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Center for blind helps give people their independence back

Posted: 7:16 PM, Feb 24, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-25 03:16:37Z
SAN DIEGO - A man blinded in a horrific accident is finding new hope in San Diego.
 
"I was a fireball, pretty much," Chris Summers said. 
 
Summers was an installer in the auto glass industry for 31 years. He described to 10News the moment a gas can blew up in his face while he was at work.
 
“I just freaked and I was trying to put it out," Summers said. "Most of the flame was up here around my shirt, on my neck, on my arm hair.” 
 
Summers spent months in the hospital, in an induced coma while doctors worked to heal his burned body. 
 
“I thought they had the lights off because it was dark," Summers said. "And I really thought they were working on me in the dark for some reason because of the burns.”
 
“I just really never knew how bad it was," he said. "I just really thought they’d fix me up and I’d go back to work in a week or two or whatever.”
 
Summers found unexpected help at the San Diego Center for the Blind. Thanks to classes and training, he is learning how to read braille, navigate using a cane, and even cook. 
 
"I can do scrambled eggs ok, and make coffee," Summers said. "The things they teach you surprise me and I never thought I could get as far as I have."
 
Kim Gibbens, the CEO, says they have helped thousands of lives since 1972. 
 
“An alternative to going home and sitting on the couch and thinking ‘Well, I guess that’s it,’” Gibbens said. "A very isolating experience to lose your vision and no one should have to go through that alone."
 
But Gibbens says the federal funding that allows them to teach people like Summers for free is now gone. 
 
The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education changed the factors on who qualifies to have life-skills training covered at such facilities.
 
The Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act provides funding to train people who encounter a disability, such as blindness, with the intent of sending them back to work. 
 
People like Summers, who are nearing retirement, are not prime candidates, and the training is not covered under medical insurance. 
 
Gibbens says the center’s funding was cut by nearly third, which scares her.
 
“We think that there are about 105,000 people in San Diego County with a significant vision loss who could benefit from our services," Gibbens said. "And they’re telling us that number is going to double probably to a quarter of a million because the Baby Boomers are getting old and they have yet to find a cure for loss of vision.”
 
For now, Gibbens says they are relying heavily on donations, organized events, and galas to raise money to stay open and keep services free. 
 
“I’m looking at more people instead of less people who are going to need our services," Gibbens said. "So yes. It does scare me.”
 
As for Summers, he can't imagine his life without the Center for the Blind. He says it gave him hope after his accident, and knows the strength it can give to people who lose their sight. 
 
“[I'm] Maybe stronger now than I was before my injury," Summers said. 
 
For more information on The San Diego Center for the Blind and where you can donate, click here .