Rumerys start support group for visually impaired
Being married can be challenging enough, but imagine adding blindness to your list of marital hurdles.
Keep that in mind the next time you drive through Jasper. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might just see Bronwyn and Scott Rumery walking up Main Street with guide dogs Jadyn and Duke leading the way.
The Rumerys, who were both blinded by a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), spend their days doing a multitude of tasks they say many “sighted” people don’t realize can be accomplished by the blind.
Now the couple is taking steps to help support the visually impaired in the area and educate others about the disability.
“Other than driving, we can do everything seeing people can do, we just do it a lot slower,” said Scott, who met his wife Bronwyn on an Internet site dedicated to RP back in 2003.
Pictured, Scott and Bronwyn Rumery with guide dogs Jadyn and Duke. The Rumerys live in Jasper with their daughters Elizabeth and Makayla.
Bronwyn, a class of ’87 Pickens High School graduate, says she and her husband cook; they clean; she does arts and crafts; they go to grocery store and are currently raising two girls, 12 and 13, from Scott’s first marriage.
“We do it all and are very independent,” said Bronwyn, who maintains a jovial and friendly air. “It’s not like we have the black sunglasses and walk around with a little tin cup. We want to advocate for blind people and help others understand more about what to do when you meet a blind person.”
Bronwyn was diagnosed with RP at nine but maintained 20/40 to 20/60 vision until 9th grade when she began to rapidly lose her sight. Now she says she has nearly no vision in the “tunnel” you see when looking straight ahead, but can see a limited amount through her peripheral vision.
“My mom first noticed when I was in my bedroom and we were saying prayers with the nightlights on, and she told me to look at her. I said, ‘I am looking at you,’ but I was looking at the ceiling,” Bronwyn said.
After receiving the diagnosis, her mother was told to put Bronwyn in an institute for the blind, but after getting other advice her mother enrolled her in public school.
“I was mainstreamed as much as possible,” Bronwyn said, who also graduated from the Academy of the Blind in Macon during her 11th grade year at PHS. “My family did a lot of advocating to get me help in school because I was often the only blind person there.”
Scott, who has two brothers also afflicted with the hereditary eye disease, has vision that didn’t deteriorate until later in life. He was diagnosed with RP at 12, but was able to drive a vehicle until he was 28 years old.
“I was near-sighted in school,” he said. “I wore glasses but did okay seeing the board and all that, but with the driving I had to let it go eventually. I knew I was becoming a danger. That was the toughest decision for me because of the independence of driving. I remember trips that I took and how much fun they are. I really took my freedom for granted.”
Scott, like Bronwyn, cannot see directly in front of him now, but has some limited peripheral vision.
The Rumerys said when they initially met on the RP website, plans were to maintain a friendship for support. “I was recently divorced and my ex and I were working out custody,” Scott said. “I was lonely and depressed, but Bronwyn or me didn’t want a relationship. We were coming out of hard marriages, but my interest was piqued by her posts. She talked about how old she was and that she liked 80s music.”
The couple met face-to-face in 2005 in Connecticut, where Scott lived at the time, and, “I would like to say it was love at first sight, but I guess it was love at first blind sight. We were friends for two years before getting married, and I guess that’s what gives us a solid foundation,” Scott said.
The Rumerys were married next to a waterfall at Kernel Kob’s Korn Maze in Jasper two years ago in October.
But Scott and Bronwyn say as much as they have come to terms with their blindness and as much as they have learned to live with on another, they still have accidents, like the time Bronwyn washed dishes in Liquid Plumber or drank Pine Sol, and they say there are still plenty of dark periods they work though.
“It’s nauseating at times,” Scott said. “ Sometimes I don’t notice it that much, but if I focus on [the blindness], like with anything, it can become a problem. I have to keep myself busy and listen to a book or the TV or play on the computer. But that being said, we are thankful for the little sight we do have. We had to do a blindfold walk down Main Street [with our guide dogs] once and it was very difficult.”
Scott also talked about the isolation of blindness. “I tend to grasp on to familiar things and when I have to go out I have some anxiety and I’d rather stay at home,” he said, “but I always have a good time when I go.”
Bronwyn has now started a support group at Jasper United Methodist Church called Blind Horizons. The group meets the second Friday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Room 106.
“As blind people we all have depression and anxiety,” she said. “We wanted to start a support group and get others who have sight problems that it’s not the end of the world. Over time they can learn about resources in the community and on the internet and through a group we can gain confidence and learn from each other.”
The Rumerys pointed to the Mountain Area Transportation System (M.A.T.S.), which they use to travel to the grocery store or other places they are unable to walk to.
“But with the group we also want to try to get sighted people to come with us and learn about blind people,” she said. “Like at parties, for example, we are usually isolated. People want to put us in the corner with some punch and our dogs and some food, but it’s hard to mingle when you’re blind. We want people to know they can approach us.”
Other “sighted people” faux pas? Scott stressed the importance of friends and family not distracting guide dogs when they see them walking on the street, and Bronwyn says one of her biggest person pet peeves is when, instead of speaking directly to her, people talk to the person she is with.
“It’s funny,” she said, “If I’m with someone having lunch, for example, people will ask whoever I’m with what ‘she’ wants. Well, ‘she’ wants a filet mignon,” she said laughing. “I want people to know they can make contact with us.”
After two years of marriage the Rumerys have created two mottos that get them through the rough patches. First, “No matter what keep a sense of humor,” they said, and, second “Just because you’ve lost your sight doesn’t mean you’ve lost your vision.”
“If we can touch one person through support or help someone understand what it’s like to be blind, I feel like I’ve done my job,” Bronwyn said.