September 25, 2018

A pdf of this newsletter is available by clicking here 

Note from the President

We see it every day—renewed hope within those we serve and their incredible gratitude for their newly acquired independence. This is our chance to share that gratitude with you because you make it all possible.

I know that with irreparable vision loss and blindness, much of the hope for an individual’s future lies in education. Because of generous friends like you, programs like our Rehabilitation Center and the Low Vision Clinic open doors for so many friends, family, and neighbors who are visually impaired, and who may not have known that a better quality of life exists. Many of these individuals can read again, navigate their homes and cities, re-enter the work force, and engage in their communities in so many other ways.

We couldn’t do it without you. Your support turns life with vision loss into living with vision loss.

I hope you enjoy the enclosed stories of hope, strength, and gratitude as much as I enjoy sharing them with you. Thank you for being part of this life-changing team!

By Dr. David Barnwell, President/Executive Director 


“Thirty years later, I’m still so grateful!”

I came to The Iris Network for some help with my visual impairment…I left with so much more.

When I was 19, my vision loss started. My uveitis, in my case, caused by arthritis, progressed and by age 55, I was totally blind. As soon as I arrived at The Iris Network, I knew I was getting so much more than training in Braille and equipment—I was getting my life back.

Iris helped me learn Braille, how to mark and label my appliances, and how to navigate with a white cane. But it was the opportunities for social engagement that really changed my life. First, I joined a craft group on their campus in Portland, Maine. Then I was taught how to use JAWS, a screen reader program for my computer—and the whole world opened back up for me.

Thanks to JAWS and other book reader software, I’m part of an international online book club for the visually impaired called Out of Sight. We meet once a month and pick three hefty books from the National Library Service for the Blind to read and discuss. I get to read books that I normally wouldn’t select for myself. More importantly, I’m part of a community in which we challenge each other and share our thoughts and experiences.

I’m so thankful that The Iris Network was there for me all those years ago and that I’m still benefiting from the technology they taught me. And I’m so grateful for you—for making their life-changing work possible with your support.

By Linda Knights, Maine

What is uveitis?

Uveitis is an uncommon inflammation of some inner parts of the eye. The effects of the inflammation can cause damage to the retina or outer coats of the eye. In a small number of patients, this can result in visual impairment. An acute flare-up of uveitis can be suppressed with steroid treatment, but sometimes the resulting vision loss is untreatable.

At The Iris Network, we focus on people with vision loss that is beyond treatment—and how we can help them see better when they can’t get better. With your help, we make improved life quality for neighbors like Linda a real possibility.

By Dr. A. Jan Berlin, MD Ophthalmologist


Following Helen Keller’s footsteps in Maine

It’s hard to imagine that independence, work opportunity, and education were not always available to the blind in Maine. In 1905, when The Iris Network was the Maine Institution for the Blind, Secretary William J. Ryan received a letter from Helen Keller herself. In this letter, and 34 years later in a visit to the Maine House of Representatives, Keller passionately called for the government to fund services for the blind. She said that “the cruelest misery is dependence on others” and that with the proper resources and funding, Maine’s visually impaired population could be productive members of society. True happiness, she said, comes from “self-competence” and the ability to remain independent.

Helen Keller thought of Maine as “the starting point of many great ideas that should move in a wave across the country, all the way to California.” Her call to action lives on today, inspiring people like the Women’s Auxiliary of the Westbrook Eagles (Westbrook, ME).

Recently, the group hosted a fundraising dinner to help a woman who hasn’t been able to see her grandchild’s face since losing her vision. The money raised will go toward equipment that would enable her to see. When the Women’s Auxiliary presented The Iris Network with a check for $1,000 to fund the device, the impact “gave them chills,” knowing this grandmother would finally be able to recognize her grandchild.

This inspiring group gave the gift of true happiness, like Keller described all those years ago. To follow in Helen Keller and the Women’s Auxiliary’s footsteps—and make independence and joy a reality for the visually impaired—visit theiris.org/donate to make a generous donation. 

“I want to tell the world—you changed my life!”

Pamela had given up. Once her vision loss had progressed to near total blindness, she shut herself off from the world. “I couldn’t read a menu. I couldn’t sew a button. I could no longer see my grandchildren,” Pamela recalls. She didn’t want to go to another doctor appointment, and was afraid that her upcoming trip to the Low Vision Clinic at The Iris Network would be a waste of time.

“I almost didn’t go, and I am so happy that I did. Dr. A. Jan Berlin and Sherry Boothby were so patient and knowledgeable. Dr. Berlin educated me so much on my condition. And Sherry took the time to show me video magnifiers and other equipment they had in the clinic until we decided what was right for me.”

Originally, all Pamela wanted was a pair of magnifying glasses. When she came home with a portable video magnifier, her entire world changed.

“My husband used to print everything out in one-inch tall font. Within a few days of using my video magnifier, I was reading the nutritional facts on the back of a can of Altoids,” she recalls joyfully.

Before her visit to The Iris Network, a stack of her beloved books of poetry sat ready to be given away. “I couldn’t read them myself, and if someone else tried to read them to me, the rhythm of the poems just wasn’t right. I’m so glad I kept them because with my video magnifier, I can enjoy poetry again.”

Since using the viewer, her husband pointed out that her word recognition is getter stronger and more familiar. Now she can even recognize and read some words without the device!

Pamela’s greatest accomplishment since her trip to the Low Vision Clinic is her renewed confidence. “I don’t have to ask for help with the smallest things anymore. I’m so proud of how independent I’ve become. I’m even connecting more with my children and grandchildren. To think—the trip to Iris that I almost didn’t take was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

By Pamela Marenghi, Maine


The Low Vision Clinic: Your generosity in action!

Man looking at image on magnified screen at the Low Vision Clinic.
Man looking at image on magnified screen at the Low Vision Clinic.

With vision loss, sometimes the unfortunate answer is that the damage can’t be corrected. However, at the Low Vision Clinic, clients have access to education and resources to help them continue to perform every-day tasks and have an excellent quality of life.

After a low vision exam with an on-staff doctor, clients train on the devices and adaptive techniques that will work best for them—magnifiers, text-to-speech readers, and lighting that make reading medications, cookbook directions, price tags, bills, and writing checks possible again.

“I received home visits from the Low Vision Clinic. Once my video magnifier was delivered, I surprised the Clinic coordinator by teaching myself how to use it before she came for her next visit! I can do my bookkeeping and read my mail—at 95 years old!” – quote by Phyliss Coffin, Maine

“My mother had been in tears for a week over her declining vision. After an evaluation at The Iris Network’s Low Vision Clinic, we picked up the special lamp that the doctor and specialist had recommended. Just like that, my mother could see again! I was so grateful, I started crying. Thank you for turning my mother’s life around!” – quote by Grateful Daughter


LIFT: Low Income Fund for Tools

Gifts from friends like you help put essential and life-changing devices in the hands of current clients who may not have been able to afford them alone. When you give to The Iris Network, you strengthen our communities by allowing us to connect our visually impaired to the resources they need to truly thrive.


Because of you...

Photo courtesy of Goodwill
Photo courtesy of Goodwill

I graduated from a customized 2-22-week program at The Iris Network Rehabilitation Center and started a new job at Goodwill. The program taught me a little bit of everything—Braille, orientation and mobility—and I really loved the technology. The most valuable thing I learned was how to break tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces. It wasn’t easy having to re-learn how to do pretty much everything, but I feel so confident thanks to The Iris Network!

By Dan Chilafoe, New Hampshire 


We acknowledge with gratitude the sponsorship of a portion of the cost of production and distribution of this newsletter by Maine’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

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.


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