Medical and bio-engineering technologies have made great improvements for individuals who have sustained or are born with certain physical disabilities.
Training in how to use new technologies has positively impacted quality of life and employment opportunities for people who deal with these challenges. If asked about advancement for those who are blind or visually impaired, the list might stop at the use of Braille and audiobooks. If asked how one adapts a website to accommodate blind or visually impaired, there is likely to be a long pause.
A visit to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired or even time spent on their website will provide the answers. A conversation with Virginia Jacko, President and CEO, will quickly open you to the range of services, goals, and accomplishments of the organization that now serves nearly 15,000 people each year who are residents of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and statewide for schoolchildren referred for eye exams and glasses.
In leaving her native Midwest region, Jacko did not do so because the South Florida winters are more pleasant. As a financial executive for Purdue University, she was faced with gradual loss of vision from a hereditary disease that led to total blindness. In today’s world of technology, she grasped possibilities others could not.
“I chose to take this position because of the strong focus on
enhancing employment eligibility,” she said. “The organization has been through three name changes since 1931 when it was founded as the Florida Association of Workers for the Blind. We mostly recently added ‘And Visually Impaired’ because of the increasing aging population who experience vision impairment issues.”
Not every individual is going to want to enter the workplace. For adults who want to live as independently as possible, there are programs in Orientation and Mobility, Personal Management, Computer and Technology Training, Social Group and Health Activities Classes, and Braille Lessons. Other enrichment opportunities such as classes with an emphasis on “tactile art” result in beautiful pieces of art that decorate the center.
Integral to all the programs are technologies and equipment
available in the Low Vision Solutions Center where they have
handheld magnifiers, closed-circuit television read/write systems, miniature spotting scopes, text and product code scanners/readers, and much more.
GED completion in collaboration with Miami-Dade Public Schools, Vocational Rehabilitation, Job Readiness Programs, and the Job Placement Program are all designed to assess each individual’s potential for sustainable employment and work toward that goal. The software, Job Application With Speech (JAWS), has been a major step in adaptive technology to enable individuals to work in today’s computer-focused environment.
“Software such as JAWS is a critical element,” Jacko explains. “It is not the only element and designers or technicians who are sighted typically come at solutions from a strictly visual angle. We have two instructors/consultants who despite being blind have degrees in Computer Science which provides the ‘reality meets theory’ capability. They can properly analyze a system for vulnerabilities and recommend solutions within a matter of a day or two. This makes us a cost-effective solution for clients.”
Although making music a career is never easy, it is an aspiration for many and as described on their website: “Miami Lighthouse is the only agency in the nation that provides all-inclusive music, MIDI, audio instruction and youth development programs for the blind and visually impaired. Also, Miami Lighthouse provides the only comprehensive Braille music distance learning curriculum accessible to any musician worldwide.” The Miami Lighthouse Band performs in multiple genres and can be engaged individually or in groups.
Notwithstanding the importance of the adult programs, the outreach for children has grown from 100 served in 2004 to more than 10,000 in 2016. There are home visitations, specialized age-appropriate training, and summer camp. In 2010, the former Heiken Children’s Vision Fund officially became the Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program as a division of Miami Lighthouse. Miami-Dade Public Schools provide routine vision screenings in state-mandated grades and if a child fails the screening, this program, through their collaboration with optometrists and using their mobile units, provide a dilated eye examination to determine the best recommendation including glasses when prescribed at no cost to the family. Free prescription eyeglasses can also be provided to eligible students.
Among the many innovations at the Miami Lighthouse, the Learning Center for Children opened this past August as the first in the country full-immersion pre-kindergarten school. While programs exist in other places, none are as extensive and none have half sighted and half blind children learning side-by-side. In fact, the Miami Lighthouse has teamed with University of Miami Department of Psychology to conduct a longitudinal four-year study to assess the progress of these early learners. Expectation is this will become a model for export.
The Mission Statement of Miami Lighthouse is to: “To provide vision rehabilitation, eye health services and education that promote independence, to collaborate with and train professionals, and to conduct research in related fields.”
Increasing awareness of the great strides made and continuing to be made in carrying out this mission is a passion for CEO Jacko, the staff, and the many thousands whose lives have been made better through these efforts.
There are numerous organizations with the name “Lighthouse for the Blind”. Each is a separate entity, however, and there is not a nationwide organization. For information about the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired located at 601 SW 8th Ave, Miami visit http://miamilighthouse.
org; or call (305) 856-2288.