If we had the opportunity to look back on our five year-old selves, we’d likely see visions of children enjoying carefree days, bountiful health and simple joy. However, turning five was different for Amos Ackerman. At that young age, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a condition he has struggled with since. “Growing up and going through school, I tried to be as normal as possible, but being diabetic held me back,” Amos said.
Still, despite his condition, Amos maintained an active lifestyle and enjoyed working, farming and simply staying busy. After graduating from high school, he obtained his electrician’s license and started working. It was shortly thereafter that he began to notice some changes in his vision because of his diabetic condition. He began to see black spots in his field of vision and images would become blurry and cloudy. He went to a doctor with his concerns and was told that while things should eventually be fine, he needed laser treatments on his eyes.
Instead of noticing improvements, Amos’s vision problems seemed to only get worse. “One morning I woke up, and one of my eyes was completely black. The blood vessels had all broken and there was no light passing through my eye.” And thus began a trial of surgeries which would allow him to see alternately out of one eye, and then the other. During this time, Amos experienced vision loss while out driving for his job, narrowly escaping a crash. “It was scary, to be driving down the road and suddenly be unable to see.”
Then one Christmas morning, Amos awoke to find that he had lost vision in both of his eyes. “I knew there would be no driving, no working, with both eyes completely blurry. I knew I was officially visually impaired and I thought, ‘It’s over.’ ” By now, Amos’s eyes had been significantly weakened by multiple operations, and the doctors told him he would need to take six months off from any further surgeries in order to regain the strength in his eyes. He knew he would have to make some extreme lifestyle changes in order to move forward, so he enlisted the help of a diabetes specialist to get his insulin levels under control and learn the proper nutrition for his condition.
As his health improved, Amos got tired of sitting around the house. He missed working and being out among other people. “I was feeling very isolated at this point,” he said. That’s when his mother made the call to CABVI. “Mom said we had to do something and she’d heard about CABVI. She contacted them and within the next couple of days, they sent someone out to teach mobility so I could start to get around without hurting myself.”
The vision rehabilitation professional taught Amos how to use a cane to get around and helped map out his home so he could navigate more easily. He applied bump dots to household appliances such as the microwave, washer and dryer, and coffee maker so that Amos would be able to take care of cooking and laundry for himself. When Amos asked for employment information, the vision rehabilitation counselor quickly got him in for a tour of Central Industries, the employment and manufacturing division of CABVI. “It took me completely by surprise that they were able to give me a job right away,” Amos said.
“I was surprised at first to realize that there were so many people in the same situation as me,” Amos said. “Some were even worse. Seeing people doing great things, in spite of vision problems, gave me a good feeling about what might be possible for me.” Amos started out at Central Industries working on the glove line, but quickly moved to more challenging jobs such as material handling, label making, and running the IMAS machine, which his co-workers jokingly called “the Amos machine.”
At the same time, Amos had additional surgeries to improve his vision. Today, he is able to see shapes, people and outlines, but not details and expressions. Because of the improvement in his vision, CABVI offered Amos employment in its contact center – a position that would allow him to receive a higher rate of pay and additional computer and program training. In this position, Amos is responsible for handling customer service calls and inputting data into a computer.
Employment and a greater sense of independence are only part of the way Amos’s life has improved. Outside of CABVI, he is involved in many different activities. “I don’t let my visual impairment stand in the way of anything. In fact, it gives me more fire – more drive – to conquer whatever may be.” With the help of his brother, Amos participates in long-distance running, including the Boilermaker and the Mighty Run. He enjoys a host of outdoor sports that include golfing and snowboarding, and also is actively involved in curling and bowling. “I usually go bowling with a group of friends who aren’t visually impaired and I do just as well… if not better,” Amos said, smiling.
Looking toward his future, Amos would like to go to college after he explores possible career paths. Reflecting on his growth over the past five years, he has a simple message. “I don’t care who you are. You’re going to go through the whole ‘Why me?’, feeling sorry for yourself, sitting around crying, because facing vision loss is hard. It’s emotionally crushing… devastating. You have to be the one to decide to pick yourself up and make a change.”
CABVI helped Amos find that inspiration. “CABVI provided me with many opportunities, educating me in areas where I needed it, to bring me to where I am today. It was the place that brought back my passions.”