One of a series of LightHouse staff profiles.
“When students come to me they are often in the middle of big life changes because their vision is changing,” says LightHouse Rehabilitation Counselor Debbie Bacon. “People often don’t know where to turn, or if they do, they don’t know what questions to ask. They feel they are stuck, without any tools to navigate their new world.”
Debbie is one of the first people a person new to blindness or low vision speaks to when they first contact the LightHouse. Her job, a job she performs with poise and immense care, begins by interviewing and encouraging. She gets students in the door, helping them assess their goals and needs, and then begins to assist them in meeting their aspirations. She emphasizes that changes in vision can be the beginning of a rich, exciting new journey, and she helps them learn to navigate with grace, dignity and humor. “If the brain were a box,” she says, “then I ‘lift the lid’ on our blind students’ boxes, giving them a glimpse of what their world can be like. Then I encourage them to step outside those boxes and participate wholly.”
Debbie grew up in Colusa, California, in the northern part of the valley – a small farming community of roughly 5000 people. “I was the only person with low vision in my family, school, and community.” Debbie, a trailblazer at heart, didn’t let her vision slow her down in a town unfamiliar with blindness. She developed strong interests in the performing arts, including music, film and theater, as well as a passion for reading. “People in my town learned along with me that blindness is not an excuse for passivity and idleness, that I am a fully capable person with as much potential as anyone else around me.”
She mentions that she is also a fan of the TV show Star Trek and tells us, “I can’t help but notice that some of the ingenious, unimaginable items from Star Trek of the 1960s are now here in real life. Devices like the iPhone and Google Glass, items I believe were first imagined in Star Trek and other sci-fi worlds, are now everyday articles that enrich our lives. For the blind, these devices help us live a more full and rewarding life. Not only can we communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime with our cell phones, but we can also use our phones to dictate notes, read webpages, and navigate the interior of a complicated airport [a reference to LightHouse’s work with the technology company, Indoo.rs, and their app which audibly helps the blind navigate places such as San Francisco International Airport]. These devices are tools for employment, education and personal independence.”
Debbie has a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. “I am a blind parent of three children who grew up with Special Education Services, with IEPs (Individuals Educational Plan, used by schools to tailor learning to the student with special needs) because of learning disabilities. My teaching degree, special education experience, my blindness, and my children’s learning disabilities all make me uniquely prepared to understand and help parents meet their children’s need and be their champions and advocates.” When she works with families she makes it clear that parents should feel comfortable asking her questions about their children’s educational needs.
A favorite part of Debbie’s work at the LightHouse is teaching blindness skills at our Changing Vision Changing Life sessions, where students come together for weeklong intensive training. “Teaching blindness skills is critical,” she says, “and the core of the Program; but the real power of this week-long immersion is what happens at breakfast, during yoga, and while we hike over bridges and down unpaved paths. It is during these times that our students really begin to see the possibilities in front of them.” Graduates of the Changing Vision program not only leave with skills and the courage to live independently, they also have a lasting support network from which they continue to draw strength.
She says, “The most difficult part of my job is hearing students tell me how they have abandoned their old lives, quitting jobs or school and giving up dreams. On the flipside, the most powerful, rewarding aspect of my job is helping people get back on track.” Contact Debbie at 415-694-7357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.