Blind, but still capable
Some navigate their lives with a little help from friends, technology
By Sarah Shonyo
By most measures, Jan Bailey had a normal childhood.
The fourth of nine children, Bailey credits much of her independent and outgoing personality to growing up among so many siblings.
One distinguishing characteristic, however, has always set her apart. Bailey is blind.
Bailey was born with sight three months premature in St. Paul. Her tiny body, however, was given too much oxygen while in the incubator, causing her retinae to detach. This disorder, known as retinopathy of prematurity, has resulted in thousands of infants losing their sight, including musical legend Stevie Wonder.
"I have no memory of sight," Bailey said, "but that never stopped me from wanting to do the same things as my siblings."
Bailey’s parents didn’t treat her as disabled. They encouraged her to learn and do the same things as her sighted peers. This expectation of achievement carried Bailey through adolescence and into adulthood. After graduating from college in 1978, Bailey moved to Rochester and began her career as a rehabilitation counselor for the blind.
"I work with people who are either blind or severely visually impaired," Bailey said. "A lot of what I do is adjustment to blindness training."
Adjustment to blindness training refers to the practice of showing people who either face inevitable blindness or who have recently gone blind new methods of doing things. This process has become far easier with improved technology.
"Technology has made it possible for me to independently use e-mail, fill out electronic forms and research on the Internet," Bailey said. "I can do 98 percent of my paperwork without any assistance."
Even household activities such as cooking and laundry are possible through a combination of technology, such as a talking timer, and personal cues.
"I know that when I turn my stove on, it’s at 175 degrees," Bailey said. "Then I turn it 37 clicks to reach 350 degrees."
Bailey uses a cane while walking whenever she leaves her home.
Marvin Langanki of Rochester, on the other hand, prefers to use a service dog.
Langanki lost his sight after a 1982 head trauma and has used service dogs since 1987.
Merc, Langanki’s 7-year-old black lab, responds to voice commands directing him to, among other things, move forward, stop or turn right or left. Even something as seemingly innocuous as crossing the street requires a complex system of communication between Langanki and Merc.
"My dog is basically there to protect my life," Langanki said. "I have to trust him to keep me safe."