Lady Gaga and taking care of your vision

The first person with blindness I ever met was Pat, my mother’s high school friend. She had Type II Diabetes and the illness had taken her vision. I learned from Pat how to pour a drink without it spilling over by keeping my clean finger at the rim.

Because of Pat, I spent a summer school break with the Iowa Commission for the Blind volunteering in their lending library of books on tape. I filed manila Dewey Decimal cards. At lunchtime, I ate in the commission’s cafeteria. It was operated by people who participated in the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation program. They learned new skills which helped them live independently. That place made the best hamburgers and French fries!

One of the requirements for sighted people who wanted to work with the Commission was to spend a day as if they were blind. They maneuvered around Des Moines’s city streets with a white cane. Because I was a volunteer, and a teenager, I wasn’t required to participate in the activity. I wanted to, though, and sometimes, at home, I walked around the house with my eyes closed to discover what the experience was like. If I thought I was about to bump into something, I cheated by peeking.  

My eyesight was excellent at that age. As I have grown older, I have needed prescription glasses. My driver’s license restricts me to wearing my glasses. Without my glasses, I can see objects but I can no longer read anything unless the type is large.

Low-cost options for eyewear

Buying glasses and other accessories to support vision can be expensive. Some vendors, such as Wear Panda, sell sunglasses and donate a portion of their profits to nonprofit groups which provide free eye exams or train optometrists in developing countries. Other groups offer grants for low-cost eye exams or to purchase products for vision aids. Lions Club International collects and recycles eyeglasses.  

The National Federation for the Blind, the country’s oldest advocacy group for people with vision impairment, defines blindness in a broad way. A person is considered “blind if their sight is bad enough—even with corrective lenses—that they must use alternative methods to engage in any activity that people with normal vision would do using their eyes.”

My friend, Hayes, fits in this category. He wears the strongest prescription you can acquire for glasses but is unable to read any longer. Ironically, his avocation, before he lost his sight was as a mystery adventure writer.

Your phone will do the seeing for you

Some technology features were invented with people like Hayes in mind. When Hayes needs to call someone, he hits the voice function and directs his cell phone on whom to call. The voice to text feature was invented for people with disabilities including vision impairment, but business people with 20/20 vision use it to dictate memos and other work-related documents.

Many applications come as a standard feature on mainstream technology products. Some, however, do not and can be expensive to add or obtain them. The state of Texas, as well as other states, keep comprehensive guides that cover general information and funding for computer technology and equipment. Both state and national organizations are referenced in these guides. Many of these sources also have information on other assistive technology and durable medical equipment.

A couple of national organizations also help employers access assistive technology. The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) is a  collaborative effort to foster action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT and several other collaborative partnerships are funded by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Police.

People with vision impairments offer different perspectives for work

Participation in the labor force is at about 30 percent for people with visual impairments. The low participation in the work force is a statement on employers who are not willing or do not understand the benefit in accommodating people with visual impairments. People with a vision disability are capable of many things. One of the most famous world humanitarians was Helen Keller. She pioneered advocacy efforts to include people with disabilities into mainstream society.

Photo of Lady Gaga with sunglasses and protecting her vision.

Other famous people with blindness include musicians Ray Charles, Ronnie Milsap and Stevie Wonder. Harriet Tubman’s dedication and mission to freeing slaves overcame the obstacles she faced with visual impairment and seizures. Claude Monet produced many famous paintings which he was able to complete through the vision contained in his imagination.

Your sight is an asset. Some millionaires, such as Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman, who are paranoid about an impending apocalypse, have sought out laser surgery to repair their vision. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he said in an article that appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The New Yorker . “Without them, I’m f***ed.”

Taking care of your vision

The aging process is the single biggest cause of vision impairment, known as presbyopia and which is the cause of my vision loss. A majority of people begin noticing significant changes in vision in their 40s and this continues until the 60s, when the changes stabilize. Yet, people can take many steps to protect their vision. According to the American Optometric Association, here are a few:

  • Diets high in lutein and zeaxanthin are shown to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Foods high in these nutrients include kale, spinach, corn, green peas, broccoli, romaine lettuce, eggs, and orange, among others.
  • Wear sunglasses while outside to avoid damaging ultraviolet rays.
  • Avoid injuring your eyes in work or recreational settings by wearing safety glasses.
  • Take frequent breaks and look at something else if you spend enormous amounts of time looking at digital screens.
  • Allow yourself to have comprehensive annual eye exams. Doctors of optometry can be a first line of defense in diagnosing systemic health problems such as diabetes which can destroy your vision, like it did for my family’s friend.
  • If you have visual impairments, wear your contacts and glasses. Fashion icons, such as Iris Apfel and former Friends stars Cortney Cox Arquette and Jennifer Anniston, and recent Oscar nominee and musician Lady Gaga have made wearing glasses cool.

Dorothy Parker, a critic and satirist, had a famous quote that “men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” This viewpoint is incorrect. Relationships with people with visual impairments offer an opportunity to see the world through a completely different set of eyes.

If you need support in creating a new vision for yourself, send an e-mail now to

Copyright 2019 Brenda Henning

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