Grant to Support Project NATIVE, a Visual Aid Training Program

An approximately $1.2 million grant will help the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) in Tahlequah, Oklahoma develop its “Project NATIVE”—Native Americans Teaming in Visual Empowerment, reported the Tahlequah Daily Press. The program will provide training for visual aid outreach workers who will assist visually impaired clients.

This May, the AIRC will begin training visual aid outreach workers, Dr. Lillian Young, Project NATIVE’s director, told Indian Country Today Media Network. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans, will pay for devices, equipment, supplies, etc. for the estimated 200 blind or visually impaired clients who choose to participate in the workshops during the next 2 1/2 years.

They will instruct in the areas of life skills, recreation and leisure, self-advocacy, orientation and mobility, and technology. “The workers will receive payment “as part of the grant to provide education and jobs for the community,” she said.

Life skills include “safety issues in the home and kitchen, handling medications, mobility and cooking skills, among other things,” Young said. While a nationally certified instructor is required to teach visually impaired clients orientation and mobility, AIRC outreach workers will teach the visually impaired to use canes and public transportation, she said.

They will additionally help identify clients “who would benefit from special sunglasses to reflect glare or special telescopes to read street signs and store signs,” Young said.  “Aids will also assist in identifying clients who would benefit from magnification systems to read the paper, see books and the TV.”

These “high-tech devices” will be provided by the Northeastern State University’s Oklahoma College of Optometry (NSUOCO), which has partnered with the AIRC to recruit clients. Participants must be members of a federally recognized American Indian tribe, the Daily Press reported. The grant requires a 20 percent match, which the NSUOCO will primarily fund through its donation of services.

Aids will promote “self-advocacy,” which Young described as essentially “what the community can provide.” For instance, she said, a visually impaired person “can go to Walmart and ask for shopping assistance.”

“We will also put together support groups, go out into the community and do sensitivity training, such as with Walmart,” she added. “Even if a person does not look blind, their vision may be so poor that they do need assistance.”

Beyond assisting visually impaired clients with managing their daily needs, Project NATIVE was created to improve the quality of their lives. “A lot of times, people lose their vision and think they can’t do anything,” Young told ICTMN. “We want to encourage them to find hobbies they can participate in—to incorporate some leisure and recreation in their lives.”

Beginning this June, AIRC and NSUOCO will offer free evaluations for blind and visually impaired American Indian adults, and training for the use of visual aids and equipment.

Dr. Lillian Young previously served as the department head of special education at Northeastern State University. “Since Lillian retired, she was looking for something to do to help others,” Wathene Young, executive director of AIRC, told the Daily Press. “She served on the board of directors for the Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee, and took a two-year certification training course to prepare for the program. During the training, which was rigorous, Lillian had to learn to perform tasks without sight, like crossing a street wearing a blindfold and using a cane, and other things.”

Nearly 15 million United States residents are visually impaired, meaning they experience trouble seeing even with their glasses or contact lenses. The situation is particularly poor for American Indians, who suffer from the highest rates of diabetes, which can lead to visual impairment. From 1997 to 2010, the number of adults (aged 18 years or older) with diagnosed diabetes who reported visual impairment increased from 2.7 million to 3.9 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The leading causes of blindness are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related cataracts, the AIRC told the Daily Press.

Dr. Lillian Young advises those interested in learning more about Project NATIVE, or those who know someone who may benefit from the program, contact her at or (918) 456-5581.


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Grant to Support Project NATIVE, a Visual Aid Training Program