Blind volunteers help many adjust to life after sight

500,000 Florida residents with vision impairment

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - Every seven minutes, someone in the U.S. loses their sight, in Florida, it’s even worse, with 10 of every 1,000 people losing their sight. That's twice the national average, according to the National Eye Institute.

Kenny McMiller, of Tavares, lost his sight to glaucoma in 1991.

He told News 6 that it was a difficult time because he lost his sight without warning.

“I didn’t show any signs of anything hereditary,” he said.

"The higher prevalence of blindness and visual impairment among Floridians is attributable to the large and growing elderly population in our state,” according to Lighthouse Central Florida.

A recent study by Duke University found that half of the senior population has one of three eye conditions that can lead to blindness: glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.

Despite the emotional blow of losing his sight, McMiller said he never gave up and turned to volunteers at New Vision for Independence in Leesburg for help.

“What seemed to be harmful to me turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” McMiller said.

These days McMiller can handle a computer keyboard with the best of them and brings his brand of blues and vocals to church audiences around the country, delivering a message of hope and promise.

Scott Vanhoose lost his sight to Type 1 diabetes when he was in his 20s. Now, he teaches people like McMiller to send emails, access the internet and navigate a computer keyboard, giving them skills for viable jobs.

“You can succeed, you can compete,” Vanhoose said.

Chantel Buck, the director of New Vision for Independence, said the nonprofit  trains 150 to 200 vision-impaired people a year.

Buck said the training is based on individual needs.

"You have to figure out how to access your news, how to get your lunch together for your day," Buck said. " We can help you with all of those little things."

Buck said there is an emotional adjustment but it’s not a defeat.

"Just because you got a diagnosis that there's nothing more the doctor can do, that doesn't mean life is over," Buck said.

For more information on New Vision For Independence visit, newvisionfl.org.

 

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