Lack of sight not a lack of vision

South Cariboo Club provides support to vision impaired

Lori Fry (left) now National 1st Vice-President of the Canadian Coucnil of the Blind shares White Cane Club information with Cy Hoselton at a previous National White Cane Week event.

By Tara Sprickerhoff

Marilyn Vinson, 66, became legally blind in her thirties.

While she never had good sight to begin with, she says losing her vision shattered her confidence.

Growing up, Vinson’s father had poor sight. When they went out together, Vinson’s father would push his own face within inches of debit machines in order to see the numbers.

“I was embarrassed,” she says. “And now I’m doing it. I need people to know that I’m fine, I just can’t see.”

When Vinson lost her sight, the Prince George CNIB contacted her. They put her in touch with the 100 Mile House & District White Cane Club, the local chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind.

“I went there saying that ‘if you tell me what to do I will help, but don’t expect me to take charge of anything,” she says. “Well, now I am the president.”

For Vinson, the club provided a place where she could rebuild her confidence and learn from others with vision loss.

“I am not really a big achiever, but I am around a bunch of people who are and their loss of vision has not held them back,” she says.

According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or CNIB, over 64,500 British Columbians are affected by significant vision loss. In Canada, more than 836,000 are impacted. With rising senior populations, those numbers are expected to increase.

Vinson says for those who experience vision loss, it can be quite challenging. Family members may find themselves doing more work for the person, or the person may find themselves frustrated doing tasks that used to be simple. Vinson herself wasn’t able to continue her work as a cashier after she lost her sight. It can also be socially isolating.

“Most people that are sighted don’t understand what it is like. How can you, if you have never experienced it?” says Vinson. That’s where the White Cane Club was the most helpful for Vinson.

The club provides support, encourages active living and provides a social space for people to get together.

“The main thing for me is in the support area. When you are with other people who have the same issue, you can just relax and be yourself. We get it,” says Vinson. “It’s nice to be around people who actually get it. We can share little things that we have learned — little tips and things just to make life easier.”

The white cane is the international symbol of blindness. Painted white, so as to be more visible at night, the cane is helpful to both the person with vision loss and to aid others in recognizing someone who is blind.

Vinson says it is important that people in the community know about vision loss.

Vision loss can come in many forms. For Vinson, she is unable to make out the details of a face from a metre away. Others might have a limited circle of vision, whereas some may only be able to see peripherally.

Vinson compares her vision loss to a TV advertisement targeting impaired driving; each time the person on screen takes a drink a glass is put over the picture, obscuring the image. Each glass blurs the image further. By the final glass, very little is clear.

For Vinson, part of her challenge is recognizing people.

“They say ‘Hi Marilyn,’ and they just keep on going. I don’t know who they are. I need people to say, ‘Hi Marilyn, it’s Melody.’ That would be so helpful,” she says.

But she says, don’t expect someone with a vision impairment to be helpless.

“It’s not necessary.”

Instead, she says “you can ask the person if they need some help. Yes or no is a fine answer.”

As the White Cane Club saying goes, “a lack of sight is not a lack of vision.” The club organizes bus trips to Williams Lake, bowling, and a blind curling team. They have assisted vision impaired students to attend Space Camp and major Girl Guide camps. They also fundraise to assist members to travel to eye appointments or to purchase tools and assistive devices to help the visually impaired in the community.

“There is life after vision loss,” says Vinson. “You just have to learn to do things differently and that’s where I think the support is so necessary too.”

Even Vinson, who has had poor vision for most of her life, learns new things from club members.

To fill a coffee pot can be difficult she says. Depending on the design it can be tricky to pour the water in just the right place.

Another club member “uses a funnel! I never thought of that. Wow,” she says.

The White Cane Club meets once a month, and everyone, including sighted volunteers and family members are welcome.

“We offer support to everybody who needs it — just to maybe give them some tips about what they will have to expect or ways that they could help.”

Feb. 5 to 11 is National White Cane Week and the 100 Mile House Chapter will be hosting an open house Thursday, Feb. 9 from 1-4 p.m.at the 100 Mile House United Church to raise awareness about the club and vision impairment in the area.

The club will be showing off some of the “gadgets” they use, as well as promoting their presence in the community. Vinson also promises there will be cake.

“We would like people to come out and bring their friends and family members,” she says. “Our members will be there to share information.”

She says the camaraderie provided by the club is important.

“It is hard, you can’t go through it by yourself — well, I guess you can, but it is a lot easier if you don’t.”

Marilyn Vinson, 66, became legally blind in her thirties.

While she never had good sight to begin with, she says losing her vision shattered her confidence.

Growing up, Vinson’s father had poor sight. When they went out together, Vinson’s father would push his own face within inches of debit machines in order to see the numbers.

“I was embarrassed,” she says. “And now I’m doing it. I need people to know that I’m fine, I just can’t see.”

When Vinson lost her sight, the Prince George CNIB contacted her. They put her in touch with the 100 Mile House & District White Cane Club, the local chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind.

“I went there saying that ‘if you tell me what to do I will help, but don’t expect me to take charge of anything,” she says. “Well, now I am the president.”

For Vinson, the club provided a place where she could rebuild her confidence and learn from others with vision loss.

“I am not really a big achiever, but I am around a bunch of people who are and their loss of vision has not held them back,” she says.

According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or CNIB, over 64,500 British Columbians are affected by significant vision loss. In Canada, more than 836,000 are impacted. With rising senior populations, those numbers are expected to increase.

Vinson says for those who experience vision loss, it can be quite challenging. Family members may find themselves doing more work for the person, or the person may find themselves frustrated doing tasks that used to be simple. Vinson herself wasn’t able to continue her work as a cashier after she lost her sight. It can also be socially isolating.

“Most people that are sighted don’t understand what it is like. How can you, if you have never experienced it?” says Vinson. That’s where the White Cane Club was the most helpful for Vinson.

The club provides support, encourages active living and provides a social space for people to get together.

“The main thing for me is in the support area. When you are with other people who have the same issue, you can just relax and be yourself. We get it,” says Vinson. “It’s nice to be around people who actually get it. We can share little things that we have learned — little tips and things just to make life easier.”

The white cane is the international symbol of blindness. Painted white, so as to be more visible at night, the cane is helpful to both the person with vision loss and to aid others in recognizing someone who is blind.

Vinson says it is important that people in the community know about vision loss.

Vision loss can come in many forms. For Vinson, she is unable to make out the details of a face from a metre away. Others might have a limited circle of vision, whereas some may only be able to see peripherally.

Vinson compares her vision loss to a TV advertisement targeting impaired driving; each time the person on screen takes a drink a glass is put over the picture, obscuring the image. Each glass blurs the image further. By the final glass, very little is clear.

For Vinson, part of her challenge is recognizing people.

“They say ‘Hi Marilyn,’ and they just keep on going. I don’t know who they are. I need people to say, ‘Hi Marilyn, it’s Melody.’ That would be so helpful,” she says.

But she says, don’t expect someone with a vision impairment to be helpless.

“It’s not necessary.”

Instead, she says “you can ask the person if they need some help. Yes or no is a fine answer.”

As the White Cane Club saying goes, “a lack of sight is not a lack of vision.” The club organizes bus trips to Williams Lake, bowling, and a blind curling team. They have assisted vision impaired students to attend Space Camp and major Girl Guide camps. They also fundraise to assist members to travel to eye appointments or to purchase tools and assistive devices to help the visually impaired in the community.

“There is life after vision loss,” says Vinson. “You just have to learn to do things differently and that’s where I think the support is so necessary too.”

Even Vinson, who has had poor vision for most of her life, learns new things from club members.

To fill a coffee pot can be difficult she says. Depending on the design it can be tricky to pour the water in just the right place.

Another club member “uses a funnel! I never thought of that. Wow,” she says.

The White Cane Club meets once a month, and everyone, including sighted volunteers and family members are welcome.

“We offer support to everybody who needs it — just to maybe give them some tips about what they will have to expect or ways that they could help.”

Feb. 5 to 11 is National White Cane Week and the 100 Mile House Chapter will be hosting an open house Thursday, Feb. 9 from 1-4 p.m.at the 100 Mile House United Church to raise awareness about the club and vision impairment in the area.

The club will be showing off some of the “gadgets” they use, as well as promoting their presence in the community. Vinson also promises there will be cake.

“We would like people to come out and bring their friends and family members,” she says. “Our members will be there to share information.”

She says the camaraderie provided by the club is important.

“It is hard, you can’t go through it by yourself — well, I guess you can, but it is a lot easier if you don’t.”

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