There are over 33 million people living with uncorrectable vision loss in the United States. For some, glasses are just not enough to correct their vision, making everyday tasks challenging, or even impossible. From cooking to driving, playing sports, paying bills or reading a menu, everything is affected by our ability to see clearly. Vision loss can affect children, adults and seniors. Some people are born with a congenital visual impairment, some experience an injury that results in vision loss, and others succumb to age-related vision loss, such as cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma. No matter the cause of the vision loss, it is imperative to have good medical care, a strong support system and the right tools to enhance what vision remains.
Particularly in children, visual impairments and conditions can cause both school and socialization to be challenging. Socialization is important for everyone. It impacts our self-confidence, our experiences, our attitudes, and our quality of life. Kids with vision loss tend to have fewer friends and less rich social lives than their typically sighted peers.
Weak social skills ultimately impact future employability for someone with vision loss. In fact, statistics show that nearly 70% of adults with vision loss are unemployed or underemployed. Many vision professionals attribute this staggering percentage to the lack of social skills and life experiences that can make a person who is blind or visually impaired seem socially awkward or inexperienced.
For Apex resident Kim Hudson, this statistic was unacceptable. After specializing in working with people with visual impairments for over two decades, Kim felt compelled to do something to change these outcomes for local kids with vision loss.
Eye Shine Foundation
By 2016, Kim had been teaching children with visual impairments and had seen countless kids who were successful academically but had no friends and few interests outside of school. Kim is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired and works in public schools to support blind students, their families and their educational teams to ensure accessibility and success. But, time and time again, Kim’s students would tell her that they did “nothing” over the weekend, had never been bowling or to the circus, or to an audio-described movie or play. Knowing that these kinds of experiences were the very things that enrich kids’ lives by giving them something cool to talk about with their peers and making them more “relatable,” Kim wanted to find a way to provide such experiences to her blind students and other local visually impaired kids in the area.
Kim founded Eye Shine Foundation (www.eyeshinefoundation.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission to provide social and recreational opportunities for kids with vision loss through monthly events that empower and enrich their lives. As word spread about Eye Shine Foundation, kids with vision loss—some from as far away as Fayetteville and the coast—started coming together, connecting, making friends and changing the trajectory of their lives. Activities like bowling, hockey, hiking, audio-described plays, dance lessons, swimming, cooking, self-defense and drum circles generated countless smiles, new experiences and friendships among participants from Kindergarten through age 22.
The benefit to parents proved important, too, as these parents often don’t know others who are raising a blind child. During events, parents connect and collaborate together, while their children try new things, gain experiences and have something fresh and new to talk about with their sighted peers at school on Monday.
Each year, Eye Shine Foundation hosts the Eastern NC Braille Challenge, where braille readers come together to compete in various braille reading and writing activities with their peers. Finalists go on to compete at the National Braille Challenge in California. It’s always a fun and exciting event that motivates and empowers braille readers and is an opportunity to “see” old friends for some friendly competition.
Understanding Vision Loss
For many children who are visually impaired or blind, they are the only person in their school experiencing vision loss. We all know how difficult making friends can be in middle school. Now, imagine you are a 12-year-old with vision loss. Everything appears blurry, you can’t recognize your classmates across the room, or see a friendly face to know where you might be welcome as you sit down in the school cafeteria. Life can be daunting.
Most people imagine vision as a ON/OFF switch, either you can see everything, or you can see nothing. The truth is, less than 5% of people with vision loss are totally blind. Most people with vision loss have some level of usable vision and everyone is different.
The definition of “legal blindness” is a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correction (glasses). Acuity refers to how clearly one can see. A person with 20/200 acuity can identify a visual target from a distance of 20 feet away, while a person with perfect 20/20 vision could be 200 feet from the same visual target. Another qualifier for legal blindness is a reduced visual field, such as someone with retinitis pigmentosa, who sees as though they are looking through a straw. No matter the acuity or the vision loss, life looks different.
Persevering in the Pandemic
Eye Shine Foundation remains dedicated to improving social skills and outcomes for kids with visual impairments, even through COVID. Since Eye Shine events have gone virtual, participants from even further away have been participating in regular Zoom calls moderated by one of Eye Shine’s board members, who is also blind. Making new friends online is very special, especially for some participants who have never known another blind child before. It’s important for kids to feel like they are not alone and to connect with others who experience life from a similar perspective.
The Board Members of Eye Shine are especially excited to be with kids and their families in person again soon and are planning some great events for 2021.
In March 2020, Kim began a new “focus” of improving the lives of yet another population living with vision loss—the aging and senior community. Kim started her third organization dedicated to the visually impaired community with the incorporation of Magnified Life (www.MagnifiedLife.us), a company providing low-vision electronic magnification equipment and consultations for individuals, senior centers, libraries and assisted-living facilities. The services and products provided by Magnified Life help to improve independence, safety and quality of life through sight-improving devices and techniques.
Something for Everyone
No matter the age of the person living with vision loss, one of Kim’s organizations is certain to have a life-enriching opportunity or device that can make life more manageable and more enjoyable. Equal Eyes Vision Services (www.EqualEyesVisionServices.com) serves children from Kindergarten through 12th grade with unique educational needs, while Eye Shine Foundation focuses on fun with the expectation of raising the bar for future employability. If you or someone you know is living with vision loss, the Triangle is the right place to be with bountiful resources that can improve life.
In addition, there is always a need for therapists and teachers who specialize in working with visually impaired children and adults. With the growing population of Baby Boomers, and the expectation that the population of those with vision loss will double in the next 30 years, a career in Visual Impairments is sure to be one that would be rewarding and secure for a person with a big heart and a passion to serve.
Contact Kim Hudson (Kim@EqualEyesVisionServices.com) for more information about careers in visual impairment, products for the visually impaired, or donating your time or talents to Eye Shine Foundation. For details about Kim’s organizations, visit eyeshinefoundation.org, MagnifiedLife.us, and EqualEyesVisionServices.com.