Fayette County Association for the Blind assists visually impaired during pandemic | Helping the Helpers

The Lions Club and Fayette County Association for the Blind offered free eye screenings. The association is the lowest funded in the state, and relies upon fundraisers to continue providing services to the county’s visually impaired residents.

By Holly Hendershot

The Fayette County Association for the Blind nonprofit has been assisting visually impaired individuals in the area for almost 75 years, including providing transportation, life skills training, financial management and low vision aids and clinics.

Eric Dolfi, executive director of the organization, said they currently assist about 200 people in the area.

(Capital-Star file)

Some of the items they provide are computers and closed circuit televisions, which have a magnifier with different magnification levels that can show those who have low vision what they can’t normally see.

One unique way that the organization reaches out to youth with low or no vision is through a video game system that people can play completely visually impaired. Dolfi said through this system he can teach a low vision or blind teen how to play games such as Madden NFL in an hour.

“We are here to give those who can’t see hope and make them as independent as they can be,” Dolfi said.

Dolfi said COVID-19 has brought challenges to the operation of the nonprofit, including limiting the contact they have with the visually impaired individuals they currently assist.

Although the organization stayed open for their clients during COVID-19 and are following necessary precautions, Dolfi said many of the clients have not been requesting services that the organization provides, such as free food delivery, for fear of the virus.

Another way the pandemic has hurt the organization is by preventing them from holding certain fundraisers and ensuring lower attendance at the ones they do hold.

“We are the lowest funded state-issued blind association. We are about $15,000 lower than the next [blind] agency above us, so here, we count on fundraising,” he said. “Events that were raising $8,000 to $10,000 dollars are now raising $1,000 or $2,000.”

Dolfi said the lack of fundraising money makes it difficult to continue their goals as an organization.

In February, Dolfi said they discovered a sewage issue in their building and had to renovate it, costing around $25,000.

“We can’t make that up in a pandemic year,” he said. “And we have some great ideas, but we can’t do those idea until this pandemic is over.”

One of the new programs Dolfi said they will soon be starting is teaching visually impaired individuals how to cook and use gas and electric stoves. They have also been teaching the visually impaired how to use cellphones.

Dolfi said they are only helping a fraction of those who are visually impaired in the county, and they are trying to get the word out that they are here for people that struggle with sight to any degree, including those who are still functioning well in everyday life, and may simply have a small sight issue.

“There are 3,600 visually impaired people in Fayette County, and we’re only finding 200 of them,” he said. “We need the help of the public to help us find those who are visually impaired.”

To contact or donate to the nonprofit, visit fayetteblindassociation.org.

Holly Hendershot is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story is being simultaneously published. Readers may email her at  [email protected]