Sunday, July 01, 2007

Soon to become visually impaired, a woman is searching for a new career

By the end of this year, Diane Anderson may not be able to see.

Anderson, 60, of Mountain Home, is living with a rare, genetic eye disorder that is taking away her sight, and her life as a professional artist.

But she is not giving up.

"To continue my life, I had to find a new way of living it," said Anderson, who is learning computer programs for the visually impaired to enable her to get another job.

About three years ago, Anderson started to notice changes in her vision. She found out her retina was deteriorating, and there was no treatment. Doctors hoped the deterioration would be slow, because the disease had been dormant.

But that was not the case. She now has 10 percent of her vision left and is expected to completely lose her sight by the end of the year.

"I started making changes," Anderson said.

For nearly 30 years, she worked full time as a professional artist painting watercolor landscapes. She planned to continue painting full time until she was 70.

"I planned to work full time because I love my career," she said. "Now I'm losing my career and I'm trying to find a new career. I don't want to retire."

Anderson realized she needed to relearn the most basic tasks, like pouring water, choosing coordinated clothing, or turning on the oven.

She headed to Lions World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, an adult rehabilitation center that serves people who are blind or visually impaired. The center, governed by the Lions of Arkansas, serves people in all the states and 57 countries.

"It affected my life greatly," said Anderson, who joined the Mountain Home Lions Club, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last week. "It was empowering."

She stayed at the Little Rock campus for one month, focusing on orientation, mobility and technology available to the blind. She chose to be blindfolded during exercises so she could learn how to go up stairs and navigate curbs and streets with the help of a white cane.

"It's my future," she said. "If I want to develop my career, I need to get around."

She's learned not being able to see takes more mental energy and more organization. With the help of her husband, Bill, her clothing colors are separated and cans are labeled in her pantry. Her watch has a button that reads the time back to her. She also started learning rudimentary Braille so she can find bathrooms and elevators in public places.

"Technology has opened up huge doors for the visually impaired," said Anderson. "So many things are available to the blind to make life easier."

Although Anderson has a positive outlook and sense of humor, at times she does feel sadness.
"I had many, many tears," she said, adding it is difficult knowing she may not see her grandchildren by Christmas. "It's a huge transition. I'm fortunate that by losing vision a little every day, it gives me a chance to adjust. It's a blessing, in a way."

She plans to start looking for a job in about six months, after she becomes completely skilled with new computer programs.

"I make myself move on and learn new skills," she said. "You have to keep learning new ways to express yourself. There's a lot I feel I can give back."


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