RCIL’s Mandy Smith will be hosting the following events:

  • Low vision fair April 7th at the Parsons Public Library from 1:00-3:00pm
  • Low vision independent living classes April 23rd and 30th at the Riley County Senior Center in Manhattan from 1:00pm-3:00pm
  • Low vision fair May 13th at the Marion Senior Center from 12:15pm-2:15pm

Please look for more information in the future or call Mandy at (785)528-3105 if you have questions.

As I get ready to get in the car for today’s appointments, I thought I would take this rainy morning to remind everyone of iKan-RCIL.  iKan-RCIL is a program for those who are 55 years and older and have a vision loss caused by such conditions as Glaucoma, Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Retinopathy, and many more.  This program is often referred to as the “older blind program”.   The person does not have to be totally or “legally” blind but the condition causing the vision loss must affect their daily living to qualify for services.  The iKan-RCIL program covers 32 counties which are listed below and if you are interested in a county not listed email Amanda Smith and I’ll get you the contact information. iKan-RCIL coverage includes: Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Brown, Chase, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Clay, Coffey, Crawford, Dickinson, Doniphan, Elk, Geary, Greenwood, Jackson, Labette, Lyon, Marion, Marshall, Montgomery, Morris, Nemaha, Neosho, Osage, Pottawatomie, Riley, Shawnee, Wabaunsee, Washington, Wilson, and Woodson counties.

I visit individuals at their home and teach them skills or give them technology to live as independently as possible with their vision loss.  To qualify for this service you must live in one of the mentioned counties, be 55 years or older and have a vision loss. There is no cost to participate in this program and if you or someone you know is interested they can email Amanda Smith or call at (785) 528-3105.

Mandy Smith, Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, will be presenting at the Chase County Health Department on May 1st.  The presentation will begin at 1:00pm and last approximately an hour.  Mandy will be explaining what the iKan-RCIL program does and the services it provides along with showing pieces of assistive technology.  Anyone who has a vision loss or anyone who works with people who have a vision loss is welcome to attend.

iKan-RCIL serves individuals who are 55 years and older and who are blind or have low vision, so this program will be focused on that age group.

Chase County Health Department
301 S. Walnut
Cottonwood Falls, KS 66845

If you have questions please call (785) 267-1717.

iKan-RCIL is funded by Kansas Rehabilitation and Services and covers 23 counties in Kansas.

I read a story by Dr. Chris Kuell this week and I pulled this quote from it…

“My cane does announce to the world that I’m blind, but I’m okay with that. It only symbolizes inferiority in the hands of those who don’t have the skills and confidence to use it properly. When I’m walking down the street, it signals to cars and pedestrians alike that I’m going places.” – Dr. Chris Kuell

In my short time as a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I’ve learned that for most people learning to use a white cane can be very tough.  This toughness can be physical when in training the person uses arm muscles a lot to move the cane.  But mostly it is an emotional toughness.  They must admit not only to themselves but also to their friends, family and the public that their vision is either leaving or gone.  Using a cane does not allow them to hide their disability anymore.

When people lose their sight they go through a grieving process.  Most people go through denial, anger and depression which could be a short amount of time or a year or longer.  This can also occur to individuals who lose some sight but keep a remainder (low vision).  (Most of the people who I’ve worked with who have low vision say the worst part was losing their driver’s license.)

I wish people looked at their cane the way Dr. Chris Kuell now looks at his cane.  (He did not always feel this way…)  Yes, a cane does “label” a person as blind but that can be a very good thing.  Using a white cane gives the pedestrian the right of way and also makes drivers be a little bit more carefully.  People should not think that their cane shows off their disability but instead shows off their capabilities.  Just like Dr. Chris Kuell said, “…it signals to cars and pedestrains alike that I’m going places.”

If you’d like to read all of Dr. Chris Kuell’s story follow this link. http://www.blindskills.com/jul_aug_2007_sample3.html

RCIL was awarded part of the grant from Kansas Rehabilitation and Services (KRS) to serve individuals who are 55 years and older and are blind or have low vision.  RCIL has been serving this population since August of 2010 with the PILR/RCIL/SKIL consortium that was also funded by a grant from KRS.  This time, however, RCIL applied on their own.

This program is titled iKan-RCIL and covers 23 counties from Northeast Kansas to Southeast Kansas. These counties include: Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Brown, Chase, Clay, Coffey, Dickinson, Doniphan, Geary, Greenwood, Jackson, Lyon, Marion, Marshall, Morris, Nemaha, Osage, Pottawatomie, Riley, Shawnee, Wabaunsee and Washington.  (There is a map below which iKan-RCIL’s area is in yellow.)  iKan-RCIL county coverage changed by no longer covering Cowley, Butler, Elk, Linn or Sumner counties.

Funds provided for this program are included to pay for services to individuals who have low vision or blindness and are 55 years and older.  Services include teaching independent living skills to promote independence and allowing the individual to live in the environment they chose.  Also, orientation and mobility which individuals are taught how to travel safely, independently and efficiently and this can include learning to use a white cane, talking GPS and many other tools.  Other services include advocacy, information and referral, peer counseling and deinstitutionalization.

If you are interested in learning more or know someone who would benefit from these services please call (785) 267-1717 and ask for Mandy Smith.

RCIL is hosting a booth at the Assistive Technology Expo this year in Wichita. I am “manning” the booth to share with the participants my newly offered service, orientation and mobility.  I have spoken to approximately 30 participants this far and explained some of the services RCIL has to offer.

Remember, assistive technology does  not have to be something high tech and expensive.  I have a range of items displayed at the booth.  Items range from what I use during an orientation and mobility lesson,  items that may be use to assess a person with low vision, and items I use during home visits for the iKan program (55 years and older who are blind or have low vision.  Some items include a white cane, Trekker Breeze, check guide, bold line paper and much more.

I have not had a chance to explore all booths but from where I’m sitting it appears there is a booth on just about all disabilities. If you are in the Wichita area the expo is open until 7:00pm tonight and open until 3:00pm tomorrow.

I thought what better way to celebrate achieving my orientation and mobility certification than to look at pictures over the last two years. 

 (Click on each picture for a more detailed description.)

 A lot has changed in the last two years and I’m thankful for it all.  I’d like to thank all of my iKan pals/co-workers who traveled this journey with me.  I’d also like to send a huge thank you out to all the consumers I’ve served over the last two years who have taught me more than I could have ever imagined!











As I’ve said before I am studying to become an Orientation and Mobility Specialist.  This requires nine 3 hour courses through Texas Tech Univeristy (where I’m at right now) and two of those classes are white cane technique classes.

My first class started on June 1st and we didn’t touch the canes much at all except to modify them.  We are using a rigid Typhlocane with a crook handle.  It has a grip that can be related to a golf club grip but has one flat side on it.  We cut them to the correct length by measuring it from the ground to our sternum.  I then found out that you put the white reflective tape on it (it’s made out of aluminum) which is much harder than it sounds to do it without getting any wrinkles or tears!  We also put on red reflective tape on the bottom which I did my in strips so I could identify my cane from the other students.

The next day we started using our canes more and learned how to go up and down stairs using it.  While my instructor and partner were outside during a lesson I was sitting in a lounge area on the campus with my Mindfold on and holding my cane.  I heard some students in the hallway beside me whispering something and start giggling.  I smiled!  I didn’t care if they were laughing at me because I know what I’m doing and I LOVE what I’m doing.  In a couple of weeks I’m going to have the skills to instruct another person how to grip his/her cane to travel somewhere!

I have really enjoyed the first three days of class and I’m looking forward to the next four weeks to enhance my skills!

To be continued…

I met with someone who was recently diagnosed with the eye condition, Age-Related Macular Degeneration.  I asked her if it was the wet or dry type.  She responded, “I don’t know.”  I explained to her that with wet macular degeneration, the macula on the back wall of your eye swells up and causes your acute, detailed vision (what you use to read) to become blurry.  It also allows new blood vessels to grow that are weak and leak blood into the center of the eye.  Dry macular degeneration does not have the blood vessels that grow.  She replied, “Well, he (her eye doctor) didn’t say.”

If a doctor comes in and says you have a certain eye disease, but doesn’t explain how it affects or will affect your vision, that can be scary. Orientation and Mobility Specialists can explain an eye condition in terms that regular people (not doctors) understand and also how it could affect your vision.

Orientation and Mobility Specialists can also help you learn what equipment is out there that could help you use what remaining vision you have.  There are thousands of magnifiers and other assistive technology equipment and software out there that could help a person.  But only if they know about it.

Orientation and Mobility Specialists also teach individuals with vision loss techniques that enable them to travel safely, efficently and independently.

I was told the other day that I know enough about eye diseases that I should become an eye doctor.  That isn’t true.  I know enough about eye diseases to turn large words I can’t pronounce into smaller words that make sense to the average person.  That’s my job.

This blog was written by Mandy Smith, an RCIL Staff member, who recently became an O&M Specialist.  She has been working with RCIL since June 2009.

In August of this year, I applied for a new position at RCIL.  When I found out I had the position, I was so excited I went and told my whole family,  “Guess what guys, I’m becoming an Orientation and Mobility (O & M) Specialist and will be taking classes through Texas Tech!”  My family was very supportive and thought it was great.  Then they asked, “What is an Orientation and Mobility Specialist?”

Great question!  An Orientation and Mobility Specialist is a person who is certified to teach people who are blind or visually impaired how to travel safely, effectively and independently.  This includes how to use a sighted guide, white cane, trail walls and much more.

I am attending Texas Tech because they have an O & M program under their special education master’s degree. Once I’ve finished the classes and the certification test, I will be a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS).  The COMS program is a two-year graduate program so I should be finished in 2012.

The O & M profession started in 1944 during World War II at Valley Forge Army Hospital.  Many soldiers were coming back from service blinded in battle.  A lot of people thought they should just learn their way around but not Richard Hoover.  He saw that the soldiers could benefit from the use of a longer cane to travel, and this is where “Foot Travel” began. (The term O & M did not catch on until later.)

It took some time and fighting by many people to advance O & M into a profession, but it happened. In 1960 Boston College started the first university program for O & M instructors , and Western Michigan University followed suit in 1961.  Today 20 colleges and universities offer the O & M program.

I am looking forward to becoming certified and being able to assist our consumers.  I also am appreciative of the grant we received with Prairie Independent Living Resource Center (PILR) from Kansas Rehabilitation Services.  This grant will allow RCIL to provide services for the blind and visually impaired.

RCIL, PILR and the other Centers for Independent Living will be holding focus groups in the near future for input on our blind and visually impaired services.  More information on these focus groups will be out very soon but, if you are interested in more information, please email me at mandy.smith@rcilinc.org.