A New Look at Life
Aileen Young of Edmond is having a bad day. She always sewed clothes for her children, but today she can’t even cut a straight line. As a master duplicate bridge competitor, not being able to see the cards is another blow that brings her down. She can’t read anymore even though she’s surrounded by books.
“I’m just sitting here crying and asking, ‘why?’ Why can’t I do anything anymore?” Young said.
A year and a half ago, doctors told 83-year-old Aileen that her eyesight had deteriorated to the point that she couldn’t drive. They spent two minutes giving her that news, and that was it. No one pointed her to resources or help.
That all changed when a grief counselor recommended NewView Oklahoma to Young. NewView Oklahoma seeks to empower blind and vision impaired individuals to achieve their maximum potential through rehabilitation, employment and community outreach. “I went to New View and they helped me with new lighting in my house and advice,” said Young. “I recommend anyone with vision loss to contact them—they can help.”
Young isn’t alone. Every year, hundreds of Oklahomans with vision loss turn to the organization for not only vision rehabilitation, but employment opportunities and counseling.
NewView Oklahoma is a non-profit based in Oklahoma City that empowers the blind and those with vision impairment to live independently and live life to its fullest. It’s also the state’s largest employer of the blind and vision-impaired. The organization works with people from birth to end of life who suffer from vision problems.
“There are 55,000 people in Oklahoma who live with vision loss and more than 70 percent of them don’t have jobs,” said Sara Norton-Sanner, Development & Marketing Specialist for NewView Oklahoma. “It’s very difficult for those with vision loss to gain employment, not because they aren’t skilled, but because a lot of employers do not realize their capabilities.”
Part of NewView’s mission is to provide and find employment for adults with vision loss. With a manufacturing center in downtown Oklahoma City, NewView employs more than 100 people who are blind and vision impaired, training them to hold sophisticated manufacturing jobs.
“Our employees manufacture different products for governmental agencies, like fire hoses for the forestry service, Purell hand sanitizer, electronic dispensers, rations for the military and shower curtains for universities,” said Norton-Sanner. “We have a long list of products. We work with the National Industries for the Blind to get national contracts.” Other clients are placed in work environments at companies like Boeing. NewView works to train their clients to adapt to a work place while helping employers learn how to make that place accessible to those with vision loss.
“We also work in schools, universities and technical schools to make their programs more accessible too,” she said. “For instance, we have five new vision-impaired students who enrolled at Francis Tuttle this past fall after we worked with them on accessibility.”
NewView also provides vision rehabilitation services. Being low vision means having vision loss that is not correctable through glasses, contacts or surgery. “We work with them in a way that’s like physical therapy for the eyes,” Norton-Sanner said. “We teach them how to use their remaining vision to live independently. You can be legally blind and still have some vision left, but you just don’t know how to use that vision. We work to help people find different ways of doing things in order to remain independent.”
One of NewView’s clients, Adam Higby, has been at the organization since 2006. He wasn’t sure where he wanted his life to go and worked in several different areas of the organization.
“Adam has a genetic disorder that he inherited that affects his vision,” Norton-Sanner said. “Adam worked here, but just didn’t know where he fit.” The organization asked him if he wanted to learn how to operate a computerized numerical control machine. “For three years, he’s attended Francis Tuttle to learn how to operate the machine, and today, he operates that machine on a full-time basis,” Norton-Sanner said. “That’s part of what we do. We raise awareness on a lot of misconceptions about the vision-impaired.” Blind citizens have the same desires, dreams and wants as sighted people do, she said. NewView teaches them how to use every day items that most people take for granted in order to live a full life.
“They are 100 percent capable of doing what sighted people do, except drive,” Norton-Sanner said. “I work with the happiest people I’ve ever met. They are so thankful to have a job in the center. They are truly living life.”
For more information about NewView and its services, visit www.newviewoklahoma.org or call 405-232-4644.