Instructor lets the light in
Interpreting visual information without your eyes can seem like an impossibly daunting task, Karen Plimmer says. The adaptive communication instructor tells Lauren Priestley about how she helps blind people to see the world.
Karen Plimmer was born blind and is using her experience to help others.
She works with blind and partially sighted clients at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind as an adaptive communications instructor.
Part of her role is teaching braille, a literacy tool consisting of arrangements of raised dots which stand for individual letters or combinations.
Ms Plimmer learnt the dotted language at an early age because she "didn't really have a choice".
She says her personal experience helps her students, who have usually lost their sight as adults.
"I really think there's advantages and disadvantages to every position you're in.
"For me it means that when my students make mistakes I can just say ‘Don't worry, I did that too, you will suss it out'."
Ms Plimmer develops individual programmes to suit each person's needs.
Instruction can range from braille lessons through to keyboard and computer basics, setting up talking screen software and helping people use tablet applications.
Technological advances have changed the landscape of her world as well as her work, Ms Plimmer says.
There are now phone and tablet applications which make life easier in simple ways such as identifying food labels.
Many of these tools were not around when Ms Plimmer was young.
She is excited to see the way technology develops but says braille still plays an important role.
"There's a real immediacy about braille. People assume it's all about reading books - but if your level of vision is so poor you can't see any print, you also can't read anything in your pantry and, more seriously, your medication.
"A tin of tomatoes feels exactly the same as a tin of fruit salad - I've heard some horror stories about dinner parties."
She says the best part of the work is seeing the real difference she can make in other blind or partially sighted people's lives.
She recently got a client back on email after they had gone without it for 15 years.
"No one chooses to lose their sight and for some people it's so overwhelming that they don't want to come to us straight away.
"People can lose a lot of hope in a very short period of time - even if they haven't been able to do something for two or three months. It's quite a buzz to give it back."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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