Looking for Independence

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“We would have a Harley if we could see,” Mike Bowman said with a chuckle.

Through 46 years of marriage, Mike and Connie Bowman have shared many ups and downs, but they’ve experienced something that most couples don’t—they lost their vision together. This disability doesn’t stop them from enjoying an independent and active life together, which has been enhanced through the My Freedom program, part of CICOA’s Way2Go transportation service.

Mike and Connie are quick to let you know about the positive impact that My Freedom has on their lives.

“My Freedom allows us to go whenever and wherever we need, for appointments, errands, or to spend some time out together on a date with just the two of us and our Leader Dog, Friday,” said Mike. “That independence and freedom is such a blessing!”

The Bowmans use their transportation vouchers for things like doctor appointments, haircuts and church activities. They also use My Freedom to get out on their own. Connie is able to get her nails done, attend activities at Northside Baptist Church, and recently she went to a baby shower. Mike uses My Freedom to go to a weekly men’s breakfast, “because 7 a.m. is too early to ask a friend to pick me up,” he said.

Mike and Connie met when they were students at the Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired (ISBVI). At that time, they still had some vision, but both had progressive eye disorders that eventually led to blindness.

Mike’s fourth grade teacher noticed he was having trouble seeing the board and suggested an eye exam. That’s when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder that involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. Connie was born with congenital glaucoma, which was diagnosed as a baby when she was in the hospital with pneumonia.

The couple married in 1972 and have one son, Ken, who now lives in Tennessee. They also have a granddaughter.

In 1982, Mike participated in an Easter Seals Crossroads computer training program that he describes as a “very intense seven-month associate degree program.” He went to work for Indiana Bell (now AT&T) and was able to provide for his family. He was promoted seven times during his 28-year career, and was a champion for accessibility. Connie worked as a stay-at-home mom to their son.

Mike’s IT background also helps him keep up-to-date on the assistive technology that he and Connie use, such as text-to-speech technology and computer screen readers.

Mike and Connie became Way2Go clients about eight years ago, when Connie was receiving treatments for cancer. They used Way2Go’s door-to-door transportation service for her medical appointments. Connie is now cancer free.

They became regular Way2Go users after that. Without My Freedom vouchers, the Bowmans said they would have to be much more cautious about how they use their transportation budget.

“Our money would have to go to just the necessary things,” Connie said.

Mike is active in advocating for older adults with blindness and vision loss. His advocacy work includes serving as a past president and vice president of the American Council of the Blind of Indiana. Mike’s next advocacy project is participating in a training course offered by the Indiana Assistive Technology Act (INDATA) Project.

Though their lives are active, every so often Mike and Connie feel a short bout of envy.

“A few of our friends are Harley riders, so we do feel a moment of self pity,” said Mike.

“We limit those moments, and then get over it,” Connie added.

If Mike and Connie can’t ride a Harley, they’re glad to have Way2Go and My Freedom to give them greater independence.

“My Freedom makes that possible, easy and convenient. Thanks to all who make this happen!” Connie said.

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