Blinded Veterans Association BVA U.S. Blinded Veterans To Host British Comrades At VA Blind Rehabilitation Center
Eleven Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF, Afghanistan) combat blinded American veterans will spend “Technology Week” June 19-26 with six British blinded veteran comrades establishing new friendships, sharing knowledge of adaptive technology for the blind and visually impaired, and exchanging insights and personal experiences regarding their adjustment to blindness.
The veteran members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and its counterpart organization in the United Kingdom, Blind Veterans UK, will gather at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Central Blind Rehabilitation Center in Hines, Illinois, just outside Chicago, one of 13 such residential centers nationwide. The Hines facility is the oldest of the VA blind centers, its history dating back to 1948 as a training facility for blinded World War II veterans.
The advocacy efforts of BVA in the late 1940s were responsible, in large part, to the establishment of the Hines Center.
Transportation for the week to various Chicago area visits is being supported by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department under the direction of Sheriff Thomas J. Dart. Travel support to the British participants from London to Chicago is provided by British Airways. American Airlines will provide tickets for participants to see Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals on the afternoon of June 22 at historic Wrigley Field. The airline will also provide a pizza dinner at the renowned Giordano’s following the game.
Behind this year’s Technology Week is BVA’s Operation Peer Support Committee, chaired by blinded veteran and Army First Sergeant Daniel Wallace (Ret.). Hines Center Director Denise Van Koevering has overseen organization of the week’s activities. Although 2016 is the fourth year that the center has hosted Technology Week for blinded veterans, it is the first year that British blinded veterans will be among the participants. Also attending as a participant will be BVA Executive Director Al Avina.
The group will share information about electronic mobile devices and readers. During site visits in the Chicago area, veterans will also test and work with innovative instruments such as talking computers, audible money identifiers and barcode scanners, bioptic telescopes used as eyeglasses, laptop video magnifiers, hand-held libraries of audible information, mobility aids for independent living, audible health monitoring devices, and portable Global Positioning System products.
They will also tour the VA Medical Center in which the Blind Rehabilitation Center is housed, visit historic sites, and participate in blind bowling and golf.
The exchange in Chicago has its roots in a joint initiative established in 2011 by the Blinded Veterans Association, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and Blind Veterans UK in London. Last month four U.S. blinded veterans were hosted at the Blind Veterans UK facility in Wales with five of their counterparts in the UK. Two blinded veterans from South Africa also participated.
In addition to its role as an exchange forum, Project Gemini seeks to heighten public awareness of the issues facing veterans with vision loss. The outreach of the program has widened to include sessions with officials of VA, the Department of Defense, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, Moorfields Eye Hospital Research Centre in London, the British Parliament, and senior UK military officials.
“The wonderful relationship BVA has developed with Blind Veterans UK has blossomed into numerous opportunities such as the upcoming Technology Week at Hines,” said BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri. “It allows us to share so many of our personal ‘war stories’ related to coping with blindness and our subsequent rehabilitation.”
Blind Veterans UK is the British national charity for visually impaired ex-servicemen and women celebrating 101 years of service to blind veterans and families. Tracing its founding back to 1915 during World War I, the organization now offers free and comprehensive support to all UK blinded veterans. For additional information, visit blindveterans.org.uk.
BVA’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945 when a group of World War II blinded servicemen convened in a formal meeting at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital near Avon, Connecticut, for the purpose of establishing the Association.