Marvin McDonald, director of management information systems of Natchez Water Works, has had to adapt his workplace with technology for his macular degeneration, or vision impairment. McDonald uses glasses with a magnifier, closed circuit televisions to enlarge documents and a computer program that magnifies the screen and reads the text. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

Archived Story

Local man uses technology at work to overcome visual impairments

Published 11:57pm Saturday, June 16, 2012

NATCHEZ — Marvin McDonald was on the edge of technology when computers used to fill entire rooms.

When his kids were typing papers on a typewriter, he bought a Tandy 1000, one of the first IBM PCs.

“It came with one floppy disk,” McDonald said.

While some of his contemporaries may shy away from technology, McDonald admits he couldn’t go a day of work without it.

Marvin McDonald demonstrates using one of his smaller closed circuit televisions, or CCTV, while looking up a number in the phonebook. The CCTV magnifies the text, which helps McDonald read with his vision impairment. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

McDonald, 78, has been the director of management information systems for Natchez Water Works since 1994.

Both his knack for technology and the fact he has a daughter with vision impairment helped him cope with his macular degeneration at the workplace. He said he was sitting at the same desk he sits in today when he noticed he had trouble reading across the room.

Macular degeneration is common among the older community, McDonald said. The condition causes problems with center vision, which is what allows the eyes to read.

With the help of a closed circuit television, McDonald doesn’t miss a beat at the office.

The CCTV, combined with some other tools, help him stay on top of the water bills, facts and figures so he can provide the entire office with any information they seek.

McDonald said the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services has been a big help in providing him with the technology he needs.

By sliding a document under the CCTV, the words are magnified several times, allowing McDonald to read.

Additionally, the telescope tube that attaches to his prescription glasses lets him read the clock on the wall from across the room.

Another tool, a portable CCTV called an Amigo, makes reading on the go more practical.

McDonald said he uses one of the portable CCTVs at home. The Amigo lets him freeze on a frame over something he’s reading, which works great when trying to read the tiny directions on microwavable foods.

The portable device also works great on restaurant menus, and it usually catches the interest of the waitress, he said.

McDonald said he’s had friends of his come check out his equipment and look into getting some devices to help them in their lives.

McDonald said he works through impairments not just for the paycheck, but because he feels so involved with the department he has been a part of since its creation.

Director of Management Information Systems of Natchez Water Works Marvin McDonald models the glasses he wears at work that were prescribed by an optometrist for macular degeneration. The glasses help him view small text in documents and on the computer screen. (Photo by Lauren Wood / The Natchez Democrat)

“(I had a part in) creating it, and I kind of hate to leave,” he said.

McDonald said he doesn’t think a lot of elderly people know about the tools available to them that could keep them in the work place.

He said his doctor in Baton Rouge often tells him that so many people just quit when they stumble across something that could potentially slow them down.

Laurie Coffey, a counselor at the Natchez office of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, said she has seen some people leave her office ecstatic to learn that there are options and resources out there to help them work past impairments.

Gadgets and training at the facility can help people walk with a cane, learn how to iron, read bills and get back to work.

Coffey said she has found through her clients that getting back to work after facing a disability can boost self confidence an quality of life.

“Nobody likes to stay at home …it can be depressing and people can end up with a lot of self pity,” Coffey said.

McDonald said he hadn’t really thought of quitting once he had to deal with vision problems.

“I guess it’s something real personal to me,” he said.

The local Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services office can be reached at 601-442-4087 and is located at 112 Lower Woodville Road.