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Social worker for the blind helps her clients adjust to life after becoming visually impaired

Lincoln County’s social worker for the blind knows losing your vision can be a traumatizing thing, but she also knows it doesn’t mean the end of independence.
“Part of what I do when I go into homes is try to let these people know that there are totally blind people that live alone, cook, take care of themselves,” said Tammy Loukos, who serves both Lincoln and Iredell counties. “A lot of what I do is convince people that life can go on with vision loss.”
Loukos’ job has two main parts. First, she helps uninsured people with extremely low incomes apply for aid in order to receive eye surgery.
The other part of her job is visiting people who have recently lost their vision and helping them adapt to their new life.
“We try to teach them to maximize their remaining vision,” she said.
During the home visits, Loukos first explains her client’s conditions to them whether the disease is wet molecular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa or “the sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma.
Then, she introduces them to ways they can become more independent. There are talking clocks, microwaves and even scales that “announce your weight to the world.”
There are also intense magnifying glasses and big-button telephones that are easier for the visually-impaired to use. Bump dots, which are simply rubber dots in bright colors, can be used to mark places on appliances – the normal wash cycle on a washing machine for example.
There are even machines that identify money and a state library specializing in Braille, large-print books and books-on-tape or CD.
“They make everything now,” Loukos said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
In her 15 years as a social worker for the blind, Loukos has learned that some people can quickly adjust to their new disability. Others take a longer time to become self-sufficient.
“Most people go through the grieving process – just like if you lost a spouse or a child,” Loukos said.
Shock, denial, anger and depression are not uncommon in her clients.
“Some people stay in those stages longer than others,” she said.
At any given time, Loukos has 25-30 open cases. She is also available to give information to people whose cases have already been closed.
When Loukos can’t do something to help, she can usually refer clients to someone who can.
The Lions Club, for example, provides services for the blind and visually impaired – most notably Camp Dogwood in Sherrills Ford, a summer camp.
There are also specialists who help people with mobility and give workshops on things like cooking, communicating and self-esteem.
All of the work Loukos does is free of charge. That said, when it comes to giving away products for the visually impaired Loukos says “my budget is limited because it’s state government.”
Besides home visits and helping people apply for aid, Loukos facilitates a support group in Lincoln County every other month. Times vary, but the group always meets in the Lincoln County Senior Center. The next meeting will be some time in March.
“I try to make the support group meeting positive and uplifting,” she said.
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by Sarah Grano

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