Please enjoy these stories of how the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) made a difference for Iowan’s experiencing blindness or vision loss and how those we help go on to make Iowa a better place to live, work, and learn. These are true stories though the names have been changed to protect client and patron privacy. From blind Iowans who started their own business to students getting the educational materials they need to older individuals being able to knit or read scripture in church. These stories show the large and small ways that IDB services help Iowans losing vision or living with blindness live full, happy lives and contribute to their families, businesses, and communities.

IDB’s Instructional Materials Center Helps Blind Student Excel in Math

Evan is a 9th grade student who received little to no math materials in braille for the past three years. Evan struggled and seemed to not care for math classes. However, this year, a new TVI came on board and Evan’s paraeducator advocated for him to have braille for all of his math & Spanish materials. Evan’s paraeducator’s goal is to make Evan totally independent in his class work. The Iowa Department for the Blind’s Instructional Materials Center (IMC) has produced a lot of algebra worksheets, quizzes, and tests for Evan this year. He is excelling in math and now wants to take both Algebra 2 and Geometry next year. His goal is to take Calculus the following year. Evan’s para called to thank the IMC team for all of the quality materials they provide. She wished she would have known about us sooner.

IDB Helps Blind Mechanic Start Own Repair Business

In 2013, while riding his motorcycle with his girlfriend, Bill was hit by a drunk driver. He was critically injured in the accident and his girlfriend was killed. After a long recovery Bill returned to his hometown. He was then ready to look for employment and was referred to the Department for the Blind, as he lost most of his vision due to the injuries he received in the accident. We spent several months trying to find employment in his small community and larger cities outside of the community however, employment was hard to find, due to his injuries and transportation issues.

Bill’s passion is auto mechanics, working on cars, buying cars, fixing them up and selling them. We partnered with the Iowa Self-Employment Program (ISE) and we assisted Bill in starting his own auto repair and detailing business. Through this program we assisted Bill with making some adaptations to his garage to accommodate the business. We assisted him with obtaining the necessary tools and equipment to repair cars and detail cars. IDB provided guidance and counseling, training in ways of accomplishing tasks without sight that people generally accomplish using vision and rehabilitation technology. We worked with the local economic development to make sure all guidelines and codes were followed. Bill is a hard worker and very motivated. His hard work has paid off. As of today Bill’s Auto Repair is up and operating and doing very well. He takes great pride in his work and his customers recognize this and keep coming back. Bill is more confident in himself and his abilities to run the business. He is very happy and he’s doing what he loves.

Therapist Uses IDB Services to Expand Community Mental Health Resources

Mitch is a blind Iowan who was working as a mental health therapist. He wanted to start his own therapy practice with a co-worker. IDB assisted him with getting the business started and now they have hired additional therapists and have waiting lists of clients.

IDB Helps Young Blind Iowan Enter HVAC Apprenticeship

Ryan graduated high school in May 2020. He was unsure of what he wanted his career path to be. Ryan was never very interested in classroom work but felt the need to take the traditional college path. Ryan failed his first semester of college. His VR Counselor met with him in March 2021 and discussed apprenticeship opportunities that might be of interest to him. He completed informational interviews and job shadows in the HVAC field. Ryan is currently successfully working through an HVAC program. The hands on learning matches his learning style. He attends classes in the morning and works in the field in the afternoon. He loves what he is learning and is excited that he will have a career in a field that he enjoys.

IDB Assists Strength and Conditioning Coach

IDB assisted a blind Iowan with college tuition, and counseling and guidance. He worked part-time in the athletics department at the university while in school. He was able to advocate for himself after he finished college to be hired full-time as a strength and conditioning coach at the university which was his dream job.

From Pre-Employment Transition Services to Employment as a School Social Worker: How IDB School to Work Transition Services Empower Blind Youth to Find Their Career Pathway

Tim’s Mom referred him to Iowa Department for the Blind when he was a 14-year-old freshman. Tim was an honor student. He relied on a monocular and magnification. He wanted summer work experience and to attend college after high school. Tim worked with IDB transition counselors and was served under 504 plans. Tim’s mom wanted him to gain work experience, adjust to his blindness and learn to be a better self-advocate.

Tim attended weekend retreats and the first retreat was focused on Applying to College, Financial Aid and Scholarships. He learned about campus jobs, campus life and the responsibilities of a typical college student. Tim was able to discuss the importance of preparing early for college during discussion groups. He worked on daily living skills and prepared some of his own meals. He had cane travel instruction and team building activities at the retreat. Tim learned many leadership and self-advocacy skills. He was given Guidance and Counseling on dealing with his misconceptions about blindness and what he can accomplish as a person who is blind. He learned that blindness does not define or limit his ability to have the great career.

Tim decided that he wanted to become a School Guidance Counselor. He worked with his Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) and IDB VR Counselor on career exploration in School Counseling. His high school had a School Counseling Department, and he did informational interviews with Counselors to learn about their career paths. Tim worked on his transition portfolio to obtain his non driver ID, researched and visited colleges, obtained a checking account, and determined career goals during his junior year of high school. He worked during the summer. He then worked on Assistive Technology with an IDB Rehabilitation Technology Specialist (RTS). Tim graduated high school and decided after his first semester at Drake to attend DMACC for two years, then move on to the University of Iowa to complete his BS degree in Social Work. He worked at Fareway while in school and volunteered with the Youth Leadership Forum. He completed an internship with Department of Aging and worked on Research and Policy making. Tim began to explore integrating policy and research and continued to work part-time at Fareway and moved toward Graduate school for his MSW degree in Social Work.

Tim worked as a Teacher Associate at a high school while studying for his LISW. he is now a licensed LMSW and is employed as a School Social Worker with within a large public school system..

IDB Rehabilitation Technology Services Helps Small Business Owner to Be Able to Continue To Run Her Business

Rosanne runs a pre-school that serves around 30 students each year. Due to her vision loss, she couldn’t use her Mac for her preschool and relied on an assistant to operate her computer. This meant that she didn’t have control of her own life and had to wait to get help anytime she needed to update records or communicate with parents. She talked with a Rehabilitation Technology Specialist (RTS) and they developed a plan to move forward so that she could become independent. After developing the training plan Roseanne and the RTS met on a regular basis and Roseanne learned how to perform all the useful business functions of the Mac independently. Roseanne now has control of her business and isn’t having to wait for family or her assistant to move her business forward. This gave her more self-esteem and confidence because she was able to take more control of her life and doesn’t feel like her blindness is holding her back when it comes to administrative tasks.

IDB Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers Bring Clients new Technology Options

A Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher (VRT) started working with a client who wanted to learn how to use his computer with a screen reader. The client previously used ZoomText to enlarge his screen and decided to explore other ways to navigate his computer. During the first meeting the client pulled out his laptop and a full sized, neon yellow keyboard claiming he was unable to type on the much too small laptop’s keyboard.

That first lesson he expressed being able to touch type and was ready to jump into learning the commands to use NVDA. The client was given the assignment of writing about his goals and not allowed to use the backspace to change anything. The VRT and client came to the conclusion that the client’s typing speed and accuracy was far below what he needed to be efficient.

The VRT and client had many conversations about how it was OK to be honest about his skills, how the client didn’t need to have any shame or fear of judgement, and the importance of practicing and applying the skills learned in class daily. The VRT helped the client think of ways to use his skills in real world situations. The client asked great questions and worked on using his skills proactively between lessons.

Flash forward a few months and this client was able to open up his laptop, type directly onto the laptop’s keyboard, and login first try without the need to hunch over the keyboard. The client expressed feeling more confident with using a screen reader and started asking about other non-visual skills to explore in order to be a better employee and more successful in his career.

Braille Training Accelerates Client’s Language Learning

A VRT worked with a client on braille where the client knew the braille code well, but they had been stuck at 12 words per minute for months. They also expressed not knowing exactly how they could incorporate braille into their day-to-day schedule.

After talking through their hobbies and what they like to do daily it was discovered they weren’t much of a reader, but they had recently started to attempt to teach themselves German using an app on their phone. They were encouraged to use their braille display with the app on their phone to get a little more braille practice in each day.

By the next appointment they expressed having more success with their studies using their braille display and started exploring other things they could use their braille display for on their phone. In the matter of three months, they had put in enough daily practice to increase their braille reading speed to 40 words per minute. They admitted to previously feeling like they weren’t ever going to be able to use braille for academics due to their slow speed but now they were beginning to feel like braille could be a really useful tool to enhance their academic success.

Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers Get Clients Traveling Independently

A client who had been married for years and always relied on their spouse to get around and travel from one destination to another wanted to work on their cane travel skills. After having open discussions with their Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher (VRT), the client decided they weren’t going to become fully comfortable with their travel skills if they didn’t carry their cane with them at all times and if they always relied on their family when they were out running errands.
During a later lesson the client shared that they had spoken to their family about using their cane whenever they leave the house and needing to go places on their own. The family responded with support and asked how they could be more supportive to help the client become more independent. The client shared that they would never have had that conversation with family without the frank discussions with the VRT and wouldn’t have known how their family could support them.

The client called the VRT between lessons because they were excited and wanted to share that they had attended an event even after the person they were planning on going with had to back out. They explained they were able to arrange for a ride to and from the event and this was the first time they can remember feeling comfortable by themselves not knowing anyone around them.

IDB Independent Living Services: From Crisis to Hope

In mid-August of this year the department received a referral for an applicant for IL services from a man in crisis. This man is 66 years old and had been losing his vision for several years. He has macular degeneration, with a history of this in his family. He is a retired independent insurance agent that lived in his own apartment that had burned down. He reported his support system was all in that burned building in that the neighbors he has known for years, helped him read is mail and would give him rides to the grocery store and doctor’s office. Suddenly he had to move into a new apartment in a new location without all his support. He stated he had lost everything he owned in the fire, and to make things worse, someone had broken into the burned building and stolen his checks, resulting in his checking account being drained.

His application was able to be taken over the phone to expedite the process. Then the Independent Living Rehabilitation Teacher (ILRT) met with him in person with a long white cane in hand to start training and resources to obtain transportation to shop and go to the doctor. At that first visit, the teacher encouraged him and helped him to see things will get better. The teacher also taught him simple alternative techniques for getting his groceries home and doing other chores. The teacher received a call from this gentleman just a few short weeks later. He sounded very emotional, he expressed his appreciation and shared that things were slowly starting to get better. In subsequent visits from the IL Teacher, he has learned of other training, services and resources to expand upon his independence. He did not know some of the things he wanted to do for himself were even possible.

IDB Independent Living Helps Iowan Who Is Losing Vision Regain Hope

During a recent visit with a client, who is still coming to terms with her blindness, the client shared with her Independent Living Rehabilitation Teacher (ILRT) that she “had been” an avid knitter. The teacher asked her why she stopped knitting. She said she couldn’t count the stitches or tell when she dropped a stitch. This client has a close friend who spends a portion of each day in the home who proceeded to find two knitting needles and a skein of yarn. The teacher asked the client to show her how to knit. She non-visually knitted several rows. The teacher encouraged the client to teach her friend how to knit. They both agreed it would be fun. As the teacher was leaving, the client said, “this isn’t what I thought we would do while you were here today, you’ve given me hope”. The teacher responded by saying, “I didn’t knit today - you discovered that you can continue doing something you love”.

IDB Helps Clients Engage In their Communities

A client participating in the Iowa City Self Advocacy Seminar and Braille Group called the instructor, Terri Wilcox, over a weekend because she wanted to read scripture at church with the braille eReader provided by the IDB Library For the Blind and Print Disabled. After figuring out together how to get her Bible open to the correct chapter and verse, the client was able to read Scripture aloud for her Church’s Sunday evening service.

Independent Living Training Helps Chef Who Lost Vision Believe in Her Ability to Work

Sonya is 50 and lost her vision after she graduated from college with a culinary degree. She stated since starting to lose her vision, she feels she might not be able to work at all, let alone in her field. She didn’t feel ready for vocational rehabilitation services. Her vision loss left her feeling unable to get a handle on her daily life. In the short time Sonya has been receiving services, she is starting to see the possibilities. She told her teacher if she can cook and prepare food in her own kitchen after receiving training in how toshe can do this without vision , she is starting to see the possibility of working, being a taxpayer and working in the career she loved. Sonya shared she is so happy to be able to tell time again, use her smart phone again and write checks to pay her bills. Sonya told her teacher she would not know where to turn without the Department for the Blind and the help she has gotten so far. She said that the encouragement and training she is getting makes her believe she really might be able to do everything she wants in life.