April 23, 2012

WBRC Alumnus Interview: Charles Grover

Interview by Summer Beasley-Hoffman, WBRC Orientation and Mobility Specialist

Photograph titled 'Chihuly at Bellagio' by Charles Grover, WBRC Alumnus
captures the colorful sculpture of trumpet flower shaped blown glass lit
from behind displayed at the Belaggio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Charles Grover, WBRC Alumni has been an active photographer since the 1950's.  Although he became legally blind at the end of 1996 he has continued to photograph avidly and has shown his work in a variety of exhibits across the country including at the Chicago Guild for the Blind, Princeton University, and the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. 

1. Charlie, please tell us a little about yourself and what started your interest in photography.

In the mid-1950s, when I was in tech school in the air force, a fellow student who was a photography buff showed me how to develop and print pictures I had shot with my first camera, a simple 35mm. I did photography intermittently for decades, but there were long fallow periods.

When the vision got bad enough that I had to stop driving, I started walking a lot. The slower pace through the world and the more intimate contact with it, coupled with my preoccupation with my changed vision, I think, made me see more of the immediate world, and I started taking pictures with my 35mm. film camera.

I liked some of them, and soon had an opportunity to go digital fairly inexpensively. After I'd been shooting digital for a while, I was introduced to a collective of blindish photographers, and thus to the various venues that show the art work of the disabled. I have been actively showing since 2004, as detailed in the resume on my websiteNow, I carry a small point-and-shoot digital camera with me everywhere.

2. What type of vision loss do you have and how has your vision changed your approach to photography?

I have macular degeneration, which, as you know, takes away one's central, acute vision. I've been legally blind for over fifteen years, but have adapted to using the remaining vision, apparently to a greater degree than most do, perhaps because I had to start dealing with it earlier in life than most who have it. Even the wicked get lucky sometimes, eh?

I shoot a lot better pictures now than I generally did when fully sighted. The possible reasons include the actual physical change in vision, the resulting changes in the brain, paying attention more; who knows?

3. You completed a Blind Rehabilitation program at WBRC several years ago.  Do you use any devices or techniques that you learned at WBRC for your art?

Actually, I've been to WBRC four times over the years. I can't begin to list the many, many ways in which the training and equipment I have received there have made being blindish a whole lot safer, easier and more enjoyable. I can't praise enough the program and the skilled, dedicated folks who run it.

Computers are of course a basic necessity to processing digital images. I was making a living with computers already when I first came to WBRC for my first VA supplied computer. The last time I was there, six or seven years ago, to get a laptop, Brian Higgins, a professional photographer, in addition to his computer and teaching skills, gave me invaluable help with the essential program to digital photographers, Photoshop.

4. I understand you recently started working with a guide dog, what has that experience been like and has it influenced your photography?

My dog, Tandy. We met the last week of September, 2010, at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Oregon, for our two weeks course together.  She's my first guide dog, but my third Labrador. We are indeed the best of friends. I can still generally do OK during the day, but I've used a cane at night for years, which qualified me for a dog. Other than doggypics, she just waits patiently for me while I organize my camera and a shot. I've attached my favorite picture of her.

Photograph titled 'Charm, Poise, Grace' by Charles Grover, WBRC Alumni
captures the photographers yellow lab Guide Dog in an 'off-duty' moment

5. What advice would you share with other veterans or persons experiencing vision loss?

Advice. It's like most irritating things; highly unwelcome in any quantity. However… in a way, life, in it's perversity, prepared me for the trial of becoming legally blind at age 60, which was fifteen years ago.

When folks ask me what I retired from, my stock answer is, ‘a long series of poor choices’. These choices gave me a lot of adversity training, so when the eyes went, it was just another aggravation to deal with. "Deal with" is the important thing here. Before the vision loss, I'd finally figured out that ‘woe is me’ doesn't move things along at all. Deal with it by actively finding out what you can about what's out there. If you can't find a solution, I bet you'll find some mitigation.

Last year, yet more medical problems started pushing me back to ‘woe is me’ mode. Then, I met my inspiration. She's 96, much more profoundly blind than I am-she uses JAWS to run her computer-and is confined to a wheelchair. She considers her hearing aids a benefit, because she can take them out. She still does beautiful water colors-using her CCTV. It's the attitude that does it.

April 19, 2012

Eyes on Health

By: Shanida Ingalla, O.D., WBRC Optometrist

Photo: A pair of glasses sitting on top of an eye chart

People who have already experienced vision loss due to eye disease often ask me “Do I still need to get an annual eye exam?” In a word, Yes!

A nationwide survey commissioned by Lighthouse International showed that only a small minority of those most at risk get the yearly eye exams that could detect a vision problem and prevent, delay or even reverse its progression. Fully 86 percent of those who already have an eye disease do not get routine exams, the telephone survey of 1,004 adults revealed.

Even after being diagnosed, it is still important to monitor your eye health for changes. It is also equally vital to continue to be screened for other potential eye diseases. An annual eye exam is your opportunity to learn from your eye doctor if there has been any recent advances in treatments or rehabilitation that may benefit you.

It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Certainly the eyes are a window to the body, and a proper eye exam can often alert your doctor to a serious underlying disease like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and multiple sclerosis.

So if it has been a while since your last eye exam, please call your eye doctor and schedule one today!

April 2, 2012

WBRC Alumnus Featured in Idaho Press - Tribune News Article

Photograph: James Nealey, WBRC Alumnus, sits behind a desk
 in a classroom at the College of Western Idaho. 
Photograph taken by Adam Eschbach/IPT for the Idaho Press - Tribune

James Nealey, WBRC Alumnus, was recently profiled by the Idaho Press - Tribune as part of a story detailing the transition of veterans with disabilities into school at the College of Western Idaho.  The story details a new program at the school called the Wyakin Warriors program. 

An excerpt of the article follows below:

'James Nealey, a 28-year-old Army veteran from Nampa who began losing his sight after returning from Iraq, was one of the first five veterans inducted into the Wyakin Warriors program August 2011...

The Wyakin Warrior Foundation, a non-profit organization started by Boiseans Jeff and Rebecca Bacon, provides wounded veterans with a full four-year scholarship — including room, board and tuition — along with job training, mentoring, and life-time membership in the organization. The first group of five veterans was inducted into the program last August. Five more will be inducted in June...

Roy Ledesma, program director for the Wyakin Warriors Foundation, explained that veterans face more challenges that traditional college students...

Tom Byrns, a former Army Major who served as a tank company commander in Iraq, directs the scholarships and education program for the Wyakin Warriors Foundation. Byrns has personally suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression from his battle experiences — and he understands the needs of the student veterans.

“We all have our personal demons. It’s important to identify those things that trigger potential issues,” he said.

Byrns noted that while veterans face challenges, they also have a lot to offer. They tend to be  disciplined and hardworking, and unlike traditional students, they have experience outside of the academic environment.

“They bring diversity, they bring life experience, and they bring a perspective on what’s important and what’s not important,” he said.'

CLICK HERE to read the complete Idaho Press - Tribune Article

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Wyakin Warrior Foundation

April 1, 2012

April VIST Group Meetings Scheduled for Palo Alto and Stockton

Image: VIST Logo
The Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) group is open to all veterans, Active-Duty Service Members, family members and those interested in promoting the community of B/VI veterans in the region are welcome. Meetings have varying presentations and discussions of new technology, special training and many subjects relevant to B/VI persons.

The next Palo Alto VIST group meeting will be held on Thursday April 19th from 11 am to 12 pm at the address below:
VAPAHCS Palo Alto Hospital
Building 100, 3rd Floor, Room B3-136
3801 Miranda Ave
Palo Alto, CA 93401

The next Stockton VIST group meeting will be held on Thursday April 26th from 10:30 am to 11:30 am at the address below:
Stockton Community Center for the Blind
Conference Room
130 W Flora St
Stockton, CA 95202
(209) 466-3836