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Lion a leader in helping vision and hearing impaired
Brian Hetherington is legally blind, hard of hearing, but in a good position to help other people with these disabilities.
“My vision has been failing gradually, over much of my life,” explained the retired school teacher.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some sight,” he said, but added he is now legally blind.
Hetherington is 70 years old, and was diagnosed as legally blind at the age of 50. He had to give up teaching.
He loves to play Texas Hold’em and other card games. With a special set of playing cards, that have replaced the traditional picture of the Queen, Jacks and Kings with a large letters, he won’t mistake pocket Jacks for pocket Kings. He can see well enough to get his chips in good.
“I don’t need to see the fancy picture.”
Those large-digit playing cards add to his quality of life, and that is the kind of thing he wants to introduce to other visually and hearing impaired people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
A raised button on a push-button phone, a small device to help thread a needle, or hand-held magnifiers are the simple things make life a little easier.
When he joined the local Lions club, it had a 50-year tradition of hosting a special dinner for the community’s visually impaired people, in partnership with the CNIB. The guests would get information about vision loss, and a social night with entertainment.
When he became a Lion, Hetherington and others thought the club could take it a step further.
The Lions are hosting their fourth annual Vision/Hearing Resources Open House on Saturday from 1-4 p.m., at the Ridge Meadows Seniors Activity Centre (12150 – 224th St.), from 1-4 p.m. The event is open to those who are challenged with vision or hearing loss, or those who have an interest in these disabilities. People who have a family member in the early stages of losing their sight or hearing may also find the event beneficial.
There will be about 23 organizations attending, who will offer products, services or professional advice that may help guests of the event.
“It’s broad-based, with things of interest to those with vision or hearing loss,” said Hetherington. “I’m very proud of it. We think we do a number of worthwhile projects, and this is a good one.”
He does not minimize the effects of these disabilities. For him, hearing loss is the most difficult. He loves music, but can’t hear the lyrics. In conversation, it can be frustrating to keep asking people to repeat themselves.
“There’s a tendency to just shut down, and you don’t participate. There’s a tendency to withdraw.”
On the other hand, technology continuously brings new innovations that make life easier for him – like a software program that reads emails aloud.
Hetherington understands the stigma that can come with a person admitting they have a disability. A man who needs a hearing aid may not wear one out of embarrassment.
He remembers being asked if he would consider carrying a white cane.
“I broke into tears,” he said. “It’s a symbol – your vision is that poor, and you’re going to need more help. It can make you feel like less of a person.”
Education about vision and hearing loss, and the many supports available, help make it easier.
“Independence is important – to be able to cook your own food, entertain yourself, or even keep track of the news.”
In addition to helping provide that independence, he said Saturday’s event is also designed to be a social occasion.
“I didn’t know anyone who had a significant vision problem until the last part of my life,” said Hetherington, adding that friendships and supports are important.
“That feeling of loneliness can cause difficulty.
“People want to be plugged in – want to be part of the community,” he said.
Hearing and vision loss problems are common among the elderly, but that is not who the event is aimed at.
“We hope to attract people of all ages – people who are at the front end of it, and just starting to have trouble,” said Hetherington.
The event is free, and he encourages people to take advantage of this opportunity.
“The technology is good, and the advice is good, to help you organize your life.
“I feel very fortunate that I’m alive at this time, when this stuff is available. Often it’s the little things, like the cards, that make a big difference.”