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VIP Center launches store for visually impaired

By Staff | Jan 15, 2009

A new shop will offer area residents who are visually impaired a number of products that will help improve their independence and quality of life.
“The VIP Store is a store for vision aids, that includes everything from talking watches to tools to help a person get their food out of the oven,” said executive director Doug Fowler. “We have so many things it’s incredible. We have walking canes, magnifiers, large screen calculators and talking software for computers — the list goes on and on. If you’re losing your eyesight, we have all kinds of accessories to make your life easier and safer.”
Fowler expanded on one item, the oven aid.
“It’s called a Push Me-Pull Me, basically a stick that has notches in it. You put it over an oven rack without having to grab a mitt or towel,” he said. “A visually impaired person may not be able to determine which rack to grab. It’s more safety conscious, less chance for fires or burns.”
Bill Crysler of VIP helped set up the shop, along with volunteer coordinators Judy Bezdek and Debbie Reed.
“There are a lot of low vision aids, we have talking everything,” he said. There’s talking scales, clocks — even thermometers. “When people come here for services, these items are right here, they don’t have to hunt for products. If we don’t have it, we can order it.”
He noted the special sunglasses display.
“There’s UV protection, they cut out glare,” he said.
“The equipment and products in the store and the courses here make for independence, more quality of life,” said volunteer co-coordinator Bezdek.
Co-coordinator Reed agreed. Staring as a client, Reed enjoys art classes offered there, and has her artwork on the cover of a new calendar being sold there now.
The public is encouraged to shop at the center shop as well, especially for the calendar and special greeting cards. On shelves next to the main counter of the shop, greeting cards for all occasions are displayed. Volunteers at the center recycle the cards, and funds generated go to help provide services.
“There’s birthday, Valentine’s cards, sympathy, get well — cards for all occasions,” said Bezdek.
Hours for the new store are the same as regular operation hours, Monday- Thursday from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
The new shop is not all that is new at the VIP Center.
“We have a new program called One-to-One Money Training,” said Fowler. “We’re providing training right now to SunTrust Bank tellers.”
The tellers are learning how to help visually impaired customers with their special banking needs.
“For example, if a visually impaired people uses SunTrust Bank, tellers will fold money in a way that is safe for the person, is practical and allows them to manage their own cash and coins when they’re doing their personal business,” Bezdek said.
Fowler said SunTrust Bank officials and tellers have been very excited about the program. It has already launched at the Del Prado Boulevard branch.
One manager who has expressed a lot of enthusiasm about the program is Meropi Georgeoglou, branch manager at the SunTrust Del Prado Banking Center.
“At SunTrust Bank we have what’s called the Diversity Council, and goals are to have a more diverse employee base and a diverse customer base,” Fowler said. “Part of the outreach plan for 2009 is to partner with community agencies and non profit organizations like VIP.”
She is co-chair of the Disabilities Committee for the Diversity Council.
“The council works to understand needs in the community,” Fowler said. “We realized they’re a lot we could be doing with customer service to the visually impaired. The goal for 2009 is to have all of the tellers at all of the branches in Southwest Florida trained in this type of money handling.”
She said the bank has branches in five counties, and it is starting the program in Lee County.
The Del Prado branch and the Financial Center in Fort Myers are now ready to go. Fowler encourages customers who would like to know about the service to ask at the branches, or call her at her center.
She also said VIP has started to provide training to eye doctors about services and programs at the center.
VIP has a variety of programs including Activities of Daily Living, Braille, Eccentric Viewing Training (Reading) and Assistive Technology Training (computers, et cetra). There is an optometrist who specializes in low vision, and the office specializes in one-on-one training in orientation and mobility classes.
The center also offers social services for clients and their families through counseling, information and resources. There are rehabilitation services to help individuals and their families adjust and cope with vision loss.
VIP holds classes and provides training throughout Lee and Collier counties. There is no charge for most of its services. Funding is received from the state of Florida Division of Blind Services, Lee County Human Services, United Way of Lee County and from various contributions and donations from individuals and businesses.
The volunteer coordinators said more volunteers are now needed at the center, in a variety of capacities. Volunteers can help with the card recycling program, with the in-house art program, computers and office work, even public relations.
They are looking for sighted and non-sighted volunteers.
“If a person has vision problems and they feel they can’t do something, we can teach them the skills they need to volunteer,” said Fowler. “Those skills can help a person secure a paying job in the future as well, another benefit from volunteering. We already have volunteers that have moved on to paying jobs in the last few months.”
The VIP Center is located in North Fort Myers at 35 West Mariana Ave. and serves individuals from all local areas, including many from Cape Coral. The phone number for information is 997-7797, and assistance with transportation is available.