Phyllis Slater's Story: Part Two, 2000-2005

By Phyllis Slater: 2000-2005


Since the first article, my vision has continued to deteriorate to the point where those deli counter signs are no longer legible.

The girls at the counter know me well enough to offer suggestions. Bless their patience, even when the store is busy! It is amazing how many of the store employees I’ve come to depend upon have relatives with RP or MD (Macular Degeneration – another vision thief.)

Back to things I can’t change, such as my Retinitis Pigmentosa, and the things I can change such as letting others help me. The wisdom to know the difference involves educating myself on how to live as a blind person. Believe me when I say I treasure the sight I still have, but to avoid fear of what’s to come, it is important to learn how to function as a blind person.

About six months after my diagnosis, I found the Michigan Commission for the Blind. They recommended I attend a weekend seminar at the Clarion Hotel. The purpose is to introduce blind individuals to some technology, daily living aid products, personal maintenance and social skills. This was to be my first experience with other blind people.

Before the Clarion seminar I signed up for intensive work at the MCB Training Center. The waiting list was nominally one year but within five months, I was told a training slot had opened up. Naturally, they gave me one week to accept the opening or go to the end of the waiting list. Without hesitation, I accepted and started packing.

The Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center is in Kalamazoo, Michigan, right across the street from the Western Michigan University campus. A converted elementary school, the facility now houses blind students for four-week courses. Food and housing was free.

Upon arriving using the Amtrak train, there was a class schedule on my bed. Monday through Friday there would be eight classes per day, four classes in the morning and four in the afternoon. Welcome back to high school!! Each student is responsible for cleaning the bedroom and doing their own laundry. On the weekends the time can be spent outside of the building if we liked.

Classes ranged from computer training using various screen reader programs, mobility training using a cane, Braille, woodworking (with power tools!), crafts, and technology awareness for daily living aids.

For years I accepted increasing intrusive night blindness, yet I did not realize all the stress it caused me. Using the cane at mobility classes, getting rid of that ego that held me back from doing this sooner, the stress has been reduced. With hindsight, I wish I had taken the training sooner – and I strongly advise any of you readers facing vision loss to get help ASAP. There are many, many resources available, but you have to reach out for them.

When I returned home from the Training Center, two things were on my list of priorities. One was getting a voice message labeler for medication and bottles. I bought the “Pen Friend”. It can be purchased via Amazon or Independent Living Aids on the Internet. {APH also sells a talking label identifier called Sherlock} Next was taking advantage of The Hadley School for the Blind. They offer free classes to blind people. I signed up for more Braille training. My head said this was the right thing to do. To be honest, my heart was not in it. Proficiency is going to be a long time coming to me. I consider myself a technology person, and this Braille training is just a new tool for living with blindness.

Reading was never a big interest of mine. But I now have a Book Port Plus (book reader) and the National Library for the Blind website, BARD, supplies me with four or five books per week. My husband has to compete for attention with my headset and books-on-tape. Small price for having a happy wife. Just kidding!

Phyllis Slater


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