Resources shared at Focus on Vision

Submitted photo courtesy of Ruth Klossner Lions Bonnie and Bob Schirlinger of New Ulm, left, shared ideas with Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation trustee Mary Spille.

LAFAYETTE — People came from Winthrop, Arlington, St. Peter, New Ulm, and Lafayette to learn about resources available to deal with issues of vision impairment and blindness Wednesday, April 25. They gained information from a panel of experts from the Minnesota State Services for the Blind as well as trustees from the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation.

Charlene Guggisberg was the main presenter. She is a Lafayette native and daughter of Wally and Louise Guggisberg. As training coordinator for the State Services for the Blind, Guggisberg works statewide and trains people to do just about anything — from basic to recreation skills, even tying a fishing lure. She commented, “I’m always willing to learn. I may have to practice a while before I can teach a skill.”

SSU staffer Meghan Kern is a blind rehab specialist, based in Mankato, and is available to assist people with vision issues in this area.

As head of the Communication Center for SSU, Jay Maruska is based in St. Paul. The communications department provides services for seniors, as well as students. His department provides “radio talking books” — newspapers, magazines, and books — through a network of radio signals available as a free service to those who qualify. He’s also the Braille Supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, with 14 people on staff. It has a K-12 contract with the Minnesota Department of Education, creating all Braille textbooks needed in the state. Minnesota is one of only a few states with a Braille department.

Maruska noted that of the 1.3 million blind people in the U.S., only 10 percent can read Braille — but that Braille is important for employability and independence.

“Charlene is a testament to that. She’s been a Braille reader since age four and has been fully employed all her life,” Maruska said.

Lions trustees Mary Spille of Norwood Young America and Diana Kroells of Hamburg shared information on Lions-sponsored research efforts. They noted that, while the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation does not provide low vision equipment, local Lions clubs can help. Lions clubs have had vision as a mission since 1925 when Helen Keller asked the group to be “The Knights of the Blind.”

Minnesota Lion efforts began with the idea of cornea transplants in 1960. The Minnesota Lions Eye Bank was formed and globes were harvested and taken to the University of Minnesota for corneal transplants. The Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation now includes a children’s eye clinic, research facilities, macular degeneration center, a surgery center, and more.

Bonnie Schirlinger of New Ulm is blind as the result of diabetes. She demonstrated a new piece of equipment that audibly reads the directions on pill bottles. She told the group that she — after getting a special computer through Minnesota State Services for the Blind — is now able to communicate via Facebook… maybe more than her friends would like!

Schirlinger told the group, “We may not have a door open to the visual world, but we have a great big window,” and “Blindness is not terminal. We just have to be given the right tools.”

Following the panel presentation, participants visited with and asked questions of the presenters at resource tables.

The program, held at First Lutheran Church, was co-sponsored by the Lafayette Area Lions Club and the Fields of Grace Churches of Lafayette. The event was planned and organized by First Lutheran member Bonnie Dinsmore and Fields of Grace Minister and Lion member Heidi Hagstrom.