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Bristol Area Lions Club Supports the Iris Network and Local Scholarships 06/07/2012

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Bristol Area Lion Paul Anderson presents a donation to the Iris Network after a presentation by its development director Michael Barndollar.
Photo by Herb Watson, E.H.

In 1925 Helen Keller challenged the Lions Club to become “Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” Since then Lions Clubs around the world have emphasized service to the blind and visually impaired, and in its ongoing support of the Iris Network the Bristol Area Lions Club is no exception.

At its most recent meeting they welcomed Michael Barndollar of the Iris Network, an agency founded in 1905 that helps the visually impaired and blind to live as independently as possible (see http://www.theiris.org for more information). With over 30 years of experience in non-profit fundraising and management, Barndollar is currently its director of development and communications.
In his presentation, entitled, “Can a Person Who Is Blind Really Drive a Car?,”

Barndollar explained some of the individualized training, education, and support offered by the Iris Network. One program is called Maine AIRS (Audio Information and Reading Service), which reads local newspapers on air and includes details like sports scores and obituaries. Major advances in technology have allowed today’s visually impaired and blind to do so much more than previously imagined.

Ongoing research, for instance, may soon yield a car that allows the blind to drive. Bionic eye implants are becoming a reality too, along with gene implants into the eye that can improve impaired vision. Smart phones with the right “app” are able to read product barcodes and currency and then translate that into an audio message for the user. And many computers now come with audio screen readers as standard equipment.

Michael Barndollar addressing the Bristol Area Lion’s Club, June 4th 2012

Another program initiative of the Iris Network is individualized training for the visually impaired to maintain a current job or to adapt to a new job that incorporates digital audio technology.

Interestingly, as technology has improved, the need for Braille has reduced to the point that only fifteen percent of the visually impaired population knows and uses that tool anymore.

Barndollar explained that eight percent of the population of Maine is visually impaired, a statistic could become lower with healthier lifestyles and regular eye examinations after age fifty. Most of the Iris Network’s clientele have impaired vision due to macular degeneration and glaucoma, silent diseases that go unnoticed until damage has been done.

The agency’s vision rehabilitation services and low vision clinic work with individuals to maximize their visual functioning. Concluded Barndollar, “blindness is not a disability, just a different way of living, and the visually impaired can indeed be independent, capable and contributing members of the community.”

Following Michael Barndollar’s talk, Club members learned the names of the 4 outstanding seniors of Lincoln Academy’s Class of 2012 to be awarded $1500 scholarships that evening from the Bristol Area Lions Foundation.

Emily Crider of New Harbor is the 27th recipient of the Ed and Gladys Lewis Scholarship, which she will use toward a degree in early childhood education at the University of Maine, Farmington.

Kelsey Leeman of Walpole received the Ralph and Peggy Hunt Scholarship. She plans a sociology major at the University of Southern Maine.

Merritt Wotton of Bristol was awarded the Club’s Pat Harrison Scholarship, which he will use to study environmental science and civil engineering at the University of Maine, Farmington and Orono.

And Kara-Lyn Poland of New Harbor received a vocational scholarship funded by the Bristol Area Lions Golf Tournament to study nursing at Husson University.

The Bristol Area Lions Club will hold its end-of-season meeting and new officer induction on Monday, June 18. To make dinner reservations for that meeting, please call 677-2095. To learn more about the Bristol Area Lions Club, serving Bristol and South Bristol, contact John Janell at 563-7402.

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