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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Local woman fights blindness, stays independent

Oct 03, 2016 12:51PM ● By Jan Weeks

Vicky Upson greets visitors to her office in the Grand View Apartments with a handshake and a smile. As the service coordinator for the independent living facility, she writes grants, raises funds, and helps residents set up transportation, go shopping and generally tries to make their lives easier. She has even arranged for residents to get CCTVs that scan printed documents and enlarge them so that those with failing sight can read them.

Upson can really relate to that. She’s visually impaired herself.

“I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when I was just 2,” she said. “By the time I was in third grade, I was using Braille to read and write.”

One of her brothers was also blind, but “Our parents made us learn to be independent. We had to figure things out and were never given special privileges because of our handicap.”

Having her sight diminish didn’t stop her from completing her education in regular public schools or going on to college. She has always been gainfully employed, except when her children were small.

Even living on Glade Park doesn’t bother her.

“I carpool, or I can call my sister-in-law who lives just a few miles down the road,” she said. “I always find a way to get to work.”

She married and raised two boys by herself after her husband left for “greener and younger pastures.”

She married again later in life and had some wonderful years before losing her second husband just last year. She also has a daughter, and the three kids have blessed her with 11 grandchildren.

White Cane Safety Day

Upson recalled the event that influenced her to buy a white cane. More than just a tool used by visually impaired people to detect obstacles, a white cane has become a symbol to alert sighted people to those who have lost their sight.

“I finally got a white cane the day I was carrying my infant son and crossing Orchard at 28 Road,” she said. “A car was coming but I thought I had plenty of time. I was wrong.”

She ended up diving for the ditch.

White Cane Safety Day, celebrated on October 15, commemorates the independence, achievements and positive contributions of vision-impaired and blind people. It’s meant to increase awareness of the white cane and what it signifies for individuals that use them.

Tools to help the visually impaired

Technology has made a huge difference in how Upson communicates.

“I used the slate and stylus method for years to write and read,” she said.

Now her office desk holds modern gadgets that allow her to move quickly and easily through her work day. For instance, her computer reads her email to her and when she types, it reads what she writes.

Another great gizmo is Braille Sense, a small box about the size of a package of Oreos, which has a row of tiny metal pegs separated into groups. The pegs rise up as she runs her fingers over them to make Braille words.

“I use this to take notes for our business meetings,” she said.

Several wonderful organizations and resources have helped Upson continue to be independent, such as Volunteers of America and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

Upson also helps older folks who are losing their sight.

“It’s hard to come to terms with being blind. I hope I help some,” she said. However, she has no patience with those who use their visual issues as excuses.

“Some people get very angry over their disability and fall into victim mode,” she said. “My eyes are just a teeny part of my body. I never let it overwhelm me and I never had a chip on my shoulder.”

Obviously, her tactile sense is very important, as is evidenced by her fingers skimming over her desk to locate different things she needs.

When asked what the high points of her job are, she mentions one of many.

“I arranged for a CCTV for one resident. The day it was delivered, she came to me in tears because she could read her junk mail, and she hadn’t been able to do that for years,” she said.

Upson’s eyes misted a bit at this memory. Her biggest reward is watching people stay independent and have fun. Her biggest challenge?

“Finding resources. Fortunately Grand Junction has lots of resources for services and getting people connected,” she said.