Sylvia Perez is an inspiration to any client seeking guidance and assistance from Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind. And she is part of a dynamic team that demonstrates through doing, proving that visual impairment, no matter the degree of vision loss, doesn't mean a life without quality and value.
Perez suffers from a condition since birth, leaving her with little to no central vision. She was forced to find ways to move around safely and function at her highest capacity despite challenges with her vision.
"I see just enough to get me into a lot of trouble," she laughed. "For me, vision is not a reliable sense."
Perez uses her service dog, Caramel, and assistive technology on her cell phone and computer to remain independent in her professional and personal life.
Perez, the executive director for Lighthouse, said that about 90 percent of the clients they serve are visually impaired, meaning they still have some remaining vision.
"We teach them to maximize the vision they have left," she said.
Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and the Blind is a facility that assists clients with visual impairments by offering training sessions to assist them in life lessons that help them function independently with typical life tasks. They hold trainings relating to safe meal preparation, safe traveling, assistive technology, and even evaluate the client's home to assist in life skills and improvements.
"For some of our clients, vision is reliable in certain situations but not in others," Perez said. Therefore, it is about finding their unique obstacles and helping them impose ways to get over them.
Older clients in particular want to use their remaining vision, Perez explained.
"We can teach all day the tactile skills and listening skills but they want to use their vision," she added.
Sometimes the problems are exacerbated by inadequate or bad lighting. Others might involve simply overcoming problems with "layering" by using techniques like contrasts to help the client see items better. Techniques like using a dark cup to pour lighter liquids or the opposite are good skills that assist in these tasks.
Lighthouse also offers certain products to aid in everyday tasks.
Administrative Assistant Sandy Eckert demonstrated some of the tools Lighthouse carries to assist clients. Items like writing guides, larger print calendars, clocks, watches and telephones with special adjustments are popular tools for the visually impaired.
Lighthouse offers a multitude of assistance in areas that tackle common problems that occur with the loss of vision.
Many clients have already discovered certain adaptation techniques before seeking assistance from Lighthouse. They just need them to be reinforced, Perez said.
"They need to know that what they are doing is right and now let's show you some more," she said. "The key things we teach here are organization skills, you've got to have a place for things; problem solving, figuring out a method; and creativity."
Laurel Brown, , has been legally blind since birth. Brown uses a seeing-eyed dog, Heidi, to assist her in getting around. She also depends heavily on assistive technology, like her iPhone, to help her stay connected.
Brown demonstrated how she trains clients in the use of their technical devises to assist them in their own independence.
Her experience in social work has helped her identify with her client's needs to stay independent and emotionally healthy as they learn new adaptation skills. Vision impairment is an emotional adjustment, Brown said.
On May 15, Lighthouse held a graduation celebration for clients who had recently completed a six-week life class. Twenty clients participated in the training that combined different life skills throughout one hour sessions held twice a week.
Lighthouse offers these training sessions about six times a year clients free of charge. At the end of each session, the facility holds a graduation for clients and their families.
In Hernando County alone, 5665 people are suffering with some sort of visual impairment. Just 930 are considered legally blind, meaning 4730 are impaired in some fashion.
Statistics also suggest that as many as 70 percent of those who suffer some visual impairment are unemployed.
Lighthouse is working hard to change that mindset by offering hope through resources many don't even know exist. They are a reliable resource for training, advocacy and assistance. And the program is free to those who simply have a doctor's note documenting their condition.
"Our primary goal is to give them back their independence," Perez said.
Lighthouse services Hernando, Pasco and Citrus Counties from two locations: 6492 California St. in Brooksville, (352)754-1132, and 8610 Galen Wilson Blvd., Port Richey, (727)815-0303. For more information, visit their website at www.lvib.org.