For the blind and visually impaired in Oklahoma, help and opportunity are readily found in NewView Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization that seeks to give empowerment and independence to their clients. The organization’s president and CEO, Lauren Branch, discusses its programs and impact in the state.
Q: What is the history of your organization?
A: We got started here in 1949, so we’re in our 65th year this year. We started as a training and employment facility, and we’ve evolved over the years to be a full-service agency for people who are blind or visually impaired, which includes a low-vision clinic, vision rehabilitation services, we still do vocational training and we’re the largest employer of people who are blind in the state of Oklahoma. In our employment program, we employ about 100 people who are blind or visually impaired on a variety of different jobs. We’ve got a manufacturing facility. We’ve got people in supervisory and management positions, professional positions. We have off-site work, so that’s a really important part of what we do.
Q: Who are your clients, and how do you meet their biggest needs?
A: The foundation of our organization is the vision rehabilitation program. Whether we’re serving a child with a vision impairment who may need training in orientation and mobility, or their parents need resources to help them maneuver through our educational systems, that helps them lay the foundation for getting a good education.
For our working-age adults who are losing their vision — many times in conjunction with that — they lose their jobs, so it’s important for us to retrain them so they can start another career or enter back into the career that they were working in.
A lot of what we do is around helping a person live again. You have to be able to get up in the morning and make your breakfast, check the time, match your clothes, manage your medication, maneuver safely. If you’re not able to do that, the chances that you’re able to work are slim to none, so we’ve got to get a person back doing those daily living things again, and then we can put them into more intensive training that really is around career development.
Then for a lot of older people, their goal is quality of life and being safe and independent. We’re able to assess their vision and then work to train that individual in adaptive living techniques, teach them how to use their appliances, teach them how to cook again, manage medication, travel safely and access information. That’s a large part of what people want to do now, they want to stay connected to their family members, so we can teach them to use software that will enable them to do emails, scan documents, read their mail.
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