Life with blindness: Living the life you want
By Mary Anna Rodabaugh
Denice Brown, 65, of North Philadelphia, was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at 2 years old. RP is a rare eye disease that makes cells in the retina break down over time, ultimately causing vision loss and blindness. This trajectory didn’t slow Brown down. She graduated from Overbrook High School and received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and her master’s degree in special education from Temple University. Brown spent over 20 years as a schoolteacher in Philadelphia.
“I am grateful for the School District of Philadelphia because I was given any type of accommodation [that] I needed to keep my job and be successful,” Brown said.
Upon retirement from teaching, Brown kickstarted her next unexpected career. After making a phone call in search of additional adaptive software technology, Brown met with Ted Young of Young Opportunities. At the time, Young was serving as the state president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania.
“What is the National Federation?” Brown asked. After learning about the organization and its mission dedicated to serving individuals like herself, Brown felt inspired to explore the two chapters in Philadelphia. The Greater Philadelphia chapter felt like a fit.
This connection took place back in 2000. Since 2003, Brown has served as the president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Pennsylvania.
“It has been an eventful 20 years,” says Brown. “We’re trying to make sure we stay true to our motto ‘Life with blindness: Living the life you want’ and we’re trying to make sure blind people know about the resources available.”
Brown lives this motto by example. When she is not completing her advocacy work, she enjoys listening to live music, especially jazz. Brown is passionate about live plays and travels to New York to Broadway. She also makes time to attend different productions in Philadelphia.
“I also love to dance,” Brown says. “And I’m a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. We have different service-oriented projects we do with the community.”
Local resources for people who are blind
When asked what piece of advice Brown would offer someone who is new to visual impairment or blindness, she recommends they get in contact with their local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind to learn about resources or literature that is available. Brown says she hopes they can find a mentor to assist them with any questions they may have. Visit nfbofpa.org for more information.
The Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) is another great resource that assists Pennsylvanians who are blind or visually impaired to gain the skills necessary to live and work independently in their communities. The bureau can connnect individuals with a mobility instructor to help them navigate using a white cane or with resources to learn Braille. For more information, call 215-560-5700 or visit dli.pa.gov (type “Bureau of Blindness” in the search box).
“They’ll teach you different ways to do things using adaptations and accommodations,” Brown says. VisionLink seeks to inspire all who are living with vision loss to thrive. This Philadelphia organization has been serving the low vision community since 1944. VisionLink offers educational and lifestyle programming to aid individuals with vision loss or blindness to live comfortable lives and make meaningful connections. Many programs are virtual as well. For more information, call 215-627-0600 or visit VisionLink.org.
The Blind Relief Fund of Philadelphia offers five programs including a telephone visitor for people who are blind, a home visitor who can complete a lifestyle assessment, financial assistance, transportation assistance, and social activities. To learn more, call 215-487-1444 or visit BlindReliefFund.org.
The Library of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians (LAMP) at 1500 Spring Garden St. is part of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress (NLS), and serves Pennsylvania residents who have difficulty reading due to a physical impairment, a reading disability, or a vision challenge. Library offerings include books in Braille, large print books, screen magnifier tools, and screen-reading software.
“One thing that I’m proud of is I have a really good group of people who work well together to get things done,” Brown says. “Membership is a key in our organization. We are run by people who are blind. We just try to show we can do it too; we learn how to do things in a different way, and we get the job done.”
Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.