Love is Blind for Bartlesville Sweethearts Introduced at Training Program for Blind Adults
OKLAHOMA CITY — Heather Horton was looking forward to Adult Blind Living Evaluation training in Muskogee. She wanted to learn new skills to help her cope with vision loss. Donald Denham was reluctant. Maybe he would get over being bashful − or maybe his driver would have to pick him up early. They never expected to fall to in love – with each other − at a summer training program for blind people.
“My kids thought it was hilarious. [They said] Mom is going to ‘blind camp!’” Heather explained, her bright blue eyes sparkling as Donald sat smiling by her side. “I wanted ABLE to improve my attitude as far as having more hope. I didn’t want to stay home and not participate in life anymore.”
Adult Blind Living Evaluation – ABLE - is an in-depth evaluation program with one week of basic training for legally blind adults. They may attend one of four summer sessions led by seven experts and 10 support staff from Visual Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). To control costs, Visual Services uses dorm rooms and training facilities at DRS’ Oklahoma School for the Blind, which are temporarily vacant while students are home for the summer.
“ABLE is an immersion therapy that gives people a chance to learn new skills and reclaim their independence,” according to Visual Services Programs Manager Elaine Boykin, who is blind herself. “We evaluate participants and address their individual needs. They leave with more confidence and new friends who face similar vision loss and challenges.”
“You get set in thinking I’m blind. My life is over,” former truck driver Don said reflecting on his vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy. “This ABLE program was a lifeline for me. Even before you have goals to go back to work or school, just knowing there’s a talking watch out there or finding out a trick to do something on your own, that really helps a lot.”
Don, age 61, noticed Heather, age 52, at the first group meeting. “I thought she was intelligent and that she’d be someone good to talk to, so I’d play like I couldn’t see very good so she would lead me to and from the cafeteria.”
ABLE training focuses on use of remaining vision, travel techniques, home management, communication, meal preparation, personal care, self-advocacy, recreational activities and manual skills, such as sewing and woodworking. Those who attend learn more about resources that may be useful when ABLE training ends.
“They teach you to teach your family and friends how to help you,” explained Heather whose rapid vision loss was caused by macular degeneration. “Before my kids would push me around a bit, trying to protect me. I learned to say, ‘No, no, no. Let mom do whatever she can do. When she needs your help, she’ll ask.’”
The night before ABLE training ended, Heather Horton and Donald Denham stayed late in the arts and craft room talking with their teacher Elaine Boykin and each other. When it was time to go home, Heather told Don, “You can call me. Please call me.”
“But I didn’t,” Don said laughing. “She called me. I played hard to get!”
“Ha! He lost my phone number!” Heather insisted. “I’m old school and never called too many men anyway, so after Saturday and Sunday went by and he didn’t call, so I told him I was going to call everybody in the class, but actually I just called him.”
That night, the couple talked for two hours until after midnight. Within a week, they were talking “every single night,” Heather explains, “sometimes for three, four and five hours.”
Transportation from Bartlesville was a problem, so daughter Lynda Allbritton took Heather to Tulsa the first time. She and Don spent the afternoon together. Then he took mother and daughter out to dinner. That day in the second week in October was the first time that Don kissed Heather – only three months after ABLE training ended.
“The third or fourth time I was down in Tulsa, Don asked me “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?’” Heather recalled. “I said, “Maybe later on, but not quite right now.’ Then several things happened that made me think he was the one I wanted to be with, so I said, ‘Ask me that question again.’”
They were married Feb. 2, 2010 in the Bartlesville home they share today. Neither wanted a fancy wedding. “All I wanted was my kids here. All he wanted was me.” Heather said.
Enrollment is now open for Visual Services' Adult Blind Living Evaluation sessions on June 14-18, June 21-25, June 28-July 2 and a special session July 12-16 for young adults transitioning from school to employment. These sessions are scheduled at DRS’ Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee. Visual Services also offers week-long ABLE seminars during the day in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and personalized instruction in individuals’ homes. Vocational rehabilitation and employment assistance is available for those who want to go to work.
To get more information about Adult Blind Living Evaluation training and other Visual Services’ programs, phone Elaine Boykin in Oklahoma City at 405-522-3333 or Marilyn Sanders in Tulsa at 918-551-4900.