Meet Karen Chong, a client, volunteer and amazing ambassador for Blind Low Vision NZ. Read about Karen’s exciting new role with Macular Degeneration New Zealand

Karen was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 1998 while living in Malaysia and became a client of Blind Low Vision NZ in 2012 when she returned to live in NZ.

What was your first experience of Blind Low Vision NZ?

Blind Low Vision NZ first offered support by sending a mobility instructor to see me. They taught me how to use the cane – even though I didn’t need it but it was good to learn while I still had some vision. The instructor also supported me by teaching me how to protect myself. I had so many accidents – forgetting to close cupboard doors and walking into them or cleaning the floor and getting up and hitting my head on the table. The instructors taught me things like how to walk by putting my arms in front of my head at an angle to protect myself.  Basic techniques I would never have thought of myself.

I also volunteer – as a marketing professional with 30 years of experience, I am not a person who can sit around and do nothing. I was so grateful to Blind Low Vision NZ for their support and I wanted to offer my services to help in any way I could. I started by volunteering with Blind Week and generally helping Blind Low Vision’s NZ’s National Volunteer Manager. I was able to use my experience to work on some strategic projects with Sue. When a role came up with Macular Degeneration New Zealand, Sue suggested it would be a perfect fit for me. I had a couple of interviews and got the job – so again I am so grateful that Blind Low Vision NZ helped me again.

Tell us about your new role with MDNZ and how that came about?

I am the client services coordinator for MDNZ and my main responsibilities are to arrange educational and awareness seminars to the public about the MD.

MD is an age related disease. One in seven people above the age of 50 will have some form of MD and so many people I speak to are unaware of this –so it’s our job to raise awareness and provide information and support.

Right now my focus is on organising five free public seminars in the next six weeks. The first are in Wanaka and Dunedin this weekend, 27/ 28 February and there is still time to book your spot for these and the others around the country.

What do you love about the role and how does being a member of Blind Low Vision NZ help you in your role?

Vision loss is very close to my heart, I live with it and so to work with an organisation that deals with vision loss and to be able to help other people to prevent vision loss or even educate people about vision loss gives me a lot of satisfaction.

It makes sense for our two organisations to collaborate – we are in the same business and we can support each other – many members will also become members of MDNZ.  We have a strong link as MD is the leading cause of blindness in NZ and is three times more common than dementia.

Being a client of Blind Low Vision NZ means I can empathise with others as a legally blind person who has had so much support from Blind Low Vision NZ. I direct our members to Blind Low Vision NZ when they are struggling and needing more support. I speak from experience and let them know that with support, life can still go on and be enjoyed. Just because you are losing your vision doesn’t mean you are losing your brain.

To find out more about MD go to the MDNZ website. Or to register for a seminar email info@mdnz.org.nz or call 0800 MACULA (0800 622 852).