Tricia Todd-Schiff was born with a rare, genetic disorder that caused her to be declared legally blind at age 19 and when her husband died several months ago she had to relearn how to complete everyday tasks.
These obstacles might seem insurmountable, but they did not stop Todd-Schiff, who enrolled in classes at the Foundation for Blind Children, an agency at 1234 E. Northern Ave., which offers programs and services starting with infancy through adulthood. She learned valuable skills including cooking, cleaning, crossing streets, navigating bus rides, managing a budget and using computers, while bonding with fellow students and teachers in the close-knit community.
Todd-Schiff, 49, has enjoyed working with Tom Brew, 79, an orientation and mobility specialist, who retired previously but came back because he is passionate about helping those who are blind and visually impaired.
After meeting with Brew frequently in person or online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Todd-Schiff is ready to reenter the workforce.
“I’m very proud of where I was and where I am now,” she said. “It’s like a little family. Even though you have a visual impairment or you’re blind, they want to see you succeed.”
The Foundation for Blind Children offers a well-rounded system of programs and services, to help blind and visually-impaired people’s development. Through its early intervention program, staff members visit homes after babies with impairments are born to teach parents ways to assist their visually impaired or blind children. The professionals help children develop all their senses to build a foundation for learning and family life. Specialized teachers, counselors and therapists work with parents to plan individualized programs in the foundation’s preschool.
In cooperation with the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind, the foundation offers daily classroom instruction for preschoolers who are singularly impaired and those who are multi-handicapped. It also provides support to students who are blind or visually impaired with visits to elementary schools and through summer programs for teens.
The foundation also operates a low-vision clinic inside its main campus. Students at Arizona State University can earn a bachelor’s degree in Special Education with a concentration in Visual Impairment, through a program delivered in partnership with the foundation.
In the Adult Comprehensive Program, students take classes in technology, braille, mobility, activities of daily living, career exploration and orientation and mobility.
Todd-Schiff said Brew taught her tips for safely crossing streets and walking around the townhome complex where she lives. When she felt frustrated he would tell her to calm down and he also told her what to do if she got lost while in public.
“Her husband passed away and she needed a lot more orientation and mobility,” Brew said. “Orientation means knowing where you are, where you’re going. Mobility means movement. Anything with movement is important.”
He has enjoyed watching Todd-Schiff progress.
“It’s been night and day,” Brew said last month. “I remember when Tricia first came into the program and she was quite nervous. She’s always had a great attitude about learning. Now she’s just changed so much in the last five or six months.”
Todd-Schiff said she was planning to start a manufacturing job and she planned to complete the foundation program last month.
Julie Oliver, director of Rehabilitation Services for the Foundation for Blind Children, said the adult program is limited to 16 students, and it typically takes nine months to a year to complete.
“One of the things that sets Foundation for Blind Children apart is we make the program very individualized to the student, so they are working on what will be beneficial for them to go back to work,” Oliver said. “What we want is to provide awareness for employers for this untapped labor force. They can do your job.”
These adults learn the workplace skills and they are good problem solvers because they must constantly adapt and adjust to a world that poses many challenges to those who are blind and visually impaired, she said.
Todd-Schiff was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a disorder that involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the backs of eyes. When she was younger glasses helped her see but her vision began getting progressively worse. At age 19 Todd-Schiff was declared legally blind and now she sees shapes but not fine details. She went to Glendale Community College for a while and worked for the Arizona Industries for the Blind, a non-profit organization, for more than 13 years. Her parents and siblings are supportive and frequently help her, but she has learned to do many more things on her own since participating in the program.
“One of the areas that Tricia wouldn’t share that she’s grown a lot in is her self-advocacy, whether it’s pushing back on her family or giving the person she needs in an Uber or Lyft information about how to help, or a younger student in the program – giving them tips,” Oliver said. “That’s a great area of growth for Tricia.”
To learn more about the Foundation for Blind Children, visit seeitourway.org.