Blind senior enjoys new adventures thru public transit

“I like challenging myself,” smiles Sandy Leonard.

The outgoing 60-year-old Yucaipa resident has spent a lifetime beating the odds. Now she relies on Omnitrans to give her the independence to pursue new adventures.

Twenty years ago, Sandy began suffering from severe headaches and vision problems.  She was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor which was putting pressure on the optic nerves.  Although benign, the melon-sized tumor was so large the doctors told her she had only a 30% chance to survive the needed surgery.

The operation took over 18 hours to perform, but Sandy made it through. However the damage was permanent–she was left legally blind.  Tunnel vision in her left eye allows her to see somewhat at a distance, but she lacks depth perception or peripheral vision. Her close up vision is almost nonexistent.

Sandy’s life changed radically.  Although at first resistant to the idea, she enrolled in the Braille Institute to learn how to adapt to her new circumstances.

“I learned how to live with the partial-sightedness that I do have. If I never went there, I think I would probably still be sitting at home,” says Sandy frankly. “I basically had to re-learn how to get around with my vision. They taught me measurement techniques I could use for cooking and how to fold money so you can tell the difference between the denominations. I also worked with a mobility instructor to learn how to do things around the house, cross streets, and use public transportation. Because I had partial sight, she would sometimes blindfold me to make it harder and force me to rely on touch and sound.”

Sandy began riding Omnitrans in 2005 when she moved to Yucaipa to be closer to her sister. She primarily relies on OmniLink and OmniGo to get around town, but occasionally uses the Access and fixed route buses as well. She likes the friendliness of the drivers and feels safe traveling in the area.

I even take my 6-year-old granddaughter on the bus when she comes to visit,” says Sandy. “She loves it, and the drivers all make a fuss over her.”

Sandy sometimes jokes that she uses special braille balls to call Bingo. In reality she relies on very bright light to see the large ball numbers.

Now that she’s an old hand at public transit, she puts that experience to work helping friends and her neighbors at Patrician Mobile Home Park. She shows them how to complete the forms required for Access service and assists them with bus route information. She takes their photo and gets it developed at Walgreens  so they don’t have to buy a passport photo for their ID card. She wants them to have the same freedom and independence she’s enjoyed over the years.

Omnitrans and other transit agencies have been vital in helping Sandy maintain an active lifestyle so she can enjoy the things she loves best.

She volunteers at the Calimesa and Yucaipa Senior Centers as a Bingo caller, she enjoys line dancing at the Branding Iron, and she belongs to the Diamond Club in LA where she gets together with other visually impaired friends for day trips. Once a year she attends Camp Bloomfield, a camp for people who are blind, visually impaired or multi-disabled. There she hikes, swims, does archery, horseback riding, tandem biking and more. Two years ago she climbed her first rock wall at the camp at age 58. She proudly made it to the top, happy despite exhaustion, shakiness and aching muscles.

“I enjoy challenges. I guess my proudest accomplishment is just being alive and independent,” says Sandy frankly. “I’m thankful to be able to get around to do the things I want to do and live the kind of life I want to live.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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