Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lions Club donation help visually impaired man

Reading to his son, working with his coin collection: These are just some of the things Chris Collard could do using closed-circuit TV equipment in his home.

However, the $3,000 price tag for the magnification device -- whose computer display offers different color, background and text options and will zoom from four to 60 times -- is prohibitive. Even after the Traverse City resident's insurance company kicks in a third of the cost.

So Collard turned to the Traverse City Lions Club for help, which pledged another $1,000. He currently has a small, handheld magnifier that helps with his duties as a department manager at Glen's on Eighth Street. That equipment is good for reading only a small amount of information at a time and does not facilitate writing.

A home-based, larger magnifier would open new doors.

"I have a 2-year-old son and I'd like to be able to read to him," said Collard, who is legally blind but does not read Braille. "I have a coin collection and haven't been able to work on it for 10 years. I can't see the mint marks or dates."

To make up the remaining funds needed, Collard is also contacting other regional Lions Clubs for assistance. He learned about the volunteer service organization from the person selling the adaptive equipment and decided to apply for a grant.

"I never have done anything with the Lions Club before," he said. "I know they granted me a lot more than I was expecting to get. It makes a big difference."

With one of their missions to help visually impaired people, the international Lions Club was just the organization for Collard to call, Dr. Paul Hanrahan said.

A club member for 20 years and chairman of the local Sight and Hearing Committee, Hanrahan is an audiologist with the Hearing Clinic at Munson. The local Lions Club considers special targeted requests such as Collard's in addition to its other work, which includes providing 55 people with glasses so far this year.

"Some services will not be covered by normal rehab services or social services agencies," Hanrahan said. "We act as a last resort."

Also this fall, the Traverse City Lions Club received a request for adaptive equipment from Fran Schneider of Grawn. Visually impaired as an adult due to hereditary retinitis pigmentosa, Schneider applied for funding for JAWS software, which will verbalize e-mails and documents on a computer.

She also learned that her 10-year-old computer system was too outdated for the memory-intensive software. Throw in a hardware upgrade and the bill climbed to well over $1,000.

The Traverse City Lions Club granted $700 toward her request and Schneider has contacted other Lions Clubs for help. She has also applied for an assistive technology loan from the Michigan Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Schneider is patient but persistent as she pursues technology to boost her quality of life and ability to communicate with friends. The new software and hardware will also help her in her new part-time network marketing job.

"Right now I can't read e-mail and a lot of the time I can't see the screen," said Schneider, who also has a Leader Dog. "My vision fluctuates."

Both Schneider and Collard were invited to speak at a recent Lions Club of Traverse City meeting. They told members about the equipment they were seeking and its potential impact on their lives.
"The requests were something unusual for us," Hanrahan said.

Schneider is an active volunteer for the Leader Dog for the Blind School in Rochester Hills, which was founded in 1939 by three Lions Club members. Already familiar and a recipient of the support from Lions Clubs, which raises money for the school and attendees, she is an enthusiastic proponent of the charitable group.

"Oh, it's nice, it makes me feel good, (the Lions Club) was there to help me and now I can go out there and help them," said Schneider, who talks about Leader Dogs and the school to area schools and youth groups.

"I think it's one of the best organizations as far as running on donations that I've ever seen or heard of. They do an excellent job."


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