Saturday, April 12, 2008

Meeting address issues related to the visually impaired

State officials from the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired held a public forum Tuesday evening in an effort to better understand the concerns of residents from around the region dealing with the loss of vision.

More than 40 residents, service providers, job developers and division officials filled the American Legion hall in Brattleboro to discuss the needs assessment of the visually impaired in an open door environment.

"I'm very proud with the turnout and the people's ideas," said Fred Jones, director of the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which has four regional offices to cover Windham, Windsor and Orange counties. The division will hold similar events in other communities.

Because of transportation issues, the division thought Brattleboro would receive the best turnout, said Rebecca Bezanson, rehabilitation associate with the division.

By bringing people together for the needs assessment session, the division can explore options on what to improve and what to focus on for the future, she said.

"We want to be able to do (our jobs) the best we can," said Bezanson. With awareness of some of the programs offered, hopefully more residents will be able to take advantage of them, she added.
One of the major themes brought up during the discussion was that motorists were not yielding to people with white canes as they crossed the street.

"It has become a concern," said Bezanson. "People don't know what to do when they see a white cane."

Recently, a motorist in Rutland came close to striking a visually impaired person, destroying their white cane as they crossed the road.

According to officials in the division, it is Vermont state law to yield as a motorist to a white cane. To help spread awareness of the number of visually impaired residents out walking around the country, there is a nationwide White Cane Awareness Day held each October.

The main concern discussed at the meeting revolved around the educating the general public about the issues directly effecting residents with visual impairment.

Audience members said they wanted to see more education in the schools starting at a younger age, especially in the driver's education courses.

"The general public makes a lot of general assumptions," said Jones. "We want to change that."
Many audience members felt satisfied as they departed the meeting.

Springfield resident George Adnams said he thought it was a very informational session that will allow the state division to continue to make positive strides in the future.

"It is great the state is sponsoring this kind of event because it really gets down to the grassroots," said Brattleboro resident Jeffrey Rathlef, who has been legally blind since 2003.

This meeting helps give the state a sense of the different angles to address some of these issues, he said.

Prior to the discussion, Marianne and Sean Kelly entertained the group with their blend of Irish folk music. Prizes donated from a number of local businesses, including Harlow's Sugarhouse, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, Halladay's Florist and Gift Shop, The Book Cellar and Allen Bros, were also given out to participants.


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