Evalyn Carstens, from left, Bud Nelson and Annie Abdella talk during lunch at the 10th anniversary celebration for the Independent Learning Center on Thursday afternoon in Craig.  The event was an open house, and visitors were encouraged to draw from a hat pieces of paper with disabilities to act out, and Carstens, Nelson and Abdella talked about what it would be like to be blind.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Evalyn Carstens, from left, Bud Nelson and Annie Abdella talk during lunch at the 10th anniversary celebration for the Independent Learning Center on Thursday afternoon in Craig. The event was an open house, and visitors were encouraged to draw from a hat pieces of paper with disabilities to act out, and Carstens, Nelson and Abdella talked about what it would be like to be blind.

Lunch and empathy

Independent Life Center gives lunchgoers a small taste of living with a disability

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— Walking around her darkened house at night gave Evalyn Carstens an idea of what it might be like to be blind.

Or so she thought.

A luncheon party at the Independent Life Center Thursday made Carstens and others rethink their assumptions about what life would be like for someone with a disability.

The luncheon's purpose was to celebrate the ILC's 10th anniversary and thank community members who supported it, Executive Director Evelyn Tileston said. But it also did something else: It provided individuals a small taste of what ILC clients face daily.

As attendees crowded around the buffet, some hobbled on crutches - representing those with physical disabilities - while others had in earplugs to experience having a hearing loss.

At her table, Carstens sat with her eyes covered by an eyeshade. Next to her sat Annie Abdella, a blindfold tied around her eyes.

Temporarily, both had lost full use of their vision.

Both were disabled.

Blindness was different from what Carstens expected. Communication suddenly became difficult. She had to rely solely on her hearing to identify friends sitting less than 10 feet away. She found herself dependent on others to help her get food and find a seat.

Abdella said it would be hard to imagine what permanent vision loss would be like.

Carstens hazarded a guess.

"You'd always be hoping that there'd be relief," she said. Without some hope of regaining sight, blindness would be hard to accept, she added.

Lou Wyman was another who temporarily lost his vision. On the table next to him sat a pair of dark glasses intended to dull his eyesight.

How did he feel about suddenly having sub-par eyesight?

"I don't care too much for it, to tell you the truth," he said. Still, he added, the experience made him appreciate what it would be like to have such a disability.

In the end, Carstens, Abdella, and Wyman could rid themselves of their blindfolds and glasses and return to normalcy.

Others in the room, such as ILC board member Ron Kashner, could not.

"I've had limited eyesight all my life," Kashner said.

Kashner depends on ILC's van to transport him around town. Although a van ride may seem small to some, it "provides all kinds of freedoms" for someone with a disability - freedoms such as going to the grocery store or to a doctor's appointment, he said.

Kashner added, "I think the ILC is one of the most important avenues disabled people have in Northwest Colorado."

Tony Stoffle, another board member and ILC consumer, also was at the luncheon. Like Kashner, his vision disability wasn't temporary.

"I've got big (spots) that float in my eyes - it's kind of a haze," he said.

The combined effects of diabetes and a head injury sustained years ago caused the never-lifting haze. The worst part of being visually impaired was losing his ability to drive.

The ILC gave him rides in its van. The center also helped him find a lawyer who helped him obtain Social Security disability benefits - a process requiring the applicant to pass through "many hoops" to complete.

"The ILC is one of the best assets we have in Craig," he said. "They sure help a lot of people," Stoffle said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com

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