BY ED FACEMYER
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 in the books in the class room was large enough, I learned to read print. During the summer it was decided that I should be better served by attending the blind school in Pittsburgh. In September of 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, all 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 and when I was invited into his office I noticed 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 just had to ask 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 month 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.
It would be great to hear your experiences on how you learned about low vision devices for the first time. Or any other comments you have regarding low vision aids.