Vision Impaired Senior Uses Computer to Enhance Independent Living

For most of her life, Dorothy Gambrel enjoyed the best of health. As a single mom, she raised two children, moved her elderly mother in with her, and worked in a medical office.

However, at age 59, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At age 60, a sudden onset of macular degeneration left her severely vision impaired. She found no use for her computer with low vision, so she gave it away.

Soon after, she discovered she had diabetes, a hiatal hernia, and asthma. “At age 59, everything fell apart for my physical health,” said Gambrel, “but losing most of my eyesight to macular degeneration has been the greatest challenge to independent living by far.”

Still, it hasn’t slowed her down much. Gambrel, now 68, lives in a senior independent living community. Her favorite hobby is finding new recipes on her new computer. She loves to cook, and even prepared a holiday dinner for all of the residents in her building from the tiny kitchen in her apartment last year. “I cook all of the time, and when I have extra, I walk it to my neighbors.”

“It’s funny but people forget I have a disability because I get around so well. They’ll call me over [in the community living areas] and say, ‘hey, Dorothy look at this,’ and I have to remind them I can’t see. I’m legally blind.”

For many seniors, macular degeneration can feel like an early death sentence. Even a confident person’s self-perception can take a blow when he or she thinks about a life of dependence upon others. Suddenly, the vision impaired is faced with the prospect that senior activities once enjoyed independently may be impossible without another person’s assistance. Social activities may come to a halt.

“Sometimes people think I’m rude because I don’t say anything to them when I pass them in the hall or when I’m out. The real reason is that I can no longer recognize people by looking at their faces. I’m not sure that I know them until they speak to me.”

Gambrel feels it is important to find and use the resources available for the vision impaired to maintain her freedom of living. She finds independent living information by asking around. “A good friend of mine had a booklet about different agencies that offered resources for seniors, so I started by calling every number in the section on visual impairment.”

By calling around, she located a free computer from the Texas Center for the Visually Challenged. Through this organization, she learned about ZoomText® 9.1, magnification software that has made it possible for her to get on the information superhighway. Not only does ZoomText® magnify, but it also uses technology that reads applications and documents aloud in a friendly, human-sounding voice right through the computer user’s speakers.

“I never thought I’d want a computer again,” said Gambrel. “They became a necessity toward the end of my career. But I still remember the first time I got an e-mail from my boss, and I went right into his office and asked, ‘Can’t we just yell back and forth?'”.

Gambrel said that due to limited funding and staff for many of the organizations she contacted, she had to leave a detailed voicemail message for them to get a response. “They don’t have the money to have someone staff the phones all of the time. It’s time consuming to find the necessary independent living resources, and many of my friends get frustrated with getting a recording and just hang up. But if you keep calling, you’ll eventually get a call back, and if they can’t help you, they can usually give you another contact number for someone who can.”

While she still hasn’t opened an e-mail account, she has found her new computer helpful for reading news and printing coupons. She looks forward to learning more. “I plan on living until I’m 100, and living independently. Learning more about using my computer is just another tool for that.”

Diane Carbo Registered Nurse has more than thirty five years in the nursing field. Her experience as a geriatric care manager, makes her uniquely qualified to help. You will find extensive helpful information that will be continually updated that will help you age in place. Please visit Diane’s web site and learn more about being vision impaired Sign up for “The Caring Advocate” her free newsletter and take advantage of a complimentary e-course Advocating For Yourself and Others


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  • LAAAC is managed by St. Barnabas Senior Services; Funded, in part, by Archstone Foundation.
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