Looking at the men and women gathered around the table in Withlacoochee Vo-Tech's adult education center, it's hard to tell who is visually impaired and who isn't. "That's the whole idea," says their instructor, Mary Jane Marchand, who for eight years has been helping Citrus County's visually impaired residents to help themselves.
Marchand will retire this year from full-time teaching at the end of school, giving up classes in sewing and microwave cooking.
But after summer vacation, she will be back for her 30 special students, who range in age from 28 to 88.
Some are completely sightless. Others are partially impaired and are afflicted with other ailments, such as Down's syndrome.
When a person learns they are losing their sight, it causes shame and embarrassment, she says.
"It's terribly demoralizing," Marchand says.
"Families try to do for them instead of helping them do for themselves. They give up their independence."
Marchand has spent the last eight years at the vocational-technical school giving students the tools they need to "do for themselves."
They learn how to read Braille and the Fishburne alphabet (dots and bars used for labeling foods, drinks, etc.), as well as other practical skills, such as cooking and cleaning.
Doug Cram has been attending Marchand's classes for six years.
He is a good example of what Marchand and her volunteer assistants in the program have been able to accomplish.
This summer, Cram will will take his 9-year-old daughter, Jo, camping and fishing.
They will do a little housework and maybe even some yard work.
After working with visually impaired people, teaching them how to be independent, Marchand says, "You forget that they're blind. You really do."
"I like her a lot," Cram says of Marchand.
"I think if she left, most of us would leave."
She won't be leaving Withlacoochee Vo-Tech permanently until a suitable replacement comes along with the patience and the talent to reach these students.
"I don't feel like I can leave until somebody comes along who they can relate to and accept," Marchand says.