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Blind lead better lives with help of Homestead agency

| Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

Schrika Hill and Lynda Lambert reacted differently when learning they were going blind.

Hill, a resident of New Castle, Lawrence County, lapsed into a severe depression lasting several years after being diagnosed with a genetic disorder that left her without vision 11 years ago.

"I was in deep denial," Hill said. "I was getting ready to graduate from business school and couldn't believe this was happening to me."

Lambert of Wurtemburg, also in Lawrence County, accepted her condition better. She had suffered strokes that robbed her of sight in 2007.

"I wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible," Lambert said. "If it was legal, I would have kept on driving (a vehicle)."

Hill and Lambert praised Blind & Visual Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh for helping them go on to lead productive lives. Based in Homestead, the nonprofit, United Way agency offers a wide range of programs and technology to the visually impaired. The agency, formerly known as the Pittsburgh Association for the Blind, will celebrate its 100th anniversary at a gala on Oct. 20 at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

Hill, 33, learned to compose lyrics on a Braille writer at Blind & Visual Rehabilitation Services for songs she performs as a rap musician at area social clubs. Lambert, a former associate professor of fine arts and humanities at Geneva College, makes jewelry using a closed circuit television that magnifies an item up to 85 times its size.

Other technology available through the agency include talking computers, screen-enlargement software, accessible cell phones, hand-held GPS systems and electronic color identifiers. For clients with some sight, a video magnifier, named Jordy after a Star Trek character, is worn on the head and acts like a telescope, allowing users to see near and far at the touch of a dial.

"I lost my sight in my mid-60s and did not know where to turn," Lambert said. "My doctors didn't know what to do with me after I became blind.

"I was given a catalog showing the technology I could use, but that was about it. Another blind person put me in contact with Blind & Vision (Rehabilitation) Services. They set up the technology for me. They saved my life."

Hill was frustrated in finding help at first.

"I knew I needed help, but had no idea where to go," Hill said. "Once I found out about them, Blind & Vision (Rehabilitation) Services really turned my life around. I still have my ups and downs, but feel much better about myself thanks to what they have done."

Erika Arbogast, in her first year as president of Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, said one of her main goals is to better educate the public about programs available through the agency, which serves approximately 1,200 children and adults each year.

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