WASHINGTON—Lillie Kennedy’s office is a testament to what she helps teach veterans as the Vision Rehabilitation Supervisor at the DC VA Medical Center. Her computer is equipped with software that tells her what programs are open and can read aloud documents on the screen. Next to her computer is a closed-circuit television screen. By sliding a document on the tray at the bottom, she can illuminate and enlarge it on the screen to a manageable size.
Even her iPhone is equipped with technology for the blind. A speaking application will tell her what “apps” are available. And one new app allows her to take a photo of a dollar bill with the phone, then scans it and tells her in a crisp, clear voice what denomination it is.
The purpose of all of this technology mirrors the purpose of the DCVAMC’s Vision Rehabilitation Clinic, Kennedy said. “The main purpose is to maintain and enhance self-reliance.”
Legally blind herself, Kennedy understands the challenges of veterans who have returned from recent conflicts with vision problems, or older veterans who have lost sight due to macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.
“I went through a similar program years ago,” she said. “I still have to work, I have to eat, I have to support myself. And I was motivated to take advantage of rehabilitation. I knew I had to take care of myself. Blindness is secondary to me.”
Kennedy knew that, not only did she have to overcome her own impairment, she had to make people see that she was independent and capable. “I decided that if I went to college, people would believe I’d be able to do things,” she said.
After receiving her M.A. in vocational rehabilitation counseling, she went on to work as a special education teacher in Detroit, working with blind adults. From there, she moved to post-rehabilitation counseling at the Michigan Commission for the Blind. In the 1970s, she worked at VA as a medical transcriptionist, later becoming a case manager.