WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Millions of people are living with low vision, a visual impairment that cannot be corrected through glasses, contact lenses, or surgery.
According to the National Eye Institute, you may have low vision if you cannot see well enough to do things like reading, driving, recognizing people’s faces, telling colors apart, or seeing your television or computer screen clearly.
In Wichita, the organization, Envision, aims to improve the quality of life and provide inspiration and opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education, and research.
Envision and 22-year-old Wichita woman Madison Kester go way back. Kester has retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, genetic disorder with symptoms including difficulty seeing at night and decreased peripheral (side) vision.
“I was born with perfect vision, and it’s deteriorated over time. It’s been a lot easier I think for me to adjust to it. Right now, I think the only thing I really can’t do is drive. I don’t use a cane yet,” Kester tells KSN News.
Signs of retinitis pigmentosa can usually be detected during a routine eye exam. Symptoms may present with blurred vision, decreased vision at night, or loss of peripheral vision, often in childhood.
Kester reports her vision began to deteriorate around the time she went to Kindergarten. That’s when she got her first pair of glasses.
Her sister and mother also have retinitis pigmentosa. Her father and brothers do not.
Kester began attending Envision’s Assistive Technology Camp (now called Level Up!) at a young age.
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“We learned interview skills, they taught us how to build a resume. We did mock interviews,” Kester remembers.
Kester fondly remembers trying things like archery, horseback riding, and canoeing at Heather’s Camp, a summer camp for the visually impaired.
A chance visit to Envision in 2018 presented Kester with a job opportunity: going to work in the Cathy G. Hudson Envision Child Development Center. Kester assists children in the nursery with daily tasks like eating, washing hands, and helping them to reach their developmental milestones.
A blend of typically sighted, blind, and visually impaired children learn and engage in activities side by side with one another, with instructors like Kester to help guide them.
On a Friday morning in February, Kester helped a visually impaired child identify where her glasses, nose, and ears were.
“She doesn’t understand it yet, but to have a role model that has a visual impairment, I feel like that’s really important. I had my mom,” Kester said.
Despite her diagnosis, Kester says she and her family try to live as normal as possible. She wishes for a greater understanding of the full spectrum of vision, as most are surprised to learn she is legally blind.
“People think there’s no gray area, you either have vision or you don’t. And there’s a lot of in-betweens people really don’t understand,” Kester said.