In This Issue
- Share the Vision Walkathon is Only 24 Days Away – Are You Ready?
- There are Still Some Spots Available for the Enhanced Vision Event
- “Make a Difference Where You Live”: Kitsap Community Leader Kathryn Hess, 102
- Celebrate Fall Prevention Month by Taking Steps to Stay Safe
- Connecting with SightConnection: Orientation and Mobility Specialist Karen Mehlhorn
- SightConnection Store: Back-T-Pack
Share the Vision Walkathon is Only 24 Days Away — Are You Ready?
Saturday, September 29
Registration opens at 9:00 am, and the walk begins at 10:00 am
Magnuson Park (7400 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle)
*Important* Please enter the park at the 65th Street entrance (the entrance south of the gatehouse at 74thStreet). Follow the balloons and signs to the walk site at Picnic Shelter #2, next to Kite Hill. Map of Magnuson Park
We are so excited about Share the Vision 2012 this year! Registration opens at 9:00 am and the walk begins at 10:00 am. There will be live music and lots of prizes for top fundraisers – including a year of spa treatments and a group wine tasting party.
Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, every dollar you raise goes directly to serve those in our community experiencing vision loss through SightConnection’s programs and services. SightConnection is the only agency in the Puget Sound area that provides adaptive skills training, counseling, safe mobility, and other services specifically for individuals experiencing vision loss. There will be a special activities area demonstrating some of the skills we teach clients to help them live well with vision loss.
This is our biggest fundraising event of the year, and we need your support. Please come join us and help those in our community live well with vision loss.
Why We Walk:
“We have benefitted greatly from services provided. We want others dealing with vision loss to be able to move forward with their lives. No sitting on the sidelines.”
– Gaylen Floy, Team Captain, South King Council of the Blind
“We are a team made up of employees from Kitsap Eye Physicians in Kitsap County, helping our community see one step at a time. We are walking to help those in our community who are blind and partially sighted.”
– Melissa Rasband, Team Captain, Kitsap Eye Team
There are Still Some Spots Available for the Enhanced Vision Event
Join us Saturday, September 15th, 2012, for a FREE event featuring hands-on demonstrations of the latest technology available for people with low vision. Low vision technology can help you read, write, see loved ones and enjoy hobbies again. Please join us for hands-on demonstrations of the newest technology for low vision. Don’t miss your chance to win a Pebble Mini ($295 value)!
Saturday, September 15, 2012
10 am – 3 pm
For more information or to RSVP, please contact Joyce at (800) 458-4888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Make a Difference Where You Live”: Kitsap Community Leader Kathryn Hess, 102
For Kathryn Hess, life has been a great adventure full of family, community, nature, and education. In 1931, she was the lone bank teller in a western Oregon bank that was robbed, and was tied up in the vault (“back when they used rope because duct tape didn’t exist”). During World War II, she was one of the community volunteers who took shifts in the watch tower erected on a school ground. She is also one of the charter members of the Kitsap County League of Women Voters, and she has had the great pleasure of traveling to all 50 states and 21 foreign countries – making some of those trips after experiencing vision loss. But one of her adventures for which she may be best known is a founder of the Silverdale branch of the Kitsap Library System – back before the library system existed.
Starting the libraries was complicated since so much of Kitsap County was unincorporated at the time. “We worked to try to get library service into the county, but we had to provide a tax base. We had to organize as the Kitsap County library district in order to have the tax base to provide books for libraries,” Kathryn remembers. Each local community, in order to get that county service, had to build or provide their own library. “Since Silverdale was unincorporated and had no tax base still, we had to provide library services through volunteer help. Our first so-called ‘station’ was in the basement of the Methodist Church in a Sunday school room!”
During World War II, the government had to build barracks and other military support buildings on the school grounds in Silverdale. At the end of the war, most of the military buildings reverted to the school district, and Kathryn’s group was allowed to move their fledgling library into one of the 16 by 16 foot buildings. The new library served both the community of Silverdale and the students in the school building next door. “We were constantly building schools, and the original idea was to have a library in the school. But the community grew so fast that by the time the school building was finished, the library room had to be used as a classroom. So our little station provided library service to the school,” she explained. Kathryn was instrumental in fostering a culture of philanthropy for the library. “The floor was just rough wood with knotholes in it, and ladies would get their heels stuck in the holes – so I put a graph up on the bulletin board, and for 10 cents people could buy a tile. We would brush in the squares of the graph to keep track for when we had enough tiles to refinish the floor so people wouldn’t fall anymore,” she laughed.
In 1969, Kathryn and her husband, Ray, led the campaign to raise $13,000 to build a brand new library building. The new Silverdale Library was dedicated to Ray, who passed away in 1973.
Despite the fact that Kathryn has Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), books and reading are still an important part of her life. What types of reading does she enjoy? “I’m at an age where I don’t have to improve myself. Whatever’s done is done,” she joked. “But I enjoy mysteries and adventure stories, and I like true experience things. Some of them are good and some are not so good. I read a wide variety of things.” Shortly after being diagnosed with AMD, she started using audiobooks regularly, including the most recent digital reader system used by the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library. She also purchased a CCTV machine years ago, tastefully placed in her living room unobtrusively. “I use it some, but what I really need now is a handheld one I can keep in my purse. I go out to dinner and different places, and lots of entertainment, and I thought that if I carried something in my purse, I could read a menu or a program for an activity.” She pulled out a loaned stand magnifier to try from SightConnection. “I haven’t had much practice still. I’ve been having too many great parties instead,” she laughed. Kathryn just turned 102 in early August.
More recently, Kathryn’s hearing has begun to degenerate. “I find that’s harder on me than the vision loss because you’re out of the loop if you can’t hear. I’m OK one-on-one, but hearing aids won’t help with any group things.” When people lose their hearing in addition to vision loss, it can be a frustrating situation since most adaptive skills involve using the other senses. Kathryn seems to be doing well adapting: “That’s why we have the five senses; they help each other!” she explained. “I do a lot of seeing through feeling. I am a messy eater; I feel the food with my fingers.”
“Memory is probably one of her saving graces,” explains her son.
Kathryn’s Bremerton apartment boasts an incredible 180 degree view of downtown Bremerton, Sinclair Inlet and the bays, Port Orchard, and the Olympic mountain range. She moved into the unit 18 years ago, long before she needed assistance due to her eye sight. “There were other apartments available at the time, but I knew that if I wanted this apartment with this view, I had better grab it. So I moved before I had to; I mean, I could still see and drive,” she explained. “I clearly remember the view because I lived here when I could still see. That’s why I moved here early—so I know the view is there. I can hear the ferries come in.”
Kathryn’s advice to others who are experiencing vision loss is to foster and maintain your activities and relationships. “Don’t give up on the organizations or clubs you belong to. I’m fortunate that I have friends who are willing to keep up with me and take me places, to meeting and events,” she explained. “A lot of people, when they can’t drive anymore, they lose interest and just don’t go anywhere anymore. They think the end has come.”
“Have fun! Make a difference where you live, wherever you are.”
Celebrate Fall Prevention Month by Taking Steps to Stay Safe
Did you know that the first day of fall, September 22, is National Falls Prevention Day, organized by the National Council on Aging (NCOA)? According to the NCOA, an older adult is treated in the emergency room every 15 seconds for injuries related to a fall, and an older adult dies as a result of a fall every 29 minutes. One of the two major causes of falls in and around the home is health and age-related physical changes, like vision loss. In addition, certain medications, slow reflexes, balance issues, and dangerous environmental factors can exacerbate one’s risk for taking a serious, life-threatening fall.
There are a number of steps older adults can take to reduce their chances of falling. These are especially important for those with vision loss. For example, stay active and keep your body strong through regular movement and exercise. While this may seem counterintuitive to those who have fear of falling, inactivity actually increases your chances of falls because your energy levels, muscle tone, and alertness are reduced. Please talk with your doctor about your exercise and movement plan.
Another step is to reduce environmental hazards in and around your home. Some common hazards include unsecured rugs, slippery floors, exposed electrical cords, loose handrails, and poor lighting. You may also wish to install grab rails in your bathroom and a seat in your shower for additional safety. SightConnection’s Orientation & Mobility staff can work with you and help you assess hazards that may make you susceptible to a serious fall.
There are a number of useful tools available on the internet for fall prevention. The Center for Disease Control has published A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults that presents a fairly detailed list of common hazards around the home. In addition, we recommend you download and print My Fall Free Plan, available through the Washington State Aging & Disability Services Administration (ADSA) website. This is a survey for you to answer and discuss with you doctor and create a plan to avoid falls.
Call SightConnection at (800) 458-4888 to speak with us more about fall prevention strategies. Have a safe September!
Connecting with SightConnection: Orientation and Mobility Specialist Karen Mehlhorn
SightConnection’s Orientation and Mobility specialist Karen Mehlhorn, often lovingly referred to as “Karen the Cane Lady” by clients, is celebrating her 22nd year with the agency this summer. She had just graduated from the Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX, with a degree in Orientation and Mobility, and accepted the position with the agency (then called Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted) having never even visited Seattle before. “I packed up my cat and myself, and whatever I could fit into my little Ford Escort, and I drove out west to Seattle. It took three and a half days, and I drove straight to the office before checking into a hotel. Nobody was here. Most of my co-workers were out in the field,” she remembers. It was a big risk to take a job sight-unseen and move to a part of the country where she had never been before, but it turned out to be a great move: “I love my colleagues, and I love my clients. I’m very happy here.”
Karen was not sure what she wanted to do after high school, so she did what many young people did in 1980 – “tooled around.” She spent time living on the beach and surfing in Mexico, and lived in Vail, CO, for four years working at the ski resort. “I had a ski pass and a locker at the bottom of the mountain to store all my gear so I could be the first one in the lift line in the morning. I would often ski until 20 minutes before I started my shift in the lodge. I would literally start waiting tables with my face red from skiing all day. It was just great fun.”
Karen also tried scuba diving as a sport for a period of time. Several of her best friends are diving instructors and taught her how to use the equipment and proper techniques in the safety of a swimming pool. “After that first one-hour session, we threw the gear into the jeep, parked at the beach, and we went diving. I was incredibly nervous, but I was with my best friend who held my hand the whole time,” she explains. She had some incredible experiences while scuba diving, including one exhilaratingly unnerving experience in Costa Rica. “We were surrounded by 15 or 20 mud sharks, which I thought was really cool. When we were all done and back on the boat, everyone was telling me ‘wow, Karen, you were so brave diving with all those sharks.’ I didn’t think there was anything dangerous about it, because I trusted that my friends wouldn’t put me in a dangerous situation,” she said. “I wasn’t scared at all, but apparently the others in the group, who were all very experienced, were keeping a close eye on me!” she laughed. “Those sharks were longer than me, and I thought ‘wow, this is really cool.’ Ignorance is bliss; I didn’t know.”
Eventually, Karen decided to go into the field of blind rehabilitation. “I didn’t want to work in an office pushing paper. I get to be outside moving around every day, helping people living with vision loss maintain and increase their independence in the home and community.” She often gets compliments on her ability to teach mobility skills, but she responds by telling them that it takes a good student to be a good teacher. “The teacher can only do so much. I cannot instill confidence; one must gain confidence with practice. I can teach the skills, but confidence comes from within. It’s motivation, desire, determination, and confidence that leads one to succeed,” she explains.
What does she do when a client does not have these internal motivators or is resistant to learning orientation and mobility? “I refer to Jane, a fellow Orientation and Mobility specialist, or the social work team, Marcia or Kate, for assistance. You can’t make someone do something they’re not ready to do, either physically or emotionally,” she said. “When you are talking about using a cane and moving from point A to point B, and crossing roadways and being amongst other people and motorists – that is all just too serious to make someone do if they are not ready. It is important to follow the cues of the clients and what they can handle learning at the moment.” If someone is not ready to work with Karen yet, she always makes sure they know they can come to her later. “It’s hard to do things that are going to take effort and work, and hard work gets us where we are. If you don’t have that determination, maybe you will get it later, and I will always be here. In these cases, I try to get some of the basics in just to make sure they will be safe in their immediate environment.”
What has changed in her field since starting 22 years ago? “The concept of using a long white cane has not changed at all. Technology has boomed with the development of talking GPS and other types of mobility aids, which can be used to increase one’s ability to orient oneself while using a white cane or guide dog. And even if you have all the technology in the world, if your vision is low enough, you cannot depend on that technology alone. You have to have a cane or guide dog. The technology is only to enhance one’s ability to get around,” she explained.
Karen would love to see her clients participating in the Share the Vision walkathon, Saturday, September 29, at Magnuson Park. “Bring a sighted guide to join you,” she advises. “To quote George Burns: ‘Walk: it’s good for you and it’s free.’ Walking is something that everyone takes for granted. Everyone! Imagine standing up from a chair, walking to the kitchen to pour a glass of iced tea, and walking to the garden bench to sit under the shade tree. No problem, unless you have a bone, joint, cardio, or respiratory condition… or vision loss.”
As an O&M Specialist, Karen is also one of SightConnection’s experts in fall prevention, making it one of her top priorities when working with clients. “I tell my clients that the white cane to a person who is visually impaired is like the safety gear to a skateboarder. You wear a helmet, and you wear elbow and kneepads, because if you fall and hit your head or your elbow you can injure yourself. The white cane is exactly the same,” she explains. “One can attempt to walk without the assistance of a mobility device, but if one does not see the step and takes a fall, the chances are good one is going to hurt oneself.” In addition, Karen points out other fall prevention factors: rugs, cords, proper lighting, having a mobility device, and so on. “Take the time you need. Don’t hurry to get to the phone or to stand up suddenly. These little tricks help prevent falls.”
If you need assistance with Orientation and Mobility, please call SightConnection at (800) 458-4888.
SightConnection Store: The Back-T-Pack
Celebrate National Fall Prevention month this September by treating yourself to a Back-T-Pack. This backpack is designed to help you have better posture and be in better alignment while carrying a load. The weight is carried on both sides of the body, as opposed to on the back as in a regular backpack. Better balance means safer movement!