Faces of HopeMan who lost his sight thought he lost it all
Two centers help him face a new world, restore his confidence
By MIKE JOHNSON of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff
Kevin Meyers was skimming across the choppy water of the Fox River at more than 60 mph, gunning for the hydroplane in front of him. He was in second place on that muggy July day in 1987 and was headed into the second turn when the accident happened.
As he entered the turn, Meyersí sleek racer slammed into a huge wake from a pleasure boat pulling a water skier. Meyers went flying from his craft and into the river. Before he could react, another hydroplane hit him. He probably should have died right then and there.
"Right from that point, I lost my sight," Meyers said. "The left eye was -- basically, they had to remove it all because it was hanging out of my eye socket. The right eye had enough damage to it that it could not be repaired."
Meyers survived, but his spirit was as damaged as his body. He was angry that the accident had taken his sight and his livelihood -- he was a home appliance repairman and had to drive to do the job.
"I had a lot of fears because I really didnít know what I was going to do. How I was going to survive, how I was going to take care of myself and earn a living, how I was going to communicate with people with sight and how people were going to look at me," Meyers said. "I had a tremendous fear of failing."
But with the help of the non-profit Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the Center for Creative Learning, Meyers began to realize that he could have a future. Now 41, Meyers is a systems analyst for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. He does computer programming that helps process insurance information. A voice synthesizer helps him navigate the computer.
After the accident, Meyers went into rehab, learned how to use a cane, read Braille and learned how to type. He took classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College and decided in September 1990 to get a bachelorís degree in computers science from MSOE.
Thatís where Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped stepped in.
"There are not a lot of books out there for people with visual impairments," Meyers said. The textbooks were being updated so quickly that they were not available in Braille.
So the agency, at 803 W. Wells St., Milwaukee, working with MSOE, took his textbooks and converted them into audiotapes so he could learn the work.
"Volunteers at (Volunteer Services) taped his books every quarter for the five years he attended MSOE," said Elizabeth Waterfall of MSOE. "This alternative format of classroom materials was integral to his success at the college."
Meyers, who lives in Greenfield, graduated with honors in 1995.
Along his journey, Meyers also got a hand from the Center for Creative Learning in Glendale, a for-profit organization that, among other things, helps people overcome traumas. The center has a non-profit arm that provides scholarships to those in need.
"We helped Kevin, mostly by helping him see that he had a gift to offer," said Patricia Clason, the centerís director. "He should have died, by all means, from the impact of the boat. It truly is a miracle that he is alive. That is the gift."
Now Meyers serves on the board of Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped, helps out at the Center for Creative Learning, is an award-winning Toastmasters speaker and gives motivational speeches to children and adults.
Twice he has been to Aspen, Colo., to help visually impaired children develop goals to be successful in life.
"I always refer to the fact that just because they donít have sight doesnít mean they wonít amount to anything," Meyers said.