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Success Story

Written by Marcia Bauer, Independent Living Rehabilitation Teacher, Iowa Department for the Blind

“You know, if I hadn’t become blind, I probably never would have met you and would still be sitting in a nursing home.” Harlan, an independent living client of the Iowa Department for the Blind, spoke those words to me one morning as we chatted about his recent move from a local nursing home to his new residence.

Harlan was born and raised in Iowa but lived most of his adult life in the hills of Arkansas. He returned to Iowa during 1998 to visit friends and family members. Harlan developed health problems; he contracted pneumonia during 2001 and was subsequently diagnosed with COPD. Harlan’s doctors advised him that he would not be able to return to Arkansas and that he would require lifelong care in a nursing facility because of the deterioration of his lungs.

“I didn’t realize,” Harlan explained, “that I was also going blind. I’d been having trouble seeing to read, but when I noticed that fence lines looked wavy I decided to get my eyes checked.” Just a few weeks after moving to the nursing facility, Harlan was diagnosed with macular degeneration and was referred  to the Department for services. As a result of our first meeting, I helped Harlan get established with the Library of Congress talking book program.

A few years later Harlan was again referred to the Department. By now he had lost all his central acuity and wanted to learn how to use the long white cane and how to read and write Braille. Harlan applied for independent living rehabilitation services, and I began working with him on a regular basis. I was struck by how much Harlan’s general health had improved. He no longer used a walker and told me that he couldn’t recall the last time he needed supplemental oxygen. As our meetings continued and the months passed, I wondered why Harlan continued to live in a nursing facility. I queried him about this. “I want to leave,” Harlan responded. “Other than the nurses giving me medicine, I care for myself. I want to leave. I just don’t know how to go about it.” I offered to help Harlan, and so our journey began.

One of the initial steps was finding Harlan a place to live. Harlan preferred to remain in the Waterloo or Cedar Falls area. Through my professional contacts with the elderly waiver program service providers, we became aware of a vacancy at an apartment comlex in Waterloo. Harlan’s application for residency was accepted, and a flurry of activity resulted. Included were a trip to the post office to implement Harlan’s address change, trips to the local Social Security office to initiate financial routing changes, the purchase of furniture, trips to purchase essentials for his new residence, the establishment of phone service, and the selection of a pharmacy. Numerous phone calls and lots of shoe leather later, Harlan moved into his new apartment on Friday, September 28.

I continue to provide Harlan with independent living rehabilitation services. Harlan has nearly finished his study of grade two Braille and has marked several items in his apartment with Braille labels. He is learning how to write checks and use a debit card. He continues with cane travel instruction to become familiar with his new neighborhood.

Harlan commented that the whole experience of moving to an independent living situation was “a little scary at first. It was a lot of freedom all at once. I had trouble believing such a good thing was happening to me. My biggest adjustment has been getting used to doing everything for myself again – nobody brings my medicine, I decide when and what to eat. I can make my own coffee and brew it as strong as I like. I have privacy again and, thanks to Marcia and the Department for the Blind, I have my life back.”