Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Financial management course now offered to the visually impaired

Pam Boss began playing the piano in the third grade.

She went on to earn a degree in music from the University of Memphis in 1998 and currently works as a communications skills instructor at the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired.
Despite her accomplishments, Boss, 52, who is legally blind, sometimes relies on others to help her pay bills.

When I was blind ...

When she first started working, managing her finances was especially challenging, Boss said. Fortunately, she made friends with a trusted teller at her bank who helped her write checks and address bills, among other things.

"If it hadn't been that way, I don't know what I would have done," she said.

Though she now lives with family who help with her bills, Boss' situation is not unique in the blind and visually impaired community. Rose Landey hopes to change all of that by offering a financial education program at Clovernook that will begin at the end of this month. Landey, the center's fund development manager, knows how important financial independence is, whether an individual is visually impaired or not.

"Unfortunately, many of the problems the blind and visually impaired face, as far as financial literacy goes, are also faced by most of the Mid -South," Landey said. "It's not endemic to the blind and visually impaired."

The MoneySmart program, funded by an $20,000 grant from the United Way of the Mid-South, consists of a series of workshops that begin Aug. 31. Landey said the aim of the free program will be to offer classes with the right tools, so blind and visually impaired individuals can learn how to manage their finances despite their impairment. She said the classes will not involve counseling for personal financial problems, but that attendees would be welcome to talk to counselors before or after classes.

"Our mission is to promote independence and to foster the highest quality of life. And I think the first step in independence is financial independence."

- Rose Landey

Fund development manager for the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired
MoneySmart Program

Aug 31 - Gaining Valuable Budgeting SkillsOct. 5 - Choosing and Maintaining Your CreditNov. 2 - Improving Your Credit and Tips for a Finding Better JobNov. 9 - Holiday BudgetingAll classes are free and open to individuals with visual impairments. Participants are allowed one companion. Classes begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be held at the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired at 346 St. Paul Ave.To register for the program, call 523-9590. For more information on Clovernook, visit

On the agenda

The workshops will take place each month through November. Topics will include basic money management, choosing and maintaining credit, how to improve credit and holiday budgeting.
Representatives from ClearPoint Financial Solutions in Memphis will teach the workshops. ClearPoint is a Virginia-based organization that educates consumers about credit and helps them resolve financial problems. Ann Buggey, a financial specialist with ClearPoint, will be teaching some of the workshops.

"The information itself is just good information for everybody," Buggey said. "How we will present it will be really geared toward the blind and visually impaired."

Worksheets or PowerPoint presentations will be tailored to participants.

Some of the financial management tools already available to people in the blind and visually impaired community include guides that help with writing checks, writing letters and addressing envelopes. A guide instrument works by sitting on top of a check. Guides have openings in the spaces where a check would need to be filled out, such as for a signature. For those who have some sight, magnifying glasses can help. Computer software also can assist both blind and visually impaired people with other aspects of managing their finances.

Blind faith no more

Ken Hoover teaches computer technology at Clovernook. He said programs such as screen magnifiers can help those with visual impairments by making images on a computer screen appear from two to 20 times larger. He said screen readers such as JAWS - which stands for Job Access With Speech - particularly are helpful for those who are blind.

There are times, however, when people with visual impairments will need help no matter how independent they are. Boss gets help from her mother now that she lives at home. She said she is one of the lucky ones because she has someone she can trust to help her. Many people in the blind and visually impaired community do not, and she said it is that lack of trust that keeps many from even putting their money into a bank. Some people, Boss said, use money orders or only keep enough money in the bank to write checks. Banks such as First Tennessee and BancorpSouth have employees in place to help the visually impaired, Landey said.

Boss said at one time she kept a notebook in Braille as a way to keep track of her transactions. She said a problem for many people like her is that they don't have a good way to balance their checkbooks.

"A lot of people don't think about managing money," said Boss, who will be volunteering at the workshops. "I'm hoping this might help them to develop better financial habits."

Landey said that is exactly the goal of the workshops, which is right on a par with the goal of Clovernook. The center, which also has a campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, helps prepare blind and visually impaired people to be independent.

The center also provides jobs through its on-site production centers, where sighted, blind and visually impaired workers assemble paper cups and file folders.

The folders are produced for government agencies, doctors' offices and law offices. The cups are produced for businesses all over the country. The items are not sold through the center, but are produced and then sent to customers.

The center employs about 50 people, many of whom are blind or visually impaired.

"Our mission is to promote independence and to foster the highest quality of life," Landey said. "And I think the first step in independence is financial independence."


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