Restoring vision restores independence

A smiling Kenneth Meredith with his dog, Chase.

When Kenneth Meredith reached out to the South Carolina Commission for the Blind (SCCB), he was at a very low point in his life due to his vision loss. He expressed a lot of frustration and described living as a “daily struggle.” He was no longer able to drive or manage even simple tasks at home without assistance.

For years he had relied only on himself, but now he had become dependent on others, and had to move in with a relative. This unanticipated living arrangement was difficult and challenging for him to adjust to.

Kenneth wasn’t hopeful when he initially called and wasn’t certain if he would ever see again. During a conversation with Prevention of Blindness Coordinator Francesca Styron, Kenneth commented, “I just want to be able to walk down the street and see the faces of people I know.”

Kenneth’s vision loss was due to cataracts, which had developed slowly over the years. Cataracts are the clouding of the lens of the eye, which often results in progressively blurry vision. Colors can also seem faded, glare from light may seem too bright or cause halos, and night vision decreases significantly. Kenneth’s visually acuity had diminished in one eye to the point where he could barely perceive hand motion in front of his face. In his other eye, all he could “see” was light and shadows.

To receive Prevention Services from SCCB, individuals must meet financial requirements, which are determined through a financial-needs assessment of household income. Additionally, they must not be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or any other health insurance.

After working with Kenneth to verify his eligibility, Francesca began coordinating the surgeries to address his vision loss. Kenneth would have two surgeries, one for each eye, with a recovery period in between, in which the cloudy lens from the eye would be removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens.

In the days leading up to his first cataract surgery, Kenneth often called Francesca to report that he had fallen and suffered injuries because of his lack of sight. He would become upset, remembering how he was able to live his life prior to the cataracts becoming so severe. SCCB staff spent a lot of time providing encouragement and support for Kenneth.

Kenneth’s cataract surgeries were successfully completed in the Spring of 2021. Almost immediately, his quality of life changed and his outlook became positive. He was so excited about his restored vision that he adopted a Great Dane, which he named Chase. He also began to volunteer again at his church’s food pantry to assist others. In addition, Kenneth has been able to live independently again, which he greatly values.

In speaking with staff, Kenneth has offered to volunteer and “give back to SCCB because you all gave so much to me.”

He is grateful for the SCCB Prevention Services that helped him receive the cataract surgeries and has a renewed appreciation for the vision that has been restored to him.

Now, on most days, Kenneth can be found enjoying a “muddy tiger” cup of java at a local coffee shop and traveling around town speaking to those he sees.

Assistive tech helps with education and confidence

Landon Bryson.

Landon Bryson was referred to the South Carolina Commission for the Blind (SCCB) by his school Vision Instructor, Susiene Rayson. At the time, Landon was in 5th grade and doing well academically, but falling behind on his braille assignments due to an improperly functioning Perkins Brailler, a type of mechanical braille typewriter.

Tameka Massey, a Counselor with SCCB’s Children’s Services program, contacted Landon and his mother.

“I’m here to make things easier for you at school and at home with homework,” she said to Landon. His mother, Ashlee Bryson, explained that Landon was quiet and spent a lot of time by himself. At school, he didn’t socialize much unless someone else initiated the conversation.

Landon has optic nerve atrophy, which affects central vision. As it progressed, Landon began using magnification devices, then switched to learning braille. His condition is stable, but he is legally blind (he can see at 20 feet what others see at 200 feet).

Tameka reviewed an updated examination report from Landon’s eye care specialist and arranged for him to have an assistive technology assessment. Ms. Bryson explained that she knew Landon could do the work he was assigned, but he would come to her frustrated because the brailler was not functioning properly and he was getting behind. She expressed how she didn’t want Landon to lose his love of learning.

Braille display.

SCCB Assistive Technology Consultants worked with Landon and his mother to determine how to best meet Landon’s needs. They recommended devices and software that could replace the mechanical brailler, such as a HP Probook laptop, a QBraille Display, and JAWS screen reading software.

Landon navigates the computer with JAWS and uses the connected QBraille Display to access information displayed on the screen. This combination of software and hardware is easier to use, lightweight and compact, and offers more options compared to the heavy mechanical brailler.

Since receiving the equipment, Landon’s learning experiences have flourished. He is able to complete braille and other assignments without any issues, and he continues to build upon his computer and JAWS skills.

Landon has also participated in the Children’s Camp that SCCB offers each summer in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind of SC. The combination of technology, which Landon enjoys showing off, combined with his experience at the Camp, has helped him grow socially.

“It has been a pleasure working with Landon and his mother over the last three years,” says Tameka, “and I look forward to his future accomplishments.”

Letter from Landon’s mother:

The SC Commission for the Blind has truly been a blessing for my son, Landon. They have gone above and beyond to make sure Landon has the technology he needs, put us in contact with other families that have children who are visually impaired, and always let us know about any activities that may benefit Landon. They continue to keep in contact with us to check on Landon and to make sure he has everything he needs. They are an extremely helpful organization!

Ashlee Bryson

About Children’s Services

Children who are legally blind, ages 3-12, may receive assistance through SCCB’s Children’s Services program, which offers assistive technology, counseling and guidance, and adjustment to blindness training, in addition to providing workshops for consumers and parents.

A passion for fitness

Michael Cooper became a consumer with the South Carolina Commission for the Blind (SCCB) when he was eight years old. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that results in the breakdown of cells in the retina, which is the light sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. It causes the field of vision to narrow and difficulty seeing at night. A progressive condition, the area of central vision gradually becomes smaller and peripheral vision diminishes.

While he was in middle school, Michael said he had some challenging times in the classroom, and that he felt his best when he was playing in the gym. His mother encouraged him to be active and play sports, and as a result he developed a keen interest in health and fitness.

Michael also received valuable support from SCCB and his former counselor.

“My counselor, Liz Lewis, was blind,” he says, “and she was an inspiration to me.” She helped him obtain resources, such as a magnifier and large print books, that were invaluable to him in middle school and high school.

During high school, he participated in SCCB’s Summer Teen Program and Student Internship program (SIP), in which he completed an internship in Exercise Science at Pivotal Fitness Center in Columbia, SC.

These experiences helped Michael decide to attend the University of South Carolina Upstate, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. SCCB helped him with tuition assistance, and also provided counseling and guidance. As part of his studies, Michael completed internships with Trinity Health & Fitness and Nautilus Fitness Center, both in Spartanburg.

After graduating from USC, Michael said that he “had a hunger for more knowledge about how exercise affects the human body,” and wanted to expand his understanding of “how to help the body recover after exercise.” This led him to enroll in the Clinical Massage Therapy program at Midlands Technical College, where he received his state license in Massage Therapy and Body Work in addition to a certification in Personal Training.

Michael says that learning massage was easy for him. He felt comfortable using his knowledge of anatomy and physiology to guide his hands to find tension and stress points in joints.

Michael’s initial attempts to find employment were unsuccessful, however, and he began to question his ability to be a massage therapist, and wondered if his visual impairment would hinder him in finding a career. Michael returned to SCCB to seek assistance in finding another form of employment. However, every time he came into the office, all he would talk about was fitness. He would offer advice on healthy eating and suggest exercise plans. It was clear to his counselor and supporting staff that he had both the passion and skills to help others be healthy. So they began working with him to increase his self-confidence and help him find opportunities that would be a good match for his skills. He also received benefits counseling at this time.

Around this time the Katie & Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Northeast Columbia posted a position for a Fitness Associate. The JCC was close to Michael’s home and the job duties were ones that Michael was familiar with performing. Although the position was filled at the time Michael applied, the JCC collaborated with SCCB to provide an internship for Michael to learn more about the position and for the JCC to learn more about Michael. He started in March of 2019.

Michael was excited and committed to be a success in the field of physical fitness. He asked his family to drop him off as early as 4am to make sure he was on time for the first shift. He used assistive technology he received through SCCB, such as a handheld magnifier and ZoomText, to perform his job duties at the JCC. In the gym, he helped maintain and clean equipment, provided guidance in the proper use of different types of exercise equipment, and offered suggestions to clients about the most effective work outs. He even used assistive cutting aids, which he learned about in SCCB’s Home Management courses, to make fruit-infused water for the clients every morning.

At the end of the internship, in June 2019, Michael was offered a permanent position as a Fitness Associate at the JCC. As he became more acclimated to his role, the JCC transitioned Michael to become a part of the Massage Therapy team.

Although the pandemic caused some changes in Michael’s work schedule in 2020, he found a way to continue offering services to the JCC’s clients. Michael proposed offering chair massages as a way to provide therapeutic treatment while implementing safety precautions for COVID-19. This service was approved by the Fitness Director and became a new service offered at the JCC.

Reflecting on his experience with SCCB, Michael expressed his appreciation for the assistance he received in high school, with going to college, and in helping him find employment.

“SCCB staff believed in me,” he says. “When a counselor makes a connection with a consumer and you don’t feel like just a number,” he says, “that is when SCCB shines.”

Consumer comment

The following comment was recently received from a consumer who received SCCB’s Older Blind services:

It was my lucky day when a friend gave me your telephone number. I called and [the counselor] made an appointment to come and meet me. She offered suggestions, making my house easy to move around in. She gave me a telephone, a package of bump dots, and some other odds and ends. She made me an appointment for an evaluation. I received several sizes of magnifying glasses, an address book, and other stuff.

I’m so thankful for the Commission. It has given [me] more freedom. I use everything you have given me. I have had several visits with [my counselor] and found her to be very helpful. I feel I can call her any time.

—Former SCCB Consumer

Prevention services restore vision, independence

Juana Gomez began experiencing the effects of vision loss about four years ago, a situation that often presented her with a daily obstacles. Routine tasks, such as pouring a glass of water, dialing a telephone, or walking safely across a room, became extremely difficult.

Much to her dismay, the condition continued to progress until she could no longer clearly see the faces of family members and friends. Although she found ways to adapt to some of the limitations, this was a very difficult time and Juana tried to remain hopeful.

Recognizing the safety concerns brought about by her reduced vision, Juana’s family reached out for assistance. She was assessed at the York Clinic in York, SC; she was legally blind and severe cataracts were the cause of her vision loss. The York Clinic referred Juana to the SC Commission for the Blind (SCCB) where she and her family were excited to find out she was eligible for the agency’s Prevention of Blindness services.

The Prevention program provides financial assistance for surgeries or eyeglasses to help restore an individual’s visual acuity so that they can maintain independence, and gain or retain employment. It also provides education on blindness prevention and eye safety across the state.

SCCB staff began coordinating with Juana’s doctor during the Summer and surgery dates were scheduled for August. By the end of that month, the cataracts had been removed from both of Juana’s eyes and each eye determined to be in healthy condition.

Almost immediately, Juana commented on how wonderful it was to see again.

A former seamstress, Juana had missed being able to sew. She had enjoyed preparing special linens and many decorations for weddings and other occasions. After the surgery, the first time she walked into a local store with her daughter-in-law, Juana exclaimed, “The colors of everything are so beautiful!” It meant a great deal to her to be able to see the color, texture, and variety of fabrics available.

Juana is very thankful for the services she received from SCCB; they helped restore her vision, her quality of daily living, and reengage with her community. Juana has always been an independent individual, so it was no surprise to those who know her best when they found her once again busy and excited to work on projects and care for family

About Prevention of Blindness services

Prevention of Blindness services help residents of South Carolina who do not have insurance prevent the loss of sight through promoting public awareness and by sponsoring appropriate eye related medical services which aid in the restoration of sight or prevent the loss of additional sight.

To be eligible for Prevention of Blindness, an individual must:

  • Be a resident of South Carolina.
  • Meet financial requirements.
  • Not be covered by any health insurance program, including Medicare or Medicaid.

Consumer comment

The following comment was recently received from a consumer who received services from SCCB:

I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me. SC Commission for the Blind is a blessing from God. When you have struggled all your life and can’t afford insurance and other things, it’s a terrible feeling. You all rescued me from not knowing how I was going to make a living for my family. I have nothing but gratitude for you. This organization is top-notch and definitely needed in this world. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

—Former SCCB VR Consumer

Crossing the BRIDGE to success

Shanadria Rush is empathic, an excellent listener, and has a passion for helping others. In 2012, when her vision became impaired, Shanadria came to SCCB and received training to help her adjust to vision loss and in how to use JAWS assistive software.

In discussions with her SCCB Vocational Rehabilitation counselor, Shanadria explained that she wanted a job in Human Services where she could utilize all of her skills. She had attended Denmark Technical College, where she received her Associate Degree in Office System Technology, and later earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from South Carolina State University.

She said that she wanted a job in Human Services where she could utilize all of her skills. However, she had difficulty finding employment opportunities in her area, and wanted assistance to help her prepare to enter the workforce.

Her counselor thought that Shanadria would be a good candidate for SCCB’s BRIDGE program, where she received training that helped prepare her for entering the workplace and prepare for a career path.

Shanadria completed the classroom portion of BRIDGE training in November 2018, and soon afterward she began on-the-job training at Homeless No More, a nonprofit organization that helps families that are homeless remain together, meet their needs, and transition into affordable housing.

After completing her on-the-job training, Shanadria was employed as a Family Support Specialist at the Homeless No More family shelter in Columbia, SC. She is also employed as a Direct Support Professional at the Midlands Center, which is operated by the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.

“BRIDGE helped prepare me for my career goal,” says Shanadria, “and job shadowing taught me how to interact with different personalities, and prepared me for working with people with mental health disabilities.”

About the BRIDGE program

BRIDGE (Building Readiness for Individualized Development of Gainful Employment) is a pre-apprenticeship training program that provides a career path for consumers into employer-based apprenticeships or direct placement.

The 6- to 8-week paid training incorporates work readiness development, job shadowing, and a Job Club experience to provide consumers with skillsets that meet specific needs of industries and align with the consumer’s vocational goals.

Earlier this year, BRIDGE was invited to be a pilot program with Apprenticeship Carolina, which will allow graduates to compete for apprenticeship opportunities in the Customer Service field. Graduates will also be considered as candidates for BlueCross BlueShield’s Customer Service Associate Apprenticeship program or a direct hire.

BRIDGE is also working with Midlands Technical College to offer credential attainment and training opportunities for healthcare support occupations and technical jobs.

Confidence and capability with assistive technology

Photo of retired physician Dr. Thomas Gaffney sitting in front of a full bookshelf.

When diagnosed with macular degeneration, Dr. Thomas Gaffney, a retired physician, found himself more dependent on others to accomplish some of the basic tasks of daily living. Even so, Dr. Gaffney remained hopeful that there were resources available to assist him.

Encouraged by his wife, Dr. Gaffney reached out to SCCB’s Older Blind program for assistance in May 2019. This program helps citizens age 55 and older who have severe visual impairments remain as independent as possible in their own homes. Services they may receive include home management, assistive technology, low vision devices, orientation and mobility instruction, and assessment at a low vision clinic.

During meetings with his SCCB counselor, Barbara Thompson, they established several goals Dr. Gaffney wanted to achieve regarding his adjustment to vision loss.

In addition to enhancing his quality of daily living and level of independence, Dr. Gaffney expressed his desire to finish writing his memoir and a book detailing his family history. Although he was determined to complete his book, the significant decline in his vision impeded his endeavors to write.

A Vario Digital FHD desktop video magnifier; a computer screen supported by a folding arm over a surface upon which items are placed, magnified, and displayed.

Dr. Gaffney was assessed to see if low vision aids or other adaptive devices may be helpful. After a careful evaluation, he became one of the first to receive a Vario Digital FHD, a foldable desktop video magnifier. It was exactly what he needed to be able to continue writing his book.

“I can even link my magnified text and photographic images to my computer,” he says of the device. “As a result, I can finish writing my memoir and family history.”

Before contacting SCCB, Dr. Gaffney had been discouraged and frustrated that he would not be able to maintain his independence and achieve his goals. Now his perspective has completely shifted. He’s excited about finishing his writing and continuing to be an active member of his family and community. He feels that he still has value and purpose, and that SCCB’s assistance made all of the difference.

Recently, he offered to share his story with other Older Blind program participants; he hopes his resolve and desire to adapt will be a source of encouragement for others.

“Words can’t capture my appreciation for SCCB’s interest, concern, awareness, expertise, and help,” he says.

About the Older Blind program

The Older Blind program provides services for individuals age 55 or older who have a severe visual impairment that makes competitive employment difficult to obtain but for whom independent living goals are feasible.

Some of the services which may be provided include counseling and guidance, training on how to manage personal care and daily tasks, adjustment to blindness, low-vision evaluation, orientation and mobility training, and instruction in the use of adaptive computer software.

Low vision aids such as hand-held magnifiers, digital magnifiers, electronic reading aids, closed circuit television systems, and protective sun filters are some of the options that may be provided to consumers. Counselors reinforce techniques for proper use of low vision items.

To be eligible for the Older Blind program, an individual must:

  • Be a South Carolina resident age 55 or older. 
  • Be legally blind or have been diagnosed with a progressive eye pathology which could lead to legal blindness.
  • Require services to maintain independence. 

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin