BLIND FAITH By Vince Witherspoon
God has blessed me since the moment that I was born. The details of this statement would take up too much time, but the fact remains, my life, like many, is filled with triumphs and tragedies. Because I am a positive person, and for much of my life been a leader, to be proactive, my results may be different than some. Coming from a family that has contributed to historical change and impacted communities, cities, states and this country, the main theme has been to LOVE all people and do what can be done to help and encourage others. For these reasons, God and family put into motion my reaction to losing my vision a few years back. First let me start with my wife, Andrea. She has remained loving and supportive despite a situation that changed the family dynamic. It was through her encouragement that I first attended the Braille Institute and began learning how to deal with being a person with a disability. Along with my kids, dear friends; Joyce, Sue, and Coop, kept me positive and supported. It was this initial process where I learned that it takes a “Village” to be successful. I was always used to doing things on my own. Not depending so much on others. It was during this time period that I was exposed to my first lesson. I was attending a reunion and I had to ask someone to drive me to the function, but more importantly, once the function ended and all of the warm salutations were done, I still had to make it outside to my transportation home. The defining moment came when I had to ask for assistance. A dear friend was standing by and I asked him to help me. He was so enthusiastic and got me out to my transportation. It literally changed my life at that moment. I found out that family and friends were more than willing to assist when needed. I began to need that assistance more and more. After losing all of my vision, I was determined to continue to work.
While on leave from work, I learned the Jaws screen reader program at the Braille Institute under Steven Berg. I also learned of another training facility in the Riverside area called Blindness Support Services (BSS). A student gave me a general idea of its location, at the same time my daughter told me about a road caution sign in Riverside that said blind persons crossing. With that information, my wife and I scouted that area and found BSS. We gathered information from the assistant there, and in turn I contacted my Case Manager from the Riverside Department of Rehabilitation to schedule training. With the focus on Jaws training at both facilities, I quickly learned how to function and possibly place myself in position to use this to return to work. What I did not anticipate was how impactful this time would be. I was not only learning Jaws, but other assistive technology that would affect my life without vision. Kelly Hill, with his passion and high intellect, was infectious, and this gave me the impetus to continue to fight to learn. Feliciano Godoy, is a genius, and his youthful daring spirit inspired me to try to figure out how to jump over roadblocks. There was technology that allowed me to connect and listen to my passion, music. I was able to finish my third musical CD. There was technology to use social media, email, Apps for my phone, iPads, computers and TV’s, in order to stay connected with my family and friends. I received travel training to get me from place to place. There’s an app that would tell me exactly where I was located and what direction to go, up to and including a front door. BSS gave me the opportunity to continue to be an active participant in sports, such as; basketball, golfing, swimming, archery, tennis and bowling, spin classes and aqua-fit.
My employer, a top Fortune 500 company, kept me employed. This took a Village as well. My Case Manager Kay Bristow, my incredible Manager Mike Bui, my HR advocate Suzanne Haggerty, my trainers Jan Harris and Terrell Rutledge, (who is blind and a Jaws user himself), all listened and diligently worked with me. It continues to be a work in progress, but there are starting to be blind persons working and making headway in this company. With my state appointed trainer Leon McNaught and Feliciano, we have sat in on meetings to change how the company can make things better. This Fortune 500 company now has added to its portals, emails, surveys, and training modules, accessibility tabs to make things easier for blind persons to use. That’s progress. It takes a Feliciano or a Terrell, who are not only bright but determined, to figure it out, then share it with all of us to show that if one has blind faith, things can happen. It takes that for us to say, “YES we can”. God’s grace is sufficient!
While I was at Blindness Support Services,I had the opportunity to learn about and apply for Guide Dog School at Guide Dogs of the Desert . I was accepted and did not have a long wait time. Soon after I finished my learning time at Blindness Support Services, I was ready to make my mark in advocacy, I just wasn't sure where or how to do it just yet. That was until I received my first phone call from Guide Dogs of the Desert, asking me to share my journey at a local Lion's Club Meeting. From there, my work took off. I have become a Volunteer Ambassador for Guide Dogs of the Desert since then and going strong. My Guide Dog, a four year old black Labrador named Chuck, and I go on several presentations per month. One day we may be at a local elementary school teaching children about how to and how not to approach helper dogs. Another day, we may be talking to a retired group of people, or somewhere in between. Blindness Support Services gave me the start. First by introducing me to the guide dog school, by teaching me how to use the tools such as my white cane and my iPhone to navigate, and by teaching me to believe in myself. I have also completed my High School Graduation through Hadley School for the Blind, since leaving Blindness Support Services. This is another thing that would not have been possible if not for the skills that I learned there. Sincerely, Teresa A. Carter- Mealer
Teresa A. Carter- Mealer: former student at Blindness Support Services
A Testimony from Mary Luthy
While I do have a fair amount of sight, I am legally blind due to very poor peripheral vision and night blindness. My husband, who is now in a nursing home, was my eyes when I needed it. He also drove me wherever I needed to be. Often to UCLA for my eye appointments. With his admission, I lost my rides and my "eyes". At first I was frantic, how was I going to get to UCLA, to the store and to just get around town when I needed to? I decided it was time to get a white cane. Hesitant, and skeptical, I went ahead and called the Blindness Support group. Brenda came to the house to train me. She was patient, kind and a good listener. I tested the cane locally and found that it made things easier, it was even more reliable than my hubby's eyes. Then the big test came, to UCLA all by myself!!! I had done it once before and it was scary. I have to take a train, a subway and a bus. There were stairs, not well lit and the subway had steep stairs, also not well lit for my vision. The halls were undulating and my progress was slow. I was always looking down so I would not fall over a step or stumble with the up and down flooring. With my new cane, it was a breeze. I could look up, walk faster, and not be afraid. It made the trip so much easier, and I am much more independent with my cane. I am now planning to do things I never would have even thought of before. It has set me free to do things on my own and not to have to depend on others. Thank you so much, Brenda, you are an angel!!