Saturday, January 20, 2007

Woman helps out the visually impaired

Janet Dylla is in the business of helping people make the most of what they have.
She started Desert Low Vision Services in 1999 because she had experience in the field and wanted to continue to help those with vision impairment.

She serves about 500 clients a year, many of whom are legally blind, but she can help them read a newspaper and do other daily tasks. She said visitors to her office range in age from 5 to 108. Although she does some radio advertising, most of her clients come by referral from eye doctors and by word of mouth, she added.

Her mission, she said, is to help make people "more independent at home, more functional at work and more successful in school."

The business was a logical choice for her since she had long been interested in nursing and rehabilitation. She ran the eye center at St. Joseph's Hospital until it closed in the late '90s.
At her small office, she showed a visitor a device that looks like a scanner that can put text from a book up on a screen in large type while the book is read aloud in a pleasant human voice _ your choice of American, British or Australian English and several other languages. The device, which sells for about $2,800, comes with 40 public-domain book titles by authors such as Zane Grey, Mark Twain and Jules Verne.

A small retail area of her office has products such as phones, clocks and TV remotes with extra-large numerals, talking scales, tape measures that can be read by touch and Monopoly games in Braille.

Helping with product selection is her purchasing manager, Tom Northrop, who also happens to be her husband.

Northrop helps define the mission of the business, Dylla said, which is to help clients maintain hope and a positive attitude. Northrop is legally blind and was told as a graduate student in 1978, when visiting a doctor about vision complaints, to just "get a dog and learn Braille." He said he was so angry at the time that he just drove himself home, safely as it turned out.

Now, Dylla wants to help clients "use their remaining vision in the best way possible" using available tools and techniques.

She dismissed a question about profitability of the business and answered simply, "We make a living."

Satisfaction for Dylla comes from clients who return for more help as they adapt to vision impairment, she said.

One of those clients, Karen Conant, said she has gotten several kinds of visual aids from Dylla's office over the years.

"If it wasn't for some of the things I get there, I couldn't do my job," said Conant, who is legally blind and a clerk in a government office in downtown Tucson.

Dylla noted that many people are involved in helping her clients.

"We are a small piece of vision rehabilitation," she said.

Doctors, optometrists, counselors and other professionals help the visually impaired and blind, she added.

"We are just one step in the process."


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