Low Vision and Smart Phones

Many of us just use the basics on our smart phone and never personalize them for our own needs. It is worth taking the time to adjust our phones to take advantage of the special services that may be available and unused. Making a phone call or sending a text message with a smart phone can be challenging, however, with simple modifications, keeping in touch with the world can become a snap. Getting comfortable with your smart phone will make staying in touch with your loved ones very easy.

If you’ve used a smartphone these past several years you already know that a great deal of voice command capabilities come built in to most current models, so you can verbally instruct your smartphone to “Call my wife,” or “Read my last text message.” The smart phone has been a wonderful addition to the world of technology; with built-in accessibility features these phones have provided individuals with visual impairments the ability to carry out several activities that have been difficult without the use of a magnifier or other assistive device.

One way to make it easier to see the names in your contact list is to magnify the text on the screen. After tapping the “SETTINGS” icon on your home screen, you will find “ACCESSIBILITY” features under General Settings or Personal Set-up. Accessibility features can be used to visually enhance the use of your smart phone. Adjusting the size of the text, under the “LARGER TEXT” selection can magnify the print in your contact list so that names are easier to see. Simply sliding the prompt on the larger text screen to the right will enlarge print throughout your smart phone: phone contacts, text messages and emails.

Despite enlarging text, you still may find it difficult to see contacts on your screen. That is where tools called “VOICE ASSISTANTS” or “TEXT-TO-SPEECH” can make it less stressful for you. After you have enabled the settings, you can engage them by speaking into your unit’s microphone. On most phones, this feature can be turned on by holding down the home button. Once you hear a beep, you say the name of a person or business. You can access your contact list by asking your voice assistant to call people from your contact list or by reciting the phone number you are trying to connect to.

Tips for a Better Low-Vision Phone Experience

Whether you use some or all of the low-vision phone features described in this article, there are still more things you can do to improve phone usability that don’t require a trip to Accessibility settings. Some involve choosing hardware and software, others are simple, and cost nothing.

  • Right-size your phone: How much magnification you need depends on your vision, of course, but also on the size of the phone you choose. If you need a high level of zoom, or larger text, you might want to pick a phone with a larger screen, which will allow more of the screen contents to remain visible when you zoom or crank up the font size. You’ll find Android and iOS phones with screens up to 5.7 inches. Tablets are bigger. The challenge of a large phone for some low-vision users is the need to hold the device close to your eyes to view it. Before you choose a phone, be sure to handle and use the model you’re planning to buy.

  • High-contrast wallpaper: You can change the background of your Home screen by turning any photo into wallpaper, or picking from wallpapers already available on the device. Using a solid color, rather than a busy photo that obscures your app icons and the text on the Home screen can make it much easier to locate text and icons. If a solid background seems boring, try a starry sky or snowy scene, for a dark or light look, respectively.

  • Apps with dark mode and/or font size options: Apps that focus on reading and navigation often have their own accessibility-enhancing options. Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle app allow you to change font size, and even typeface, as well as changing the background or text color of what you’re reading. Seek out apps that compensate for what might be missing in your phone’s operating system, or that simply offer a better experience.

Get the Most from your Phone

The good news about smartphones is that they all provide features to support those with low-vision or whose eyesight has simply changed due to age. Your challenge is to try out as many of these features as possible, and decide which ones are right for you.

For tips and instruction on how to use smartphone (Iphone/Android) if you have low vision:

How a visually impaired person can use a smartphone

How To Set Up An Android Phone/Tablet For Low 

How I Use My iPhone 7 Plus | Life, Legally Blind 

World KC Day

World KC Day is November 10th! 

World KC Day is an awareness day to help bring a spotlight to keratoconus and honor those that live and cope with keratoconus every day.

Keratoconus, often abbreviated as “KC”, is a non-inflammatory eye condition in which the normally round dome-shaped cornea progressively thins causing a cone-like bulge to develop. This results in significant visual impairment.

Do you or someone you know have KC?

Here are some ways you can join the National Keratoconus Foundation and thousands around the world in spreading the word about keratoconus:

⇒ Join the NKCF Twibbon campaign
⇒ Add yourself to the World KC Map
⇒ Post about keratoconus and use #worldkcday as your hashtag
⇒ For more information about World KC Day visit worldkcday.com

The National Keratoconus Foundation is a program of the
Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at the University of California, Irvine.

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Back to School – Why Eye Exams are Important!

Summer is almost over and it’s back to school season. As parents, many of us are busy ensuring our kids are ready and prepared for the new year; worrying about school supplies, new clothes, and new haircuts. There is always a long list of things to do before school starts. But something that often gets overlooked is getting your child’s eyes examined annually.

Early eye examinations are crucial to make sure children have normal, healthy vision so they can perform better at schoolwork and play. Early identification of a child’s vision problem can be crucial because children often are more responsive to treatment when problems are diagnosed early.

Early eye exams also are important because children need the following basic skills related to good eyesight for learning:

  • Near vision

  • Distance vision

  • Binocular (two eyes) coordination

  • Eye movement skills

  • Focusing skills

  • Peripheral awareness

  • Hand-eye coordination

Parents also need to be alert for the presence of vision problems such as ‘crossed’ eyes or ‘lazy’ eye. These conditions can develop at a young age. ‘Crossed’ eyes or strabismus involves one or both eyes turning inward (towards the nose) or outward. Amblyopia, known as ‘lazy’ eye, is a lack of clear vision in one eye, which can’t be fully corrected with eyeglasses. ‘Lazy’ eye often develops as a result of ‘crossed’ eyes, but may occur without noticeable signs. Lazy eye can be treated if caught early.

In addition, parents should watch their child for indication of any delays in development, which may signal the presence of a vision problem. Difficulty with recognition of colors, shapes, letters and numbers can occur if there is a vision problem. Children generally will not voice complaints about their eyes, therefore parents should watch for signs that may indicate a vision problem, including:

  • Sitting close to the TV or holding a book too close

  • Squinting

  • Tilting their head

  • Constant eye rubbing

  • Extreme light sensitivity

  • Poor focusing

  • Poor visual tracking (following an object)

  • Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)

  • Chronic redness of the eyes

  • Chronic tearing of the eyes

  • A white pupil instead of black

Scheduling Eye Exams for Your Child

If eye problems are suspected during routine physical examinations, a referral should be made to an eye doctor for further evaluation. Eye doctors have specific equipment and training to assist them with spotting potential vision problems in children.

When scheduling an eye exam for your child, choose a time when he or she usually is alert and happy.

Glasses and Contacts

Keep these tips in mind for kids who wear glasses:

  • Plastic frames are best for children younger than 2.

  • Let kids pick their own frames.

  • If older kids wear metal frames, make sure they have spring hinges, which are more durable.

  • An elastic strap attached to the glasses will help keep them in place for active toddlers.

  • Kids with severe eye problems may need special lenses called high-index lenses, which are thinner and lighter than plastic lenses.

  • Polycarbonate lenses are best for all kids, especially those who play sports. Polycarbonate is a tough, shatterproof, clear thermoplastic used to make thin, light lenses. However, although they’re very impact-resistant, these lenses scratch more easily than plastic lenses.

  • Your eye doctor can help you decide what type of vision correction is best for your child.

Specialists state that 80% of what your youngster learns in school is taught visually. Untreated vision troubles can put children at a substantial disadvantage. Be certain to arrange that your child has a complete eye exam before school starts.

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A Healthy Diet for Your Eyes!

As we age, it’s normal to experience a change in eyesight, so it is important that we’re doing everything we can to keep our eyes clear and healthy. Eating a nourishing diet is not only good for your body, it’s also great for your eyes. There’s an easy way to improve your eye health: Start by making the same nutritious food choices that are good for your overall health and wellness.

The following vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are essential for good vision and may protect your eyes from sight-robbing conditions and diseases such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Fruits and Vegetables

The nutrients in both fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, which can help maintain healthier eyes. Fruits and vegetables also provide protection because many of their nutrients deliver antioxidants that our bodies cannot synthesize.

For example, lutein and zeaxanthin are important antioxidants that help prevent degeneration in the lens and retina. Eating a diet rich in these carotenoids helps reduce the risk of AMD by fighting oxidation in the retinal cells of the eye.

Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin are typically dark-colored fruits and vegetables, including: 

  • spinach
  • kale
  • collard greens
  • yellow corn
  • carrots
  • kiwi
  • mangos
  • melons

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Eating fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines, that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids also helps lower the risk of AMD. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is important for eye health and visual function. People with dry eye syndrome (i.e., low tear production) can benefit from a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids because dry eye is linked to low levels of DHA.

However, studies have found that omega-3 fatty acid vitamin supplements may not provide as much protection. That means it’s better to eat the fish than just take omega-3 supplements. It’s important to note that heavy consumption of fish can contribute to high mercury levels (How Much is Too Much Mercury). 

You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in plant-based sources, such as:

  • nuts
  • seeds (flax seeds and chia seeds)
  • dark, leafy greens (romaine, arugula, spinach)

B Vitamins

Higher levels of B vitamins may lower your risk of developing AMD.

Foods that are high in vitamins B6 include:

  • bananas
  • chicken
  • beans
  • potatoes
  • fish
  • liver
  • pork

 

Foods that are high in vitamin B12 include:

  • dairy
  • eggs
  • meat
  • poultry
  • shellfish

 

 

Consider large salads as your main course for lunch and dinner, adding relatively small amounts of animal protein, if desired. You also can opt for low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain breads and pastas, which can lower the risk of AMD by stabilizing blood glucose levels.

For healthy recipes visit Eye Cook.

Driving at Night – Tips on how to drive safe

Your night vision will naturally decline as you get older. While it may not always be a problem, it can make activities such as night driving more hazardous. Unfortunately, many people don’t take this fact as seriously as they should.

Night vision can be impaired not only by the darkness, but also by the sudden glare of lights from oncoming cars, traffic signals, etc. Our eyes are forced to constantly adjust, leaving brief periods of impaired vision between adjustments.

Tips on how to drive safe at night:

  • Make sure that you see your eye doctor regularly for eye exams. (At least once every two years, more often if you have certain eye conditions).
  • Ask your eye care professional to prescribe special eyeglasses that may help you see better on the road at night. Anti-reflective coatings can cut down on glare.
  • Minimize the risks of driving at night as you get older by planning your trips before you leave home. Drive only on streets you know, and avoid dark, unlighted roadways.
  • Wear good sunglasses on bright days and take them off as soon as the sun goes down. Prolonged exposure to glare from sunlight or headlights can temporarily affect your visibility at night. It can also lead to eyestrain and drowsiness.
  • Keep your windshield clean. Sometimes dust can accumulate on the inside of your windshield that you may not notice during the day. This dust can catch the light from oncoming cars’ headlights and make it difficult for you to see.
  • Dim the lights on your dash. Bright interior lights can hinder your visibility of things outside your vehicle.
  • Do not look at oncoming headlights while driving; it can leave you blind for as much as five full seconds.
  • If you are driving through wooded areas, use your peripheral vision to watch for deer on the sides of the road. Oftentimes, you won’t see the deer themselves, but their eyes reflecting the headlights of passing cars. If you have any passengers in your vehicle, ask them to keep watch so you can focus your attention on your driving.
  • If you are over the age of 60 it is important to continually evaluate your nighttime driving skills, so that you are not endangering yourself and others.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Proper Lens Care

If you’ve ever slept in your contact lenses, worn disposable lenses past the prescribed replacement schedule, rinsed your contact lenses with tap water or gone for a dip in the community pool without removing contacts from your eyes first, it’s time to rethink your habits.

lensMost problems associated with contact lenses cause minor irritation, but serious eye infections from poor lens hygiene can be extremely painful and may lead to permanent vision loss. About 80 to 90 percent of contact lens-related eye infections are bacterial. A type of infection you can get is called pseudomonas aeruginosa, a fast-growing bacterial infection that can lead to a hole in your cornea. Unfortunately, patients who get this infection have a high chance of permanent scarring and vision loss. Beyond bacteria, fungal infections are also potential threats to your vision.

Do:

  • Always wash and thoroughly dry your hands before handling contact lenses.
  • Carefully and regularly clean contact lenses as directed by your eye care specialist. If recommended, rub the contact lenses with your fingers and rinse them thoroughly before soaking the lenses overnight in multipurpose solution that completely covers each lens.
  • Store lenses in the proper lens storage case, and replace the case at least every three months. Clean the case after each use, and keep it open and dry between cleanings.
  • Use only fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses. Never reuse old solution—it loses its effectiveness. Change your contact lens solution according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, even if you don’t use your lenses daily.
  • Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule prescribed by your eye care specialist.
  • Remove contact lenses before swimming or entering a hot tub.Avoid tap water to wash or store contact lenses or lens cases.
  • See your eye care professional for your regularly scheduled contact lens and eye examination.

Don’t:

  • Use cream soaps. They can leave a film on your hands that can transfer to the lenses.
  • Use saliva to rinse or lubricate your contact lenses
  • Use homemade saline solutions. Improper use of homemade saline solutions has been linked with a potentially blinding condition among soft lens wearers.
  • Put contact lenses in your mouth or moisten them with saliva, which is full of bacteria and a potential source of infection.
  • Use tap water to wash or store contact lenses or lens cases.
  • Use products not recommended by your eye care specialist to clean and disinfect your lenses.
  • Use saline solution and rewetting drops not designed for contact lenses.
  • Sleep in contact lenses. The contact lens and your eyelid act as a double barrier, potentially trapping bacteria on the lens directly on your eyes.

Stem-Cell Clinics for AMD Treatments: Choose Wisely

People considering stem-cell therapy for eye-related issues need to take precautions in choosing clinics at which to have their procedures, warned Ocular Surgery News in January 2017. Patients should “find clinics that are licensed, associated with an academic center, have a history of running clinical trials and do not require patients to pay out of pocket.”

genetic research abstract blue background 3d illustration In a presentation to the American Society of Retina Specialists, Dr. Ajay E. Kuriyan of the University of Rochester reported that three patients who underwent bilateral intravitreal injection of stem-cells for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) suffered bilateral vision loss. The clinic at which all three procedures were performed did not have a licensed ophthalmologist on-site, and the stem-cell injections were administered by a nurse practitioner, Ocular Surgery News reported. Each patient paid $5,000 for the procedure.

Kuriyan told Ocular Surgery News that there are several warning signs for potentially dangerous clinics, including whether the facility is a standalone clinic that is not affiliated with an academic institution or has no history of conducting clinical trials. The other big warning sign, he said, is if patients are asked to pay.

“Stem-cell treatments hold great promise for the treatment of AMD and other eye conditions,” DEF Medical Director Dr. Anthony Nesburn said. “Patients — and physicians — need to take great care in choosing the right studies in which to access such treatments.”

Lauren Hauptman

How to Protect Your Eyes During Allergy Season

protect your eyes during allergy seasonIt seems like every season is allergy season. In the spring, it’s the tree and flower pollen. Summer adds grass pollen. In the fall, it’s weed pollen. People who have allergies have symptoms such as sneezing, sniffling, and nasal congestion, but allergies can affect the eyes, too. They can make your eyes red, itchy, burning, and watery, and cause swollen eyelids.

Here are 8 tips on how to get relief from Eye Allergies:

1. Get an early start. See your eye doctor before allergy season begins to learn how to reduce your sensitivity to allergens.

2. Try to avoid or limit your exposure to the primary causes of your eye allergies. In the spring and summer, pollen from trees and grasses are the usual suspects. Ragweed pollen is the biggest culprit in late summer and fall. Mold, dust mites and pet dander are common indoor allergens during winter.

3. Protect your eyes from airborne allergens outdoors by wearing wraparound-style sunglasses.

4. Don’t rub your eyes if they itch! Eye rubbing releases more histamine and makes your allergy symptoms worse.

5. Use plenty of artificial tears to wash airborne allergens from your eyes. Ask your eye doctor which brands are best for you.

6. Cut down your contact lens wear or switch to daily disposable lenses to reduce the build-up of allergens on your lenses.

7. Shower before bedtime and gently clean your eyelids to remove any pollen that could cause irritation while you sleep.

8. Consider purchasing an air purifier for your home, and purchase an allergen-trapping filter for your heating/cooling system.

If you’re curious about the current pollen count in your area, or are going on a trip and want to find out if you need to pack the eye drops, visit www.pollen.com.

Your Vision is Your Wealth

We see more than 24 million images in our average life span. The huge task in a human body is seeing, which requires half of one’s brain to function. Our eye lenses are equal to 576 megapixels Camera lens.

One man out of every twelve men is color blind and the chances of losing eye function increase with age. In the UK 74% of people correct their eyesight by Laser Surgery, Wearing Contact lens and glasses to have a better view. Our eyes take only 48 hrs to repair from a corneal scratch. In order to avoid these problems, restrict the continuous usage of contact lens less than 19 hours in a day.

For a better understanding, read this infographic from Paul Gill Optician.

Things-you-did-not-know-about-your-Eyes_22.11.2016

Source and Author:
Amy Lynn
Paul Gill Optician

Walk In My Shoes

Walk In My ShoesDiscovery Eye Foundation is pleased to present the following excerpt from a just-released inspirational book called Walk in My Shoes. It is the result of two years of collaborative effort and is a unique collection of 27 powerful stories by individuals who are experiencing or witnessing the challenges of losing not one, but two senses: hearing and sight. The writers of Walk in My Shoes offer a glimpse into living with Usher syndrome, a progressive disease leading to blindness and deafness. Walk in My Shoes speaks to the more than 400,000 people worldwide dealing with Usher syndrome, to their families, to the professionals working with them, and to the rest of the world.

All proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Usher Syndrome Coalition to help fund scholarships to its annual conferences and to support research for a cure. The writers inspire hope for anyone dealing with difficult life challenges.


MY USHER’S LIFE LESSONS
By Mary Dignan

I remember how I wanted to die, or at least for the Earth to open up and swallow me forever, when I read that memo telling me how I’d been asking questions that had already been asked and answered, and how I’d said things that were irrelevant and inappropriate at our meeting earlier that day. I had always known that the hearing problem was more of an issue than the visual field loss associated with Usher syndrome. Now, this memo was the proof that I never should have tried being a lawyer, that I had no business in this profession, and should just go home.

Instead of going home, I got up to close the door to my office, sat back down at my desk, and picked up the memo from Tom to read it again. Tom was my supervising attorney, and we had both been looking forward to that meeting with a potential new client. The work would be on an issue that no one at the firm knew better than I and we were sure we’d close the meeting with the retainer agreement in hand.

But the meeting just didn’t go well. It started off well enough, but there were some odd pauses in the conversation, moments of uncertainty and careful courtesy, and I didn’t feel good about it when it was over even though we did, in fact, end up with the retainer agreement. I was still thinking about the meeting a couple hours later when Tom’s secretary came into my office and handed me an envelope, sealed and marked “confidential.”

It was a memo from Tom. “Mary, I need to make you aware of some things I observed during our meeting today.” He listed specific things I’d said and described how I’d asked questions that had just been discussed, and how I’d said things that were irrelevant to the actual conversation. He said he and the client both knew I wore hearing aids and assumed I simply hadn’t heard things accurately. He said that because I had an excellent reputation as a truly competent professional, and because he and the client knew how well I knew the issue, they made allowances for me, and we got the account. Still, Tom was concerned. “Mary, I’m wondering if you’re not hearing as well as you used to, and if there is anything we can do to help.”

My hands were trembling as I put the memo back down on my desk, and I felt a hot flush rise up from my toes to my face. God, what an incompetent idiot I must have sounded like. I was even more embarrassed by the courteous smiles and patient repetitions, the polite allowances they had made for the incompetent idiot. It would have been better if someone had just growled at me to go put in some fresh hearing aid batteries.

But, when I read the memo yet again, I began to appreciate the inherent respect and sincere consideration Tom was showing me. Instead of confronting me with the painful truth, Tom could have just stopped working with me. He could have started whispering behind my back: ”Uh, best not give that assignment to Mary, she can’t handle it.” Or, “No, Mary’s not the best one to attend that meeting, she can’t handle it well.” And I would have slipped into miserable mediocrity.

He didn’t and, instead, he came to me and told me exactly how I wasn’t cutting it, and gave me the chance to find a way to measure up. I decided that before I handed in my resignation letter, I’d at least find out if there was a better hearing aid out there. I called my audiologist and told him what had happened. He told me I was already using the best and most powerful hearing aids available, but there might be one other thing I could do, “It’s time for you to get an FM system. Come on down this afternoon and we’ll get you set up.” This was an assistive hearing device that would enhance the use of hearing aids and therefore allow me to hear better.

I was in my early 40s then, down to less than 5 degrees of tunnel vision and wearing two high-power hearing aids. I still had good precision vision within my little tunnel. For the last 20 years of slow but steady vision and hearing losses, I had always figured out ways to work harder and smarter. It was the hearing losses that troubled me most. I’d been wearing the best high-power hearing aids for years, and was so good at reading lips and body language that it was easy to forget I had a hearing problem. But as my vision started to go and I could no longer read lips and body language well, we all began to comprehend just how deaf I really was. It didn’t matter so much that I was mowing down my colleagues in our office hallways, but responding inappropriately to clients and judges was a huge problem.

It took practice and patience to develop the skill to use my new FM system effectively, but the effort paid off. My FM system worked well because I made it work, and I made it comfortable for everyone around me to work with me.

There were several lessons, or rather reminders, for me out of that whole incident, including the fact that it’s just about impossible to die of humiliation, no matter how much you may want to. More importantly, I was reminded that everyone around me took their cues from me—if I was uncomfortable with the fact that I had to use an FM system to hear, everyone else would be uncomfortable with it too. So I not only learned to use the FM system well, I also learned to introduce myself and my tools with candor and humor.

”Hi, I’m Mary Dignan from Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann and Girard, representing the State Water Contractors, and that’s my FM system in the middle of the table there. It helps me hear, and I would appreciate it if you would not touch the mike or the wires because it sends a lot of irritating static directly to my hearing aids.” I’d pull my aids slightly out from behind my ears to make them obvious and then I’d put them back, and go on. “The other thing you need to know about me is that I only see through a little keyhole,“ and here I would make a keyhole tunnel of my fist and peek through it, “which means I can see you.” Then I would point at someone else, “But I don’t see Tom sitting next to you,” and pointing at Tom I would continue, “This is a good thing because I don’t like looking at Tom anyway.”

That would generate a few chuckles. “This is my cane,” I would add, picking up my telescoping white cane from the table and opening it. “I use this to find the stuff that doesn’t show up in my keyhole when I’m walking around and it’s also highly useful for whacking people in the ankles and patooties.” More chuckles, and then we’d move on and get down to business.

I learned not to waste energy on trying to cover up my vision and hearing challenges. That meant I had more energy to focus on doing my job, and doing it well. I didn’t worry about attending conferences or night meetings, because I learned how to use my white cane to get around on my own safely and gracefully. I also learned to ask for and accept a helping arm with grace. I learned that if you are good at your work, and especially if you are a good team player, your colleagues will be willing to make any reasonable accommodations you need. Even before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the term “reasonable accommodation” joined our vocabulary, I had no problem getting hearing-aid-compatible phones, lighting and other low-vision aids, adaptive computer technologies, and even cab rides when I had to stop driving.

I learned that when my colleagues knew I was putting my best effort into making things work, most of them were willing to put in a little extra effort themselves to help me out. Sometimes it was as simple as giving me an extra few seconds to get my FM system set up before they started the meeting, or steering me around pillars, potted plants and people that seem to always get in one’s way at a crowded conference, or giving me a ride home. Sometimes it was sending me a memo telling me honestly about some problems I needed to be aware of in order to figure out ways to solve them.

The FM system was a good solution for a few years. It turned out that, apart from the Usher Syndrome, one of the reasons I kept losing more of my hearing was an acoustic neuroma brain tumor that grew out of the cochlear nerve to my right ear. The surgery to remove the tumor saved my life but exacerbated my hearing and vision challenges so much that I had to give up my legal career.

Ten years after the brain tumor surgery I received a cochlear implant, which greatly improved my hearing. I still have trouble with background noise, and I can only hear out of one ear, but I hear better than I ever could before. It is the one thing in my life that has gotten easier. I am 60 now, with almost no vision left except some high-contrast shapes in a world of murky shadows spiked with glare.

Those lessons I learned years ago still apply today and I have come to realize that this is because they are Life Lessons, not merely issues particular to Usher Syndrome or any other disability. I have also come to realize that part of learning and developing one’s abilities is as much a lesson of disability as it is ability. One such lesson came from my friend Brian, an extraordinarily competent computer wizard who was born blind.

Brian can listen the way I used to be able to read a thousand words a minute, and his orientation and mobility skills are awesome. We often talked about the differences between being totally blind from birth, and going blind later in life. Apart from the life adaptation and grieving issues, the main differences we noted involved the ways we perceived and comprehended the world around us. I told him about a totally blind guy who had a hard time wrapping his mind around the concept of transparency. He just couldn’t make out how a hard cold pane of glass that he could rap his knuckles on was something you could “see” through.

“Oh, I don’t have a problem with that concept,” Brian said. “My problem is pictures.”

“Pictures?” I questioned.

“Yeah, pictures,” Brian said. “How can you put a three-dimensional world onto a flat piece of paper?”

I remember my jaw dropping as I stared at him and began to comprehend how rich and real the world is to Brian. He can’t see any of it, but he knows it intimately. He moves in a world that he perceives physically and kinesthetically through all his other senses. He is always aware of how his surroundings feel, smell and sound. In a lot of ways, he is much more aware of and intimate with his world than most sighted people who superficially see their worlds from a distance and from a flat piece of paper.

Brian taught me that even though I am losing all my sight, I still have a rich world to perceive through touch, taste, sound, feeling, smell and experience. This, too, is a Life Lesson, not just an Usher thing, but it is a lesson sweeter because of Usher syndrome. It does not lessen the pain of losing my vision, and it doesn’t even necessarily make my life easier. But it does give me hope and joy. It is the reason I’m still doing my mosaics (with a little sighted help here and there), the reason I’m still in my kitchen baking from scratch and making up new recipes, the reason I can tell when I’m on the beach or in the redwood forest, or even just out on my patio enjoying the evening breeze and garden scents. And it is the reason I know I still have a good life to live.
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Dignan was diagnosed as mentally retarded before the moderate-severe deafness was diagnosed close to age five. She was then fitted with hearing aids and attended public schools. At the age of 20 she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa and, years later, was told she had Usher syndrome, type 2.

Ms Dignan earned a B.A. in English/written communication from Santa Clara University in 1976. Her 21 year career in agriculture and water resources management issues includes work as a news reporter, legislative aide to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and the California State Assembly Committee on Agriculture in Sacramento. She earned her juris doctorate with distinction from the University of Pacific-McGeorge School of Law in 1994 and practiced law until 1997. She now creates and teaches mosaic art and her work has been shown in several public venues including: Sacramento Society for the Blind and the Canadian Helen Keller Centre in Toronto, Canada. Her community service includes serving on the Sacramento Board of Supervisors’ Disability Advisory Committee, and on the Board of Directors of the FFB, Sacramento Chapter. She is a present member of the Sacramento Embarcadero Lions Club. Ms Dignan lives in Sacramento with her husband, Andy Rosten.