Last week we interviewed resident John Morgan in honor of White Cane Awareness Day. Morgan is one of 130,000 Mass. residents living with some kind of vision impairment. This week, we take a deeper dive into his journey with blindness.
LP: Do you prefer the term blind or visually impaired?
JM: Either one. I consider myself blind because I don’t have any useful vision. [The] visually impaired have some useful vision.
LP: What was the progression of your vision loss?
JM: My progression was very slow. In 1996, my peripheral vision was poor, but I still had good central vision. It wasn’t until 2010 that it really started to diminish. By 2012, it was dark.
LP: Were you mentally prepared for losing your vision?
JM: I knew it was a possibility due to my dad. What I have is hereditary. My father has been blind most of his life. He stopped working in the mid-1960s because his vision went. I knew it was going to happen but I didn’t know when. I thought I was prepared but I really wasn’t. It was still hard to accept.
LP: How did you cope with that frustration?
JM: I dealt with it as best I could. I was caring for my girlfriend until she passed in 2016. I was with her for 25 years. She became ill in 2004. I wasn’t really thinking about my situation. When she passed, I had to accept I couldn’t see.
LP: Did you have a network of support in the community?
JM: The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired has 36 low-vision support groups. Winthrop has one, which I’ve been fortunate to be part of for the last four years. It meets the third Wednesday of each month from 10 to 12. And if we were to meet in person, it would be at the Winthrop Senior Center. Since March, it’s been over the phone.
LP: How does someone who is blind find out about the support groups?
JM: When a person is registered with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, they’re given a packet of information and in that there’s information on the support groups.
LP: Talk about the support group.
JM: It’s open to anyone who is visually impaired. Not everyone is from Winthrop. There’s people from Chelsea, Revere, Charlestown and Everett.
LP: In your opinion, do people who go blind later in life need more support than those who were born blind?
JM: Yes. People who were born blind are much more adaptable because they’ve never known anything else. [Going blind] is life-changing. Some people can accept it and others have a much harder time accepting it.
LP: What kind of technology do you use?
JM: I have a pocket recorder, which I use constantly. If I hear something interesting I’ll record it. I have a basic flip phone. I eliminated my cable. The cost was getting higher and there’s no use having 200 channels that I can’t see. I have a reader. It’s a device that takes a picture and, depending on the print, it reads aloud. It’s the size of an open newspaper, and it’s seven to eight pounds. I don’t have a computer. I’m working on getting one.
LP: Why don’t you get a smartphone? There are so many apps these days that can help the blind and visually impaired.
JM: One of the members of the Winthrop group is tech-savvy. He’s described different apps. He can go into a store with his phone and the app contacts someone and all they have to do is point the phone to what they want to buy. But again, it’s about the cost of the phone. A lot of the technology today is very expensive.
LP: Do you use a guide dog?
JM: I don’t meet the financial responsibilities. Guide dogs are wonderful animals but from the beginning of the training until they are given to a person, it’s $50,000 to $60,000. You need to have financial stability for veterinary bills, food, everything. You’re dealing with a very special animal.
LP: What do you consider more useful, a white cane or a guide dog?
JM: A dog is much more useful. It gives the person the security that they’re not alone, that the animal is trained to help them. It’s a companion. When I go walking with a friend I feel more comfortable than I would with my cane only. If a person’s alone, like myself, the cane can’t talk to you. People I work with have guide dogs and they’re irreplaceable to them.
Read the other installments of our interview with John Morgan: