CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Seeing with your ears. Veteran James Wong, who is completely blind, now has to visualize and listen to imagine what’s around him.
“If you take a shower and a storm comes through, while you’re in the shower and the power goes out do you not know how to wash your body; do you not know how to wash dishes? Nothing changes – the only change is that you’re doing it in the dark,” Wong said.
The Army and Navy veteran has served more than 20 years in the military. About four years ago Wong lost his vision in his left eye and went completely blind just over a year ago.
“It’s been kind of strenuous on my relationship with my family because my daughter, she’s now starting to understand that I am fully blind, that my vision is not coming back,” said Wong.
With his medical condition, the hardest pill he’s had to swallow was the reality of losing his independence.
“I don’t like when my older children come over and assist me with possibly cooking or cleaning and they rearrange things where it’s best for them; I tell them no, you have to put it like I had it. I get really angry when I can’t find something,” he explained.
Wong is one of 130,000 blind veterans in the United States, many of who couldn’t get through without the brotherhood the service has provided them. Employees at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center have great pride in wanting to help those who struggle succeed.
For thirteen years Chanda Harrison has worked at the medical center. She started as the lead pharmacy technician, but her compassion turned to care.
“I learned a lot and met a lot of veterans who were visually impaired, and I saw the great need for training,” said Harrison.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center provides a wide range of services for approximately 600 veterans who are blind or have low vision.
In Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina there are programs available that include adaptive skills with activities like painting stained glass.
“We also provide enrichment opportunities such as talking books that’s available through the South Carolina Library,” said Harrison.
But as Wong learns along the way, one thing he wants you to take away is to not treat those who are blind or have low vision any different.
“I am human. Don’t treat me as if I’m not. I want to be loved and I like to go out and do things, but it’s very hard because of loss of vision,” said Wong.