Vision loss leads to advocacy work for Glenwood woman
Saturday expo offers resources for the visually impaired
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – For Jan Ward, losing her eyesight seven years ago wasn’t unlike losing a loved one.
“I had to go through the grief process, only it was over the loss of my vision,” said Ward, who is completely blind in her left eye and can only see shadows with her right eye.
Her vision loss resulted when she contracted a virus after receiving a kidney transplant, following four years on dialysis.
Ward’s situation became a test case for doctors at the Lion’s Eye Institute in Denver, where she underwent an aggressive treatment regimen, including steroid injections twice a day and heavy doses of chemotherapy drugs to try to kill the virus.
A likely result of the drug mixture, she even became temporarily paralyzed at one point. The virus stopped a mere eighth of an inch from her central vision, which would have rendered her completely blind.
Through the ordeal and her subsequent journey to learn how to do basic things again and get around with a cane, Ward discovered a new calling.
“I basically had to learn how to do everything again,” she said. “When you go through something like that, you tend to appreciate life more, and each moment is more valuable.
“And, it was through the grace of God that I eventually came to realize this path I was meant to take,” Ward said.
About two years ago, she was going through information available through the talking library, a service provided for visually impaired people at the Glenwood Springs Library, when she came across a flyer for the American Council of the Blind of Colorado (ACBCO).
“I went to their convention in Denver, and six months later they called and asked if I wanted to join the board,” Ward said.
Through that connection, Ward has become an advocate for the blind and people with vision impairment on the Western Slope, including organizing today’s Visually Impaired People’s Fair at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
The event takes place from noon to 4 p.m., and will include information on a variety of resources available in the area for people with vision problems, as well as workshops and several speakers.
Among the speakers will be some of the very people who helped Ward in her own journey, including Dr. J. Ryan Zwelling, a low vision specialist, and Debbie Mecleod of the talking library program.
There will be speakers as well from the Garfield County Department of Social Services, offering information on benefits for the visually impaired, and two speakers from the Colorado Center for Independence.
Ward also speaks around the Western Slope, including visits to senior homes, about the various resources that are available to the visually impaired.
“I want to make sure no one has to go through some of the struggles I did, just to find basic information,” she said. “My goal is to help as many people as possible, because I know it was hard when I was learning mobility again.”
Locally, she has been pushing for the beeps and chirps intended to help visually impaired people cross Grand Avenue in downtown Glenwood Springs, to be installed at all of the controlled intersections on Grand.
A regular user of the city and valleywide bus system, she has also been encouraging the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to remind its drivers to call out each stop as required by law.
And, she has been working with local restaurants to consider providing Braille and large-print menus for visually impaired customers.
A resident of Glenwood Springs for 16 years with her husband, Jim, and four now-grown children, Jan Ward is an avid knitter and volunteers in the respiratory therapy department at Valley View Hospital.
In addition to her work with the ACBCO, Ward is also on the state’s Independent Living Center board.