The Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation in Omaha, Nebraska, is a leading medical facility serving people with ‘low vision,’ i.e., people who have very poor eyesight that can’t be improved through surgical means. Conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and stroke can cause low vision. In part, the Center provides evaluation, testing, prescribing of high-powered glasses or magnifiers, information about high-tech devices and home adaptations, and training in daily living skills.
Kay Konz of Lincoln, Nebraska, a mental health therapist, has visited the Center. ‘I knew in my college years that I didn’t see at night as well as my peers,’ said 51-year-old Konz in a telephone interview. ‘Then when I was in graduate school, one of my sisters was referred to an eye doctor for the possibility of having retinitis pigmentosa.’
Eventually, in 1981, Konz learned she also had retinitis pigmentosa. A National Institutes of Health website defines it as a genetic, progressive eye disease ‘in which there is damage to the retina.’ It affects about 75,000 Americans. Symptoms often appear in childhood, and severe visual challenges usually develop after adolescence.
Nonetheless, Konz went on to become a licensed mental health therapist.
Progressively losing her sight, she had to give up night driving in 1986. In 2006, another major life change occurred. ‘By then, I was able to drive only familiar routes, such as to church and the grocery store. When trying to renew my driver’s license that year, I failed the eye test. I couldn’t see anything in the testing device with my right eye.’
In late 2006, no longer allowed to drive, she began using a white cane. Recently, she acquired her first guide dog, a friendly German Shepherd. Konz has noticed a huge difference in the way people treat her now with her guide dog versus when she used only her white cane.
‘When using the white cane, I thought I was treated poorly,’ she said. ‘For instance, employees in stores often would walk away from me when I walked in, or if I was with someone they’d talk to that person and not to me. Now people treat me so much better when I’m with my dog (and without the white cane).’
After work, Konz enjoys reading at home, and for that purpose the Weigel Williamson Center recently helped her procure a flat-screen TV magnifier.