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Success Story

Written by Rebecca Swainey, Braille Instructor, Orientation Center, Iowa Department for the Blind

Born in 1961, John Powers was raised the son of a funeral director in Pocahontas, Iowa. After giving a lot of thought to following his father’s footsteps, John realized this was not for him. Away at The University of Minnesota he explored his options, learning about himself and life as he pursued a BA in history.

John realized his calling when he became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and became a missionary in Eastern Europe, serving first in Romania and later in Hungary. In the course of his work he met another young American missionary, Ann, with whom he held similar values. They soon married and are now the parents of two teenage boys.

John’s job duties are numerous and varied. He does one-on-one spiritual counseling, leads small group discussions and devotional trainings and has responsibility for the group’s human resources. He is involved in coordinating activities for 20 countries throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. He sets up video conferences, handles correspondence, provides training for people doing human resources and leadership development, and arranges public speaking. He also does fund-raising and helps manage data bases.

During an eye exam in 1989 John was diagnosed with choroideremia, a rare genetic disorder resulting in a progressive loss of vision. He was surprised to learn at that time that he had a 50% loss. He learned the loss of vision would gradually continue, but would not be noticeable for some time. John put the information in the back of his mind, returned to Romania and went on with his work.

For years the condition had little impact on his life. But eventually the time came when he began having difficulty performing the duties of his job in a reasonable and timely manner. Keeping up with the required reading and editing duties was becoming more and more problematic. He knew the time had come, something had to be done.

John did his research and soon learned there was a very reputable program back in his home state of Iowa. He contacted the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) requesting further information. He was assigned a counselor and together they began planning how to proceed. He liked what he heard about the Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center, so flew back to the states specifically for the purpose of touring the Department and, in particular, checking out the Orientation Center. His employers understood and extended him a leave of absence to get training to more efficiently continue his work.

John entered the Orientation Center on June 6, 2011. He knew he would learn the alternative skills to enable him to continue his work. He learned to travel with a long-white cane for safer mobility. He learned to operate a computer using a speech access program. He learned the braille alphabet for labels and other personal communication needs. He gained confidence creating meals in Home Ec., and an apothecary cabinet in shop. But he learned much more than new skills. He learned a new way to think about blindness; a philosophy permeating the program that says “It’s okay to be blind.” “It’s respectable to be blind.”

John’s wife and family were totally supportive. They willingly made changes in their lives, quite literally moving right along with John to be with him as he went through the Orientation Center. John and Ann rented a house in Creston, around 70 miles southwest of Des Moines. There Anne continued work part-time as she established a home for herself, John and their boys. The family spent time with John in the Center to better understand what Dad was doing with his days. On weekends John would go ‘home’ or take the family to explore his home state.

On December 19, 2011 John completed training, receiving a certificate of completion of the Iowa Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center. After celebrating Christmas in Iowa, the family returned to Hungary in time to welcome the New Year. 

“I’m really grateful my wife and boys were willing to take this step with me. Having them here, having their support was very important to me…I think before coming to the Center the prospect of losing my sight seemed very intimidating. Now it’s not. I have some idea of how I can handle things and I have a network of contacts to help me when I hit roadblocks. I’m ready to get back to work.”