Andy is 32 years old and lives in Queens, New York. He was born with an eye condition called optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH), in which the optic nerve is underdeveloped or incomplete in development. Some individuals with ONH may have mild visual impairment or no vision problems, while others may experience significant vision loss or blindness.
Andy first came to Lighthouse Guild when he was about eight years old and participated in a weekend program in a former Queens location. He says, “At that time, I was not good at making new friends, and that program gave me a community to meet other kids who had a similar situation as I was in. It enabled me to be in a safe space with people I could talk to and relate with, and it helped me to navigate my life. I learned new skills to assist me with my vision impairment. I learned different skills from them, and it gave me a better understanding of how to talk about my disability.”
Andy shares that he was a client at Lighthouse Guild from 1999 to 2005, then again from 2009 to 2018, and most recently from October 2022 to the present day. All those years in between, he lived in Texas and received services from another vision organization, The Catholic Guild for the Blind. He began training with a white cane at Lighthouse Guild and then furthered his training with the Catholic Guild when he was in Texas.
From 2009 to 2018, when Andy was in New York, he went to Lighthouse Guild every two years for low-vision eye exams. During those visits, he would see different doctors. He saw the Director of Vision Rehabilitation Services, Dr. Laura Sperazza, for his latest low vision exam. Andy shares, “I have always made my appointments with the expert who was available. I felt comfortable knowing that I would get the best care no matter which expert I had my appointment with.”
When Andy was a teenager, he participated in the Columbia University and Lighthouse Guild’s collaborative Summer Youth Transition program, which allowed students to use their independent living skills and experience life independently as young adults. Participants stayed in a Columbia University dorm room for about a week — spending half of their time at Columbia and the other half at Lighthouse Guild, taking classes in math, typing, improv, cooking, and cleaning. There were also field trips to concerts, shows, and parks.
Andy says, “I didn’t lose my vision. I was born visually impaired and being the only visually impaired person in my family, I felt I was pretty much alone until I entered these programs. I am thankful for these programs because they helped me adapt to my disability. I do still have a lot to learn, but I think I have adapted pretty well in terms of having a vision impairment.”
Recently Andy has participated in other Lighthouse Guild services such as Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training, assistive technology, and independent living skills. He
works with O&M instructor Wojciech Jacobi learning about street crossings and how to take the train and the bus. He says they have helped make him feel more comfortable in navigating his neighborhood, and he is currently training to gain confidence in navigating the subway.
He was given a typing assessment by Rehabilitation Teaching Aide Dennis Farro. He will get an assistive technology assessment to help him when he applies for jobs. He is working with Rehabilitation Teacher Monica Torres on independent skills training — learning how to cook with adaptive aids and about helpful apps on his smartphone, such as a money reader called EyeNote and Seeing AI that identifies people and objects and then audibly describes them for the user.
Andy says, “I’ve learned proper cutting techniques when peeling and cutting vegetables, so I won’t cut my hands. The main thing I wanted to focus on was learning to cook because I am sort of a picky eater, and I don’t want to be ordering out for food all the time. I want to learn the skills of cooking so I’m able to prepare more healthy food choices.”
Andy is certified in Information Technology (IT) and can build and repair desktops and laptop computers. He shares, “I’m pretty technology savvy, but I still have a lot to learn in terms of adaptive aids in technology. I know all about computers, how to fix and build them from scratch. I know about laptops, tablets, smartphones — how to use them, set them up, use voice readers, magnifiers, and such.”
Andy has volunteered at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, working in their adaptive technology department, assisting people who are blind and visually impaired with iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, and Android devices — how to use Apple VoiceOver or Google TalkBack and Zoom for communicating such as making phone calls, emailing, and text messaging. Andy says, “I’m a very patient and understanding person, which is helpful when teaching others how to use their devices.”
Andy also volunteers at Lighthouse Guild with the Youth Skills and Youth Transition Programs, where he assists Adaptive Technology Specialist Ed Plumacher with assistive technology. He can apply his wealth of tech expertise to help others with vision impairment meet their goals.
When asked what his advice would be to someone recently diagnosed with vision loss, he says, “First, I would recommend that they connect with the New York State Commission for the Blind and speak with their counselor to be advised on their needs and then I would recommend they reach out to Lighthouse Guild as a great place where they can get assistance and services that can be of great value to them.”
Andy is focused on learning how to use the subway and buses and living skills, such as cooking and cleaning. He hopes to get a job in the IT field or work at an organization like Lighthouse Guild.
Andy says, “My experience at Lighthouse Guild has always been positive. Anytime I have ever gone to Lighthouse Guild, whether it was for a vision exam or typing class, and on up to my recent visits with Monica Torres [for independent living skills training], I always have a positive experience with everyone there, and with all the different services I’ve received.”