“It started as a small circle. A circle where I couldn’t see anything.”
Amber stood in front of her third grade students and couldn’t see their faces. As a public school teacher in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, she had to know which children were ready to learn that day. And, which children just needed a hot lunch or a safe place.
“Then that circle grew until I slowly went blind in my left eye.”
Amber is diabetic, “not a very good one” by her own admission. She had been experiencing issues with her vision, but ignored them. When she did start to pay attention, it was too late.
“I am blind in my left eye. My right eye had cataracts. I had surgery, then a detached retina. It has now been three years and I am still battling surgeries, dialysis and blindness.”
Amber left her job and fell into the same trap as so many other people with vision loss. She didn’t know where to go for help, didn’t know where to even start. So, she ended up staying at home, worrying.
“I have never been without a job. I was thinking, ‘I can’t do my job. I can’t pay my bills. You’re useless, girl!’
“I was brought up to believe that you are only valuable if you are useful. I became scared to go out. I was worried about being homeless. Depressed. Suicidal.
“I checked myself into the hospital. I knew I needed help. It was there that someone mentioned my pension and disability. As soon as I got my finances settled, I was ready to address my blindness.
“I tried forever to get into another local agency, but that didn’t happen. Then I called to Second Sense.” Because of your support, Amber didn’t have to wait. She had her first appointment three days after she called. Amber learned about all her possibilities, but as a teacher, she knew she had to keep her focus.
“I want to do it all. I want to learn to live independently, learn to use a computer, get a job.
“But, for right now, I want to make sure I have my shoes on the right feet, know the denomination of money and be more social.”
Amber isn’t ready to tackle the computer just yet. Learning to use technology with vision loss is anything but simple. You have to concentrate on the task at hand. You have to learn to use your ears when you have become so dependent upon your eyes. The screen-reader reads every icon, every tab, every link, every heading, every word. Imagine listening to all that information with no visual reference. Trying to pull out just the details you need for the task at hand.
So, she is working with our technology tutor volunteer to learn how to use her iPhone with a screen reader. The iPhone has built-in accessibility that allows blind users to independently access information, make phone calls and use apps — like the money identifier.
“I am learning the iPhone with Marv. I love him to death. I’m practicing swipes and taps and what they all mean. Every time I turn on my phone, I hear ‘You have 34,387 emails.’ I hate hearing that. I need to learn how to handle those.”
Amber also started attending our support group — a mix of people with recent and long-term vision loss, across a wide range of ages.
“You think you are the only one in this. You feel stupid, feel you should be able to figure this out.
“Then I attended a support group at Second Sense and heard others expressing the same frustrations and sharing solutions. Just knowing there are possibilities was so powerful for me.
“I want to learn mobility. I want to walk down the street with confidence. I want to take the subway.”
If you thought it was hard to imagine learning to use a computer without seeing the screen, imagine crossing a busy intersection when you can’t see the traffic light. Or the cars. Or buses.
But, because your support allowed us to hire a certified mobility instructor, Amber is learning to how to hold the cane. She is starting slow, getting training indoors, climbing stairs and learning to understand the cues the cane is giving her.
She has only had a few mobility lessons and has hours of training remaining. It can take 30-40 hours of training before a client is ready to use public transit and travel the streets of Chicago safely.
“It may take me a minute to mourn. But, maybe I can go back to the workforce and do something every day.”
This is Amber’s goal. She wants to get back to work. Will you join us in making it possible? Your gift will help her continue training so she can reach all her goals.
“This gives you something to live for. You are not a loss. My big thing is having a purpose. You can still be a contributing part of society.”
Thank you for showing Amber that she can still have a purpose, for lifting her out of depression and on the road to independence. We ask you to help her complete her journey.