By Edgar Facemyer, Chair
Phone conferences were held monthly throughout the year by our committee. This method of planning and accomplishing our goals, as usual, proved to be an effective way to get things done. As we reported earlier, we have been working on preparing a document of suggestions for planning and conducting a low-vision seminar. We will be making our Low Vision Seminar Guidelines available to PCB chapters early in 2015.
Let’s keep up our support for H.R. 3749: The Medicare Low Vision Device Demonstration Bill. Since the majority of blindness and severe vision loss occurs among individuals over the age of sixty-five, state-of-the-art low-vision devices that offer the most successful results for providing this population with useful visual functioning is too costly for many persons who need them. Many legislators do not understand that these devices are not just regular eye glasses for correcting routine visual acuity loss, they are specialized, sophisticated aids, often employing advanced, digital technology. You can learn more about this bill by visiting the PCB website. Click on Advocacy and Governmental Affairs and then select “Talking Advocacy and Government 2014 Episode 2, ‘Focus on Low Vision.’”
Have any of you, who have low vision, experienced frustration when having to function under conditions of poor lighting? This situation is important to PCB and that is why our committee has been asked to submit recommendations to our Convention Program and Planning Committee on what lighting issues should be included in the negotiations with hotels where conventions and other activities are being planned. We were happy to work with the CPPC on this matter.
The Low Vision Committee is always looking for personal stories from folks with low vision. I would like to share one of mine with you now.
I began my first year of school as a first grader in a local public school in 1949. Because of my limited vision, I struggled, but because the print was large enough in the classroom books, I learned to read print. During the summer, it was decided that I would be better served by attending the blind school in Pittsburgh. In September 1950, I was enrolled in first grade at The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. Based on the amount of vision a student had, you were either designated a braille student or a sight saving student. Although I had some vision, I fell into the category of a braille student. At first I tried to use my limited vision to read the braille. However, my teachers discouraged me from trying to see the braille and it wasn’t long before I learned to depend solely on my sense of touch to read.
Until ninth grade, I very seldom thought about reading print, except for labels on food boxes and cans. Before going any further, I want to make it clear that I am grateful for having learned to read and write braille and, to this day, I still use it frequently. During my freshman year, we were assigned a house father who worked part time and who was a student at The University of Pittsburgh. We were surprised to learn that Mr. Thomas was visually impaired, but that didn’t stop him from keeping us boys in line. One day I wanted to ask Mr. Thomas a question; when I was invited into his office, I noticed that he was reading what turned out to be one of his college text books. The amazing thing was that he was holding the book very close to his eye in the same way I would sometimes look at an object such as a picture. What’s more, I could tell he was reading rapidly by the motion of his head as he covered each line. I asked him how he was able to read normal-size print. He explained he was using a small, powerful pocket magnifying double lens glass which he placed between his eye and his glasses. I knew his visual acuity was better than mine, but I asked him if I could try reading with his lenses anyway. After some coaching, I put the lenses between my eye and my glasses and brought the book close to my face. I can’t begin to tell you the thrill I experienced when I got the right focus and the words jumped out as clear as a bell. He told me he acquired his double magnifier from a coin and stamp store downtown. Needless to say, the next time I had a chance to go downtown, I checked out the various magnifiers in stock at the coin and stamp store and ended up buying the same magnifier I was shown. With a little practice, I found I could read just about as fast as Mr. Thomas, even telephone-book-size print. The first print book I challenged myself to read was “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. It took me several months to read it, but it was worth the effort.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had been introduced to my first low-vision device. Even though I have been using my prescription low-vision glasses for reading and my 8X telescope for distance viewing for many years, I always have my pocket double lens magnifier with me everywhere I go. I can still replace it for around twelve bucks.
Thanks to our committee members for all their hard work this year: Steph McCoy, Yvonne Garris, Donna Williams, Sherri Rodgers, Diann Krek and Ralph Stift. Also kudos to our monitors, John Horst and Tony Swartz. If you would like to contact me directly about joining the committee or talking low vision, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610-647-3365. Well, that’s it from us for this year. Warmest regards.