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Active Re-Entry's staff, resources assist blind seniors in Carbon area

Sun Advocate reporter

Older blind program member Barbara Kontgas sews a blanket at Active Re-Entry. Despite being blind, Kontgas and others with various disabilities enjoy participating in regular activities sponsored by the local agency.

The leading cause of blindness in America is macular degeneration. The condition is when eyesight deteriorates due to age.

Although many people who suffer from the disease are seniors, it is not uncommon for younger generations to experience the sudden onset of the medical condition.

Patients who suffer from macular degeneration will find that objects appear spotty, hazy or wavy.

For patients who are older than the age of 60, the condition becomes more troublesome when central vision is lost.

Although discouraging, Carbon County residents, especially seniors who live with the problem, are not alone when facing the obstacles that the condition creates.

Active Re-Entry of Carbon County has resources and staff members who assist local residents who suffer from any form of blindness.

Because the majority of blind citizens residing in the Castle Valley area are elderly, Active Re-Entry has formed an older blind program which is headed by Richard Jewkes, a senior who happens to be blind.

According to Jewkes, the program serves as a tool for older citizens to utilize when fighting blindness.

"We try to make it easier for those who suffer from blindness to live an ordinary life. There is so much technology out there that helps those who cannot see and we try to supply people with these tools," explained the senior advocate.

Some equipment that Active Re-Entry offers patients include magnified computers, machines which serve as a regular computer and a giant magnifying glass and check guides that help people who cannot see to handle personal finances.

"It is extremely important to many of our blind to be able to read a recipe or look up a number in a phone book. Finances are also a big part of everyone's life and for the blind, we offer resources which make it possible for them to take care of these things themselves," explained Active Re-Entry coordinator, Nancy Bentley.

The center's supply of material is open to anyone in Carbon County who qualifies.

Richard Jewkes heads the older blind program at Active Re-Entry. He also advocates for those who suffer from blindness and helps organize local resources for those with disabilities. Jewkes who is blind himself explained that many who are blind wear glasses and hats so that they do not get hurt if they run into something.

The loan bank program even allows persons with disabilities to borrow an item and try it out to make sure that it will fit the clients needs.

If a problem occurs, Active Re-Entry staff members will find a better fitted piece of equipment that will do the job.

Advocate Jewkes also provides local residents who suffer from blindness with valuable information. In fact, Jewkes lobbied to have a free telephone service for the blind available in Carbon County.

Today, local blind residents may dial the toll-free number and have newspapers and information read to them through the telephone service.

The main goal of the older blind program is to provide individuals with the opportunity to live a normal life despite their disability.

"We try to break down the attitude barrier that says that those with any type of disability can't do normal things for themselves," stated Bentley. "By working with anyone in the area who suffers from any disability, we can do this."

For the older blind however, programs have been set up in both Carbon and Emery counties. Castle Valley residents who participate in the programs are not only fitted with supplies and information, but they are also given the chance to socialize with one another. Participants do so by attending events conducted by Active Re-Entry. Some past activities have included visiting Cedar Mountain, listening to movie at a theater and dinners prepared by participants in the blind program.

"We loaded up a bus and took our older blind to the Star Theater in Huntington. The theater staff provided each person with a bag of popcorn and a drink," explained Active Re-Entry blind coordinator Darlene Erni. "Then the blind participants put on ear phones which allowed them to listen to the movie and hear details of what was happening. They had a blast."

In Carbon County alone, Active Re-Entry serves 133 seniors who are enrolled in the older blind program.

In Emery County, the agency assists 90.

The older blind program is one of many services that the local agency provides. Active Re-Entry serves as a central cornerstone for those who have a disability.

"We want the community to know that you should not be afraid of a disability," explained Jewkes. "I go to the schools quite often just to educate children that there is nothing wrong with someone who is different. As a community we need to support others with disabilities."

The local agency provides wheel chairs, ramps, hearing aids and other resources that are available to those who qualify for the service.

Older residents are also served by Active Re-Entry. The agency reminds seniors of potential fraud dangers, advocates for nursing home exploitation, assists the elderly's families with decision such as whether a nursing home is suitable, works with social security and Medicade and Medicare as well as adult protective services.

The agency also provides caregivers with much needed support by hosting regular meetings where other caretakers can meet with those who are facing similar situations.

"We do so many things for so many people," explained Bentley. "We want those who suffer from a disability or who are growing old to feel like a person again and live independently when possible."

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