Insighters helps the vision impaired to find camaraderie, support andfun

February 17, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Sylvia Kaplan resisted when her daughter first encouraged her in 1989 to attend a meeting of the Insighters, a support group for the visually impaired.

"My daughter begged me. I went kicking and screaming," said the 85-year-old Columbia resident.

Ruth Masters, 68, who has glaucoma and degeneration of the retina, also was reluctant to attend when she was was recruited four years ago while attending a health fair at the center. "I wanted to be sure that it wasn't a group that felt sorry for themselves," she said.

And Ralph Mulloy, 65, was fighting depression when he went to his first Insighters meeting five years ago on the advice of his ophthalmologist.

Today, the three rarely miss a meeting.

Mrs. Kaplan writes ditties for the group (the lyrics accompanying popular tunes) about everyday problems for people with limited vision. Mr. Mulloy leads the 6-year-old group, and Mrs. Masters fills in whenever he can't make it. Both say the weekly meetings have evolved into a mostly social group.

"We are in the fourth and final phase of camaraderie and support -- a point when it is most difficult to introduce new members," Mr. Mulloy said.

So a second group was organized two years ago for members in the early phases of adjusting to their limitations. With that group now solidly on its way, a new group will get started in a new place next month.

The latest group, the Spring Newcomer Insighters, will begin March 5 at the Owen Brown Community Center in Columbia. It will continue from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. every Friday for eight consecutive weeks.

The eight meetings will be an orientation for persons 55 and older. Later, these new members will be channeled into the other two groups, said Mr. Mulloy, who will lead the new group.

He points to such problems as "pouring a cup of coffee without filling up your shoes" and determining which button to push on the microwave or stereo among the frustrations of daily living that plague visually impaired people. But Mr. Mulloy is enthusiastic about the gamut of gadgets to fit every need, and he has his own supply of devices that make life easier. For instance there's a 9-volt battery with two prongs that attach to the edge of a glass or cup. When liquid is one-fourth inch from the top, a buzzer goes off.

"I simply take it out, lick the prongs when my wife isn't looking and I put it away till the next time," Mr. Mulloy said with a chuckle.

A tube of plastic dots that adhere to controls on things such as computers enable Mr. Mulloy to push the right buttons.

Mr. Mulloy also is excited about modern technology and cited Mrs. Masters' involvement as a volunteer for research at the Wilmer Eye Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Glasses with tiny TV monitors also are being developed to aid people with low vision. The leaders plan to develop a library of mail-order catalogs that supply such gadgets and that will keep the group aware of the latest technology for people with poor vision.

Mr. Mulloy himself is a resource, with involvements in community organizations including the Urban-Rural Transportation Alliance

(URTA), where he serves on the board of directors. Many of the Insighters members -- who do not have someone to drive them to the meetings -- are transported by URTA buses.

In spite of the serious difficulties that people with low vision face, a sense of humor prevails through the group, and members often talk about humorous experiences.

Mrs. Masters laughs about the day her daughter noticed

she had blue eyebrows.

"I try to look as decent as I can," she said. "I could see I had eyebrows; I guess that was the problem. My daughter took a look at me, and I realized I had used blue eye pencil."

Mr. Mulloy and Mrs. Masters giggled while describing how they sometimes must stick their heads inside a bathroom before entering if they can't read the sign that indicates gender.

"And I once held a conversation with a post while waiting for a bus," laughed Mr. Mulloy.

It's those kinds of incidents that bring a group closer as they cry and laugh together, he said.

"We hope to be able to help these people and their relationships with their families. We want to support them with their disability. . . . Basically, we don't feel sorry for ourselves."

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