L. Penny Rosenblum
L. Penny Rosenblum understands the challenges of the visually impaired: She was born with cataracts that caused her eyes to have difficulty focusing. The adjunct associate professor at the UA teaches teachers who work with visually impaired children. For the last three years, however, Rosenblum has focused on those who are older. Rosenblum co-produced Reclaiming Independence: Staying in the Driver's Seat When You No Longer Drive, a DVD and resource guide that shows how six people from different areas of the country have continued to live their lives despite losing their independence. Rosenblum, who puts about 3,500 miles on her bike a year, can be reached at 621-1223 or rosenblu@u.arizona.edu.

How did you become visually impaired?

From 1963 to 1965, there was a rubella epidemic in this country. Children exposed to the rubella virus in the first trimester were often born with disabilities. My mom was a nurse in a hospital in 1963 when she got pregnant with me.

You've never been able to drive a car. What was that like for you when you were younger?

Long before I was born, my father started a driving school. ... So, my father literally taught my five best friends how to drive at the same time I was turning driving age. It was a very hard time.

What's the biggest challenge for older adults with a visual impairment?

Building up a support network. We all have support systems. None of us live in a bubble. So, when an older individual is making that transition from being a driver to a nondriver, they feel their independence is being taken away; their spontaneity is replaced by dependence. It can be very depressing.

What are the negative perceptions they deal with?

I think society as a whole, when we're talking about disability, you know people will stare. ... And that feeling, "Oh, that poor person. Oh, I hope that never happens to me." But people in our society have overall become more aware and accepting of differences. There is still that gut-level reaction that many, many people have. So, when a person experiences vision loss, they have the feeling that, "If I go to the mall with my cane, everyone is going to stare at me." We still need to help society recognize that we're all interdependent on each other. None of us do anything alone.

What is it with driving?

Well, we're a car-dependent society. Probably 90 percent of your readers drove their car today at some point. So, in most industrial countries, independence comes with a driver's license.

Where did you get the idea for the project?

I'm a nondriver and have never legally been able to drive a car, although I've sat behind a wheel on country roads. When you talk to teens who are visually impaired, it is a topic that they always want to talk about. They want more information, or they ignore it. My colleague Dr. Anne Corn at Vanderbilt University and I developed a curriculum called "Finding Wheels" that is geared toward teens to help them start to be prepared to be a nondriver. A lot of professionals encouraged us to look at the over-60 crowd. So, we took that to heart.

You live in Tucson. How do you rate it for those who are visually impaired?

For me, Tucson is a wonderful city. I chose to move back to Tucson, because as a nondriver, I can be independent here. When I was moving back in 1999, I was very specific with my real estate agent. I wanted to be on one of the main roads that had a bus that ran directly to the UA, since I am a professor there. And that is what this video talks about: Each of the six people in this video really approaches transportation differently, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Besides those with visual impairments, who else do you think needs this video?

The medical community. So many times, someone is diagnosed with macular degeneration, and they are told, "Well, there is nothing we can do." Well yes, visually, there is nothing we can do, but the fact that most of these doctors don't refer people to rehabilitation services is very upsetting to me. There are local services that can give people skills and help them be advocates for themselves. In Tucson, it's the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired. ... People can live without a car, but when you're visually impaired and older, you need new skills to help you understand it's not the end of the road.

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