Innovative devices help people with visual impairments

March 17, 2011 9:58:54 AM PDT
Last year, over 4,000 veterans who are blind and visually impaired maintained their independence with support of various devices and services from a partnership between the federal government and a not-for-profit organization.

Just eight years ago, 750 different products were offered to veterans who are blind and visually impaired at Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind and Vision Impaired. Now they have over 2,000. The talking products are most popular.

'You've got a lot of talking watches, talking microwaves, talking blood pressure thermometers-- that's the for the totally blind people," said David Haile, manager of the VA shipping department.

Haile served in the U.S. Army. Although he lost his vision many years after getting out of the Army, he can relate to their challenges.

"But me, being a former vet, I try to do all I can for them," said Haile. "I mean, straight away, because I'm a fellow veteran, and at this point I'm not totally helpless, and I know they are, some of them, so I try to do my best to get their products as soon as possible."

Terry Longo is the chief operating officer at Lighthouse.

"There are other vendors providing this to the VA, we're not the only one on the contract anymore," said Longo. "There are probably another 12 to 13 vendors, but we're the only one that is a not-for-profit organization, and we're the only one that has a staff that is legally blind."

The demands for products and services is on the rise says executive director Janet Szlyk.

"We see more visual impairment due to traumatic brain injuries," Szlyk said. "We're also seeing our veterans who are Baby Boomers or older World War II veterans who have age-related eye disease, and that's escalating.

"We provide low-vision evaluation, adaptive technology counseling, psychological counseling and therapy...We have thousands of veterans who are coming home, and we like to see ourselves as a resource center for veterans who may have visual impairment and need to want to get back on the job and want to investigate employment opportunities and might need a little bit of help in obtaining employment."

The Veterans Administration pays for devices and services provided by Chicago Lighthouse.

"The timeliness is very important, because the blinded veteran is receiving rehab services at the blind center and the staff needs to work with veterans to get them custom to using that device that we send," said Szlyk.

If you are a veteran with visual impairment and need of devices and services go to the website for the Chicago Lighthouse For People Who Are Blind and Vision Impaired.