A Port Alberni support group is working to improve the quality of life for people living with low vision.

The Canadian Council of the Blind has a network of active members across Canada. Each chapter is unique to its geographic area and engages in social and recreational activities based on the interests of its local members. There are more than 90 chapters across Canada, and Port Alberni’s is one of the newest. It has been running for a little more than a year under president Jean Kanngiesser.

Kanngiesser lives with a common eye condition called macular degeneration. She was first diagnosed in 2002, and has been legally blind for the past two years.

“I have about five percent of my vision left,” she explained during a September meeting of the chapter.

Kanngiesser was driven to start a Council of the Blind chapter after a monthly talk group started by her former optometrist was closed down. After this ended, Kanngiesser found that she wanted to keep the tradition going.

The first meeting involved Kanngiesser and three other members travelling to Comox for a meeting of their Council of the Blind. Kanngiesser was inspired to take on a leadership role, and the Port Alberni chapter started in May of 2017.

The most important thing about the support group, said Kanngiesser, is the sharing of information.

“We learn from each other,” she explained.

During meetings, Port Alberni members use a “round table” meeting format to discuss accessibility and new technology for people with low vision—everything from audiobooks to Google Homes. Each meeting also features a different guest speaker, varying from lighthearted to serious. September’s speakers were recreation programmer Karen Freethy and manager of protective services Kelly Gilday, discussing emergency planning for those who are visually impaired.

There are “little things” you don’t think about until you start losing your vision, said Kanngiesser. “How do you put white toothpaste on a white toothbrush without getting it all over the counter? You have to do everything by feel.”

The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month in the basement of Abbeyfield at 10 a.m. The cost for membership is $10 a year, but Kanngiesser said it’s not a problem if people can’t afford membership.

“We welcome you anyway,” she said.

The support group is always in need of volunteers, who can help out by providing rides to those who are unable to drive, or reading to those who cannot read.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 3 and is open to those who are blind or living with low vision, as well as caregivers, relatives and friends.


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