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      This article originally appeared in the Iowa Falls Times Citizen, a publication of Times Citizen Communications. Find it online at www.timescitizen.com.

      Image of the front page of the Iowa Falls Times Citizen, www.timescitizen.com, with an article about Robert Eakin. Seeing the World Differently: Eakin lives blindly, but independently

      BY MARISSA VANWINGEN
      marissa@iafalls.com
      PHOTOS BY ROGER LUGO / TIMES CITIZEN

      SIDEBAR: WHITE CANE LAW
      Iowa State Law: Any driver of a vehicle or op-erator of a motor-driven vehicle who approaches or comes in contact with a person wholly or partially blind carrying a cane or walking stick white in color or white tipped with red, or being led by a guide dog wearing a harness and walking on either side of or slightly in front of said blind person, shall immediately come to a complete stop and take such precautions as may be necessary to avoid accident or injury to the person carrying the cane or walking stick white in color or white tipped with red or being led by a guide dog.

      Pedestrians using a guide dog or carrying a white cane have absolute right-of-way. Do not use your horn as it could confuse or frighten the pedestrian who is blind.

      SOURCE: WHITE CANE LAWS FOR STATES AS STATED BY THE AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND.

      Robert Eakin has proven many people wrong, frst by surviving a premature birth and two surgeries, and now by living independently despite the fact that he’s legally blind. Now, Eakin’s family is hoping to improve his quality of life even more through education about white cane laws.Imagine your eyes are closed as you try to stand up and walk out the closest door to go outside. You start walking and you get to the nearest street. Picture trying to step off the curb and cross the road, without seeing where you’re going.

      Now, imagine you are doing this each and every day of your life. Listening for the sounds of cars whizzing by and the fear that the drivers won’t stop. That even though they are legally supposed to give you the right-of-way and allow you to cross, they don’t.

      That is Robert Eakin’s daily struggle. He was born 10 weeks premature with detachment of the retina and was flown to Texas Children’s Hospital where he had two surgeries while he was in the neonatal intensive care unit.

      Robert is now totally blind in the right eye and has 20 over 200 vision in the left eye, which is considered legally blind.

       Robert Eakin navigates the streets of Iowa Falls using a white cane. Drivers are re-quired to give blind people the right-of-way.At 26 years old, Robert lives in an apartment across the street from his parents’ house in Iowa Falls. While his mother will come over to help him clean or get groceries, Robert does most things on his own. With the help of his cookbook (written in 48 point font), Robert loves to cook. One of his favorite things to make is pasta.

      “He did not let his disability stop him. Too many people who have a disability will let it stop them. They expect the world to wait on them hand and foot and give them what they need, not Robert,” said his father, Bob Eakin. “He goes for what he wants, he works for it. He doesn’t expect things to be handed to him on a silver platter, he’s been taught all his life you have to work for what you get, there’s no free hand-outs in life.”

      ***

      Robert set a personal goal of moving out when he was 25 years old. His parents bought the house — divided into three apart-ments — across the street so Robert could live in a building they owned and still be close if he needs anything.

      He has been on his own for almost two years now.

      The place on Estes Street is centrally located so that Robert can walk to the Dale Howard Family Activity Center to go swimming (which he loves to do) or he can walk to the Barlow Library, Dollar General and sometimes, Robert will even head to McDonald’s. The hardest part for him is crossing the street.

       Despite being blind, Robert Eakin is good with his hands. He enjoys taking computers apart and us-ing their parts to build new computers.“When I try to go to the library on my own, well you try and walk across River Street, nobody stops for that white cane. And Washington Street the same thing,” Robert said.

      Because of his challenge, he and his family want to bring awareness to the community. The white cane gives those who use it the absolute right-of-way.

      Robert is not alone. While the Eakins said they think they know of two or three other legally blind Iowa Falls residents, there were 81 registered blind or visually impaired residents of Hardin County in 2013, according to the Iowa Department for the Blind.

      Though there are everyday struggles, Robert has developed many skills. It turns out he’s good with his hands. He can take computers apart and put them back together.

      “I take things and make something out of nothing,” Robert said.

      “When you lose your vision, you gain other senses that are more delicate,” his dad added. “He can feel with his fingers those little screws and where they go, he just knows.”

      ***

      Liz Soenen is a rehabilitation teacher through the Iowa Department of the Blind and works with adults who want to live on their own. Robert is one of her youngest clients.

      “We (she and Robert) are focusing on some independent living to be able to live independently because it was kind of new for him living here at first,” said Soenen.

      When she is working with a client, Soenen establishes goals.

      “We look at things in daily living: setting appliances, identifying pantry items, being able to cook at least three different meals, teaching him techniques so he can generalize the other things,” she said.

      One of her main focuses with Robert is blind travel with the white cane.

      “He has learned to lean on other people and doesn’t always use it (the cane) so he needs to get out on the street in the community,” Soenen said. “Robert also has a leisure goal of library use and exploring options on computerized speech.”

      Robert’s family said they’re looking into getting an iOS device for him. Not only because he loves technology, but because there are a lot of applications he could use.

      Soenen added that eventually she’d like to see Robert working. She said she thinks an iPad would also help him, enabling Robert to communicate with other blind people.

      “As his dad, I want to see him succeed on his own and live,” said Bob. “He has outdone what everyone thought he could do. Some said he’d make it a week, some said a month, others said a year. He has already passed everybody’s thought that they had.”

      Robert’s case worker, Mary Rosendahl said she sees a bright future for him.

      “The sky’s the limit for Robert,” Soenen said.