a new building for the local Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs. He has been volunteering there for 8 or more hours a day, 6 days a week. Bill recently became a member of the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Independent Living Advisory Committee and is co-facilitating a support group in his community for people who are blind and visually impaired. He is back to living his life the way he wants to live it!

Bill now says, "I would not be where I am without having the support I received from the Department. Almost every year now I travel to Texas to visit my son and grandkids. I can take the plane by myself and get to each terminal independently. I couldn't do that without my long white cane and the experience I gained during my training at IDB. I don't step out of the house without my cane now, I feel safer with it. I love life the way it is even though I can't see"