It’s called epiretinal membrane disease and the implications seemed more than serious. A condition where a scar tissue-like membrane coats the retina at the back of the eye, the disease left me with only two options: major surgery on both eyes or continual decline of sight.

I opted for the former, and the good professionals at the Ivey Eye Institute, following two major procedures, successfully removed both membranes, effectively stopping the disease.

Nevertheless, my eyesight isn’t what it was and new challenges have emerged. The most serious has been the effect on my ability to read effectively.

It hasn’t been easy. But as it has during so many other important occasions in my life, the London Public Library has guided me through difficult days. A brief visit to my local branch introduced me to an array of tools for the sight impaired that I never knew existed.

Through a vast collaboration network, including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), digital books with larger print are available for download to personal devices. That helped me out immediately, as did the free CD magazines sent to our home.

A varied array of audiobooks is available for download for those who qualify as sight-impaired users. These I have already used extensively.

One doesn’t notice such amenities at their local library when all is well, but the resources to assist in navigating printed and audio material prompt a sense of delight and gratitude once they are needed.

I was unprepared for the riches available, such as monthly drop-in programs discussing new innovations for the visually impaired and lessons on how they can improve the reading experience.

Through work with the London Advisory Council for the Visually Impaired, and the CNIB, whose services are now transitioning over to the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), London’s public library system has spent recent years enriching the reading and learning experience for those, like me, who have been thrown a curve in life.

CELA’s services extend not just to London branches, but to all libraries. The list of what’s offered is extensive, but some highlights are:

  • • Books on CD/audiobooks.
  • • Talking books for adults and children with sight impairment.
  • • Close-captioned videos.
  • • Large-print books.
  • • ZoomText screen magnification software at all libraries.
  • • The ability to convert text files to braille.
  • • Digital audiobooks for adults and children.

There are many things most of us don’t wish to see — hatred, racism, violence and dispiriting poverty. Sometimes it’s better not to see them.

Then there are those things that lie beyond the limitations of human sight — love, forgiveness, a child’s adoration, strength of character, faith, trustworthiness, community commitment. These are the attributes that for centuries have been chronicled in pages of fiction and nonfiction and that have bettered civilization for their influence.

To lose the ability to avail oneself of such treasures through poor vision, or no vision at all, could be a tragedy. But through modern technology and an intuitive and well-resourced library system, those treasures and values laid out in print or audio can remain accessible to those struggling to see.

As vital to our existence as sight itself, the benefits of insight are what build value into our lives. Libraries understand this, always have, and promote any avenues necessary to equip a well-educated citizenry.

As Nancy Collister, director of customer services and branch operations for London’s public libraries, puts it: “We believe that each member of our community should be able to read, learn and find enjoyment in the format that they prefer. Access is a fundamental value to the work that we do in supporting our community through materials, services and resources.”

Well-known author and activist Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree and it was libraries that helped get her there. Leaving a library one day, Keller said to her companion: “How much wiser we always are when we leave here than we are when we come.”

It was a refrain she was to return to repeatedly throughout her remarkable life.

This is the same privilege afforded to vision-impaired Londoners every day and in every library branch. It makes understanding possible again and provides meaning in a darkening world.

And for the average citizen, like me, it transcends physical challenges with the promise of wisdom.

Read this post in its original London Free Press format here.