New support group helps those with vision problems

Robin Handley doesn't drive at night anymore.

She has macular degeneration, which limits her nighttime vision.

She jokes with friends that "it's tough being 32 and having to be in by 6 p.m."

Handley's vision began deteriorating when she was 26 years old.

As her vision slowly worsened her fear of losing her independence grew.

Her vision became so bad that she voluntarily gave up her driver's license for three years, something she soon regretted, she said.

She went back to take the test and passed the Arizona requirements for a daytime restrictive license.

"There is a lot of distortion at night with what I have.

There is less distortion during the day," she said.

"I also have trouble reading.

Not only do I have trouble getting to the store, but when I get there I have trouble reading the labels.

I have to use a magnifying glass or take my 9-year-old daughter with me to read them."

Sue Schuetz, who also has macular degeneration, said the disease affects her eyesight in another way – her depth perception is not good, either day or night.

She no longer drives a vehicle, and depends on her husband Bob or her sister Eileen Proffit to drive her where she needs to go.

The women are part of a group that, for the time being, are calling themselves the "Desert Low Vision Support Group."

Although just organizing, the group already has 10 members with low vision problems and has room for more members.

"There is a need in this community for better services and support for the legally blind and those with vision problems," Bob Schuetz said.

The group hopes that by organizing and expanding they will attract support for a public transportation system in Kingman.

"There is a great need for public transportation here.

There are a lot of people who are visually impaired or disabled that are usually on a fixed income.

They need public transportation.

I had to call a cab once – it was about $16.

Not many people can afford that several times a week," Handley said.

Sue Schuetz said that by organizing and networking the group can rely on each other for support while they strive to bring attention to needed services.

Henry Blanco, another member of the group, has diabetic retinopathy but still manages to keep up with his studies at Mohave Community College in Kingman.

He said he has his wife drive him places.

The Desert Low Vision Support Group meets at 1 p.m.

the second Wednesday of every month at the Kathryn Heidenreich Adult Center, 1776 Airway.

For more information call the center at 757-2778.

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Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss among people over age 50.

It results from changes to the macula, a portion of the retina which is located on the inside back layer of the eye.

The macula is responsible for clear, sharp vision and is many times more sensitive than the rest of the retina.

Without a healthy macula, seeing detail or vivid color is not possible, according to the Arizona Optometric Association.

Unfortunately, there is no way to restore central vision lost to macular degeneration.

However, since macular degeneration does not affect side vision, low vision aids such as special telescopic and microscopic lenses, magnifying glasses and electronic magnifiers for close work, can be prescribed to help make the most of remaining vision, according to the information.