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Las Vegas’ Angela’s House helps vision-impaired live independently

Seven years ago, Regina Mitchell developed a complication from an autoimmune disease that caused her to lose her eyesight.

The Henderson resident was trying to navigate how to do things around her house, such as turn on the television, adjust the thermostat and use a microwave, washer and dryer.

At Angela’s House — an offering through Las Vegas nonprofit Blindconnect — “they taught me all of that,” Mitchell said.

It allowed her to live safely in her home.

“I learned that I don’t have to be afraid of myself in a situation or another environment,” she said.

Mitchell said she has a freer spirit and isn’t weighed down by tragedy. She said life is beautiful and she’s “awesomely blessed.”

“Had it not been for Angela’s House, I would not be the woman I am right now,” she said.

Angela’s House is Nevada’s only skills training center to help those who are blind or visually impaired live independently. It’s a partnership between Blindconnect and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

Angela’s House is a facility within the RTC Mobility Training Center in southwest Las Vegas that’s set up like a house. The daytime, nonresidential program provides 90 hours of intensive skills training over four weeks.

Angela’s House typically takes four to six people at a time — the majority from the Las Vegas area.

Blindconnect held a fundraiser — “The Color of Blindness” — Oct. 17, which benefited Angela’s House. Program participants from February through September created 28 pieces of art that were auctioned off.

“People tend to think painting is very visual,” said Blindconnect President Raquel O’Neill, who is blind. She added that event was focused on empowerment and “breaking down misconceptions.”

Blindconnect’s mission

When Blindconnect was founded, in 1998, the mission was to provide “resources and information for nearly blind individuals,” O’Neill said. Over time, “it kind of became our mission to cover whatever was missing for blind folks in town.”

Angela’s House is named in memory of Angela Hoffman, who was on Blindconnect’s board of directors. She was born blind in one eye.

“She thought she would lose all eyesight at some point, but didn’t know when,” O’Neill said. That started in the early 2000s.

Hoffman, a mother of three, researched services available in Las Vegas, but they were limited. Her family arranged for her to go to a nine-month residential program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

A couple of days before her scheduled departure, Hoffman died by suicide, O’Neill said.

Shortly after her death, Blindconnect’s board of directors and Hoffman’s family started raising money to create a training center for the visually impaired.

The recession delayed plans, but Blindconnect started pilot programming in 2010 to provide independent living skills training. And in 2016, the nonprofit partnered with the RTC to open Angela’s House.

Six contracted instructors, most of whom are blind or are losing their vision, lead the program. It helps set an example for program participants to interact with people who’ve dealt with similar challenges, O’Neill said.

O’Neill and her husband, who is also blind, have a 7-year-old son, and they’re expecting a daughter in January. O’Neill developed glaucoma when she was 6 years old and became blind when she was 15.

She remembers the vivid, beautiful landscape from her childhood in Hawaii.

“I’m grateful for knowing the colors and the sunset,” she said.

O’Neill and her family were living in Pahrump when she left home to attend UNLV. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.

Her 7-year-old son had cataracts at birth, which is what O’Neill also had. She and her husband took him to the best specialists they could find.

“Right now, he’s seeing really well and has not developed glaucoma,” O’Neill said.

Learning how to navigate daily life

The RTC Mobility Training Center has buses and a huge mural on the walls that depicts a city landscape, crosswalks and sidewalks. The center provides free training for seniors and people who have a disability on how to safely use fixed-route transit service.

At Angela’s House, which is part of the mock city, there’s a welcome mat at the front door. Inside, it looks like a typical apartment.

On Oct. 18, a couple of white canes were propped up against a wall. O’Neill’s guide dog was snoring on a dog bed in the living room. O’Neill was sitting at a dining room table working with a student, who began learning Braille — a language used by the visually impaired — in February.

At Angela’s House, participants learn daily living skills such as how to use a white cane, cut food using a knife, find something they dropped on the floor, fold sheets and make a bed, manage a budget, keep socks together and matched, identify medications and read Braille.

They also learn how to use features on their iPhone or Android phone – particularly, apps such as one that allows the user to take a photo of a printed document and it reads it aloud.

Halfway through their time at Angela’s House, participants are given a challenge: Get on a city bus, take it to a grocery store, buy food and prepare a full meal.

Angela’s House participants are asked to pay $10 to become a member of Blindconnect, but it’s not required.

‘It’s just invaluable’

Mitchell said she was a chef who trained in Seattle and moved to Las Vegas in 2004 to work as a butler for an MGM property.

In 2006, Mitchell was diagnosed with lupus, which causes the body’s immune system to attack its healthy tissues and organs. As the disease progressed, she developed a condition called bilateral panuveitis in 2012 that led to vision loss.

Both of her eyes have activity, she said, but she has a little vision. She undergoes chemotherapy once a month to treat the disease.

Mitchell was a student at UNLV when she met O’Neill during the 2016-17 school year through the university’s Disability Resource Center. O’Neill told her about Angela’s House.

“It’s just invaluable,” Mitchell said, noting Angela’s House is also a safe place. “We get to meet other people like ourselves.”

She learned daily living skills and placed textured stickers around her house to help her find appliances and other items.

Mitchell graduated from UNLV in 2018 with honors with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She home-schools her 17-year-old daughter and teaches cooking tips and tricks at Angela’s House.

Now, she said, her family doesn’t have to fear for her safety.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

Angela’s House

A weekly support group for those who are blind or visually impaired meets from 10-11:30 a.m. Fridays at Angela’s House at the RTC Mobility Training Center, 5165 W. Sunset Road in Las Vegas.

To learn more about Angela’s House, call 702-631-9009 or visit blindconnect.org.

Blindness vs. low vision

Among those with vision loss in United States, most are adults who aren’t completely blind, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. They have what’s called “low vision,” which is when someone’s eyesight is 20/70 or less in their best eye, and they can’t use glasses to improve their vision.

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