Jim Shaffer, a United States Air Force veteran from Iowa, was an active pilot, an avid tennis player and enjoyed a good game of golf for most of his life. At 75, Mr. Shaffer noticed his vision changing, like many other veterans and civilians, and he was diagnosed with Age Related Mascular Degeneration. He went through numerous medical procedures to try and preserve his remaining vision, but after about three years his vision started to slowly decrease. Many of the things he once enjoyed seemed difficult or even impossible.
That’s when Mr. Shaffer found the Hines Blind Rehabilitation Center. In 2009, he enrolled in a blind rehabilitation training program at the hospital and realized that what seemed impossible, might not be out of his reach after all. Although he could not fly a plane, or drive a car, there were other things he still could do. During his program at the Hines Blind Center he was introduced to numerous techniques and devices that enabled him to perform some of the activities that he once enjoyed. Through the four basic skill areas of the rehabilitation program, Mr. Shaffer learned alternative methods for communicating, traveling and working, by using adaptive devices such as voice recorders, handwriting guides and a long cane. He improved his organizational skills through sensory development and improved his work habits as a visually impaired individual. He trained to use his existing sight effectively with devices such as electronic reading devices and specialized magnifiers, all issued through the Blind Rehabilitation program.
“At the Hines Blind Center, I gained so much confidence and knowledge that when I went home I knew I wanted to work again,” he said. “I really felt like there was no limit to what I could accomplish despite my vision loss.”
Upon returning to Iowa, Mr. Shaffer got in contact with Voluntary Service at the VA Hospital in Des Moines. He began working at the VA as a volunteer; shadowing other volunteers that were escorting patients and delivering lab work. Eventually he was placed at the information desk where he volunteered three days a week for about nine months.
Although Mr. Shaffer loved volunteering, his ultimate goal was to become employed by the VA and serve other Veterans. Due to his decreasing vision, he faced numerous challenges when pursuing a job. Mr. Shaffer decided to return to the Hines Blind Center for Computer Access Training. He received training with the access software, ZoomText, allowing him to magnify the screen to utilize the computer. Last summer, all his hard work paid off. At 81 years of age, Jim was hired at the Des Moines VA Hospital as a Program Assistant.
“Jim is truly an inspiration to Veterans who are experiencing vision loss,” said Jerry Schutter, Chief of the Hines Blind Center. “He worked hard to achieve his goals and with a little help from our Blind Center, he was able to make it happen for himself. We are so proud of him.”
According to Schutter, the Hines Central Blind Rehab Center is a 34-bed inpatient facility located 13 miles west of Chicago on the VA Hospital campus. The goal of the Center is to help visually impaired and legally blind Veterans to become as independent as possible in all aspects of daily life, and to assist them in their adjustment to blindness. The Veterans who come to Hines vary by age from 18-98, background, and cause of vision loss, but they all share the goal of regaining their independence and returning to the activities they once enjoyed.
The program offers training and education in areas including:
Other services such as Physical and Occupational Therapy, Speech and Audiology Services are also available. Program length varies from 1-8 weeks based on the individual goals and unique needs of each Veteran. For more information about the Hines Blind Center, call the Hines VA Hospital Visual Impairment Services Coordinator (VIST) Pat Zeinstra at 708-202-2351.