Vision loss has affected at least 9,000 Utahns, and probably many more. For people who have recently lost their eyesight, it can feel like a tragedy. Everette Bacon, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Utah, has a very different view of blindness. It’s a vision he hopes to share with the blind, their families and their service providers during an upcoming convention in Salt Lake City.
“I come from a long line of hereditary blindness,” Bacon said. “I don’t remember seeing anything past the age of 40.”
He works for the state of Utah’s Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. But before that, he had a different job.
“I had lost a job due to the fact that my vision had started to decrease and my job didn’t know how I was going to do the job anymore and they let me go," he said. "It was a real traumatic experience. And the National Federation of the Blind reached out to me and told me about how this advocacy organization works to help change what it means to be blind and shows blind people how they can still live independently and still work independently. And it really kind of spoke to me and I really got involved in the organization.“
Now, as president of NFB of Utah, he is reaching out to people all over the state. The organization will hold its annual convention on April 11 through the 13 in the Salt Lake City Sheraton.
“Our main goal is to help blind people understand, and the sighted community understand, that blindness does not have to hold anyone back from the life they want to live,” he said. “We also raise expectations of individuals who are blind or have low vision, or people that serve the blind or low vision, we want to try to raise expectations because we know that low expectations create barriers and obstacles between people and achieving their dreams.
“You’ll have 200 blind people in one place, and that’s kind of fun, to see a lot of canes and guide dogs, people that are still at a level where they cannot travel independently. And so you have people of all different walks of life, of all different levels of independence, and it’s a great place for individuals that don’t know a lot about blindness to learn about it.”
Utah has many residents who are dealing with vision loss, but they don’t all seek services to help them with the transition.
“At the Division of Services for the Blind where I work, we keep a database of people we serve. That database is well over 9,000," Bacon said. "You have to think, blindness and low vision is something that is so much more widespread. It’s a disability that a lot of people have trouble admitting that they have, especially elderly folks that have started to lose vision late in life, and they’ve lived with perfect or relatively good vision for many, many years, and all of the sudden they’re starting to lose vision and it’s creating obstacles for them in their lives.”
The convention will cater to people wherever they are on their journey.
“Our general sessions are going to focus on all kinds of different levels. We’re going to talk about how a person that’s new to low vision or new to blindness, what types of resources are available to them, here on a local level and on a national level,” Bacon said.
Attendees can also look at high- and low-tech solutions.
"We offer an exhibit hall that we call it, and we have different technology vendors that offer all kinds of assistive technology products, anywhere from basic magnifiers and aides and appliances, all the way to electronic video magnifiers, braille displays, talking computers, iPhones that are completely accessible, you name it, we try to find ways to make it accessible.
Attendees may also find a new role model or two.
“We have, in Utah, we have individuals who are lawyers, who are professors at both Salt Lake Community College, Utah State University, we have blind people who are rehabilitation counselors, computer programmers, video game creators."
For more information about the NFB convention, visit their webpage.
For more information about services for the blind in Utah, visit their website.
Music credit: “Will Play Wonderwall for Food” by Dr. Turtle.