Tahlequah Daily Press

July 13, 2013

Grant project helping visually impaired natives

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — People living with vision impairments often find themselves isolated from the rest of society, save close family members or home health care workers who aid with day-to-day tasks.

Thanks to federal grant funding, American Indians in Northeast Oklahoma suffering from low- or no-vision maladies have the opportunity to become more self-sufficient. Workshops conducted by Project NATIVE – Native Americans Teaming in Visual Empowerment, a local vision program available through the American Indian Resource Center – teach a variety of life skills, and provide clients with valuable equipment and gadgets that promote independence.

Dr. Lillian Young, former department head of special education at Northeastern State University, is project director, and said since the program started a little over a year ago, and they’ve conducted four, three-day workshops, serving a number of local and area residents.

“NSU’s College of Optometry, and Dr. Penny Sommers, head of the College of Business and Technology, have been wonderful partners,” said Young. “They allow us to use space in the Business and Technology Building, complete with a kitchen, to help with the life skills portion of the workshops.”

According to young, qualifying participants are American Indian adults with diagnosed with low- or no-vision diseases.

“These include diabetes-related vision issues, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma,” said Young. “The workshops are held over three consecutive Saturdays, and have five components, including life skills, recreation/leisure, self-advocacy, low-vision aids and orientation/mobility. So far, we’ve had a very favorable response by our clients.”

Sammye Rusco, project assistant, said supplies and equipment are provided to clients through the grant.

“Each participant receives a stipend for attending the workshop, and attendance is required,” said Rusco. “We have all kinds of equipment they can purchase with the stipend, including talking medicine dispensers, so a person doesn’t have to depend on someone to come in and help administer their meds.”

Other items include pre-measured insulin devices, talking blood-pressure monitors, and a gadget to dial a telephone by voice command.

“The talking Bibles are very popular,” said Young. “We also have the  Bible on CD. One version has Johnny Cash narrating. One client said one of the versions we offer is very much like a theatrical version of the Bible, complete with sound effects, not just a narrator.”

Those who have completed the workshops often become staff for Project NATIVE.

“Clients we’ve served who we’ve hired help set up equipment for new clients,” said Young.“The new clients are often more comfortable  having  someone who is actually using some of these items come in and show them how best to use them.”

Young said that ultimately, the goal of the workshops is to allow clients to enjoy more independence and mobility.

“If for no other reason, some of the clients enjoy the workshops and attend for the socialization,” said Young. “Often, many people suffering from vision impairment are isolated. We have lunch and snacks throughout the workshops and we also have support groups available for extended contact.”