Blind make their way in Yk

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Jan 30/98) - With deft hand movements and nose almost touching the computer screen, a Yellowknife woman opens Zoom Text software so she can see letters the size of ping pong balls.

"I'll have to open a document so you can see," says

Amy, 46, whose vision has diminished to about seven per cent of normal by the time she was age 15.

Fears of dishonest or greedy cashiers and a sense of being easy prey for muggers keeps her condition -- and in this case, her real name -- a closely-guarded secret.

Though most Yellowknifers are as honest as summer days are long, Amy is still wary, she says, exhibiting the wariness many legally blind people feel.

To keep her from catching fire as she works her stove, she owns a special stove with front-mounted controls, so she can view the knobs up close. Her television's remote control has oversize numbers.

But the obstacles do nothing to diminish Amy's ambitions. "My goal is to finish a business administration degree," says the second-year Aurora College student. "My past has been in small companies, so I may go back to that."

Though many people are born with sight defects, most lose sight with age.

Amy, who used to love watching the Northern Lights as a child, lost sight first in one eye. At the time, her condition was only vaguely described as "optical atrophy."

Her doctor chalked it up to strained eyes and prescribed an ineffective saline solution, which the 15-year-old stopped taking after a couple weeks.

Then, when her condition failed to improve, she blamed herself for ignoring the doctor's advice and cheated on a school eye exam, peeking through a crack between her fingers with her good eye.

Six months later she lost the sight in her good eye.

Now, as the Canadian Institute of the Blind's White Cane Week approaches, Amy wants to applaud all those who help friends and relatives with degrees of blindness.

There are two mentally challenged men with white canes in town, says CNIB Yellowknife director Chris Vernon. This despite red canes being more visible against the North's white winter backdrops.

If they are not regularly seen around town, it could be that walking on ice and snow is difficult and dangerous without depth of vision.

Simply descending stairs at the Centre Square mall can be a challenge with no colored edging to distinguish each step.

Even if people do not get rare eye diseases, degenerative problems such as cataracts and glaucoma are common as the body ages. And the chances of problems rise if relatives are afflicted.

Anti-oxidant vegetables, such as cucumbers and beets, may help ward off these diseases, and there are some surgical responses available, but prevention remains elusive.