People with visual impairments find community in Port HuronQ&A with Bob Furtado: Nonprofit Journal Project

Bob Furtado is the Vice President of the Blue Water League of the Blind. Founded in 1954 in Port Huron, the volunteer-driven organization serves as a social club and education/advocacy organization for the blind and visually impaired. 

What motivates your all-volunteer team to give their time and energy to the Blue Water League of the Blind? 

A lot of the membership are in fact blind or visually impaired, and we know the frustration that can come from trying to gain access to services, education, and employment opportunities. We also know that some of the frustration is because people are simply unaware of what it means to be blind, the capabilities of those that are blind, and the different accessible tools that are available that would allow us to get a college degree, to function in an office, or to go out to restaurants. We wanted to make sure that the next generation had those opportunities to go into a public that was better informed and therefore able to provide the diversity, equity, and inclusion that should be available.

What are some of the frustrations of being visually impaired?

It’s not simply the lack of sight; I think it is the problem of the public being unaware of how to properly interact with a person that is blind. Once the education is out there, and a bit of sensitivity, it tends to help the person with a visual impairment to go out into the community and feel comfortable. I could give you one example. I went out to lunch with my sister, and the waitress asked my sister what I wanted to eat. Those kinds of negative occurrences can really have an emotional effect on a blind person. 

Is the support group an opportunity for people to share the ups and downs of living with blindness and visual impairment, or do you also offer guidance to people who are starting to lose their vision? 

We have groups of interest to those that are going blind, those that are blind, and certainly the family members interested in how they can best assist their blind relatives.

We find that a lot of people who are just now going blind need supports, and they want to find out what they can do for themselves in their homes, in their professional life, or to facilitate better social activities out in the community. We have the resources to allow people to learn how to use Braille, and to let people know about screen readers where the computer reads me a document, my emails, without knowing how to use Braille. 

We also have topics of discussion regarding those of us that are blind and some problems that come up, particularly in the areas of transportation. One of the things that we are going to do is Braille the Blue Water Transit bus schedule. 

What are some of the activities you do throughout the year, and do you have anything planned for 2023? 

We have an annual picnic, a Christmas party, Thanksgiving party, Valentine's Day party, and an ice cream social in August. In addition, we have taken trips to events that are specific to the blind and visually impaired community. Libraries Without Walls is an event put on by the Michigan State Braille and Talking Book Library, and the VISIONS Conference has vendors available showing the newest technologies and adaptive equipment. We have a monthly book club meeting where we discuss books that are available in a DAISY audio format. We don't exclude people that do not have a disability from participating. Finally, we are going to have a 5K fun run in Fort Gratiot on the last Saturday in August. 

Do you feel the Blue Water League of the Blind has been successful in its advocacy efforts?

I do feel that we have been successful, certainly going as far back as the Michigan Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act in 1976, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991. And the St. Clair community has responded positively to the legislation that has come through. But more than that, they've opened up their venues to us in a more welcoming way. Most recently, the city of Port Huron hired a disability liaison, and I think that's reflective of the community's acceptance and desire to include people with disabilities. Our current club secretary is actually now teaching adaptive dance at a local studio. They were amenable to allowing that kind of a class to go on, but certainly, the social support and the emotional support that we provided gave her the courage to go back there and try.

This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change, and more are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.