Blind World Magazine

Canes and computers help blind veterans to cope.

Appleton Post-Crescent, Wisconsin.
Sunday, May 28, 2006.

CHICAGO - A year before the end of hostilities in World War II, two U.S. Army soldiers were asked to help blind veterans use long canes to get around.

Cpl. Richard Hoover and Technical Sgt. C. Warren Bledsoe, both experienced in working with the blind, were working to fulfill their task by war's end in 1945.

By 1948, when Bledsoe was assigned to establish a blind center at the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in Hines, Ill., the use of long canes - the red-tipped, white poles now commonly used by people with visual impairments - was being refined to an art.

Today, canes are just one of many specialized tools Hines uses to help veterans, from World War II through the ongoing war on terrorism, cope with life without sight.

State-of-the-art computers allow veterans to read magazines and newspapers by sight or by voice-activated audio transcriptions. Braille tape measures and levels give audio signals for blind carpenters and woodworkers, And global positioning system devices assist in travel.

"I can teach completely blind individuals how to rewire their homes. I also teach folks how to hammer nails without seeing the hammer or nail and still not hurt themselves," said Samuel Janusauskas, a teacher and counselor at Hines who is leading the rehabilitation of Andrew Neumeyer of Neenah, injured Jan. 31 in a roadside bombing near Baghdad.

Every veteran at Hines, ranging in age from 18 to 98, is legally blind, although not all are completely sightless, said Jerry Schutter, who manages day-to-day activities at the center.

"Eighty-five percent of people who are legally blind have some useful vision, even a vision arc of 20 degrees, which is like looking through a straw," Schutter said.

Veterans attend daylong classes during stays at Hines that range from several days to several months.

They learn skills including orientation, mobility, independent living, communication, visual skills for those with some remaining vision, and manual skills such as woodworking, leathercraft, metal working and mechanics.

"We teach the veterans things like how to fill a glass of water without it overflowing," Janusauskas said, describing how a battery-operated indicator placed on the glass sounds when the poured water reaches the top.

The veterans stay in college dorm-type rooms, Schutter said.

"Our program is more like a school and unlike a hospital. Our job is to keep the veterans out of their rooms," Schutter said.

"The idea is they are up and doing things for themselves. That's the goal . to make them more safe, independent and confident to do whatever they want to do."

Before 1948, blind veterans essentially were warehoused in group settings, Schutter said.

"They were keeping them in nice accommodations," he said, "but not teaching them skills that allowed them to be independent and able to go home."

End of article.

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