Finding Independence at Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind

Apr 30, 2015
Originally published on May 3, 2015 12:10 am

Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind will have an open house from 1 to 6 p.m. Friday, May 1, at their location at 1106 W. Platt Street in Tampa. See the map below for directions.

I'm walking in the halls of the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind with Louise Peyton, a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

"To your right. I don't ever walk in a straight line. I would never pass a sobriety test even when sober. The reason being I have a terrible ear," she says.

She works with young students in a transition program that serves students with varying degrees of visual impairment. They meet after school and on weekends.

Peyton has been completely blind all of her life.

She says that technology has been a help to people who are visually impaired. She shows me her APEX Braillenote. It speaks what she types on its braille keys.

"To discuss the Transition program at the Lighthouse," the Braillnote says.

Peyton says that, unlike technology, people's perception of the blind have been slow to change. But, she says technology does level the playing field for people with visual impairments, especially in the job market.

She says her job is ensuring that students have a smoother transition to independence. Students like Chris Nunez, who's in the computer program at Tampa Bay Technical High School. He says he wants to change the world with technology.

"Like taking a Bluetooth speaker, that's really small, and putting it in your head so you can hear music. Little things that seem crazy now--far out, impossible. But I always have ideas. I draw things in my notebook," he says.

Chris was born 17 weeks early. His right eye never had a chance to develop. He says that the transition program offers him a chance to be with other teens like himself.

"Thanks to this program, I've been able to find more people who've been through similar things," he says. "I've met people who've overcome similar challenges, or who know what I'm going through.

One of the younger students in the transition program is Heriberto Rivera. He prefers to go by Tito. He's an eighth grader at Memorial Middle School preparing for high school.

He's legally blind, a result of his albinism - a condition where the body produces little to no pigment in his skin, hair or eyes .

"Going through skin disorders and going through eyesight problems, you grow to be more emotionally--more mentally mature," he says. "You have rough skin. You're able to take certain things. You're able to go the extra mile when you can."

But sometimes it's hard. He's had to deal with bullying.

"I've had milk thrown at me," he says.

He's been spat on.

"I've been pushed downstairs."

It was hard to cope with, he says. But things started to change when he started singing.

That's when, he started to feel good about himself. He was in his school's talent show. And other kids started to respect him.

As Tito transitions into high school, he says he'll try to ignore the bullies at school, and focus on singing.

Here's Tito singing: You and me, we made a vow. For better or for worse. I can't believe you let me down. But the proof is in the way it hurts.

The students of the Tampa Lighthouse transition program have visual impairments. But that doesn't mean they lack vision about who they want to become. And as long as the Lighthouse exists, they'll have help navigating the sometimes dark and often unpredictable waters of the future.

Here's the map to Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind's open house, Friday May 1: