HEALTH

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind helps teach life skills

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According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, at least 5 million Americans age-40 and older are blind or visually impaired.

As the baby boomer generation ages, experts expect that number will grow even larger.

When 42-year-old John Jackson started losing his vision, he felt isolated and frustrated. He felt like everything was going downhill.

But like many Americans who go blind later in life, it was five years before he asked for help. In fact, he avoided using a walking cane until this month.

“When you see people with the cane, you think ugh, I don't want to end up like that,” Jackson says. “But since I've been here in the program, it's like my new best friend.”

Jackson is one of eight students who've lost some or all of their vision and are in a training program offered by Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind at a new location in northwest Washington.

The century-old organization has headquarters in Silver Spring and before now, this specialized training happened in the home of each student.

“When if we did that individually, each one of those instructors would have to go out individually, maybe spend an hour or two with a person a week,” says instructor Brandon Cox. “So you can imagine the training goes down from six months to two weeks.”

There are also social benefits to this group training, such as allowing them to identify with one another and help each other through rough times.

In just two weeks, instructors cover the basics, from reading and writing braille to a variety of household chores like ironing and cooking.

The goal is to provide them life skills that they can apply at home.

The program also includes outdoor lessons, teaching students how to navigate around obstacles on sidewalks and in crosswalks as well as how to navigate their way home on public transit.

On Friday, John Jackson and his classmates will graduate from the program. To celebrate, he's making waffles. He's always loved to cook and he has no plans to stop.

“This program really should be called no excuse because these two weeks we've been through it's like at the end you have no excuse not to live your regular, normal life,” Jackson says.

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