Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind teaches adjusted computer skills to the visually impaired

Through downloaded software, he magnifies the computer screen, forcing the font to grow five times its normal size on the webpage. Then he presses a Velcro covered key to listen to a monotone voice read the highlighted words across the flat screen monitor.  Aaron Windsor is using a desktop computer that has been transformed to benefit those who are visually impaired. Windsor is an adaptive technology instructor at the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind. He teaches the visually impaired how to use built-in features in computer programs like ZoomText 9.1, a low vision magnification software. He begins with the basic keyboard commands and then shows his students how to navigate around the computer using this program. Once they have a firm foundation, Windsor teaches them how to browse different pages on the screen using key strokes. This program also features a screen reading software for blind computer users.

Aaron Windsor using ZoomText

“With someone who is completely blind, they are not going to use a magnifier, so everything will need to talk,” Windsor said. “We deal with both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.”

The Lighthouse for the Blind is a rehabilitation center for people who are blind or visually impaired. The center offers a variety of classes that help people adjust to blindness. These classes include a session in techniques or daily living and adaptive leisure activities where students learn how to work within the kitchen and around the house. Another class teaches students how read and write in Braille. Sandra Wilmot is the human relations coordinator and employment services instructor at the facility.

“That’s what we do. We teach people the adjustment skills for vision loss,” Wilmot said.

Wilmot was born with retinitis pigmentosa. This is an eye disease in which there is damage to the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. As a result, Wilmot has no vision in her right eye and only 20/300 vision in her left eye.

“Minnesota Services for the Blind starts serving people with vision of 20/60 and less,” Wilmot said. “The definition of legal blindness is 20/200.”

Several students are referred to this facility by the Minnesota State Services for the Blind, an agency that helps vision impaired citizens living in Minnesota. Most of their clients are under the vocational umbrella, meaning that they are looking for work and need the skills to either continue their education or to get a job.

“Statistically, people who are blind or visually impaired have an unemployment rate of about 75 percent,” Wilmot said. “If they have training in vision loss techniques, orientation and mobility, braille, and other communication skills, the unemployment rate falls to 15 percent.”

Everyone who attends this facility might seek help because they are visually impaired, but everyone is different. One person might be feeling OK about their vision loss, the next person might be very depressed about any missed opportunities. Windsor and Wilmot enjoy working with students and impacting their life by making a difference in their everyday routine.

“Every person has a unique footprint,” Wilmot said. “Everyone comes to us from a different starting point and they all have a different end point. Most of our students leave here changed in one way or another, even in a small way.”

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