WHEELING - One of the first activities visitors to the Seeing Hand Association are encouraged to do is put on different sets of goggles to experience different sight ailments such as cataracts or total blindness.
This is one of a host of activities planned for a public open house set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, at the Seeing Hand located on Main Street.
"A lot of folks just don't understand what it's like," Executive Director Karen Haught said during a tour of the Main Street Wheeling facility. "Our goal is to educate and make people aware of the blind and disabled folks in the area. A blind individual is just like everybody else; they just can't see. But they want to get out, make money, have fun."
Photos by Daniel Dorsch
Seeing Hand Association Executive Director Karen Haught stands in the “Craft for a Cause” shop at the Seeing Hand Association in Wheeling.
One of the employees visitors will meet is Bob Hicks, the Seeing Hand Association's access technologies coordinator, and his trusty Labrador dog guide, Amos.
"A lot of people don't really understand blindness or dog guides," Hicks said.
Recalling the day he lost his sight, Hicks said he could remember going to bed able to see and waking up blind.
"I thought my world had ended," Hicks said. "But blindness just isn't a big deal. It's just a nuisance. As long as you know how to do the job you're doing, it just becomes bothersome. It just doesn't end when people have vision problems."
Haught said the unemployment rate among the blind is about 70 percent and the Seeing Hand Association takes steps to fight that every day through providing opportunities to work.
Upstairs visitors to the facility find the chair caning and mop making workshops where blind and disabled people work to repair caned chairs, craft deck and removable head mops and even help clean llama hair for crafting purposes.
"It's really strenuous work," Seeing Hand employee Jack Yahnke said. "It's a seven-step process. We take chairs that are no longer serviceable and repair them."
According to Yahnke, the work of caning a damaged chair can take at least a few days per piece. He added "well over 100" chairs have been caned this year.
Also featured in the open house will be the "Crafters for a Cause" section, where local artisans sell their wares through the Seeing Hand Association and donate a portion of the profits to the organization.
"Everyone wins," Haught said. "They support their local nonprofit and we sell their items. For shoppers, it's a great place to find a unique gift."
The open house also will feature refreshments. Haught said visitors should not feel shy about asking questions and getting to know the workers at the Seeing Hand Association.
"Most people when they deal with vision loss don't know what resources are available," Hicks said. "People who have questions about sight loss should call the Seeing Hand."
Contact the Seeing Hand Association at 304-32-4810.