Got To Be More Blind


Got To Be More Blind

      “Well, I’m still working. They’ve moved me to
the front desk, I answer the phone and do some light typing.” said the woman,
her tone conveying more resignation than joy. Today was her first visit with a
Vocational Counselor from the Commission for the Blind. “It took awhile to not
want to jump up and do the executive functions I was used to doing. But my eyes
change so much and I know they won’t get better...and I have doctor's
appointments and treatments that make me miss days of work. When I’m having a bad
eye-day, I can hardly do this job, yet alone those duties I used to do. But,
I’m hanging on. My employer is so accommodating and I appreciate that.”

      “What duties were you responsible for in your
prior position?” asked the VR Counselor. She liked how this woman presented
herself; a person who always had a good self image, was competent in what ever
she took on. This question was just one in a series that the Counselor would
ask to align her thoughts for further counseling. She would draw much of what
she would say to this woman from the several severely visually impaired and
totally blind people that she knew who were working every day in office
settings, in jobs ranging from various types of clerks and assistants to office
managers. The counselor was also aware that in the average office setting there
were some tasks that were structured in such a way that it would be more
efficiently done by sighted workers; even that there were a few jobs that at
present could not be done by a blind person. But there will always be
limitations, for everyone. So she would go for the strengths, educating,
stressing skills and attitude. She was looking forward to the challenge of
looking further into the office where this woman worked. From what she had seen
thus far of this office from her observations while waiting in the reception
area for today’s appointment time, she had a feeling that there probably were
technological, functional and attitudinal solutions that would allow a blind
person to function here.

      “Oh, data entry, sorting and processing incoming
and outgoing emails, working with spreadsheets, databases...” Her voice broke
with emotion, but with a “sniff” and a dab of a tissue, she went on. “I could
still do them now. But only for awhile, the eyestrain would just kill me.
So...then there is typing up correspondence and memos...and those I think would
be easy. I am a touch typist and have always been accurate.”

      “How much of the material that you were required
to handle was hard copy?” asked the counselor. She needed more information in
order to best think through the options possible. A low vision tactic was one
line of thought she mulled over; specifically the magnification possibilities
of a CCTV (closed circuit television). And for the computer, a screen
enlargement program, one with additional voice output. Another immediate option
for the reading of hard copy text could be the always reliable non-visual
tactic of a scanner with voice output (OCR- Optical Character Recognition). And
likewise, screen reading software for general computer use.

      “Hard copy? Oh, you mean print pages given to
me? Well, some things, but once my vision settles down my doctor’s going to try
me again with new glasses, which I hope will help with that.”

     The VR Counselor listened and processed all that
was being said. The words and the tone made her very aware that this woman
still saw herself as a sighted person and was trying to hang on to her failing
sight for dear life. The counselor knew that this woman needed the education
that she was ready to give her. She knew she could expand this woman’s
awareness to knowing that there were viable low vision and especially
non-sighted methods to function, that it was possible to eventually develop the
mind-set of “I can still do a worthwhile job here, no matter what.” Aloud, she
said, “Thank you for sharing all of this with me. I know all this is
frustrating and even scary. And from my standpoint, what I would like to
discuss with you now are the many low vision and non-visual methods I can tell
you about today and show you when you visit my office. These devices and
techniques will eliminate most of the difficulties you are having.”

     The woman replied, resolution showing in the tone
of her voice, “Well, thank you, but no. I’m going to wait and see where my
vision is going. I can’t give up yet.”

e-mail responses to

**1. How intriguing to note that for most people, the idea of being blind, with
everything that connotes, is far worse than taking a low functioning and low
paying job. In other words, rather than make use of devices designed to bring
the visual environment within reach, the individual would rather muddle
ineffectually along, pretending to be competent. The issue of course, is
blindness itself, and how it's viewed by the world - fate worse than death,
kind of thing. No doubt many blind people continue to hug those old, tired
prejudices to their chests as well. There is such comfort in time-honored
superstition. It's so relaxing to never have to challenge a thought process, to
never overturn a paradigm - even if that paradigm is disfigured by false
concepts. And, how superior and smug a person can feel when imagining they have
so much more workable vision that the "poor" totally blind person who
uses accommodations to access print and all else. As long as someone can strain
to see - albeit dimly, things around them, no appropriate blindness skills need
be learned (those being for the blind, you know). We have so far to go to
educate one another on these issues. Considering how much longer people are
living now, often losing vision in later years, I for one hope we can reach
people before they need to learn skills at rehab centers; maybe then they will
appropriately respond to vision loss and learn all they can in order to do all
they can.

Kathy Millhoff USA

**2. This woman is obviously in denial. She has not yet accepted her vision
loss. Posing technical solutions to her at this time will not yield positive
results, because she is not ready for that yet, because she doesn't yet see
herself as blind. The counselor should be reaching out to her on the feeling

Andy Baracco Chatsworth, California USA

**3. An interesting Thought Provoker and one that many Rehabilitation
Counselors can identify with. In short, although the counselor has much to
offer to the client, the client must be ready to accept the help and be willing
to recognize her need. Until she is ready to accept that she is blind/severely
visually impaired, all the training and assistive devices in the world won't be
useful. I wonder if this client is grasping at straws, anything to avoid dealing
with, what she believes is a terrible fait. Perhaps, down deep, she has the
thought that blind people can't do anything. Perhaps she thinks that accepting
the offered help is admitting defeat and weakness, so she continues to resist
outside intervention I question if this client is not hearing what the doctor
is saying or is the doctor enabling the client/patient, to have false hopes, by
not being up-front. It could be a little of both.

I also question just how helpful the employer really is. Perhaps the employer
should be made aware of what interventions the agency can offer in helping the
visually impaired employee. What I hear is that, instead of making the job
tasks more accessible, the employee's duties are changed to give her less
responsibility and, it seems, to expect less. Regardless, until the client
recognizes her needs and disability and is willing to accept assistance, her
job and other aspects of her daily living will be at least frustrating.

Doug Hall, Daytona Beach, FL, USA

**4. I have not experienced declining vision since I was born with only light
perception, but I will try to answer this Thought Provoker. I think the point
at which someone who is experiencing vision loss is reached when their VR
counselors are not very responsive. Your story of the woman with the
receptionist position reminds me a lot of when I was working as a receptionist
at Natural Ties, a former not-for-profit headquartered here in Illinois. I
first started in the Natural Ties national office as a volunteer in 1999. I
worked there twice a week, for five hours a day. The staff was more than
accommodating. I had gone to school with the person who was at that time the
program director, so undoubtedly this played a big part in their willingness to
overextend themselves. Also, they were a disability-related organization in the
first place. The technology order for me had to go through the ranks, and it
seemed like forever until I was finally able to effectively do my work there.
At first I worked on a laptop computer with Window-Eyes installed on it. At the
time I knew nothing at all about the Internet or email. So when an acquaintance
emailed me, my friend had to read me her email and type in my reply. But other
than that my experience with the laptop was all right. Then the staff decided
to start paying me, based on my work ethic and habits. In addition to typing
stuff on the laptop, I would make a few phone calls for the staff. The phone
system they had at that time was not set up so that someone with little or no
sight could answer and route phone calls. A former Chicago Lighthouse adaptive
technology instructor came out to the Natural Ties office with a light probe,
and he tried using that on the phones but it didn't work. It so happened that
this instructor was visually-impaired himself, so it was good that he was able
to come help us. The phone problem was solved, though, when a new system was
installed in the office. This system not only had a quieter ring, but it was
more accessible. The staff therefore had me answer and route phone calls to the
appropriate person in the office, or their voicemail if they weren't available
to talk. My friend put a few tactile markings on the phone to help me find the
correct buttons easily. I was also given the duty of typing things at the front
desk computer. JAWS was eventually installed on that computer but again, it
took forever for that to happen. I also had to send and receive faxes. I was
shown how to do this, since I had never before used a fax machine and I doubt
at this point whether I'll ever use one again. The database that was used in
the office, Act, was not accessible with either Window-Eyes or JAWS, so they
had someone else do all the spreadsheet work. The door to our office had bells
on it which jingled when the door opened and closed, and a beeper that sounded
when the door was open. Sometimes when people came in, I would have to stand up
and ask who they were and to whom they wanted to speak. However, most of the
time people identified themselves right as they walked in. There was also a
doorbell outside the office, and when it rang I would get up and open the door
but ask who was there first. As the receptionist job grew more fast-paced, and
it required skills which I didn't yet have, I was made a volunteer again. The
staff went through this with me and my parents, and to this day I do not fault
them or myself or parents for what happened. However, this was not how my VR
counselor saw it. He kept on calling the office and again urged them, begged them,
to pay me. I won't go into detail about this because I already mentioned it in
other Thought Provokers. I was assigned to work with a high-school student who
I think was involved with the organization for a while. She dictated articles
and various other things to me, and I typed them out for our new website that
was being launched.

Jacob Joehl Chicago, Illinois USA

**5. A typical sighted person going blind, refuses to accept help or
accommodation in the hope that the vision is savable. This person is not ready
to admit to being blind at all. My mother, who is 71 is going through the same
thing. She has macula degeneration and her vision is 2200 in one eye and 2100
in the other, but she still insists she can see and drives! It scares me to
death! I feel so sorry for these folks. But one can't help someone who does not
wish to be helped!

Phyllis Stevens Johnson City, TN . USA.

**6. I think that the lady's situation with her blindness and how she deals
with it all comes back to adjustment to blindness. I think that deep inside,
she knows that she's losing her sight. However, she's determined to continue
using whatever sight she still has left to the bitter end before she resorts to
using non-visual equipment for her job; this is why she keeps telling her VR
counselor that she wants to see what her doctor says and what kinds of glasses
her doctor might be able to prescribe her. Yes, it would be good if she starts
learning how to use adaptive equipment for the totally blind, but, as they say,
"you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink". From
the sounds of it, though, there will come that time when she can no longer deny
her blindness.

Linda Minnesota USA

**7. This woman is still in denial about her blindness and it's a shame she
isn't taking time to develop the skills which will help her to continue doing
the jobs she used to do. Sometimes people don't have the confidence to try new
things and it holds them back. Hopefully, her counselor is persuasive enough
that she will be able to engage her in a process where she will look at this
new equipment and take advantage of it.

Mary Jo Partyka

**8. This is a very common stage for a sighted person to be in or go through.
Sight is so important to how we as humans function, that vision has be come a
very precious thing to al of us who have it. Sight is the window on to all that
is around us. Oh yes, I know some beauty comes in what we can smell or taste or
hear, but vision by far is the most widely used and multifunctional. And in
saying all of this I am saying that we of course will fight to maintain it.

Blindness is also a very negative factor here in this story. Think of this,
most people have a very negative view of blindness. It is limiting, not
attractive, generally brings a lower status, brings pity and discrimination and
destroys a persons view of themselves. I am sure some of this is over stated,
what I said and what most people think about blindness, but I think most will
agree with me a person will fight to remain sighted before they would give in
to identifying with blindness.

So how do we help this woman? Well, be patient and let her come to the
realization that she will not be getting vision back and nothing will help her
see better. This is one. But how to help her along the way, to inform her that
there are other methods to do things is good and showing her people that are
making or have made the transition would be good too. But like they say, you can
lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

I wonder if the doctor can suggest not holding too much faith in fixing the
sight thing and that she should start looking at alternative methods. (Bet
she’d go find another doctor if the first one said he couldn’t help her.
Mary Cole USA