Such a Success Story over Vision Loss

Gregory Vellner

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Visually impaired person with assistive technology.Unsplash

Becoming a journalist when I grew up really was no surprise. It was, afterall, an early longing of mine – maybe because at age 12 on a school trip, I toured a big city newspaper and felt the energy of the newsroom and witnessed the magnificence of the presses rolling, and because at 13, I had my first byline in a local newspaper covering Little League baseball action.

But what did astonish me years later was this – that while working as a newspaper reporter about to be a staff writer with a national entertainment magazine, I would be diagnosed at 25 with multiple sclerosis and five years later be forever visually impaired. Disbelief and astonished smothered struck, as I solemnly learned I no longer could drive a car, read normal-size print, or see the big ‘E’ on the chart at the eye doctor’s office.

The voyage to resurrect my blurry life and reignite my career – the former with the undying devotion of my wife and family, and the latter with the aid of technology – is lined with fanciful stories of coping and adapting. Of being Mr. Mom with domestic demands. Of writing out in large print instructions, recipes and phone numbers until memorized. Of finding joy in hearing but not truly seeing many life events.

But enough about me; my story is nothing extraordinary. Many people every day are dealt an incapacity and turn dark into light – like Glenda Such of Yardley PA, who at 13 was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a macular degenerative disorder that results in progressive vision loss and legal blindness.

“When I got home after the diagnosis,” she recalled, “I started to look at everything I could and stare at it to observe every nuance of things – of a flower, of a doorknob, of a squirrel’s eye and how it’s outlined a little bit in white, of the bark on trees. I looked at everything. It became my quest to remember everything I could.”
From that day forward as her vision diminished, Such said she was driven to succeed in school, athletics and in everything she wanted to do -- a mission that, though legally blind, enabled her to achieve Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, teach assistive technology at Lighthouse International in New York City, co-author a chapter in “Essentials of Low Vision,” sit on the federal Food and Drug Administration’s Panel on Ophthalmological Devices for four years, and teach at Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia. In 2008, she joined the Bucks County Association for the Blind in Newtown PA, and today at age 68 mentor people who are newly visually impaired and teaches them technology.

“I’m serious about the mentoring people who are newly visually impaired because a lot of times people don’t know what to do,” said Such. “The ability to have the language to get your needs met or even ask what’s happening to you is not something inherit. I help them to know how to get into the circle instead of spinning around on the outside.”

In the circle, she said, are a vast number of assistive technology devises and programs that have helped her on her quest and can assist the visually impaired.

“I’ve been in the field of technology now for about 37 years and feel I’m a good example for people,” she said. “I didn’t say no to things. My philosophy is there has to be another way to do it. You always have to look at what you can glean from a situation.”

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As a professional journalist for several years -- reporter, editor, feature writer, columnist -- I handled a range of subjects. Breaking news, investigative series, government action, feature events, and staff feature writer with national entertainment magazine interviewing stars including Tom Selleck, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito. No matter the topic, certain ingredients are key: truth, facts, objectivity, balance.

Bucks County, PA
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