As Part Of 75th Anniversary, Officials Celebrate Blind, Visually Impaired Floridians

Oct 21, 2016

October is National Blindness Awareness Month. But, Florida officials are also recognizing the 75th anniversary of the Florida Division of Blind Services year round. During a recent ceremony celebrating blind and visually impaired Floridians, the organization also marked the importance of the state’s White Cane Law.

“I may have a visual impairment, but I haven’t let it slow me down in the slightest,” said Kiersten McCans.

Kiersten is an Honor roll elementary school student from the Florida Panhandle, but there’s one thing that sets her apart from her classmates.

“I am just like any other normal 10-year-old fourth grade student at Crawfordville Elementary school, except I was born with a visual impairment known as ocular albinism,” she added. “Ocular albinism is a genetic condition that affects pigmentation that affects nerves in my eye and make it harder for me to see. This condition affects the clarity of my vision as well as my depth perception.”

And, while Kiersten says she’s committed to live a normal life, her genetic condition makes some activities more difficult.

“I sometimes can’t do the same things that my friends are able to do, like playing basketball and other sports because I have trouble seeing and responding in time,” she continued.

But, that doesn’t mean she can’t participate in sports. One of her favorite activities is cheerleading.

“I spend some of my evenings and Saturdays cheering for the Vikings Football Team,” Kiersten continued. “Even though we’re not that good, this is my second year cheering and the first was a little hard because I had trouble seeing what I was supposed to do. After I got the hang of it, I became pretty good if you ask me. Some of my other hobbies are going to amusement parks with my best friend Kira, and obsession with cats and horses and spending way too much time on my tablet and making and watching YouTube videos.

Kiersten says the use of technological advances, having support from her family, friends, and teachers, and working with a therapist has been a big help. She’s also grateful to local services, like Lighthouse of the Big Bend, and state services, like the Florida Division of Blind Services.

“You are a true inspiration,” said Robert Doyle to Kiersten. “So, thank you so much.”

Doyle was speaking during a recent ceremony honoring people, like Kiersten. He’s the Director of the Florida Division of Blind Services through the Department of Education—which is celebrating 75 years.

“Our Division provides services for individuals from infancy all the way to old age,” Doyle added. “But, one of the key services that we provide is career assistance. Last year, our agency set a 10-year record by helping 761 individuals to either get a job or maintain their job or advance in their job. And, that was a good deal last year. This year, we took it a step further by beating another record by helping 841 individuals to either gain or maintain their independence.”

His Division also celebrated White Cane Safety Day—which is October 15th. But, he says the principles of the White Cane Law are something all motorists should abide by year round.

“The white cane has becoming that empowering symbol, symbolizing independence for people who are blind, so people are able to move about freely and as safely as their sighted peers,” Doyle continued. “So, today, we have to all do our part to be alert, to be aware, and to break for the cane or the service animal, which is often a guide dog.”

Meanwhile, in addition to awarding those who have helped blind and visually impaired Floridians, the Florida Division of Blind Services also recognized David Bigoney—the event’s keynote speaker. A victim of gun violence 20 years ago, the incident left him completely blind. Still, the Florida State University graduate has competed in multiple sports and became the first blind individual to complete an Ironman Triathlon in 2005. That entailed swimming, running, and biking more than a hundred miles.

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