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Fall 2002 Table of Contents
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My Story: Choices for Students with Low Vision

By Dawn Adams, CTVI, COMS, Mesquite ISD

"She is blind and will always be blind; there is no use in hoping for anything better." These were the words spoken to my dad just days after the custody papers had been finalized. A single man of age 55, who owned a night club in Houston noticed that one of his "regulars" had just given birth to a baby girl. He had heard that she did not want the baby and could not raise her. With his own children grown and married with children of their own, it did not look to be the most convenient time to begin raising another child. Looking past the circumstances and focusing on his love for the baby, he decided to find out if he could adopt me. Mother signed over her parental rights to him and that is where my story begins.

Dad noticed I was not like other babies he had been around. For one, I was very still. I did not reach out for objects or people, and I was quiet. At times he would notice that I would turn my head toward sounds, but that was it. The doctor informed dad that I was blind, not partially sighted, but blind.

A magazine article was given to dad that told the story of how a blind baby had been carried upside down for short periods of time. Something about the blood carrying nourishment to the nerves of the eyes caused the child to see. Believing that it was worth a try, dad began carrying me upside down for short periods of time. When I became tired, I would pull and he would carry me the usual way. One day as he was carrying me around the pool table in the club, he noticed that I turned my head toward the light above the table and reached out for it. From then on I began paying attention to other objects. There was no doubt in dad's mind that I was able to see something. At 18 months I began walking, quite a bit later than sighted children. At one eye-doctor appointment I was given some picture cards to read. I correctly named nearly every picture! This was the same eye specialist who told dad that I was blind and would always be that way. He was absolutely amazed!

Now, I don't know if I really believe that being carried upside down caused me to see or not, but I do know that I believe in miracles. Little by little my vision did improve and I learned to use the vision efficiently.

As a kindergartener I began receiving services as a student with a visual impairment. When I was five I went to the low vision clinic with my dad and vision teacher. The doctor gave me my first telescope. With it I could see things so much more clearly. I could see people and objects that were far away. Dad and I would play "I Spy" together. He would tell me to find the "blue sign" or the "airplane in the sky." Without my telescope, I could see the general location of objects and people at a distance, but with it, I could see details. It was not until I used this telescope that I realized it was possible for people to see the individual leaves on a tree, and I could see that bird way up there too! Of course, the primary function of the telescope was eventually for me to learn to read the chalkboard in school. I will always be thankful to my dad for the support he gave me.

Through the years I have had various types of monoculars (telescopes). I used a hand-held one until fifth grade. Then I received my first pair of glasses with a mounted telescope over the right eye. Since I have no central vision in my left eye, I need to use the telescope with my right eye. It is difficult to pick up and put down the telescope while trying to copy information off of the board. I really liked the new glasses because they allowed me to have my hands free for turning pages or writing. Next, I was fitted with a similar device, but this time the telescope was much smaller and much more cosmetically appealing. Also, it could easily be used for distance as well as near tasks. I could read my papers and books with it, or I could read the chalkboard. The use of large print books helped me not to have to constantly switch back and forth between near and distance focusing. I used large print to read and kept the glasses focused for distance tasks most of the time. Eventually I was fitted with a pair of Ocutechs which can be used for driving. My Ocutech has a telescope (very small) above the right lens. When I want to verify something I see with my vision, I very quickly look into the telescope to see it. My vision is corrected from 20/200 to 20/30 with these glasses.

The development of efficient use of my residual vision has been a key factor in my education. I was always encouraged to use my vision, and I learned how to use it effectively. I was also not embarrassed about looking different because of my special glasses or telescopes. As early as kindergarten, dad reminded me that it was more important for me to be able to see than to be worried about what others would think. In fact, some of my classmates were quite interested in my vision devices, and it was fun to show them how the various devices worked (without letting them play with them).

My senior year I also received training in Orientation and Mobility so that I could learn to cross streets. This included using a cane for identification purposes. I used my vision in conjunction with the cane. I have also used programs such as ZoomText to enlarge print on a computer screen. Now, however, I simply use the options in the control panel of the Windows ME Software. Having efficient use of my vision has enabled me to participate in high school athletics and driving, in addition to seeing things that I might not have otherwise been able to notice, such as seeing a bird in a tree, locating things in a cluttered background, etc. It now allows me to use current technology and travel independently. My primary learning mode is through vision; that is, I am a visual learner. So the use of vision has been essential to my education.

Today, as a teacher of students with visual impairments and an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I still use low vision devices in my daily routines. Whether it is completing ARD paperwork, progress reports, reading for my graduate courses, or cooking a meal for me and my husband, a CCTV is used much of the time. I also have reading glasses which help me when a CCTV is not available. In addition to my reading glasses and driving glasses, I use a hand-held telescope to read the list of goods on the aisles in the grocery store or read street signs when walking. My purse is a "tool bag" for my three low vision devices. I have a device to help me accommodate to any visual task.

While professionals may not all agree on what is best for students with low vision, it is clear that there are obvious advantages to using residual vision. Ultimately each person must decide whether to learn to use his or her vision efficiently, if possible, or to become a tactual learner. One way of learning is not necessarily better than another. It simply depends on the person. Each person is different, and in our field we are to address the individual needs and strengths of our students. We cannot say what is true for one is always true for the other. "My story" is about what has worked, and is still working, for me. My husband and I both are visually impaired. I'm glad we've had choices and opportunities to learn to use our vision. It has been said that "being visually impaired is hard work." While it is hard, it is not impossible to overcome the challenges.

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Last Revision: August 29, 2003