by Edward L. Cohen
My worried parents got their hunch confirmed. When I was 4, the Indianapolis eye doctor said I was very nearsighted, and prescribed a pair of thick glasses. He noted that little boys usually won’t wear or often lose their glasses, but I never did.
That was in 1954. It was 1970 before a Purdue student clinic doctor finally named my eye condition as RP. Until then, I only heard I had a “touch of night blindness.” I’m the only person in my family with the RP gene.
I got through my primary grades without being called “four-eyes” more than other kids in the same situation. Like all the boys in my neighborhood, I wanted to be accepted and invited to play backyard ball. As long as it was well before sunset, I could hit the ball. But as it started to get dark, I couldn’t hit a thing. This made me sad and my teammates angry. I switched to basketball; because it was played indoors, it never got dark.
I could read books as long as I held them close. Things changed when I moved into junior high school. There, teachers made much use of the blackboard. It was hard to admit to the teacher that I had trouble seeing what was being written. It didn’t dawn on me that the teacher probably already figured that out.
When I got brave enough to privately speak up, I might ask and was permitted to sit closer. It was better when they would echo what they were writing or say what they had just written. Being closer to the board only helped a little. Thank goodness back then, blackboards were actually black, and the white chalk left a mark that was easier to see.
Those and other early experiences taught me lessons that stayed with me my entire life. One is, if you have something you need to say, you have to speak up for yourself. In that situation, I had to speak up if I was going to keep up in class. Another lesson learned was to focus closely on what teachers and others were saying. It all helped academically and in some unexpected ways.
One way was that I started getting useful information about the world around me that I often didn’t get from my eyes. I noticed how the sound of my footsteps reflected off the walls. I noticed that as someone walked by, it created what I called a “sound shadow.” Even noticing changes in air currents or smells provided useful information.
The big eye-opener was this. As I listened and expressed curiosity about what the young people around me were saying, my small circle of friends grew a bit. I found I enjoyed talking to and learning from and about others.
High school presented new opportunities. I continued to find math and science interesting and now met others who did as well. I also got exposed to and interested in what was then called mechanical drawing (now called drafting).
Not only were these classes located in opposite ends of the school, the two groups of kids generally had different interests. I got along with most and learned from and made some friends in each group. My curiosity about the people and world around me has never stopped.
Turning 16 meant driver’s ed and passing the driver’s test. I had no problems except driving at night, which I avoided when possible. I even added bright driving lights to help. I drove for 30 years, knowing it would eventually come to an end. When I failed the driver’s eye test and then again at the eye doctor’s office, I knew the end was at hand. I walked out having been told I was now legally blind and my driving days were over. He suggested I start learning what I’ll need to deal with my new life.
In the months following the appointment, I tracked down, met and got involved with the local blind community. I discovered how little I knew about this new world. Slowly I learned about the wealth of resources and what seemed the amazing array of technology tools. Luckily, Indianapolis had a large number of knowledgeable blind people.
I was able to keep working and even advanced in the information technology field for another 15 years. Finally, in 2010, I retired and in the same year, my wife and I moved to Minnesota to be near family.
Throughout my life, my personality and interests led to me launching and leading numerous successful volunteer organizations and events. During my 35 working years, most jobs or positions were created for me. I was tasked to develop, launch and lead new programs or projects; many are still operating. I was always the only blind guy in the room. I felt responsible for showing that blindness was not a barrier to contributing to important and successful efforts.
As my vision declined, I struggled to use the various large-print weekly calendars that were out there. The fonts weren’t large or high-contrast enough to see. And there wasn’t enough room to write big. I couldn’t see the paper’s edge and often wrote off the paper. When I mentioned this problem with other low-vision friends and professionals, they’d often say they faced similar challenges.
I made and began using a weekly calendar that addressed all my challenges. As those people saw what I had made, many said that they or someone they knew would want one. They urged me to start making and selling them. Hearing such encouragement was nice, but I was already busy and knew such a venture would be all-consuming.
Yet over time, the issue kept coming back to me. I imagined the number of people this calendar might help. I often talked it over with my wife and did some research. By the fall of 2015, EZ2See Products was launched. You can find the full story at https://ez2seeproducts.com/.
My website also has a link to dozens of blog posts I’ve written. Many offer solutions to the sorts of everyday challenges faced by those of us dealing with vision loss and aging. If you find any helpful, please let me know.