State service aids the blind

OFFERING HER INSIGHT — Meghan Kern from State Services for the Blind gives a presentation Thursday at Open Doors Methodist Church in Wells about vision impairment and the resources that SSB offers.

WELLS — While losing one’s eyesight can lead to everyday problems and a loss of independence, there are resources to help.

Meghan Kern, who works for State Services for the Blind, gave a presentation Thursday about vision impairment and the resources that SSB offers.

The presentation at Open Doors Methodist Church in Wells was part of the Lunch & Learn program through Interfaith Caregivers, at which speakers talk about topics pertaining to senior citizens. This is done every month in Blue Earth and every other month in Wells.

State Services for the Blind offers tools and training to Minnesotans who are blind, deaf-blind, losing vision or have another disability that makes reading difficult.

Kern represents almost all of the south-central Minnesota counties, including Faribault and Martin County, visiting people to assess their needs, and to work with them to improve their vision and gain independence.

“One of the questions I get is, ‘I’m not blind, so can I use your services?’ and the answer is absolutely,” Kern said. “Just a visual impairment can really affect your life in a significant way, and we want to make sure that you’re able to take advantage of some of the tools and items that might be available for you.”

According to Kern, 285 million people in the world are estimated to have low vision for a variety of different reasons, with 39 million considered legally blind. Aging has a lot to do with these numbers.

“Of the people who are diagnosed with vision loss, about 82 percent are above the age of 50, and that’s because as we age our eyes kind of wear out,” Kern said.

With the aging population, she said the visits made by SSB go up about 25 percent every year.

“Baby Boomers are getting older and we need to certainly meet with them one on one and discuss what needs and services they might need,” Kern said.

As part of her presentation, she brought some of the items SSB offers at no cost to those experiencing vision loss. One item of note is optimal character recognition readers, which take a picture and audibly read the words on the picture.

“It’s often hard to do many skills when you can’t read things,” Kern said. “Reading labels on cans, reading prescription bottles, just reading the mail to see who it’s from becomes a really tiresome task.”

Kern said the two struggles related to vision loss that bother people the most are driving and reading books. To help those with vision loss be able to enjoy reading again, Kern said the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault County provides audiobooks and other library services to people with visual, physical or learning disabilities.

“It’s a really neat service, and it’s one that most people like to take advantage of,” she said.

Other devices Kern talked about were special sunglasses, large button devices for landline phones and clocks that audibly tell the time.

“Those are just some of the things that we can provide,” she said. “Like I said, it’s super customizable, so if you have a certain need, I recommend just contacting us and we’ll work with you one on one to hopefully correct that problem.”

For more information on the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library

To learn more about SSB, visit