Gary Glawson

The Vision Fair in 2006

NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 2-25-07, by SCOT ALLYN, Morning Journal Writer

``Despite being legally blind, Gary Clawson has vision for helping others with struggles

AVON LAKE -- Losing one's eyesight ranks among the most traumatic challenges we face. But thanks to Gary Clawson, who is legally blind, Lorain County residents who are losing their vision are not alone in their struggle.

In 2004, Clawson started the Avon Lake Macular Degeneration Support Group, since renamed the Low Vision Support Group. Monthly meetings at the Avon Lake Community Center are open to anyone who wants to learn about resources available for those whose world is growing darker or less distinct.

In addition, Clawson created the annual Vision Fair, which will hold its second meeting Saturday, April 20 [2007], from 10 am to 5 pm at the Avon Lake Community Center, 100 Avon Belden Road.

Clawson created the event last year to get the word out on devices and services available for improving people's lives. More than 200 attended last year's fair, according to Clawson ...

Clawson uses a closed-circuit video system to read books, magazines and his daily paper. He also uses a portable magnifier, with its own internal lighting, to read menus in restaurants. He installed software on his computer to enlarge the type to letters an inch high.

Clawson said he wore glasses since he was 9 years old, which corrected his vision to normal. His childhood in Avon included delivering the Lorain Journal from 1948 to 1955, then an afternoon paper, from the seat of a well-used Schwinn. He attended Baldwin-Wallace College and earned a master's degree in music education from Kent State University in 1966. He married his wife Karen in 1962 and this year will celebrate their 45th anniversary.

In 1989, Clawson's optometrist saw abnormal blood vessels in his eyes, and a referral to an ophthalmologist confirmed that Clawson was in the early stages of macular degeneration. The condition affects the retinas progressively, taking away the victim's central vision little by little. In Clawson's case, the overgrowth of blood vessels in his eyes worsened the disease.

In 1991, he retired from the Sheffield-Sheffield Lake School District after 30 years of teaching. In spite of nine eye surgeries, he became legally blind in 2002. Yet Clawson counts himself lucky.

''The transition was not depressing for me,'' he said. ''I guess you'd say I'm an optimist. I'm very fortunate to have a wife who can drive for me. I've learned to use what I have, not to despair over what I've lost.''

Clawson retains some peripheral vision, which allows him to continue enjoying the outdoors at a summer job at Bob-O-Link Golf Course in Avon, where he helps take care of the grounds. He's had the job since 1981.

But his chief source of pride these days is helping others who have vision problems. ''My greatest satisfaction is doing something for someone and have them thank me,'' he said. ''Once you get people past depression and self-denial, you can help them.''

Clawson invites speakers to his support group to share their stories of coming to grips with their blindness. One guest was Jim Davis, who served as Vermilion's mayor from 1998 to 2005.

''The worst thing is not being blind, it's going blind,'' said Davis, 57. He started to lose his vision in 1979 and became legally blind in 1997. ''The uncertainty of what will happen wears on you. It's emotionally devastating. You have no idea what you'll have left, or if you'll be a burden to your wife and children.''

But, like Clawson, Davis retains some peripheral vision, which allows him to walk through crowded airport terminals without bumping in to people. He travels to Canada and California in his job as human resource manager at KTM North America in Amherst.

And, like Clawson, Davis considers himself lucky. ''I've heard that people with better vision than me gave up and threw in the towel,'' he said. ''They just signed up with Social Security for a disability check. But I've been fortunate to stay gainfully employed.''

Both Clawson and Davis credited Medrith Brown, a counselor at the Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI), a division of the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, for helping them adjust to their conditions.

From her Lorain office at 2173 North Ridge Road, Brown helps those with reduced vision in finding work, and training and assistance in learning how to cope with the many ways blindness changes their lives. Brown will be attending the second annual Vision Fair April 20. Representatives from the National Federation of the Blind and the Avon Lions Club will also be on hand.

Clawson said his vision loss helped to contribute to his personal philosophy. ''You can't do anything about yesterday,'' he said. ''But you can do something about tomorrow.''''

sallyn@morningjournal.com

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 3-29-06, By Lori E. Switaj

``AVON/AVON LAKE -- Gary Clawson is legally blind but he's not letting that slow him down. In 1989, Clawson, of Avon Lake, started losing his vision due to abnormal blood vessels, a type of macular degeneration. Today, he's employed at Bob-O-Link golf course in Avon in a capacity most would not associate with the legally blind. "I operate a chain saw, cutting down trees," he said.

His "corrected" vision is near 20/200, the threshold for being legally blind. Unlike many others with vision issues, Clawson has done his research and wants to share it with others.

Along with Bob Toth of Avon, he has organized a vision fair for April 6 from 10 am - 4 pm at the Old Firehouse (teen/senior center) in Avon Lake. Toth is well known in Sheffield Lake and Village as a former instrumental teacher in the district from 1962-1991. He is now a vision advocate, and along with Clawson began a vision support group three years ago that meets once a month (usually the fourth Thursday) at the Old Firehouse.

Attendance at meetings, which discusses almost any eye health-related topic from glaucoma to macular degeneration and sight aids, ranges from six to 45, depending on the topic and speaker. May's meeting, for example, will feature a woman from Retina Associates of Cleveland. The duo now wants to expand awareness of vision-related issues through the fair.

"There are so many contacts out there, many that people don't know about," Clawson said. "The technology is out there." Clawson noted one device offered by the National Federation of the Blind, a small unit that one can take to the store, that if held up to ingredients on a can, can read the ingredients. He hopes the fair will bring awareness of options such as these to the public.

"There's nothing like this on the west side of Cleveland," he said. Toth noticed a lack of information available to individuals with vision issues as well as caregivers of those with vision problems. "The bedside manners of doctors are poor in regards to this," Toth said. "Doctors treat eye disease but don't tell patients what to do afterward. Patients are left very much in the dark."

The fair will feature many items that aid those with vision problems, including magnifiers, computer programs CCTV (which magnified items onto a television screen, and information on state agencies that help people with low vision ...

The National Federation for the Blind will have a table at the fair, which is not limited to those with vision problems.

"This is not just for the impaired," he said. "It's for anyone who may have a concern. People don't realize how to detect problems in their earliest stages. This is for awareness. It will provide aid for people who have problems and for caregivers of people who have vision problems." There will be some distributors and retailers at the fair.

"Some items are expensive but when you're losing your vision, cost isn't as important," he said, noting new products are being constantly developed. "There's new technology every day. These items aid in helping people remain independent or in getting independent. Some agencies can help people get things free of charge." A seeing disability does not necessarily preclude one from driving.

"There will be a driving school for the blind at the fair," Clawson said, describing use of an adaptive aid used for glasses at the school. "Drivers must meet certain specifications. It's like getting a license. You have to go with a state trooper and perform satisfactorily to get your license."

The Old Firehouse Community Center is located at the corner of SR 83 (Avon Belden) and Lake Road.''

[Gary Clawson was born and raised on Hayes Street in Avon.]

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