Sunday, December 14, 2008

St. Louis visually impaired community faces poverty

As the former CEO of Productive Futures, an employment and training agency serving needy citizens in St. Louis, our agency "bit the bullet" on finding jobs that made a difference in the lives of the poor. For 23 years, we challenged employers, educators and the city to take bold steps to address the severe poverty in St. Louis.

With the current recession, there probably will be a significant increase in the number of laid-off workers, and those who are poor will become poorer.The inclination may be to address the "more attractive" laid-off workers from local corporations and major employers, but those hit with the most severe blows do not have Civic Progress as advocates. Representatives in local government, the faith-based community and social services will need to step up their efforts to ensure that more than lip service is given to those most in need.

Sadly, our record of advocacy for the poor has been less than stellar. Not unlike New Orleans, our region has been in a state of denial about the severity of poverty in our midst. It is time for bold leadership and programming on this issue without the constant inclination to blame the poor for their status.

Poverty in St. Louis must be addressed openly and honestly before the poor become the destitute and the homeless increase in numbers not seen in decades. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report on poverty in the nation. It should be required reading for all politicians, social workers and policy analysts in St. Louis.

The first step for St. Louis is to admit there is a poverty problem — a big one that requires a bold agenda and action plan.Services to the poor cannot be politicized at a time like this. Stretching for quality in service and accountability for results is the only way to put integrity into our action plan for the poor. Sadly, more will be required of the poor than is required of those major corporations that are standing in line for a "bailout." Maybe the contrast will give us pause to reflect on who and what we value and how we will respond.

My best hope is that a master plan to fight poverty in St. Louis with political and corporate backbone will emerge. My heart tells me that the current system of using money for the poor as political advantage will continue. Let us pray....Cecilia Nadal St. Louis Help is availablefor low visionRegarding "Vision-impaired get tips to run their own households, live" (Nov. 26): The program described is not "the only one of its kind in St. Louis."

St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides a more comprehensive program than the one featured.We serve more than 1,200 individuals annually, with the majority having some vision. In addition to the services featured in the article, we use certified vision rehabilitation therapists and provide:

— A low vision clinic with a physician and certified therapists to assess remaining vision and what aids may be helpful.

— Social work, support groups and family education activities.

— Recreation and leisure activities to address social isolation.

— Certified orientation and mobility specialists to assist individuals in getting around the home and community in a safe manner, including use of public transportation and a white cane, if needed.

— Adaptive technology specialists to work with clients to use computers, access the Internet and communicate via e-mail.Services are available to anyone, regardless of Medicare or insurance and are provided at no charge to the individual.

A physician's referral is not required.Although the story indicated that about 3.5 million people nationally are visually impaired, our estimates are that there are more than 42,000 individuals over the age of 35 in St. Louis alone with low vision. With baby boomers getting older, this number is expected to double in the next 10 years.

This is an important health issue. Comprehensive help is available by calling the Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired at 314-968-9000, or

David C. Ekin St. LouisPresident, St. Louis Society for the Blindand Visually Impaired


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