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'New light' for the visually impaired

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:47 p.m.
Updated: May 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.
John Taylor heads up the Senior Center's Visually Impaired Services program. Taylor is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder that affects night vision and peripheral vision. John Taylor heads up the Senior Center's Visually Impaired Services program. Taylor is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder that affects night vision and peripheral vision.
John Taylor heads up the Senior Center's Visually Impaired Services program. Taylor is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder that affects night vision and peripheral vision.
First of two parts

"Once I knew only darkness and stillness ... my life was without past or future... but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."
- Helen Keller

A precious sense and vital personal compass, vision is an integral means for experiencing and navigating the world.

For those with diminished eyesight, that missing ocular gift is often a momentous physical, directional, and psychological blow.

Thanks to a comprehensive program at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, many adults with vision loss have found enhanced coping skills and a renewed zest for living.

Visually Impaired Assistance Services (VIAS) is among numerous Center-offered services and programs that promote independence, dignity and enhanced self-esteem in adults 18 and older.

The program's resources and assistance include home modifications, care management, education, recreational activities, and assistance with technologies designed to boost self-reliance.

Heading up VIAS is John Taylor, a visually impaired assistance caseworker, who is legally blind and intimately understands the challenges posed by vision loss.

In 1992 at the age of 32, Taylor was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (also known as RP), a genetic eye disease that causes progressive vision loss - even total blindness for some.

A Canyon Country resident, Taylor said he never had great vision as a boy. Eventually, as his condition advanced he developed night blindness, with a loss of peripheral vision.

"I have seven-degree vision, whereas normally it's 140-degrees," said Taylor, who uses a white walking stick for getting about. "I don't see anybody from the side. If I sit in the back row at the movies I can see the screen but I have to glance back and forth a lot to see everything happening on the screen."

Vision loss is "a tough thing" to deal with, admits Taylor, who is also a lifelong musician with a love for singing and playing drums.

Many adaptations are necessary when affected by vision loss, not the least being attitudinal and emotional.

One of the ways to help oneself is by utilizing the Senior Center's Visually Impaired Services, Taylor said.

"There's so much we have to offer here that improves one's outlook, independence and future," he said.

Among the visual assistance options available, Taylor helps facilitate ongoing support groups, referrals for mobility training, doctors and vital services such as books on tapes, large print telephones, talking watches and calculators.

He also sets up speakers from "blind" organizations and brings in the Braille Mobile Solutions van every month, which conveniently offers services, including low vision consultants helping clients find the right magnifiers, sales of other assistive devices, library registration and resource referrals.

In the last 30 years, much has been done in research and development to enhance the lives of persons with vision loss.

Taylor said he happily witnessed that progress at the recent California State University, Northridge Center on Disabilities' 24th annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference.

Held at the Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles, the event showcased more than 150 exhibitors and included the latest adaptive technology for people living with low vision and other disabilities.

One novel product Taylor praises is a bar code reader that scans items at the store and announces what they are and what's in them.

"An example is a can of green beans," he said. "It tells you how much sodium is in it, which is very useful." (It doesn't tell you the price, however.)

Other devices include "talking machines" that can read money and wireless screen readers for the computer, Taylor said.

He also lauds "descriptive videos" available through the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.

"They describe all the visual elements of the movie," Taylor said. "These allow a blind person to ‘see it in their mind' what's going on."

With vision loss, it is common to go through stages of grief, much like when death has occurred, Taylor said.

Those stages - identified by the late Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross - include denial, depression, anger, bargaining and acceptance.

"When first diagnosed there's depression and denial. You're especially depressed when you have to lose your car. That's the biggest thing the support group tells me," he said.

Family and friends are a huge part of the support system that helps people deal with their condition, Taylor said. He admits, however, that isolation can easily evolve when vision is compromised.

"Sometimes the visually impaired lose friends because they are angry, upset and jealous - it is a sighted world out there," he said.
As every human is unique, each person's stages of grief typically vary. But once they begin their path to acceptance (the final stage) they are far more open to seeking help, Taylor said.

"After a while, you start to say, ‘OK, maybe I need to go to the Braille Institute or the Visually Impaired Services at the Senior Center so I can better learn how to live independently and cope," he said.

It was Taylor's concerned mother who directed him to the Braille Institute many years ago. (She died in 2007.)

"That was when my own learning started," he said. "I was there two years, and that was how I found out about the SCV Senior Center. My doctor actually told me to go and learn independent living skills and mobility training."

Taylor proudly reports that many with vision loss attend the SCV Senior Center and utilize VIAS.

"The majority has age-related macular degeneration and they find they can do just about anything anyone else can do who is sighted," said Taylor.

A major cause of blindness in adults over 50, macular degeneration results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field due to damage of the retina.

"You can come to the Senior Center and achieve any goal you want through the help, support and many resources and services we have available," Taylor said.

For information about the SCV Senior Center's Visually Impaired Services, the Low Vision Support Group, and the Braille Institute's Mobile Solutions Van, call John Taylor at (661) 259-9444, ext. 125.


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