One north country organization has earned an excellent reputation of working diligently to improve the lives of visually impaired individuals.

M.E. Avery, Evelyn Bourcy and Frances Lynch founded a sheltered workshop at the old Mohican Building in Watertown. This would allow blind people earn an income while performing specific tasks.

The next year, the workshop was named the Watertown Association for the Blind. It operated on State Street until 1947, when Florence E. Hall donated her Prospect Street home to the group upon her death; she was partially blind and recognized the tremendous service it was providing. The association remained at this site until 2017, when it moved into its current home at 131 Washington St.

The group, now called the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Northern New York, will celebrate its 100th anniversary this week. This is a real milestone for the people who have built this organization up through the years.

“The purpose of the association was to provide assistance to blind residents of Jefferson County and to promote sight conservation programs,” according to its website. The group’s services include counseling, referrals to educational institutions, transportation, employment referrals, eye examinations, glasses, braille watches and books, talking book machines, dictionaries, walking canes, optiscopes, writing templates, radios and large-number dials for telephones.

The association opened its Vision Rehabilitation Center at 146L Arsenal St. in January. The center provides services that visually impaired people in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties often must travel great distances to obtain.

“The lab will provide both education and employment opportunities for residents of the tri-county area counties with training on assistive technologies. … [T]he lab will employ an assistive technology instructor to conduct a two-week instruction program for students, including on computers that can speak the text on screen and magnify the text. Adults can also learn about the assistive technology and apply it to continuing or starting a career, if able,” according to a story published Nov. 2 by the Watertown Daily Times. “To purchase the adaptive equipment, the center will have an aids and appliance store equipped with a variety of products and adaptive technology that can assist them in remaining independent at home, school and work. Additional services include low-vision testing, free vision screenings and vocational services. The free screenings are currently only offered for school-age children, which covers ages 3 to 22, as part of a new outreach program the association is providing.”

Olivia M. Kassoum-Amadou, executive director for the organization, laid out the group’s plans for the Vision Rehabilitation Center last year.

“This will help us break down the barrier for transportation in our community because they now have to travel to Utica, Rochester or Syracuse to receive most of these services,” she said in the story. “Unfortunately, people do not access preventative care with a yearly eye exam, yet 80 percent of vision loss can be avoidable with appropriate care.”

The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Northern New York will mark a century of service with a silver tea from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St. in Watertown. Donations will be accepted at the event.

The group joins many other social service organizations in strengthening the bonds of our communities by lifting up those who need assistance. We applaud the work that staff members and volunteers have carried out and wish the organization continued success well into the future.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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