Bay Area program helps families of visually impaired babies, toddlers

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A Bay Area program that helps families with babies and toddlers who are blind or visually impaired is marking its first anniversary this year as a partner of a nonprofit that serves older children.

ABC7 News met with a Bay Area family getting some much needed help from the new partnership.

Team Mackenzie consists of 6-year-old Taylor, the youngest brother of 2-year-old Mackenzie, and big brother is 13-year-old Devon.

Mackenzie has a visual impairment and hearing loss.

Mom and dad are also part of Team Mackenzie, Shilo and John Nase of San Pablo.

"Mackenzie was born with CHARGE Syndrome, which is the leading cause of congenital deaf blindness," John said.

Michelle Kim is a vision impairment specialist with the Blind Babies Foundation of Oakland. She visits the family at home with advice.

"Giving parents education on what the child's vision impairment is and what it means, and what it implies in terms of their access to day to day routines -- eating, going to the bathroom, playing with their toys, being outside," Michelle said.

"We introduce ourselves when we approach Mackenzie and we just let her know Mama's here, Dada's here," Shilo said.

Kim goes to Mackenzie's school and works with teachers about finding adaptations to include Mackenzie. "They might be reading a book and Mackenzie can't really access that book maybe if the pictures are small," she said.

Michelle taught Shilo and John how to help Mackenzie find things on the floor by using black rugs. She also taught them how to use colorful pool noodles on tables and wall corners to keep Mackenzie from bumping into them.

She even goes on doctors' visits with the family and helped them fight for glasses for Mackenzie.

"It was described as Swiss cheese vision, so she can see through little pockets or little holes. But the vast majority of her vision is non existent. It's enough for her to get around, so whatever she has, she's really using it to the fullest. And I think that Blind Babies working with her has really brought that out," John said.

"Research has shown that over 100,000 visual images are seen by an infant in the first year. We're learning that 80 percent of early learning is visual," Blind Babies Foundation spokesperson Julie Bernas-Pierce said.

That's why early intervention and support are so crucial, according to Bernas-Pierce.

The foundation has been around for 66 years. Mike Nicco and Cheryl Jennings have worked with them for a long time. They host events to bring families together like Family Camp, where Mackenzie was put on a horse.

The Beeper Egg Hunt is also a big hit. "Mackenzie just loved the big egg that beeped," Shilo remembered. "Blind Babies is there to support you. You're not going through this whole experience by yourself," Shilo said.

"If someone is not connected with Blind Babies Foundation, they should be. We receive a wealth of services and they're all free of charge," John said.

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