Blind World Magazine

Blind couple have challenges to face, but they don't feel special.




Winston-Salem Journal, NC.
Thursday, April 27, 2006.




KERNERSVILLE - Rick Wells has an irreverent sense of humor.


"I'm the sober one. He brings out the best in people," said his wife, Alysia Wells.


Wells mows his large backyard with a robotic mower and does his front with a push mower. Ken Karns serves on the Mayor's Council for the Disabled with Rick Wells. He asked him how a blind man mows his own yard.


"Very carefully," Wells said.


Wells, a Kernersville native, has been blind since he was 31. He was found to have neurovascular glaucoma on his 29th birthday in 1981 and gradually lost sight in both of his eyes.


Alysia lost her sight as a toddler through cancer of the retina.


"Sometimes, I think it is easier to adjust if you grow up as a blind person. On the other hand, people with sight have more memories," said Alysia Wells, who works as a social worker with the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind in Winston-Salem.


Alysia Wells assists blind people or those losing their vision to maintain independent living within their homes or community.


The couple met through mutual friends. Rick Wells had visited the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market in Colfax when a woman approached him and started talking to him about his guide dog. She said she had a friend that Rick should call.


A few months later Rick attended a meeting at the Shepherd's Center about being visually impaired. At the meeting, he was told by another person that he ought to call Alysia.


After hearing about her for the second time from someone else, Rick decided to call her. They talked for 40 days before they met for their first date. With Alysia living in Winston-Salem and Rick in Kernersville, transportation for a date presented a challenge.


"Transportation is a huge, key issue with people with disabilities," Alysia Wells said.


However, the 40 days of conversation proved to be the beginning of their relationship. They married April 12, 1997, at Highland Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem before moving to Kernersville where Rick had been caring for his elderly father.


At the time, Trans-AID did not come to Kernersville and getting to work was a struggle for Alysia. Trans-AID now provides door-to-door service. Rick works at home in the computer field.


Alysia and Rick are do-it-yourself type of people, they say. While they have relied on transportation from others in the past, they prefer relying more on each other and their seeing-eye guide dogs, B.J. and John.


"The reality is that people have responsibilities in their own lives," Alysia Wells said.


The Wells said that there is nothing special about them. They enjoy American Idol and vote for their favorite contestants. They walk around town and go out to eat.


They live near a movie theater and will walk over for a movie that promises good dialogue. B.J. and John enjoy the movies, too, since it means snagging contraband treats such as dropped popcorn.


They have an excellent network of friends, and Rick is a gourmet cook. He serves on the town's Sidewalks and Greenways Committee. Alysia collects dolls and has a vast collection.


"I never had children so I was interested in dolls. Dolls satisfy my interest in fashion in texture and in faces. You know, it's not socially acceptable to touch children's faces," said Alysia, who relies on touch to give her an idea of what someone looks like.


Being blind does present certain challenges. While logistics can be difficult, the biggest problems come from dealing with the public, typically well-meaning people who are curious.


"It could be a full-time job (educating people). There is no end to the information that people want," Alysia said.


Rick rattled off a list of frustrations. Traffic tops the list. Loud radios block sounds he needs to hear to navigate. Hybrid cars are too quiet. Some people stop and wave him on by, an act Rick finds wryly ridiculous.


"Don't be so nice. Be normal. We know what to do," Rick said. "Our dogs have been trained for normal traffic. Just drive like you would without us there."


Another problem they encounter is when they are trying to pay at stores and people interrupt to pet the dog, a major faux pas when it comes to guide dogs.


The Wellses have a system of folding their money to keep denominations straight. Distractions can cause them to lose focus.


People who come up and just start talking to the couple without identifying themselves also bother the Wellses. They cannot remember every voice and appreciate people saying who they are before starting a conversation.


"By being blind, you become visible," Alysia said. "People interrupt you in restaurants to talk about your guide dogs. You just learn how to deal with people. "


Alysia said that people sometimes expect them "to have these unbelievable skills just because you're blind."


"We're not extraordinary," she said. "We're just ordinary people."



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