Woman tells story of vision rehab help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Visually impaired clients of a Jackson rehabilitation facility receive more than instruction in how to deal with their challenges. They also get inspiration from and a real-life example set by the director of the center.

Karen Brown, director of the Addie McBryde Rehabiliation Center in Jackson since March 2002, spoke to the Natchez Civitan Club on Thursday, telling the group her own story of losing vision and how rehabilitation gave her a future.

The Addie McBryde center, located on the campus of the University Medical Center, is not a medical facility, Brown said. &uot;But we are at a medical facility.&uot;

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In a dormitory-like setting, clients learn skills that Brown divides into three areas &045; communication, transportation and personal independence. She had intense training of her own in all of those more than 25 years ago.

Brown began losing her vision in the early 1970s. She and her husband were living in central Florida, where she was teaching school and loving it.

&uot;I was in my 20s when I was diagnosed,&uot; she said. &uot;It was a complicated eye problem that had to do with glaucoma.&uot;

She and her husband moved to Chicago, where he worked with a major insurance company. Her eyesight worsened.

&uot;By the time we moved to Chicago, I was legally blind. We lived in the suburbs,&uot; she said. &uot;When he got on the commuter train in the morning, I was virtually a prisoner in our apartment until he came home again at 6:30 in the evening.&uot;

Her good fortune was to have an eye doctor at the University of Chicago who knew how to advise her, Brown said. He sent her to a personal adjustment and training center in downtown Chicago. &uot;It teaches you to be independent and live a full, active life.&uot;

At that point in her life, she said, it was as though she had been turned upside down. &uot;I never had even known a blind person,&uot; she said. &uot;I had to learn lots of new skills, the same skills we teach at Addie McBryde.&uot;

Communication skills begin with reading, Brown said. Braille is important to learn. &uot;And you have to learn how to identify your money, how to use the phone.&uot;

Tools for the visually impaired have kept pace with the world of technology. &uot;I use a computer all day long. The keyboard talks as I put in information.&uot;

Travel can be one of the most challenging skill areas to conquer. There is cane training. There is dog training. Brown has done both. Her 10-year-old golden retriever, Fergie, accompanied her to the meeting.

Learning to be independent is important to blind and visually impaired people, Brown said. And the skills required differ from person to person, depending on what each one likes to do. However, all must learn personal grooming, how to do laundry and clean house. She found ways to organize her kitchen so she could continue to cook.

&uot;Obviously, there are some things we can’t ever do again,&uot; she said. &uot;I couldn’t drive here today. My husband drove me. I’m fortunate in that.&uot;

Of the staff of 20 at the Addie McBryde center, seven are visually impaired. &uot;Our clients see real quickly that you can lead full lives,&uot; Brown said.

The center operates as part of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, utilizing federal and state money. &uot;At the Addie McBryde center, you’ll see your tax dollars at work, and I hope you’ll see good use of those dollars,&uot; Brown said. &uot;The services do not cost the clients anything.&uot;

Anyone interested in how the center works or, as Brown said, &uot;how a person who is blind uses a computer without using the monitor or the mouse, for example,&uot; can do so at an open house to be held Aug. 10, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

&uot;You can see the latest closed circuit television, which enlarges print up to 50 times normal size or hear computers talk,&uot; she said.

The address is 2550 Peachtree Street. More information is available by calling 601-364-2700.