Client Spotlight: Meet Stephanie Watts
Stephanie Watts of Sacramento was born legally blind from optic atrophy and glaucoma. She relied on little more than light perception her whole life, including her 28-year career with the state, where she spent some years helping people with vision impairment find employment. When she retired, her vision deteriorated rapidly and she needed new skills to navigate her world.
“I know Braille, and I’m proficient at computers and technology through my work, but with retiring and my vision deteriorating, I knew I needed to rethink how I’m going to navigate the world,” Stephanie said. “I really wanted to regain my confidence. I had always had the comfort of my little parameters of vision, but without that, I needed to brush up on my skills.”
Stephanie ended up waiting more than a year before she decided to join our Senior IMPACT Project – it turned out to be the last one held before the stay-at-home order was issued in March. Stephanie graduated from the Senior IMPACT Project on March 13 – just a few days before the shutdown and just in time to meet her goal to walk around her neighborhood feeling secure in her mobility skills.
During her first walk around her neighborhood after the retreat, she felt a burst of empowerment as she realized she felt safe crossing streets again.
“Although many people who have lived with blindness their whole lives are able to adapt to changing conditions, some of us may need help, depending on our circumstances,” Stephanie said. “I’ve shared with friends that I didn’t realize until I hit this place in life that I needed additional skills to meet new goals. The Senior IMPACT Project isn’t just for people who go blind later in life. It also can benefit those of us who are congenitally blind.”
With her vision declining, Stephanie also wanted to feel comfortable again cooking meals and serving friends at home.
“I wanted to feel that I have the techniques needed in order to do the things I wanted to do as a full grown adult,” Stephanie said. “I didn’t want to feel like I had to rely on people. I wanted to be back in control of my choices.”
Stephanie says she now works even harder as a volunteer than she did when she was employed. She is a member of the California Council of the Blind (ACB Capital Chapter), where she serves on the Legislative and Community Affairs, Inclusive Diversity, and Access and Technology committees. She also volunteers with other blindness organizations, beta testing and giving policy input.
This summer, Stephanie joined Society for the Blind’s recently formed Black American Senior Support Group, which she describes as a safe place to share issues of blindness as they relate to being Black. She said sometimes people have an opportunity for a referral from a doctor to a place like Society for the Blind, but they reluctantly decline because they do not find anyone who looks like them.
“Sometimes people just need to see themselves in the group,” Stephanie said. “I want to see us talk to other Black seniors who are losing their vision but haven’t reached out for services yet because they think Society for the Blind is not for them.”
Stephanie also now volunteers as a mentor with the Senior IMPACT Project as a way to give back to the program that helped her so much.
“The Senior IMPACT Project really restored my confidence in my ability to navigate my world so I could be independent and feel that I had control of my options and choices in a way I had not felt in years,” Stephanie said. “I’m very passionate about this program and being part of it as a mentor. It’s just an awesome group of people, and I can’t wait till we’re able to be together again.”