By Bernadette Alexander
Glaucoma runs in my family on my mother’s side. My mother, grandmother, siblings and even third cousins have it. Although I was diagnosed over twenty years ago, I didn’t lose my vision until April 2017. It was devastating. I had a successful career as both a state administrator and Senior Workers Compensation Administrator for the Local Union #3 IBEW, and I had to retire. I had four surgeries and now have a very small amount of usable vision left. This led to depression; I cried continually and, often, I could not even get myself out of bed. I went from being able to hop into the car to go to work to having to rely on others for everything. Vision loss deprived me of my independence, my confidence and self-worth.
All of that changed when I decided to do something about my visual impairment. One day, out of despair, I called 311. They gave me the number for VISIONS—a 93-year old social service and vision rehabilitation nonprofit organization. VISIONS provides free services, in all five boroughs of New York City and in the surrounding suburbs, for individuals of all ages with vision loss. Their families and unpaid caregivers are given support as well. Services are offered in the home and in the community. In Manhattan there are locations at Selis Manor (community center and senior center) on West 23rd Street and at 500 Greenwich Street. There is also a year-round short-term residential training facility—VISIONS Center on Blindness (VCB) in Rockland County.
After speaking with a counselor at VISIONS, I got the courage to visit one of their offices. During my tour I met Rocky who is completely blind and a wheelchair user. Rocky had a family, a career, and was thriving. I felt like I was in the right place. I met people who were around the same age as me, recently retired, and new to vision loss. The staff and the members were so encouraging; they knew what it was like to lose your vision.
I started taking mobility lessons and got fitted for a long cane. The mobility lessons were life-changing. Now I am able to go to all nearby stores by myself, and I am constantly amazed by what one can do even with vision loss. Since visiting VISIONS I have taken dance lessons and performed at venues around the city. I have also tried camping. VISIONS has been a truly transformative experience.