"I have congenital blindness through glaucoma. At birth I might have had some light perception and even the ability to see some shadows for the first few weeks of my life, but of course that's not a memory that I hold. After that, it was light perception for a number of years, meaning I could turn my head in a direction and know if there was a light source in front of me. Around age seven, the one eye where I was able to recognize where light was coming from, I lost that because I got hit with a tennis ball. After that, I had no functional vision, and really never have.
"I live a full life. I have a wife and twin boys, and I have a wonderful job here at the LightHouse for the Blind, and a social life that I enjoy. I have access to the things I want to consume: books and movies are things that I love, and there's an abundance of access to books now for people who can't see through audio and braille form, and even movies and TV are much more accessible these days. So any feeling of wanting it to be different is not something that happens often. I'm fortunate to have grown up in California, where there are pretty strong educational supports for people who are blind.
"All that said, there are still a number of challenges that one encounters going through the educational system; getting access to materials, being able to assimilate into a class, to feel comfortable with your peers, many of whom may never have known a blind person before and maybe don't know how to act or what to say. The older you get, the more uncomfortable you are around something you don't know.
"That's why for the majority of the LightHouse students – who are experiencing blindness midstream as life is happening – it’s really challenging, because what we're talking about is somebody who’s been used to a certain way of life – employment, family, recreation. All of those things are still possible, but it's learning how to interact with them and adapt to do the things that you’ve done before. You can still parent. You can still work. These things are going to be accomplished in different ways now, but they’re still possible. Yet for the person experiencing it, it can be a terrifying experience.
"When somebody comes to the LightHouse, what we want them to be able to do is to understand that there is a world where you can function and exist as a blind person or somebody with a visual impairment. It doesn't have to be a separate world. You're not shut off from everyone else. We want people to integrate back into their particular communities. We want them to be back at work. We want them to be able to have a barbecue with their neighbors and play with their kids.
"We’re here to help and support and empower blind people to reach their individual goals. We believe that they all can have whatever goals they want. If they want to work 40 hour weeks and they want to do it in an office, or they want to do it in a warehouse, or they want to do it outside or inside, they can do it. We’re here to help people find whatever that path is and help them understand how to navigate it.
"'Coming out' – being able to accept and be comfortable holding the cane in your hand, to walk down the street and know that you're using it not only to help yourself get around, but to send a message to people around you that says, 'I have a visual impairment, this is just to make you aware' – when you're comfortable enough to say 'I'm sick of squinting at my computer screen, maybe I should use a program that lets me enlarge the text on the screen' – those things are empowering beyond description. But the person has to know when they're ready. We can help them get to that point.
"Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. So if we get to a point where the person no longer needs us, that's success."
- Scott Blanks, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired Senior Director of Programs
Enterprise is proud to have supported the LightHouse’s move and expanded resources with a $15 million New Markets Tax Credit investment. Linking people to opportunity, especially through a program like the LightHouse’s, which empowers people to realize their potential and live full lives, is central to our mission.
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