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On the Job with Vision Loss
A Toolbox for People Who Are Blind or Have Visual Impairments
As Director of Counseling at the Deicke Center for Low Vision, Leah Gerlach has a very challenging role. She works at one of the busiest low vision centers in the Midwest with only the help of Deicke's small staff and a couple of volunteers, comprising a team of eight.
Leah meets with consumers and their families to help each one cope and make adjustments to sudden onsets of vision loss. Leah helps consumers set new, attainable goals—an encouraging first step in the rehabilitation process, and a hopeful one. Leah's presence as a guiding force at Deicke Center is credible to consumers because Leah herself is legally blind due to being born two months early.
Leah also runs Deicke's support group and oversees the outreach program, visiting many special education programs throughout Illinois. Out in the field, Leah and her staff make evaluations and recommend assistive technology devices. The Deicke Center can also provide devices because they work to raise private donations and corporate grants. Leah also writes the agency's grant proposals. How does she accomplish so much each week?
First, there's Leah's guide dog, Future, a yellow Labrador retriever and an active member of the staff. Future guides Leah wherever she needs to go, safely and efficiently. Future has been Leah's guide dog for three and a half years.
Then, Leah utilizes several forms of assistive technology: A primary tool for many people with blindness is the Perkins Brailler; Leah uses hers for taking notes at meetings or to write notes to colleagues who read Braille.
At work and at home, Leah utilizes JAWS screen reading software with synthetic speech for reading and writing in all programs, such as Microsoft Word, Web pages, and electronic mail. JAWS will also read back anything Leah types in, letter-by-letter, and complete words. JAWS has seven or eight different voices to choose from so that users can offset different types of text. For instance, one voice is used for body text and another for titles and paragraph headings. Leah sometimes uses Zoomtext Extra, another talking screen-reader.
For database work, Microsoft Access provides users with keystroke commands, rather than mouse movement and pull-down menus that must be seen. A hand-held telescope is very useful for reading street signs or airport monitors. Leah has both of these in her toolbox and uses them.
Arkenstone Openbook is a scanning program that uses an optical character recognition (OCR) device to scan anything in type and read it back aloud. Openbook can also magnify text scanned from a computer screen. Leah uses it to examine documents and read her snailmail. Text can then be saved and manipulated for future reference.
When it's time to relax, Leah likes to go hiking and canoeing in good weather, machine quilting by touch for indoors, and cooking all year long. She is married with two grown children. Her academic achievements include a Master's degree in Rehabilitation Administration and Counseling, a bachelor's degree in Interpersonal Communication, and a certificate in Adaptive Technology Applications.
When it comes to work, Leah has all bases covered. You can too with a state-of-the-art toolbox. See the resources below for all the software and devices mentioned above.
Personal notetaking, Braille embossing, computer Braille displays and scanning & reading printed media.Screen reading, screen magnification, web access, scanning & reading and WYNN literacy software, accessories, training, support, and an online store.
Eschenbach makes many types of magnifiers and hand-held telescopes.
For other resources, see our Resource Guide: Vision Loss.