INSIGHT - The Iris Network's Newsletter for All - Spring 2016

A pdf of this newsletter is available by clicking here

Working with Vision Loss

Shirley Featherson’s work is essential to operate ROOFA

Shirley Featherson’s work is essential to operate ROOFA

“My father and my brother both lost their vision to retinitis pigmentosa,” said Shirley Featherson of Westbrook, Maine. “But when my vision started going, I was a little stubborn.” Coming to grips with the prospect of losing one’s vision is not easy. “Thank God my son doesn’t have it,” she said.

But Shirley eventually did come to grips with it. That was 25 years ago, when The Iris Network was still known as the Maine Center for the Blind. She received vocational training and learned techniques for independent living.

The Iris Network became the place she continued to turn to as her vision continued to decline. “At first, when I was still able to read large print, they got me using a video magnifier.” She got a job in the accounting department at a bank. Her next job was as a transcriptionist, typing up reports at an employment agency. By the time she met her current boss and beau, nine years ago, she had lost all usable vision, but she had gained a sense of confidence in her job skills.

“When Dan Wilson, The ROOFA, asked me if I wanted to work at the office, I said, ‘YES!’ I come in in the morning, check all the messages on the phone, and answer all the phone calls coming in throughout the day. I contact the customers to get all the info that’s needed, and set up appointments for Dan to go check out. All the scheduling — everything has to go through me. If they contact Dan and they don’t contact me, it doesn’t happen!”

She is very grateful for the help she received from The Iris Network. “I had a coach and mentor who really helped me. Initially, we worked on setting up the office, formatting the forms I would need — all the contracts, invoices, brochures and literature. It was a great help. I still call on her every once in a while when I need help with something.”

Although she received white cane training through The Iris Network, she admits she doesn’t use it regularly. “I’m usually with other people who guide me. But sometimes, when someone is trying to be helpful, they end up just pulling me around, and that’s not comfortable for me. I try to tell them the right way to guide someone who is blind is just to have them hold your elbow. But I know they mean well.” 

Shirley hopes people understand how important The Iris Network is for people who are blind. “I do believe this program is vital to the community. There are people with visual impairments who really want to get a job. And there are others who have a job and are trying to keep it while they adapt to losing their vision.”

Coming to grips with losing one’s vision isn’t easy. But thanks to the community’s support of The Iris Network, it works!

A Message from the Executive Director

Dear Friends of The Iris Network,

The Iris Network’s Access Technology and Employment Service (ATES) puts Mainers with vision loss “at ease” with the assistive technology that is key to enabling people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve their goals for independent living and competitive employment in the 21st century. 

Access technology, and the training we offer to use it efficiently, removes many of the barriers to employment experienced by individuals with low vision or blindness. In addition to training in access technology, ATES offers job development and job coaching services to the blind or visually impaired job seeker. ATES is also a resource for business by providing job analysis to locate positions most accessible to individuals with vision loss and to offer recommendations for workplace accommodations when needed. For example, we are planning to partner with Maine companies expanding their workforce, particularly in the area of call center work.

As ATES clients develop confidence and the skills they need to gain or retain employment, Maine employers benefit. Studies show that hiring someone with vision loss is cost effective as they prove to be productive, loyal, long-term employees. Our goal is to assist individuals with vision loss to become tax paying members of a vibrant, healthy community.

While government funding is available for vocational   rehabilitation clients with employment goals, ATES services are also valuable for seniors who can benefit from 21st century assistive technology to keep in touch with their families, accomplish shopping chores on-line, take care of on-line banking business, and schedule their medical and other appointments, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, insufficient government funding is available to meet the assistive technology needs of our independent living clients. While grants cover some of the costs to purchase technology for clients on limited, fixed incomes, we need and deeply appreciate support from our donors to expand our capacity to teach seniors dealing with vision loss how to use assistive technology to achieve their independent living goals.

Very truly yours,

Jim Phipps
President & Executive Director

Special Events 

Come walk with us on October 15, 2016!As you can imagine, losing vision can be a most difficult and challenging time. With support from the community, together, people can be empowered to re-claim their lives.

Come join us or donate for the White Cane Walk for Independence, scheduled for Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 10:00 at The Iris Network – 189 Park Ave in Portland, Maine. Registration fees are instrumental in helping us to deliver vital services and programs for people facing vision loss.

An important purpose of the Walk is to promote awareness of Maine's White Cane Law, enacted on September 18, 1999. The law, designed to ensure independent and safe travel for people walking with a white cane and guide dogs, requires motorists to yield the right-of-way.

Failure to do so is an infraction punishable with a fine. Our Walk will raise money for our programs which assist the blind and visually impaired to remain independent, stay safe, and in turn strengthen our community.


 Why I Give: Michael DeAngelis

Why I Give

Michael DeAngelis has been a longstanding supporter of The Iris Network. “They’re literally in my backyard — I live a few blocks away. Driving by, I could see people going in and out, and I knew they had a good reputation for helping people.” Giving locally is one way Michael supports his community.

“When you give locally, you can see the result of the work that’s being performed. You know your donation isn’t going all over the world and getting lost,” he said. “You hear about big organizations where the administration makes exorbitant amounts of money and only a small amount goes to the actual need. I believe that’s not happening here. I have always understood that I can tour the facility and look at the books. I feel confident that this organization is using the money effectively. Once an individual feels comfortable that the donation is being used effectively and directly for the cause, it is typically a lot easier to keep giving.”

“I believe it is important to help as much as possible now, because of the immediate need, but I also support providing donations through estate planning and when the conversation arises, I encourage my friends to give in both these manners,” he said.

For a nonprofit organization that depends on the generosity of its donors, Michael’s perspective is valuable and much appreciated.

Giving Consumers a LIFT Up 

A person who is visually impaired using a video magnifier.
A person who is visually impaired using a video magnifier.

“Blindness is not the end of the world,” said Mimi Havinga, of Brunswick, Maine. “But you not only have to have hope, you have to take charge of your life.” The 93-year-old first came to America when she was 17 from Holland. She had $25 in her pocket, and even though she had no coat or job, she spent $10 on a plane ticket to New York City. That was the beginning of a very interesting life.

Today, she has lost most of her sight to macular degeneration, but counts herself lucky. “There are so many other people who are ill or have lost their mental capacity. I’m doing fine. I tell people I meet who are struggling with their vision, ‘Don’t worry. If you have The Iris Network, you’ll be fine. They will help you learn to do almost anything.’ It’s really a wonderful organization.”

Mimi loves people and describes herself as a “mother hen” whom others can depend on. She tries to help out however she can. “I live in an old folks home,” she said. “There are several people here who are losing their vision. I tell them, ‘You’re doing well. Keep going. Work on it.’ I was that way myself, at first. But people at The Iris Network encouraged me to keep going until I got my confidence back.” Armed with the right tools and skills, her life is simpler and more enjoyable. She is able to be less dependent on others.

In addition to helping her organize her home, use templates for writing letters and checks, and learning other daily living techniques, Mimi was able to explore technology that would make her life easier. “The Iris Network got me a talking wrist watch and a video magnifier so now I can read a book and a newspaper,” she said. “I love to read.”

Like Mimi, another client who wanted to remain anonymous, is amazing. Although she is in her 80s, and has limited vision, she is incredibly independent. She immigrated from another country, and although she has lived here many years, she wanted to improve her English. She started taking lessons, but was struggling to see in class.

The Iris Network introduced her to an electronic video magnifier she can use to see text, photos, or graphics. Like many specialized devices, it is expensive, so The Iris Network’s Access Technology & Employment Services program purchased it for her through the Low Income Fund for Tools (LIFT). The LIFT Fund supported by generous individuals and local foundations, is a godsend to seniors and others who are on limited incomes. 

She is already using the device to study English in preparation for her next semester in college. She said, “I’m so grateful to be able to have the equipment I need, when I thought I couldn’t afford it.”

These are just two examples of seniors who are showing the rest of us how to live a quality life despite the challenges of vision loss. They are grateful to the many caring people who support the LIFT Fund and make it possible for those on limited incomes to get the tools they need to lead a full life, for daily functioning, connection, hobbies and enjoyment. 


If you know someone who is being challenged by vision loss, call The Iris Network at (207) 774-6273 or (800) 715-0097. For more information, our website is www.theiris.org.


Related Summer 2016 Newsletter Links

COME WALK WITH US on October 15, 2016!


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