Meet Some Competent Seniors with Low Vision

Meet twelve individuals who are blind or visually impaired and lead interesting, fulfilling lives. They range in age from 75 to more than 90.

Seniors with low vision are a cross section of senior citizens. They have had as many different careers and other experiences as any group of seniors. Seniors adjust to vision loss in different ways according to their personalities and opportunities they are given. We are introducing several individuals below that you may find interesting. Seniors who wish to find opportunities for training and a better adjustment to poor eyesight should contact the National Federation of the Blind.

Helen has been visually impaired all her life. She had a good memory and managed to finish high school, but she never really believed she could compete on the job. She raised a daughter and was active in her church, but did not work outside the home. In her mid 60's, Helen learned she could get training to become more self-sufficient as a person with low vision. She learned to travel independently with a long white cane, and she learned to believe that she could do more than she had formerly thought. Since that time, Helen has become well-known as a cowboy poet, and she has maintained several jobs. Until the age of 83, she worked part-time in a cafeteria. Now, at 86, she is fully retired but still active in her church and in the Organization of Cowboy Poets. She says, "I wish I had known as a young person what I now know about blindness, but I am glad I got my training and found out what others with low vision are doing when I did."

Heather found out she was losing her eyesight after she was 80. She was frightened, but determined to stay active. She heard about the National Federation of the Blind and called the President, Marc Maurer. He referred her to a good training center and introduced her to the director. Heather immediately enrolled in that training and completed it. Then she moved to a new city where she had wished to live. She continues to travel, to hold strong opinions, and to encourage others who are losing vision to expect life to be just as interesting and challenging as it ever was.

Lloyd has retinitis pigmentosa which causes slow deterioration of vision over a period of ten to forty years. Lloyd was an aircraft mechanic when he could see well and continued to do that work long after his vision was worsening. When he stopped working on aircraft, he continued to work on everything that needed fixing. As his sight diminished, he took training and learned independent travel and Braille. He says that his hands are well calloused so he does not expect good speed in Braille, but he uses it to keep track of phone numbers and other short pieces of information. Lloyd also has a substantial hearing loss, but he likes to work in his shop. He built a beautiful sun porch on his house. He is now 77, but when he was 75 he helped a friend who also has vision loss to build a house.

Jim has macular degeneration and still has some usable vision, but gave up driving several years ago. Jim has lived in many places and done many kinds of work. He is a good gardener and excellent carpenter. Unfortunately, he bought a house that was not in good condition structurally. He decided that the only solution was to tear it down and build a better one. He met Lloyd on the bus going to a meeting of blind and visually impaired senior citizens who were sharing experiences and ideas having to do with their lives as they lost vision. Jim found that he and Lloyd had a lot in common. When Lloyd learned that Jim wanted to tear his house down and rebuild it, he offered to help. So they did. They had a wonderful time, and Jim's new house is well built and comfortable. When it was completed, he cooked lunch for the whole blind and visually impaired senior support group. Now Jim and Lloyd have written a book about their experiences building the house. 

Arlene called the National Federation of the Blind to find a better magnifying glass so that she could continue doing books for people. She was 83 and a little bitter about her deteriorating vision from macular degeneration. The NFB tried to help Arlene find a better magnifier, but it also introduced her to many other people who were losing vision as seniors. Arlene joined three groups and says she needs them all. If you talk to Arlene now, you will not see any hint of bitterness. She stays busy with her children and grandchildren and her work for the National Federation of the Blind.

Sybil is only 75. She began losing her vision in her 60's. She was devastated and thought it was the end of her life. She tried to find a doctor who could cure her but failed. Then she came across members of the National Federation of the Blind. She learned that many, many people have had and are having experiences similar to hers. She began to become independent again and joined her local chapter of the NFB. She went to a national convention and saw thousands of blind and visually impaired people working and playing the way people do at conventions. She met some individuals and became close friends. Now Sybil is a leader in her chapter and well known in her community. She is eager to tell others'both blind and sighted'about her experiences, so that they don't have to struggle "as much as I did when I first lost my sight."

George is 103. He has been losing vision for some years but only recently became unable to read. His housekeeper wants to protect him and wants him to find things to do inside his house. George is unwilling to do this. He has been a farmer all his life and has brought large plastic tubs onto his patio. There he plants whatever strikes his fancy from time to time. He enjoys working with his plants, but his housekeeper and some friends fear that he will hurt himself. Other visually impaired people encourage George to do what he wishes. Blindness or low vision is no reason to stop living and doing what interests us, even at 103.

Beatrice is a retired school teacher. She went to a state convention of the National Federation of the Blind looking for something to do. She said, "I know a lot of people and have a lot of experience, and I want to share it with other people." Members of the NFB encouraged her to learn Braille and to buy a white cane, which she did. Then she began to tell people about the Federation and to raise funds. She said she needed a cause and found as much need among blind and visually impaired seniors as among the school children she had taught. The specifics were different, but her skills and experiences were just what was needed.

Ethel felt trapped in her mobile home when she lost her vision in her mid 70's. Her husband would not let her do much any more, and she was very frustrated. A member of the National Federation of the Blind came to visit her and showed her that she could dial the phone more conveniently if she took it off the wall. It was at an inconvenient angle for her hand motion. This person also left Ethel some audio materials about other blind and visually impaired people. Ethel began to understand that she could cook again and take care of her own needs. She got some training and learned to travel independently. She was elected president of her chapter and helped to strengthen it. Then she moved to a different town and organized a new chapter. She died at age 89 and is remembered in a very special way by many.

Margaret has had low vision all of her life, but didn't realize that her level of vision constituted legal blindness. She moved with her husband to the United States from Germany as a young woman. She raised two children and established a private kindergarten. She is respected by most of the citizens in her town, many of whom were her kindergarten students. When she retired because of poor health and worsening vision in her early 60's, Margaret wanted to write a book. She tells wonderful stories. It took her about two years to find a talking computer she could afford and learn to use it, but she got that accomplished. Then she wrote a cookbook. She has published the first volume of her autobiography and is about to complete the second of three parts.

John is 88. He was a newspaper reporter all his life and continued to write a column for another 15 years after he retired. In his early 80's macular degeneration caused his vision to become so poor that he gave up his column. He was appointed to the board of the rehabilitation agency for the blind and began to meet other blind people and people who were losing vision. He moved to a retirement center where he could use a closed circuit TV enlarger which helps him read more print again. He also joined the National Federation of the Blind and found contact with other blind and visually impaired people stimulating.

Mickey loves to dance and cook. She took some lessons in cane travel and Braille and became the leader of a senior support group. She continues to dance almost every week, even though at 89 she has some health problems. Mickey still has a little remaining vision for which she is grateful, but people think of her as charming and busy more than anything else. After the first shock of poor vision, she has continued to enjoy life and to help others.

For more information about blindness, please contact the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, or send an e-mail to [email protected].

National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
200 East Wells Street
      at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone 410 659 9314

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