Help not far away for blind

Published 2:07 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

Jan Bailey, who has been blind since infancy, stands by as Lura Hansen, background looks for items at Wal-Mart Thursday morning. Bailey leads a group for senior citizens who are battling with the effects of macular degeneration. - Eric Johnson/

When someone is going blind, that person often feels as though he or she is the only one experiencing such hardship.

That’s what Jan Bailey and members in her Blindness Adjustment Class said Thursday at their final meeting at First United Methodist Church in Austin. But one of the first things Bailey’s class offers is strength in numbers.

“It’s depressing,” Marlyss Thompson of Hayfield said about losing her eyesight. She’s been attending Bailey’s eight-week class and learning to not only cope with the hardship, but to move forward in a practical manner.

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Thompson can still see, but she — like others in the group — has a tough time seeing things close up. It’s particularly frustrating for Thompson because she loves to read.

That’s where Bailey comes in. She’s been blind her whole life. She, like roughly 50,000 other babies at the time, received too much oxygen in the hospital and became blind. So for many years, Bailey has been helping others deal with vision loss. Often, people who aren’t completely blind give up on their abilities.

“People begin to think, ‘I can’t do that anymore,’” Bailey said.

For the past year, she’s been teaching a class on her own. She holds the classes at area churches or community centers where there’s adequate facilities, like kitchens with tables, chairs and normal obstacles to move around.

Although most attendants in her class go through macular degeneration and still have some vision, they need to know the same skills Bailey does.

“You can’t always do things based on how well you can see,” Bailey said.

For a portion of the classes, Bailey’s students wore masks over their eyes to simulate complete blindess. They learned techniques for setting stoves, setting thermostats, measuring ingredients, setting timers, working locks, getting toothpaste on brushes and even writing checks and identifying money.

Bailey arms her blindness adjustment class with many tools. She’s helped her students find the resources to order many different products that see where they can’t.

One of those tools includes a writing template for checks and letters.

“They can write, but they can’t see what they’ve written,” Bailey said and added the main problem is writing over what they’ve already written. The templates have openings for every other line of paper, so writers can’t write over what they’ve already written.

Bailey’s also taught the members many skills with their hands. The group has learned to fold cash in ways to identify different amounts, keep toothpaste from falling off the brush and even cook complex meals. Cooking was a large part of the course. Although it started out with making sandwiches, it expanded to include salads, baked cookies and even hamburger soup.

Furthermore, the group learned of items like talking color identifiers, talking watches, money identifiers and reading machines. But first, they learned how to get along without those things.

Along with Thompson, Nora Carey, Lura Hansen, Lucille Wollenburg and Margaret Branden were most surprised by the improvements they made in just eight weeks.

After all they learned, the group was able to go shopping on its last day and learn how to get help from others in public and build confidence. That part is Bailey’s favorite reward of the class.

“I really enjoy teaching these classes because I find the people build confidence,” she said.

The expansive set of skills the members acquired improved their independence — and their mood. And confidence was glowing in the room before the group set out for its final task.

“I lost my independence before all this,” Nora Carey said about the class. “I didn’t know what to do or how to do anything. Now I can do whatever I want.”

Jan Bailey holds classes whenever she gathers enough participants in one area. To join one of her classes, contact Services for the Blind at 507-285-7284.