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Olmsted Center programs assist blind, visually impaired and disabled

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For more than 100 years, the Olmsted Center for Sight has assisted adults and children who are blind, visually impaired and disabled. Each year it serves 2,500 people. In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley tells us how the center provides education, job training and retraining for daily living skills.

Ray Zylinski of Hamburg lost his sight at the age of one.  Now in his 20's -- Zylinski uses computer technology to conduct his work.  Voice activation guides him flawlessly to find what he needs to work on line. 

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Ray Zylinski of Hamburg has been blind since a baby.

Zylinski received his early childhood education at Olmsted.

"What this agency has done for me -- since early childhood -- the early education -- the pre-school program that we run here.  I was involved with that pretty much since 2 and a half. That was a precursor to my parents were like how is he going to get into main stream school. How's he going to get around? How's he going to function? And the early education program was a precursor to the rest of my life," said Zylinski.

Olmsted is also where Zylinski learned how to use a cane and read and write with braille. By the time he was ready for grade school --  Zylinski was reading and writing at a second grade level.http://youtu.be/msD3i7wmFBA

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Inside Olmsted Center for Sight, optical department.

"And then in my teenage years Olmsted provided me with several employment opportunities over the summer to give me work experience --  a little bit of a touch in the professional world," said Zylinski.

But along the way  Zylinski remained a client of Olmsted, teaching him how to navigate in school buildings.  Zylinski then attended college. Then, last year, Zylinski became an employee at Olmsted where he now serves as a job coach at the Statler Center, a national program that partners with Olmsted in Buffalo.

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Ray Zylinski of Hamburg lost his sight at the age of one.

"What is the biggest concern when people are experiencing visual problems and blindness for the first time, as adults -- how do you help them?," asked Buckley    

"Self-confidence I'd say is number one. Self-confidence and motivation -- when somebody just losses their vision, they've lost their world. They don't know where to go, they're completely distraught and are unsure how they could ever function in a workforce," said Zylinski.

Karen Moore of Buffalo is legally blind. "Being independent and working all my life, it really made me have to sit back and say -- get through my pity party about not working anymore -- and not being independent, and now coming here, I've had the ability to re-enter the workforce and become independent again," said Moore. 

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Karen Moore of Buffalo is legally blind.

Moore suffers from diabetes and lost the sight in one eye.  Moore once worked in the mortgage industry, but needed to be retrained.  Now she's employed at the Statler Center through Olmsted where she works on a contract for a lighting system.

"I was referred here from the New York State Commission of the blind.  Prior to coming to Statler I was really at home trying to go through the transition of trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life," said Moore.        

Moore's co-worker Scott Hinton is from California. He's also blind and moved to Buffalo through the Statler Center's program at Olmsted.

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Scott Hinton is from California. He moved to Buffalo through the Statler Center's program at Olmsted. His seeing-eye dog joins him at work.

"I was diagnosed, very young with a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa," said Hinton. 

In his 20's Hinton was once a construction worker in his 20's, then as his eye sight failed he worked in at a call center for a bank.  Now blind, he has a seeing eye-dog.

"I was fortunate to go all through elementary school, junior high, high school and my early 20's without a lot of vision loss," said Hinton. "As I progress getting older it started getting much much worse," said   "By the time I was in my mid-30's I was legally blind."

Tammy Owen is president and CEO of the organization. "One of the biggest problems facing people visual impairments is employment and employers willing to hire those individuals," said Owen. 

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Tammy Owen is president and CEO of Olmsted Center for Sight in Buffalo.

Olmsted's work with the Statler means students are being recruited from all over the country --- even world-wide -- who can't find work because they are blind. 

"Given the fact that only 35% of individuals that are legally blind have employment -- I think we can clearly say  that they are not given the opportunity that they deserve," noted Owen. "I know there is a fear in hiring individuals with impairments."          

Owen says given the spectrum of vision loss -- she believes many more in our community could benefit from the services at Olmsted.

"Knowing that there is over 20,000 seniors with a vision impairment that is impacting their ability to live independently  and we are only seeing about 2,000 individuals a year -- there's a big gap," said Owen.

The Olmsted Center for Sight provides ten-programs and services.

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Maura Duggan is the PR and Communications Specialist at the Center.

"A lot of people think of us as the former Western New York Blind Association and -- yes -- we formally were that, but low vision -- it's the spectrum of  visual impairments  -- can run the gamut, and we are here to help anyone and everyone," said  Maura Duggan, PR and Communications Specialist at the Center. She gave a tour of the low vision clinic -- where one of only two-low vision optometrists in the area work.

"Our examination our 45-minutes which versus, most  visits are 15 to 30 minutes," noted Duggan.

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Olmsted Center for Sight has a kitchen to train the blind.

The Center includes high-tech computers with magnification for reading and even a kitchen to train in daily living skills.

The mission of  Olmsted Center for Sight is to provide a high level of self-sufficiency -- promoting an independent life style for those who can not see.