White Cane Club provides vision for community

The gift of eyesight is something that can easily be taken for granted, but visual impairment is something that affects both young and old.

The White Cane Club has purchased several visual aid devices

The White Cane Club has purchased several visual aid devices

The gift of eyesight is something that can easily be taken for granted, but visual impairment is something that affects both young and old.

Feb. 6-12 is White Cane Week in Canada, and the focus is on educating the public on the subject of vision impairment. Just as importantly, it celebrates the equal capabilities and talents of people who are vision impaired or blind.

According to the Canadian Council of the Blind 100 Mile House & District Chapter of the White Cane Club, it’s estimated there are 50 people who could be designated as legally blind in this area.

Of them, 13 are White Cane Club members who, along with their sighted family members and supporters, maintain a fellowship through the club, which keeps them involved in supporting one another, sharing in various activities and living life to its fullest.

2011 is a significant milestone for the 100 Mile group, as the club has been active in the community for 20 years.

The chapter’s founder is Forest Grove resident Ralph Middle-

mass who lost his sight

at a relatively young age from the complications of diabetes.

The current president is Jim Vinson, whose 20/200 vision makes him legally blind.

Lori Fry has been involved with the club for most of its 20 years and is the current secretary. She has the greatest degree of vision loss among members, with only two per cent of her sight in one eye and none in the other. Her vision loss is due to a hereditary condition called Stickler syndrome, which also robbed her father of his eyesight at the age of 27. Her 16-year-old daughter, Randi, did not beat the 50/50 odds of inheriting the condition and her vision is already deteriorating.

Everyone in the White Cane Club has a story, but they have one another, and together, they have done amazing things.

One of their most recent accomplishments was the formation of a blind curling team that competed at, and won, the B.C. provincial championships. They now look forward to competing at the Western Blind Curling Championships in March.

Fry can’t stress enough the benefits of having an active White Cane Club in the community.

“As people lose their sight, they go into that other darkness where they won’t want to go out any more. There’s lots of apprehension.

“We provide a setting where we all totally relate to the challenges and the discomforts.”

Despite her considerable vision impairment and the related hardships, Fry forces herself to go out every day in order to remain active and independent. Many people on the street may not even realize that she is almost totally blind.

“Every step I take requires effort — in walking and dealing with shading. I need emotional strength as much as anything to just get to the post office.

I might make it look easy, but there are frustrations with everything I do.”

The White Cane Club has worked hard in acquiring a variety of vision aids that help minimize some of those daily frustrations and normalize the lives of members.

Something as simple as reading mail can be impossible to someone with vision loss, but a digital magnifier owned by the club allows a person to run a computer mouse over any print and have it displayed in large format on a screen.

The joy of reading books is within reach with the use of audio readers and Fry has a device, called an audible labeler, which records her voice onto tiny recordable discs. They adhere to almost anything, and running the pen-like labeler over the disk plays back the recorded description. It’s especially handy for labeling power cords for her collection of electronic equipment, she says.

Fry doesn’t let blindness slow her down and one of her many commitments is as vice-president of the Canadian Council of the Blind, BC-Yukon Division.

Attending meetings is part of the package and requires that she gather information just like anyone else.

That means Fry has to carry a bag of portable visual aid equipment, which, although cumbersome, enables her to do her job.

There’s nothing easy about being sight impaired and Fry says it would almost be preferable to throw in the towel sometimes and declare herself totally blind.

“It’s really hard to hold onto your sight. You need more pain medication. There’s sensitivity to light and there is just so much more involved.”

She relies on the support of other White Cane members to keep her afloat and their regular get-togethers ensure that everyone stays connected.

It could be through a regular group lunch at a restaurant, potluck meal, a shopping day or visit to the casino in Williams Lake or bowling with the White Cane Club in that city.

As important as the group members are to each other, they also play invaluable roles in maintaining the profile of the White Cane Club as a body that ensures the rights and the safety of local sight-impaired citizens.

Fry fully realizes their value.

“We bring attention to the inadequacies in the community, like crosswalks, curbs and other things. If there is no advocacy, the community may not recognize needs within it.