Loss of sight, brighter future

Vision Loss Center readies for more blind people

Kyle Parrish, director of Vision Loss Center, believes being blind isn’t the end of the world.

“There is life after blindness. I’ve found people who have never left their home since becoming blind.” Parrish said.

“When I introduce them to new things and devices to help, they get inspired and curious.”

Inspired by friends and support group members, Parrish co-founded the center in May 2008, inside Armory Square Mall, 228 W. First St. in Port Angeles.

Volunteers open the nonprofit center three days a week, offering an array of services that help those who are blind or nearly blind live a better life.

Parrish said the center works with any available resource involving blindness.
It offers:
• Electronic video magnifiers use and training
• Large print and screen-reading computers
• Braille classes
• Literature on supporting a blind person
• Hands-on use of innovative technology for the blind
• Referrals for guide dogs, cane training and electronics vendors

Some equipment is donated after a blind person has moved onto another device or no longer can use it. Oftentimes, a volunteer will provide a donated device to someone in exchange for a small donation to the center’s operations.

“We’re just here to provide whatever assistance we can for vision-impaired people,” Parrish said.

Increased loss of sight
On the North Olympic Peninsula, there are about 2,500 visually impaired people.

In 2009, the center helped 55 people receive services — not including the hundreds of people who walk in with questions or for literature. The nearest similar resource center is in Bremerton.

“The onset of macular degeneration (loss of central vision) is exponentially going up and affecting a lot of the peninsula,” Parrish said.

Deb Cox, a Sequim resident and center board member, agrees and sees its impact on Sequim residents.

“I run into more and more people with vision loss,” Cox said.

“The services are always going to be needed, so we need to be here.”

Parrish said a majority of the center’s users are from Sequim.

Expanding future
The center’s budget doesn’t require much.

Grants from groups such as Lions Club International and National Federation for the Blind and local donations help offset the $420 a month overhead.

Despite being tucked away on the bottom floor corner of Armory Square Mall with limited space, people continue to find the center.

“The demand for services is more than our volunteers can provide,” Parrish said.

He and volunteers are considering a move.

“We’re open to changing locations to something cheaper or free,” he said.

“We need more space and to be near a bus line — or to start a new branch in Sequim.”

No plans have been made, but Parrish said he’d keep an open mind.

“We don’t charge anything at this point and will continue hooking people up with a vendor,” Parrish said.
“Our whole thing is to give people an informed choice.”

Other offerings
The Vision Loss Center is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Volunteers are needed for office work, to demonstrate video magnifiers and maintain the library.

Two support groups are available for visually impaired/ blind people in the area.

Visually Impaired Persons of Sequim meets 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. the first Saturday of month at Chinese Garden, 271 S. Seventh Ave., Sequim, and 10 a.m.-noon the second Tuesday of each month at the Port Angeles Senior Center, 328 E. Seventh St., Port Angeles.

For more information, call the Vision Loss Center at 457-1383. A Web site is being developed at www.visionlossservices.org.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.