(Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) – Visiting a new church, mosque or temple can be intimidating for anyone, but for people who are blind and visually impaired such an experience is often especially daunting. Thanks to a stimulus grant offered through the Division of Blind Services, the Lighthouse of Broward is reaching out to more community organizations, like religious institutions, to increase the awareness of its services, educate leaders on how to accommodate people who are visually impaired and help these individuals become seamlessly integrated into the community.

“We need to make sure that the 50,000 people who are blind and visually impaired in Broward County have access to the services they need,” said Dr. Elly du Pré, executive director of the Lighthouse of Broward. “We have a practice of building referrals with doctors, but have discovered that places of worship are often a valuable source of clients as well.”

In many cases, individuals who are blind or visually impaired are homebound because they are not aware of available training that can help them regain independence. Thanks to this new outreach program, more people will be able to benefit from the Lighthouse training and members of these organizations will learn how to more comfortably socialize and work with individuals who are visually impaired and blind. In addition, as these individuals become more involved in the community they also are more likely to find jobs and secure positions of responsibility in their neighborhoods.

The program is being managed by Dolores Hanley McDiarmid, a recent graduate of the pastoral ministries program at St. Thomas University in Miami and a professional with nearly 30 years experience in rehabilitation services. “We do a great job of preparing individuals who are blind and visually impaired to live independently,” said McDiarmid. “We often forget, however, that socialization and feeling welcome are important also.”

As part of this new program, McDiarmid visits places of worship to determine if the staff are prepared to make visually impaired visitors feel welcome and comfortable. During one visit to Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, she discovered that the school was unaware of the services that the Lighthouse of Broward could provide for potential seminary students who are visually impaired. Now that the staff at Knox is aware of the Lighthouse, Knox is working with the Lighthouse to accommodate people who are visually impaired as students at the school. In fact, one man who is visually impaired has applied to begin classes this fall.

“We are so glad we learned about the Lighthouse of Broward,” said Knox Seminary Dean of Students Al Jiron. “Because of the Lighthouse, Knox will be able to welcome a visually impaired student this fall and help him achieve his goal of attaining a graduate seminary education.”

McDiarmid has a long list of organizations to visit in Broward County with the goal of incorporating as many individuals with visually impairment into mainstream society as possible. “The mission of our program,” said McDiarmid, “is to create a full comprehensive rehabilitation program that also includes assisting people who are blind and visually impaired individuals in their quest for a strong spiritual life and fulfilling social life. We know that through religious organizations we’ll be able to indentify many more people who need the services of the Lighthouse.”

The ultimate goal of this program, explained duPré,” is to help people who are visually impaired become integrated into the community as productive, happy and equally capable citizens.”

For information on how your organization can be better prepared to accommodate individuals with visual impairment, contact Dolores McDiarmid at the Lighthouse of Broward at 954-463-4217, ext. 35 or www.lhob.org.

Lighthouse of Broward
The Lighthouse of Broward is a 501 ( c ) 3 charity that serves blind and visually impaired babies, adults and seniors. All services are tailored to meet individual needs, based on assessments conducted by certified professionals. These professionals identify the exact skills needed for the Lighthouse client to achieve maximum independence. Accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness or Visual Impairment (NAC), Lighthouse of Broward is a United Way partner agency and member of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind and is sponsored by State of Florida, Department of Education/Division of Blind Services. Operating funds are raised through grants and donations from individual and corporate supporters.

If you know someone who is blind or visually impaired or would like to make a donation, contact the Lighthouse at 954-463-4217 or 650 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311 or donate online: www.LHOB.org

Ellen Schulman
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