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Lighthouse to debunk low-vision myths

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NEW PORT RICHEY — Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind hopes to shine a light on misconceptions during Low Vision Awareness Month in February.

Individuals with low vision have partial sight that cannot be corrected with surgery, medications, contact lenses, or glasses, Sylvia Perez explained as Lighthouse executive director.

About 10 million people in the United States live with low vision who often underestimate their abilities, Perez estimates. While low vision interferes with daily activities, it is not the same as being blind. Special tools can help people with low vision.

“I have been visually impaired (and living with low vision) my entire life, over 40 years,” Perez wrote in her blog a few weeks ago.

She added: “Yes, there have been many challenges. No, it has not been easy. Yes, I live a normal life and know anyone can do the same. I have an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has resulted in progressive vision loss over my adult years. The adjustment to vision loss has often been difficult, but with good role models, training, and skill development I have learned to adapt and manage.”

Low vision, defined as 20/50 or worse, is not a natural part of aging, Perez said, much to the surprise of many people. The most common causes of low vision are glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Early diagnosis increases the chance of retaining your remaining vision.

Early warning signs of low vision include having difficulty recognizing faces, even with glasses. Reading, cooking, sewing, doing household chores, matching the colors of clothes, working at the office or at home because the lights seem dim and reading street signs or store names are all indicators of a possible vision problem.

To protect eyesight, Lighthouse officials urge people to schedule routine eye examinations, maintain normal blood pressure, protect eyes from the sun and injury, quit smoking and eat a nutritious diet.

People with vision impairment can turn to large-print reading materials, magnifying aids, video magnification, audio books, electronic reading machines, and computers with large print and text-to-speech software.

Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano and his staff promoted the “A State of Vision” specialty license plate during January.

Customers who wish to purchase a specialty tag pay a fee above the normal renewal cost for the plate. For the “State of Vision” tag, the fee is an annual donation of $25.

Customers may also choose to make a charitable donation to the Lighthouse’s Blind Babies and Blind Youth Services Program via the $1 check-off program upon renewal of a tag or through a direct cash donation accepted at the tax collector’s office.

Lighthouse offers many services for low vision or blind individuals who live in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. The nonprofit agency regularly schedules Independent Living Skills Classes. Training includes medication management, meal preparation, writing checks, and the use of assistive technology, computers, Braille, and the white cane.

The program takes each client through a process of self-discovery, emotional acceptance and skill acquisition to achieve maximum independence, Perez added.

The Lighthouse Opportunity Center at 5944 Pine Hill Road, Port Richey, opened in April 2012 to help supply jobs for workers with vision problems.

Each year, Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind officials organize White Cane Awareness Day. In 2013, New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart and Shawn Foster, from the Pasco lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group, donned thick blindfolds to block their vision entirely and then tried navigating the crosswalk using white canes. Both men serve on the Lighthouse board of directors.

At Easter, Lighthouse doesn’t want their youngest member to feel left out. So the agency has its own Easter egg hunt, with plastic eggs that emit a beeping noise so the children could locate them by sound..

Perez began writing a new Lighthouse blog this month, “Living With Low Vision” at www.livingwithlowvision.wordpress.com/author/lighthousepasco.

People can visit the local facility at 8610 Galen Wilson Blvd., Port Richey.

For more information call, toll free, (866) 962-5254 or go to the Lighthouse website at www.lvib.org.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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