CEDAR RAPIDS — Losing your vision can be an isolating experience, but a new Cedar Rapids-based support groups aims to create a community among blind and visually impaired area residents.
The Blindness Support Group is made up of more than a dozen blind and visually impaired individuals who meet once a month to learn from one another how to overcome barriers specific to their disability.
The group was formed by Jonathan Ice, a Cedar Rapids resident and longtime advocate. The group held its first meeting in March.
“When people go blind — and by that I mean the whole range of vision loss — they feel very isolated,” Ice said. “They feel like they’re the only one going through this.
“To find out you’re not alone in this is really a very helpful thing. Not only are you not alone in this, but there are other people who are finding ways of dealing with it,” he said.
But Ice emphasized the group is focused on positive experiences.
“If it’s just people having a pity party about how awful it is being blind, it’s not going to do any good,” Ice said. “But if you can have people who can share ideas and patterns to cope with the challenges you have as a person, you can do a lot.”
For Sarah McDonough, a 42-year-old Coralville resident, the Blindness Support Group has helped her navigate the world safely after her vision was damaged by a stroke two years ago. She has learned how to use a knife and how to cook safely with a hot stove, among other skills, she said.
“That has been a huge help to me that I know I have support and help that I can ask for,” McDonough said.
In addition to sharing ideas among themselves, the Blindness Support Group invites guests to speak at its meetings. For example, Ice said they have invited an official with the city of Cedar Rapids to learn about public transportation options.
The support group also plans to invite an ophthalmologist, or a vision care specialist, to next month’s gathering.
Ice found a passion for teaching blindness skills during his time at the Iowa Department for the Blind, where he worked for more than 17 years.
Although Ice was born legally blind, he said he didn’t know it until he was diagnosed at age 20.
“I just thought my vision was bad,” Ice said. “Suddenly, I get this label when I was 20, but it was a bit amusing because it didn’t really change my life. I was still doing things like playing softball and riding a bike and all the things I was doing before.”
But then, Ice said he began to notice things he didn’t have in common with people who weren’t visually impaired. They didn’t face job discrimination or lowered expectations from others like he did.
Ice saw the impact support groups statewide had on his clients at the Iowa Department for the Blind, and said he felt it was important to bring a group back to Cedar Rapids.
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Support groups for blind and visually impaired individuals have existed in the past, but they have tapered off over the years.
The second-largest city in the state “should have (a support group), too,” Ice said.
Meetings are held from 1 to 3 p.m. the fourth Thursday of the month at Cottage Grove Place, Sedlacek Hall, 2115 First Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids. For more information, call Ice at (319) 298-2919 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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