Amazing things can happen when Lions work together. An excellent example of this is the case of Jodi Witthaus, who received an Edge 40 Braille display due to the combined efforts of the three Washington County Lions Clubs: Nashville, Okawville and Hoyleton. “Sight and Sound” is a slogan of the Lions and Washington County Lions lived up to the in helping Witthaus.
Jodi Witthaus, 23, of Hoyleton, is studying for a masters degree in social work at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. She works as an intern helping work with students at Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale. She’s hoping to finish up her degree in two years, to the delight of her father, Joe Witthaus.
Jodi has a constant companion, her dog, Nika, a friendly black lab who has a taste for human food, if she can get it. She goes through her text messages at a rate that dazzles her dad.
Jodi’s circumstances would be average for an educated, intelligent young woman college, but are extraordinary considering that Jodi cannot see.
Since 2005, Witthaus has been losing her eyesight due to a genetic condition called Stickler’s Syndrome. Nika is Jodi’s Leader Dog. The text message she goes through so quickly are read to her by an electronic voice over her phone.
“I still had some sight up until last year,” Witthaus stated. More than two-dozen surgeries, the last late in 2013, were unable to save her vision.
Jodi’s story though, does not end when her ability to see disappeared. Witthaus is still going strong, studying, working and going about her life just as anyone would.
Now, Jodi doesn’t even need to have the text messages read to her by her phone. Now, she can read them herself, in braille.
At a meeting of the Hoyleton Lions Club on Tuesday, July 22, at the Hoyelton Community Club, Jodi was present as a special guest, there to show Lions members her Braille Edge 40, a high tech display and keyboard that she can both type into and read on.
The device cost about $3,000 and was purchased using donations from the Hoyleton, Okawville, and Nashville Lions Clubs, and from Okawville Club Secretary and Past District Governor Morris “Mo” Ritzel.
Leading the effort in Hoyleton was Ralph Michael, who along with Ritzel, visited meetings in Nashville and Okawville, with $1,000 donated at each.
Also present was the Nashville Lions Club past President Carl Tebbe, who credited the club for acting so quickly on the donation, and his Hoyleton and Okawville colleagues as well.
“I have to give Ralph and Mo a lot of credit for coming and doing it,” Tebbe said. “Everyone was behind you 100-percent.”
For much of the meeting, Witthaus spoke with the audience about the device, telling them about its features and how she uses it, and about learning how to best apply it to her studies and work. Witthaus was accompanied by her father, who offered up questions about her and the device, as well her grandparents, Janet and Eugene Klie. Her mother, Darlene Witthaus, was unable to be present due to work.
Witthaus explained that despite being in braille, the Edge 40 told her much of what a regular monitor would tell a person with vision who was looking at a document.
When she loads a document onto the edge 40, either by connecting it with bluetooth to her Apple Macbook Air, her iPhone, or by loading a document directly into the device via an SD card slot, “I open it, and it will be formatted just like you guys would see it on a piece of paper,” Witthaus said. “It’s going to be a lot easier for me to edit papers, and hand them in and not look like I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Because Witthaus “grew up visual” the device is especially helpful– it allows her to go back and check her spelling, grammar and punctuation in a document, “the same way any of you would.”
Working with the device and using it to read, and for day to day chores like checking email and text messages – without her phone audibly telling her what they say, is also helping Witthaus to become more well-versed in braille, which she states has a bit of a learning curve.
Showing the group the refreshable braille display, Witthaus says, “The entire english language is made up of symbols in braille made up of just six dots– numbers included.”
“This is going to be a major improvement in my quality of life,“ Witthaus said. While a braille display and keyboard might not seem as important as say, Nika the Leader Dog, helping with basic mobility; for a student, especially one like Witthaus pursuing a master’s degree, the device allows her to work and compete at the same high level as her fellow students.
“It’s really going to be helpful to do my papers and not get my grade knocked down because I misspelled something or I didn’t space something correctly,” Witthaus said.
“Sight and sound is what we do,” said Tebbe, echoing a Lions Club slogan. “Community involvement too.”
“This is what we call a Lions pay day,” said Michael.
The above text was written by Alex Haglund for the Nashville News of Nashville, Ill., and was used with permission.
For the original story, please visit The Nashville News.