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Event helps remove obstacles for visually impaired


Conversations filled Hale Halawai Friday morning as residents learned about the various services and resources that exist for those who are blind or have limited vision. Connections were formed.

This Resource Day in Kailua-Kona is fueled by the West Hawaii Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii, an organization that believes diminishing vision doesn’t mandate a diminished life and that proper training can enable those visually impaired to stay involved and succeed in the sighted world, said Sally Hammond, the chapter’s president.

This was the second time the chapter held this kind of event. The goal was to try to help remove barriers preventing those who are blind or visually impaired from being independent, active and productive in society. The event also brought awareness to the organizations and resources available to support this population, as well as garnered greater attention to the issues they faced.

What Hammond said she wanted attendees to take away was a little bit more hope and confidence, along with a respite from worries, questions answered and new skills.

The event, which occurred during the Kona Blind and Low Vision Support Group’s monthly meeting, did not draw as many people as the chapter had hoped. Still, it was a day of discovery and empowerment for the seven attendees who eagerly visited the various booths.

The program gives people with visual impairments access to the library without having to leave their home. Once they complete the registration, which includes reading preferences and a certification by a medical doctor, these patrons will be given a digital talking book player and materials sent from the Hawaii State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Honolulu, all of which travel free of charge through the mail.

If something were to happen to the digital talking book player issued, the Hilo Public Library has spare machines. The Kailua-Kona Public Library also has someone available two days a week to teach people how to use the machines or troubleshoot them. Other services are offered for materials in large type and in braille.

Six months ago, Pat Stracner, a 89-year-old Kona resident with macular degeneration, started coming to the Kona Blind and Low Vision Support Group for a multitude of reasons. “It’s an outing,” she said. “You also learn you’re not the only one and all the information they give you is so helpful.”

Stracner came to the event without much expectation or an agenda. During her first go-around the room, she was pleased so many people enthusiastically sharing information about technology that’s opening up a new world and helpful techniques to gain greater independence.

“Vision should not stop you have doing anything, especially the intimidating,” she said.

However, Stracner was most impressed by Deep & Beyond, an organization that “creates opportunities for the disadvantaged and disabled to explore nature, participate in adventure activities and experience freedom.” While Stracner says she may never actually go snorkeling, she’s definitely interested in “wading in the water with these young folks.”

“I truly admire and have a profound respect for anyone who is willing help others in a positive and inspiring way,” she said. “I also think it’s important keeping your mind occupied by getting out, exercising and engaging with people.”

West Hawaii Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii has eight paid members. But roughly 12 to 20 people typically attend the support group’s meetings, happening at 10 a.m. on the first Thursday of the month at Hale Halawai. However, Hammond noted the next meeting is scheduled on Friday, April 1.

The chapter’s mission is to provide support, education, empowerment, fellowship, and consumer advocacy. It wants to continue expanding the Resource Day each year and always needs helping spreading awareness about the group’s existence, Hammond said.

The annual membership costs $10. You do not have be visually impaired to be a member. The chapter has also many supporters, including local Lions Club members.

For more information, call Hammond at 345-7065 or visit nfb-westhi.org.